The Outer Hebrides are for lovers of the world’s loneliest , most beautiful, windswept places with vistas that break your heart with their haunting beauty. Watch the weather come in, a day in advance, on huge skies. Stroll deserted shell sand beaches washed by turquoise seas that would make the Caribbean blush. These are islands on the edge yet with a wonderfully rich Gaelic , Celtic and Viking heritage. Standing Stones, Duns and Brochs, Iron Age houses and Blackhouse villages. There is even a double World Heritage Site, St Kilda. I feel such a joy in my heart when we set off for the islands. This 200 mile island chain in the wild North Atlantic is one of the world’s very special places. Yet despite many trips out to the islands, I still had ‘BUCKET LIST’ things I wanted to see and do.We also planned to finish our trip by sailing from Lewis to Ullapool , to enjoy a few days in amazing Assynt and hopefully a wild camp in haunted Sandwood Bay.Bucket list items for the trip were:
- Wild camping above Camasunary Bay to watch the sun go down over the jagged Black Cuillin of Skye
- Hike lonely North Lee on North Uist
- Explore more of N. Uist’s dazzling west coast beaches
4.Visit St Kilda – not an easy trip! Tried once and failed.
5.Wild camp at Sandwood Bay
DAY 1 : TO SKYE (and Bucket List wish No. 1)
Ok, we’re no spring chickens(Chris is 61 and I was 59 this year) but we’re fairly young at heart , reasonably fit and the great outdoors still calls us. Or rather, it calls me most persistently – Chris is all for jetting off to the Cote D’Azur, a big favourite or Andalucia, or Tuscany (and we do). A bit of heat after a damp, cold Scottish winter.
But the wild places call me and I get jittery if we haven’t got some time planned ‘up north’ or out on the islands.So, after a week exploring western Crete in April (where we found as much to dislike as like), mid-May found us making the familiar journey up through Glencoe to Skye with a 12 night tour of the Hebrides ahead of us. The plan was to wild camp two days then scrub up in a B&B every third day. Fingers crossed the weather wouldn’t blow us away (though we knew the scenery would).
GLASGOW TO MALLAIG ( 3.5 – 4 hours drive)
Set off from Glasgow’s southside around 8.30am on a dull damp day, much later than planned, crawling SLOWLY through awful rush hour traffic , costing us an extra half hour (and wiping any chance of a tea and cake stop off the timetable.) Then the roads emptied beyond the Airport and the Erskine Bridge and – we were off!
It’s a magnificent road trip to Skye past Loch Lomond, over Rannoch Moor, through Glencoe then along the famed Road to the Isles and Mallaig.
The Mallaig route to Skye we only do occasionally (we are up in Skye most months) mainly because the ferry is known for being cancelled frequently. Plus, getting a ferry is always a bit of a pain as you are then on a timescale. So, although the Skye Bridge route is around 70 road miles more (and more spectacular again IMO), it works out the same time with ferry check in times. So, the Bridge route I actually find more relaxing.
Of course, setting out late meant we had no time to stop at some of the wonderful places en route, despite knowing them well.We DID stop briefly beyond Glenfinnan because I spied a SEA EAGLE cruising across the hill ground, close to the road.Great sight.
Sped past the turn off for the beautiful Camus Darach beaches near Morar too, as we were a bit pushed for getting checked in on time for the 1.30pm ferry. Punishment for sleeping in too long.
The weather had picked up now too with plenty blue sky. Bought a couple of much needed cafe lattes from the harbour takeaway van and waited for the call to board.
Mallaig isn’t pretty as such – it’s a workaday little fishing port – but I love being there. Gulls crying and wheeling overhead, usually a seal or two bobbing about, the salty air and Skye only 40 minutes away.
As the ferry pulled away the big mountains of the Rough Bounds of Knoydart came into view, uninhabited wilderness and magnificent though tough (hence the name) walking country.It is a lovely sailing on a decent day.
THE WALK IN (4.15pm)
From pretty Armadale, we popped in for an hour to say hello to one of Chris’s brothers, then drove a further 45 minutes through Broadford and down the single track Elgol road to the Kilmarie car park, where the track to Camasunary awaited.
It took a good 20 minutes to get ourselves organised for the 45 minute walk in. You don’t want to forget the milk or the wine or the matches!
It was a really sunny afternoon now as we set off on the familiar wide track to the hill pass. To me, this is one of Skye’s most magnificent corners yet few visitors even know it’s there. Although we’ve camped down at Camasunary beach several times, I wanted to see the sun going down over the Cuillin which we’d only really see by camping up on the high moorland.
The usual breathless moment as we slogged up the final stony section to the top of the pass and then the mountain range appeared in all its glory with the emerald sward of Camasunary itself far below. Stunning.
Spent a good 15 minutes prowling about to find the best pitch and then got the tent up. Popped open the champagne and toasted to our trip – AND the fact we were here on a cracking sunny day, albeit with a biting northerly wind. Upside – no midges! It was dry and the sun was shining so that also meant a decent sunset was on the cards. Some boiling cloud was about too, but hopefully that would just improve the drama of it all.
Cooked some excellent rib eye steak and sausages on the disposable BBQ and had that with buttered Morton’s Rolls (the King of Scottish rolls).Dee – licious.
We drank and chatted but soon the glorious evening had me itching to explore our surroundings a bit more so I forced us off our rocky perch and off we went for a walk (with alarmingly light heads because of the wine consumption).Just us, the mountains and the sea, not a soul around. Golden plovers called plaintively, our only companions, trying to keep their chicks safe.
An oyster catcher piped occasionally far below, down by the shore.The air was almost heady with the scent of summer grasses, bog myrtle and wildflowers – tormentil, clover, wild orchid, cotton grass.
The red Cuillin turned pink in the evening light and the Small Isles were etched lilac blue on the horizon.
To me, it was paradise (albeit a chilly one at 9pm).
We headed back, watching constantly as the sun sank down below the jagged Cuillin ridge, the colours deepening and growing more dramatic every minute.
It was a beautiful sunset, stunning and made the more special by having this wild and lonely place all to ourselves.
What a spectacular start to our trip and with a big tick against Bucket List item No 1.
It seemed almost too good to be true and I did wonder whether that was a good or bad omen for the rest of the trip; being a worrier I reckoned on the latter!
Next Day: WALKS ON NORTH UIST (North Lee)
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