Friday, June 23, 2017

Remote Hamanavay and Ardveg

After leaving Scarp we found a sheltered anchorage at the head of Loch Hamanavay (Haven Bay). This remote corner of Lewis is one of my favorite places in the isles. It was once a thriving backwater, several small settlements living off the sea. But, aside from an estate lodge, it has been abandoned since the 1950s.  Hamanavay, and the adjacent Ardveg Penninsula, see few visitors, as the only way to get here is by a hard 12 mile hike, or by boat.  (For a description of the hike from Uig see the February 17, 2015 post - for the hike in from Morsgail see the Ardveg Walk post.)

Adding to the sense of remoteness, we awoke to find the surrounding hills enshrouded in a dense, grey fog. It looked very prehistoric. It took two trips in the inflatable to get us ashore, where I was looking forward to taking the guests on a hike to the blackhouse village of Ardveg.

Hamanavay landing
Route to Ardveg
The hike to Ardveg starts easy enough, we just followed the estate track around to the head of the loch. The track ends at the estate house, where a soggy path leads a short distance farther to a footbridge over the Hamanavay River.

From the bridge a vague path traverses up the hillside, but it soon disappears into heather, rocks, and bracken. The view east to the vast, deserted interior of Lewis was expansive, and inviting. Just two miles to the northeast lies an amazing collection of sheiling ruins, including many intact beehive cells. But they would have to wait for another time. 

Looking northeast into the Lewis interior
The hill tops were still foggy as we climbed on, and after 15 minutes I didn't know it, but I missed the turn to the west that leads over the top to Ardveg. It was the sight of one of the old war-time telegraph poles that once stretched between Ardveg and Kinresort, and then a couple of collapsed beehive cells, that told me we'd gone too far east. It was time to make an about face to the west. Then a stiff climb up the grassy hillside, followed by a half-mile descent to near sea-level, finally brought us to the blackhouse village of Ardveg.

An Ardveg Panorama (photo Liz Hamilton)
The story of Ardveg was briefly told in Alasdair Alpin Macgregor's book The Haunted Isles; a wonderful book that ignited much of my interest, some 30 years ago, in the Hebrides. It inspired me to hike in to camp here for the first time 2001. Another visit was just as special, as it was part of the book launch for An Trusadh (The Gathering). Published by the Islands Book Trust in 2013, the book is the story of John Macdonald, whose family lived in Ardveg in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s (see the July 8, 2013 post.) Sadly, John passed away on Christmas Day 2016. John's sister Ina, who was born at Ardveg, also accompanied us in 2013, and if the weather cooperates, she will be returning to Ardveg as part of an Islands Book Trust event on July 15. 

We spent the better part of an hour exploring the old houses and the walled garden enclosure. Alan also took the opportunity to fly the drone over the village and down the track to the jetty once used by the MacDonalds.

Is it a drone - or a giant midge
Adjacent to the old blackhouses in the 'modern' house built by the MacDonalds in 1934. It is occasionally occupied by the artist Julie Brook and her family; the new owners of the Ardveg estate, which was sold just last year. Julie is well know for her stays in a Jura cave and Mingulay. I was hoping she'd be in residence, but no one was home.

Ardveg House (1934)

The mist was still thick on the hills as we left Ardveg to make the climb back up and over the hill. On the far side we paid a visit to the Hamanavay Mill before dropping down to sea-level and making our way back across the river to the shore track.

Hjalmar Bjorge afloat on the loch was a welcome sight to tired hikers, and we were soon back aboard. Sea and wind conditions were still unsettled to head out west to the Flannans, our ultimate hoped for destination. So the anchor was lifted and we set a course north. There was plenty of daylight left, and two islands were calling: mysterious Mealista, and Pabay Mor. 

Which would it be?

Hjalmar Bjorge at Hamanvay

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