TOURING THE OUTER HEBRIDES (Berneray, Harris /Lewis and St Kilda)

What a beautiful day it was when we left North Uist and headed for the ferry to Harris on tiny Berneray (which is connected to the Uists via a stone causeway.) We weren’t crossing to Harris until mid afternoon, so had plenty time to walk part of Berneray’s glorious 3 mile stretch of silver sands. There is an excellent, easy circuit of the north end of this small pretty island which is signposted and well worth fitting in.We did this hike in October 2018 and it must rank – in good light – as one of the most beautiful of all coastal walks in the Hebrides. I will write it up soon.

bernray's beach
Berneray’s beach

We followed the first turning off the main road (single track) through the little township itself, then parked on the grass where we would not block anyone else’s route (the road/track continues to the graveyard.) A 10 min walk along a grassy track and we reached the marram grass dunes which line the beach.There are myriad ways through these onto the sands.And what a view! Emerald coloured Pabbay island offshore, the shapely hills of Harris in the distance, the sea turquoise. A very difficult place to leave! We spent about an hour just strolling along by the surf, pinching ourselves at times that this WAS northern Scotland and the North Atlantic.The colours were of a South Sea atoll and we didn’t meet another soul.

Then into the queue for the 1 hour crossing of the shallow, islet and skerry – dotted Sound of Harris.It’s a lovely sail, the ferry following a  circuitous route to avoid the sand bars and submerged reefs. And all the time, the beautiful outline of Harris itself grows closer .

The rounded top of Ceapabhal held my gaze mostly.We’ve been up onto it’s wide grassy summit several times and it offers mesmerising 360 degree views of ocean and islands.It’s a steep hour or so to the top, no difficulties, just a hard slog up heather and grass with several paths presenting themselves but none being any easier than the others.On one visit, a pair of sea eagles cruised above the opalescent water of  South Harris, only a half mile or so from the hill’s summit.Porpoises and their young are regular visitors to these shallow, sheltered waters too.

High season
Ceapabhal above Scarista beach
Pronounced  Cepaval.
Ceapabhal’ steep but short slopes

By the time we drove off the ferry at Leverburgh, the clouds had rolled in and rain was pitter pattering on the windscreen.The wind was whipping up too  – just our luck to be back to wild camping AND hoping to get out to the remote archipelago of St  Kilda next day! I began to fret – this was our second attempt to reach St Kilda on one of the day trips running from Harris.We’d booked about 7 months ago, paying our £180 each up front.Of course, we’d get that back if the trip didn’t go out but this was another of my Bucket List items for this holiday and it was already looking unlikely to happen.It is 45 miles out into the ocean and the seas have to be safe enough before the boats can make the trip.

Picked up some food for dinner in An Clachan Stores in Leverburgh, Harris’s best supermarket then drove round to Northton where we knew we could park and potentially find a camping spot overlooking a lovely beach. It’s also very close – 5 mins drive  – to the harbour where the St Kilda boats leave at 8am.

We always pick a site well away from houses and so that we are not overlooked. After a 10 min walk, we found a pitch, though it was slightly sloping.

It would do – we needed to get set up quickly and get our dinner cooked on the disposable BBQ as some serious rain and winds were forecast for later.We were both nipping at each other a bit, both feeling the stress now of getting sorted, cooking the steaks and sausages (no chance of that if the rain came on; and we were both pretty hungry now as  lunch had been a light one – crisps, fizzy water and fruit.) I was definitely ‘hangry’ now – a horrible, irritable, frantic feeling I know so well. To crown it all, Chris forgot the matches! (he had told me he had them in his rucksack when I’d checked earlier.) Groan. Off he set to retrieve them from the car – somewhere – as I sat on the grass wishing we’d just got fish and chips out of the Butty Bus at the harbour. I could have eaten a scabby horse at this point.

Suddenly, as I desperately tried NOT to stuff my face with more unhealthy crisps to ward off what now felt like starvation, a  little black fin broke the surface of the sea below. A porpoise! Over the next 20 mins till Chris returned, it surfaced then dived, clearly on the hunt.It raised my mood ten fold – I even managed a smile when Chris came back, pointing out what was happening below our high vantage point.

Chris happy as ever (mostly)

It was chilly and the air was distinctly moist now with the approaching weather front and as always happens when you rush one of these things, the BBQ did NOT get going at all.  It sat there like a damp squib. Nothing else to do but pour some extra Trangia fuel onto it. Of course, the trouble then is, the meat tends to taste faintly of Meths. Oh joy. An extra smother of tomato sauce would help mask it a bit, but nothing ever quite does.

Still, the food was edible – just – and sandwiched into a couple of buttered rolls and sloshed with ketchup, it filled us up.I could feel good humour return almost immediately (and I’m sure Chris was glad of that too.He is never ruffled about anything; I,  unfortunately, make up for that.)

By 9.30pm, heavy rain and high winds were lashing the tent as we cooried inside.I now felt completely depressed (so much for the temporary revival earlier) convinced our St Kilda trip next morning didn’t have a Scooby’s chance of going ahead.To confirm my worries, we got a text from Seamus of Sea Harris, the boat operator, suggesting they’d make a final decision early tomorrow.It wasn’t looking good. ‘Oh ye of little faith,’ chided Chris, as ever relaxed and not bothered one iota what happened next day; if it went ahead, great, if not….’St Kilda’s not going anywhere….’ his usual philosophical remark. (However, at our ages, while the island looks set to remain where it is for a very long time, we may not! )

I hardly slept a wink that night, woken constantly by the howling wind.No St Kilda for us this year – again!

However, I was proven, thankfully,  wrong……

For our day trip to this incredible place see  ST KILDA DAY TRIP

A TOUR OF THE OUTER HEBRIDES (5 days on North Uist, South Uist and Barra)

A Tour of the Outer Hebrides ( South Uist, Eriskay and Barra)


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