Hiking the Hebridean Way – Part 5

This is part of the travel journal I wrote while walking the Hebridean Way in 2022. If you want to see all the Hebridean Way posts, you can find them here.

Day 9 – Leverburgh to Horgabost or Back in the Rain

Photos: https://photos.app.goo.gl/wgjoRpdggcsguJYVA

“I’m eager to get back on the trail” are my words as Jethro greets me at breakfast this morning. And that’s true, because after two days in Leverburgh, despite the great accommodation and good company, I am itching to get moving. Roger set off south yesterday, and Richard took the early ferry to Uig on Skye this morning. I’m taking it slower because today’s stage is only 17km, and I’ll be picked up by a taxi at the destination at 5 pm. Since there’s no cafe or pub at the pickup point, I don’t want to wait too long, especially as today certainly won’t be rain-free.

However, I also don’t want to start too late, because the period from 10 to 12 is supposed to be the driest of the day. So I say a heartfelt goodbye to Jethro and Barry (yesterday’s “Howard” was a mishearing), pack the plentiful and very tasty-looking lunch, and set off.

Looks dry, doesn’t it?

Indeed, the day starts off fairly “dry,” and although I get a bit damp, it isn’t unpleasant and I have the wind at my back again. I walk along Loch Steisebhast, then turn into the peat bog towards Scarista (or Sgarasta in Gaelic). The names here are mostly of Scandinavian origin, from the Vikings who settled here. Britannia players will remember.

Loch Steisebhast in the light rain.

As I come over the pass above Scarista towards the coast, I can just make out the first wonderful beach (Sgarasta Mhór Beach) beneath the cloud cover. It’s just enough to imagine what a great panorama one would have in the sunshine. But today it’s mostly gray.

I can only image how woderful Sgarasta Mhór will look on a sunny day,

Descending, the rain gradually intensifies and sweeps down to the beach in long waves. The Hebridean Way leads through the dunes for a bit, and I try to walk along the beach, but the sand is very deep – probably also due to the rain – and hard to walk on. Soon, the path returns inland and should ascend the hillside on the other side of the road. Unfortunately, a tractor blocks the signpost at the turn-off as I pass, and I walk too far along the road. It’s annoying to have the wind in my face on the way back. The rain slowly seeps through all my clothes.

Rain rain the beach.

Through the heath and moor of the coastal slopes, it’s now supposed to go to Horgabost (what a great name!), today’s destination. This turns out to be much more strenuous than expected. The ground is now absolutely saturated with water, the rain is getting even stronger, and I’m having flashbacks to my Dartmoor hike. Moreover, the signage of the Hebridean Way is really poor here. Often, you can’t see the next trail post at all, and my GPS track is only partially helpful in this rough terrain. Again and again, I find myself cursing as I wander around in the bog to find the next marker or to climb a steep hill that looked harmless from 50 meters away.

Eventually, my shoes and socks give up, and water squelches with every step, squeezing through my toes. I’m close to breaking my Dartmoor wetness record. Light rain was forecast today? Finally, I reach Glen Horgabost, turn into the valley a bit too early, and struggle over a flooded sheep pasture back to the trail. There, the turn-off towards the road! Rarely have I been so happy to have asphalt under my feet again.

This is still easy terrain in the morning.

From here, it’s just a short walk to the main road and Horgabost Campsite. It’s only three o’clock, and I’ll have to wait another two hours. I wanted to go slower and more leisurely, but the weather doesn’t invite dawdling and lingering. At the campsite, there’s actually a snack bar (also a food truck), and it’s even open (it’s not Sunday). The ladies look at me with sympathy and even give me the hot coffee I order for free. Very nice! They also offer to let me dry off a bit in the campsite office. It’s not heated (so I still have to keep moving), but the chance to take off my jackets and get out of the rain is invaluable. Plus, the “office” is being managed by Barney, who is friendly and in a good mood, supplying me with more coffee. But he complains about the weather, as do all the other islanders.

A nasty 20km today, especially that second half struggling through the moor above the coast. Did I mention the dead sheep I stepped in?

A while after me, a German hiker arrives with a large backpack and a tent, planning to stay here overnight. I admire her but also feel intense sympathy. Setting up a tent and sleeping in it with all the wet clothes in this weather is no fun. We briefly discuss whether and how to shorten or skip tomorrow’s stage, but then my taxi arrives. Finally, warmth! The taxi driver (also complaining about the weather) is somewhat incredulous when he hears about my stage today and shakes his head when I say that tomorrow’s will be even longer. He’s a big football fan and is gleeful about England’s 0-4 loss to Hungary yesterday. When I give my usual explanation of where I’m from in Germany (“100km east of Cologne”), he immediately assumes I’m a 1.FC Köln fan.

He will pick me up tomorrow as well – if I do the stage. I’ll check the weather forecast and the condition of my shoes in the morning – and if both aren’t reasonably acceptable, I’ll stay in Tarbert, where I’m staying at the Hotel Hebrides. The room is nice, the food is okay, but it’s getting busier and more typically “touristy” here. It would still be nice to explore the place. We’ll see what tomorrow brings. Best regards from your (dry) Ralf in a hotel room laid out with wet clothes!

Day 10 – Seilebost to Tarbert on the Corpse Road

Photos of the day: https://photos.app.goo.gl/tRekDceL6DTBbiKa8

It’s on the edge until the last moment. When I wake up briefly at 5am, the sun is laughing outside, but by breakfast at 8, rain showers are passing by. At 8:30, I have my finger on the phone, ready to call Harris Taxi. One last look at the weather forecast for Tarbert. Should I believe that it will stay dry from noon to evening? Can I endure the 1-2 hours of rain I need to get through before that? Oh well, I’m here to hike, not to cry. So no call, and as planned, I get picked up at 9:30.

The rainy coast

Today it’s the actual “Harris Taxi,” yesterday it was a colleague from QuickCabs covering for him. Harry – let’s just call him that – has much more understanding for my hiking hobby than his colleague from yesterday and knows the area well. He has hiked the entire Hebridean Way himself and clearly drives hikers frequently. He can understand my decision to skip a part of today’s start and practically congratulates me for it. It would be another section like yesterday’s second half, with rough terrain, no real path, and sparse markings. The only plus point would be a magnificent view of the beaches, including the most famous one on the Hebrides: Luskantyre Beach. But the clouds are so low that you wouldn’t see any of that anyway.

Luskentyre Beach

So instead of all the way back to Horgabost we only go to Seilebost, where the path comes down from the hills. As I get out, the rain has lessened, and I happily march off. I’ll see Harry again tomorrow evening when he picks up my luggage and me and takes us to Kinloch House B&B.

The Corpse Road

Now I turn back onto the Hebridean Way at the end of a field path by a small loch, leading away from the coast down a long valley. This section is known as the “Corpse Road,” because in the 18th century, the farmers who were driven out of the fertile western fields brought their dead here to bury them in the old soil. The landowners used the old farmland for sheep farming, as the wool trade was significantly more profitable than the small farmers’ dues. Many were forced to emigrate, and those who stayed had to farm the much harsher eastern coast. A sad chapter in the islands’ history.

I don’t see any funeral processions, nor any ghosts, but the weather is suitably gloomy as I walk along the Corpse Route. However, the path is in excellent condition and dead straight, so I make very good progress. When I reach the eastern side of the island with its many lochs and lochans, the rain actually stops and only a few drops will fall for the rest of the day – very pleasant! Through the “Scholar’s Way,” an old route for students to school, and the “Golden Road,” a very expensive road through difficult terrain, I continue east and north. They are both in good condition and pleasant to walk on, quite the opposite of yesterday. Only the stones are slippery, and once I have to perform a complex acrobatic dance to avoid falling into the mud. Just barely saved.

The sheep have no problem on the wet rocks.

It stays gray and misty, but the clouds slowly rise, and I get a few beautiful views of the large bay to the east, all the way to the island of Scalpay and the large bridge leading to it.

Scalpay Bridge in the distance.

Tired but not nearly as exhausted as yesterday, I arrive in Tarbert and get myself a hot Cajun Chicken Wrap at the “Island Bites” food truck. What was intended as a late lunch is so plentiful that it will serve nicely as dinner as well. It’s also great that I can enjoy it sitting on a bench without freezing or getting wet again.

A very welcome sign.

Back at the hotel, all my things from yesterday are dry, and what got wet today will dry overnight. The weather forecast looks good, with the sun slowly coming out from 11 am! I will take it easy, as I have another short day (16km) and will be picked up by the taxi again at 5 pm. So I can take my time and wait for the sun.

A much more pleasant day than yesterday.

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