Beinn Dubh (506m) : The Dark Mountain (3 – 4 hours round trip)
This lovely hill in the Outer Hebrides has been described as the Isle of Harris’s finest viewpoint and it’s difficult to disagree! It sweeps up from the famous creamy sands and turquoise ocean of Luskentyre, looking across to the impressive mountains of North Harris. We walked its broad tundra like ridge one summer a few years ago but it had been a cloudy day and we were eventually rained off the hill in a biting wind with very few views as a reward.So I had a real itch to do it again, if a good clear day presented itself.
We were on Harris for a week in early November 2017 staying in Atlantic Cottage, overlooking the famous Luskentyre Sands , voted one of the world’s top 10 beaches.
After mixed weather days, some strong winds but a fair portion of sunshine too, the forecast for Thursday looked promising. My youngest son , Gregor , was with us this week too ( a huge treat ) but he was recovering from knee surgery and a hill walk was too hard on his knee joint so he couldn’t do this one with us. I was also not wanting to take a whole day out of our precious week together, so the idea was to ‘do’ the hill in the morning and meet up for lunch at the lovely Skoon Art Café on Harris’s wild east coast at Geocrab. It’s only open one day in off -season but it’s such a great place to be, I didn’t want to miss the chance to relax there together. Home baking to die for!
Of course I was already fretting about fitting the walk in AND getting to Skoon in time for lunch but as Chris always says when I start to have a mini panic -‘ we’ll do all that AND beat the Spaniards also!’ One of his many sayings!
So we set the alarm super-early for 7am to make sure we’d be back for mid-day ish. Sure enough,Thursday dawned glorious with clear skies and light winds, though it was bitterly cold. Perfect for a late autumn/winter walk in the Hebrides.
After a good few mugs of tea and some toast, we said goodbye to Gregor who was off to Scarista Golf Course for some gentler exercise. Then off we set at 8.30am enjoying the novelty of not having a longish journey in the car to reach a walk. Instead, it was a five minute stroll down the single track road to where we spied a gate that looked a promising way to get across the heavily fenced croft land hereabouts; this is sheep country. The ‘official’ start for the whole ridge walk is actually miles back on the Luskentyre road but we were only doing and ‘up to the highest point and back’ walk today.
Once through the gate, we walked across sheep cropped grass to the substantial dry-stone dyke wall that runs the length of this area.
At this point, we weren’t far beyond Donald John’s tiny shed where you can sometimes hear the clack- clack of the loom as he weaves Harris tweed.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the North Harris hills though; I find them absolutely stunning. With the creamy beach in the foreground and the aquamarine sea beyond, the views were already just sublime.
Once through the wall via another gate, the rough walking really began.
I had my eye on a line that I thought would allow us to avoid the really steep, rocky route we took the last time. But this ‘easier’ line soon became a mix of bog, reeds, rocks and more bog. It felt like walking on sand, where every step feels like three! Absolutely exhausting. No wonder it was, as Chris keeps reminding me (I wish he wouldn’t) that we are no spring chickens with a combined age of 120.
There were some lovely moments though; we surprised a woodcock which shot up out of the undergrowth then flew off at speed, a beautiful sight. Flushed several snipe too, piping loudly in alarm and flying zig zag across the moorland. I could almost imagine them thinking – for God’s sake, I thought all these blasted tourists had gone for the year!
Chris was keen to ascend towards the steeper rockier route we did last time and I could almost feel him pulling us to the left, but I was sure my line would improve. It didn’t! The hill is only 400m or so and perhaps 3.5 km in distance, but it’s the sort of terrain you feel you are not making any real progress on; the top never seems to get any nearer.
But after 80 minutes of hard plodding, we suddenly found ourselves cresting the ridge and arriving, with relief , on the lovely the tundra like terrain beside a large cairn.
Wow! The views were magnificent in every direction. As always on a hill, all the pain and effort vanished in an instant as we took in the scene.
St Kilda and Boreray were faint on the horizon, islands we’d visited this summer. It had been our second attempt at getting to those remote outposts and an amazing day trip.
The Clisham and Tiorga Mor and the other North Harris hills were a deep tawny pink/ gold, the ridges and peaks undulating and fading gradually into the western ocean, like a long mountainous finger. The sea below was flat calm, like glass.
But surprisingly , most alluring of all was the view to the east, across Harris’s rocky wild hinterland and across the Sea of the Hebrides. Etched on the far horizon like sharks fins were Skye’s fearsome Black Cuillin peaks.
The Red Cuillin’s more rounded summits were clear as a bell and two of the Isle of Rum’s mountains were visible beyond Dunvegan Head and Neist Point. Stunning and mesmerising.
I went a bit nuts with the zoom lens but it really was incredible to make out these familiar peaks and cliff tops crystal clear even from this distance.
Further north on the mainland we could make out the Torridons and even Slioch above Loch Maree. The light was just fantastic to the east, one of these winter clear lemon skies, better than we had it on Harris where light cloud was sweeping in.
When I finally pulled my gaze away from all of this I’d almost forgotten that below us, in all their glory, lay the huge sands of Luskentyre and Seilebost which seemed to stretch forever. We could make out the Scarista sands too. And the golf course – though I couldn’t make out the lone figure that was Gregor, try as I might!
Beyond again lay the sheep grazing island of Pabbay and Berneray with its 4 mile long white sand beach. North Uist was visible too, land of my mother’s family and my favourite island of the whole Outer Hebrides chain.
There wasn’t a breath of wind though the north westerly airstream was Arctic cold. All this standing about admiring everything was great but we were cooling down rapidly! Then Chris reminded me that where we stood wasn’t Beinn Dubh’s true summit but a marker cairn. So off we set for the five minute stroll to the top over lovely dry ground. It reminded me a lot of Cairngorm terrain.
The views just kept opening up. Now we could see towards tiny Tarbert village and the ribbon of spectacular road that winds over North Harris and into Lewis.
The view over to the cliff face of Sron Ulladale was superb and through the gap I thought I could make out the tiny settlement around Uig on West Lewis. More famous sands around here. Beautiful hills and country. Wild as you could want.
We spent twenty minutes or so just drinking it all in, so glad to have seen the hill at its best. I can’t agree more with the opinion that it offers one of the finest views from any hill on Harris.
We took the steep route down, the rockier option and as often happens, came across a sort of track winding its way down between the bouldery rough terrain. It would have been a much easier ascent this way so I was wrong , again , a frequent occurrence!
It was 12.30pm before we arrived back at the cottage, full of the hill and its amazing views. I think the thing to do would be to wild camp up there in summer and catch sunset and/or sunrise. As with so many places in wild Scotland, so much to see and do, so little time……