Friday, May 31, 2019

Another One-Night Shieling - Fidigidh

In the July 28, 2017 post I described a miserable night I spent sheltered in an old shieling at Uishal on the north end of Lewis. Two weeks ago I spent another night in a shieling, but this time it was under far better circumstances.

I was on Lewis again, hiking through the Ardveg and Hamnaway areas of Uig. It was perfect hiking weather: sunny and dry, with a cold wind to cool me off and keep the midges away. One of the places I wanted to camp was Fidigidh; a shieling site used up until WWII by the people of Breanis, five miles to the west. At Fidigidh you'll find a handful of beehive cells, along with several 'newer' rectangular shielings.

I found a good spot near the beehive cell in the previous photo to pitch the tent. And as I started to do that the wind picked up significantly. The tent was flapping wildly as I attempted to lay it flat on the ground, and so I decided it was time for Plan B. 

Plan B was to make use of the roofless shieling hut nearby, which you can see in the background of the photo. The shieling would protect me from the wind, and so I went to take a look. There was enough space inside to pitch the tent, and the ground was flat. That was the good news. The bad news was the dead sheep inside - a very dead sheep: a skeleton resting on gobs of decaying fleece. 

After putting on gloves I started tossing bones and bits of fleece over the walls. Most of the fleece was carried aloft on the wind, and for a while it looked like a snowstorm had hit Fidigidh. In a half hour the shieling had been cleared out, the tent was in place, and this tired hiker was ready for bed.

It was the perfect one-night shieling. I had a lot more room in the tent than usual. I was able to use the fireplace, and several of the stone cupboards built into the walls, to store my pack, boots, and other gear that I would normally have to leave in the tent overnight to protect them from rain and the morning dew.

The only downside was that I had no view while laying in the tent. But all I had to do was stand and look over the shieling walls, where I had my choice of several vast panoramas: south to the hills of Harris, west to the Uig Alps, or north to the high hills of Beinn a' Deas and Beinn Mheadhanach. It rained that night, along with strong winds that would have kept me awake, and put my tent to the test, if I'd pitched it on the open moorland. And so I slept soundly that night, snug as a bug in a rug, in my shieling of the one-night.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Mealasta Island

Two weeks ago I finally made it to Mealasta Island. Mealasta lies off the southwest corner of Lewis, three miles north of Scarp. I have sailed past Mealasta many times over the years, but the sea and wind conditions were never right for landing. Getting to the island was made possible by a chain of events that started with a walk I made two years ago to Fidigidh, a remote sheiling site on Lewis. Fidigidh has one of the most impressive beehive cells in the islands, and when I entered the cell I found a travelling book of poetry. (The story of finding the book can be found on the Bothy of Poems post from December of 2017).

In 2018, a year after finding the book, my wife and I met Sarah Wilson of Brenais (Uig), who had left the book in the beehive cell in 2016. Sarah also introduced us to Ian Buchanan, who lives in Breanis, and has a boat he regularly takes out into the waters near Mealasta Island. I mentioned my many failed attempts to get to the island, and Sarah and Ian extended an invitation to take me there the next time I was in the area. And so it was that on May 16 of this year, Ian ferried Sarah and myself over to elusive Mealasta Island.

Mealasta Island
Mealasta Island seen from Lewis
From the slipway at the end of the Uig road we motored across the half-mile wide Caolas an Eilean, which separate Mealasta from mainland Lewis. The best landing spot on Mealasta is at Craos, a small lagoon on the northwest corner of the island. The entrance to the lagoon is guarded by reefs, with a gap just wide enough to let in a shallow-draft boat.

The narrow entrance to the lagoon
We made landfall on the beautiful beach that lies at the head of the lagoon. Above the beach is Airighean a Chraos (Croas Shielings), where the only known dwellings on the island once stood.

I searched for the four ruins shown on the 1854 map. All I found were two vague rectangular outlines of stone, and the slight ruin of a shelter built against an outcropping of rock. I wonder if these had been the homes of the Mealasta people who were murdered for their cargo of timber at Bagh Ciarach on the east side of Lewis - a story usually referred to as the Pairc Murders. Although I am not sure if the victims were from the island, or from the Mealasta settlement opposite the island on Lewis. See the August 1, 2017 post for the story of the Pairc Murders.

The sparse remnants of a dwelling
From the old settlement site Sarah headed south to look for a spot to mount an otter trail cam, while I made a long wander around, and over the top, of the island. Here are a few photos from an enchanting day on an enchanting Island covered with primroses and sea campion.

Looking to Scarp from the northwest corner of Mealasta

Craos Beach (landing place) seen from above

Looking to Huisinis and Scarp (at far right) from the north summit
The skinny beach at Laimhraig an Seoraid (landing place of primroses)
Looking to Lewis and the hills of Harris from the south summit

The Uig hills seen from Traigh Mhor

Traigh Mhor

Craos Beach
Return to Lewis - the slipway at Road's End
It was a real privilege to spend six hours on Mealasta - an island I have wanted to see since I first laid eyes on it from afar in 2001 (see Book 2, Chapter 21).  Many thanks to Sarah and Ian for the opportunity.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Sgurr Views

One of my favorite vantage points in the Hebrides is the top of An Sgurr on the island of Eigg—an iconic landmark for all who sail through these waters. Whether you are on a boat, or a nearby island, it is quite satisfying to know you've stood atop that dramatic peak when you see it from a distance.

I have climbed An Sgurr a few times over the years; the most memorable during an ice-storm in 2006. The next photo shows what the Sgurr looked like before I climbed it that time. Not very inviting—but I went up anyway.

I am so glad I decided to carry on to the top. Although the weather was awful, it cleared up every now and then, offering amazing views over the highlands of Eigg and the surrounding isles. In no particular order here is a selection of views I've seen over the years from the slopes, and the summit, of the Sgurr of Eigg.

The final shot is my favorite. It shows the mountains of Mordor (Rum) in the distance. Tolkien is said to have based Mordor on a view like this seen from the house of Howlin, three miles north of the Sgurr. If you ever have the chance visit Eigg, be sure to make the climb to the top of the Sgurr. 

PS: I will be off line for a few weeks, wandering somewhere in the hills of Morsgail, Uig, and Harris.