Photography: Hebrides and Lakes 2003
In Late May 2003, I went, with a friend of mine, to the Hebrides. I had been there previously in 2002, but this time I went with the specific intention of walking up the hills there, rather than merely strolling in among them. The Hebrides are a series of islands off the West coast of Scotland. These are broadly divided into the Inner and Outer Hebrides. We visited two islands: the Isle of Skye in the Inner Hebrides, and the islands of Harris and Lewis in the Outer Hebrides (although they bear separate names, Harris and Lewis form a single island together). On our journey back to England, we stopped off in the Lake District, a hilly region in the North of England. These are the best of the photos from this remarkable trip.
The Isle of Skye
Skye is connected to the Scottish mainland by a road bridge, so we were able to drive all the way to the island. The road there winds through some of the most spectacular scenery to be found anywhere. This first photo was taken from a stopping point by the road side, still on the mainland.
We arrived on Skye in the early afternoon, on an almost perfect day. We decided to go for a small walk in the Quirang, to the North of the island. We climbed from the small carpark at the bottom up to a flat area called the table (total ascent 1200 feet). The first photo here was taken before the walk, from the top carpark, looking East towards the mainland in the far distance. The second was taken on our way back down, looking South over the Trotternish peninsula.
The hills of southern Skye are loosely divided into two ranges: the Red Cullins to the East, and the Black Cullins to the West. Even the easiest ascent in the Black Cullins would be a challenge for any but the most serious of trekkers, and given that it was our first full day, we decided to forgo that pleasure in favour of an easier ascent of Marsco, in the Red Cullins (total ascent 2400 feet, total distance 8 miles). Not realising that there was a relatively easy path to the top, we went across country, and straight up the North flank of the mountain. The walk starts at sea level, and follows a small path south into the uninhabited Glen Sligachan. This glen runs from the south northwards, and divides the Black Cullins from the Red Cullins. In the first photo, you can see this beautiful glen, with the peak of Sgurr nan Gillean (in the Black Cullins) to the right of the frame. The second photo is from the top of Marsco, looking into the Black Cullins. The scale here is deceptive - the valley bottom is 2000 feet below the peak, and the Black hills rise to well over 3000 feet. The third photo looks south from the top, towards the islands of Eigg and Rum. After a battle to reach the summit by what can only be described as a treacherous route (made more so by the wet conditions and the fog), we found a small but easy footpath descending the Eastern flank of the mountain. The fourth photo is taken just over halfway down, overlooking Glen Sligachan to the West. The final photo was taken once we were safely back on the path through Glen Sligachan. It shows my friend, Zoe, with Marsco behind. Our route of ascent was straight up the near face of Marsco, close to the leftmost of the two gullies running down the North slope.
On our last day on Skye, we decided to take it easy, and went for a boat ride to Loch Coruisk, in the heart of the Black Cullins. This area is entirely uninhabited (the only building being a small hut for walkers to overnight in. It is accessible from the East either by boat, or by a hard 5-mile walk across rough terrain. The weather in the Black Cullins is notoriously bad and, on this particular day, it was extremely windy with a cloud layer fixed at about 1400 feet. This is a great pity, since the Loch is surrounded by a chain of (I think) 9 peaks over 3000 feet high.
Harris and Lewis
After 3 days on Skye, we headed out for the small port of Uig, to catch a ferry across to Tairbeart (Tarbert) on Harris. The day dawned fine, but over the course of the 20 mile crossing, it became apparent that the weather was worsening. We drove quickly to our Bed and Breakfast, then headed out to the beaches on the west coast of South Harris. When we arrived at Losgantir (Luskentyre) beach, the weather was still clear to the North. This photo shows the view looking North from the beach, to the hills of North Harris, the nearest of which is 6 miles distant. Sadly the weather worsened shortly after the photo was taken. We were able to climb a small hill (Ceapabhal - 1200 feet) that afternoon, which on a better day would have commanded a fantastic view over the Sound of Taransay and the Sound of Harris, as well as over the Islands of North Uist and even South Uist. We raced the descending clouds to the top, but came off second best.
The following day, we did what would have been a delightful circular walk from a carpark near Tairbeart to the small settlement of Reinigeadal (total ascent 2000 feet, total distance 11 miles). Sadly, the cloud level remained fixed at 500 feet for the duration of the walk, and I was not able to get any good photos.
On our third day, we went for a drive around the island. The island is surprisingly big, and we covered 200 miles all told. Just after midday, we stopped at Scarasta beach on South Harris. The first two photos below are taken from the beach, looking northwards towards North Harris. On our way out of the Harris Hills, I took the second pair of photos. This area is right at the transition between the Harris hills in the South and the flat Lewis countryside further north.
On our final full day on Harris, we decided to climb a mountain called Uisgneabhal Mor. This is the third highest mountain on Harris and Lewis, rising to some 2350 feet above sea-level. Over most of the land area of North Harris, there is neither any trace of human habitation, nor any real footpaths. Thus, the only way up Uisgneabhal Mor was a cross-country walk. We set out at 9:45 am, and two and a half miles (and three and a half hours) later, we attained the summit via the rounded South Ridge. The first photo was taken from the base of the south ridge, some 1000 feet above sea level. You can see the Island of Tarasaigh (Taransay), and beyond that the beaches of South Harris. Our route of ascent was along the high groud to the left of the frame. The second photo is a view of the summit of the mountain, with Zoe on top of it, looking northwards. The next two are views from the summit. The first looks south towards Tarasaigh and South Harris. One can clearly make out two enourmous beaches. The nearest of these is Losgantir beach, and the further one is Scarasta beach. The next view looks to the Northwest over the Harris hills. The land in that direction, as far as the eye can see, is almost devoid of any trace of human habitation. At the top, we stopped for a brief lunch. Since we had made good time, I suggested making our walk a long circular route, taking us up the neighbouring mountain (Teileasbhal), and down the far side, heading all the while further north, and further from the road. It was on our ascent of Teileasbhal that we began to notice errors in the Ordinance Survey map. Indeed, there were several large outcroppings of rock and loose scree slopes that had been omitted entirely. The last photo of this set was taken on the descent of Teileasbhal, looking to the Northeast, once again over uninhabited country. Our line of descent took us north from there, down a slippery heather-covered slope and onto a small track, heading back southwards to the coast. This was quite simply one of the most perfect walks I have ever done. It is impossible to describe the isolation of this place - suffice to say that Harris covers perhaps 200 square miles, and has a population of only just over 2000, almost all of this in Tairbeart and South Harris. Our walk took 10 hours, and during that time, we didn't meet or even see another person anywhere in that vast landscape. It also ranks among the hardest day walks I have done, despite the relatively modest ascent and distance covered (total ascent 2750 feet, total distance 10 miles), simply because the terrain was utterly untracked.
The Lake District
On our way back down from Scotland, we stopped in the Lake District, in the North of England, for two nights. We spent our day there climbing Helvellin (total ascent 3000 feet, total distance 8 miles), from Patterdale, via Striding Edge, to Grasmere. Since they were pretty much on the route anyway, we also summited Nethermost Pike and Dollywagon pike. The contrast could not have been greater - we must have met several hundred people on the walk. The photos below were taken on the way up. The first looks east towards Patterdale (our starting point). The mountain to the right of the frame is St. Sunday Crag. The second is taken from the same spot looking South, over the valley of Grisedale. St. Sunday Crag is now on the left of the frame, and Fairfield is just behind it. The mountain to the right of the frame is Dollywagon pike. The third photo is taken from the infamous Striding Edge, looking South towards Fairfield.