Friday, June 14, 2019

The Hamnavay Track and Beyond - Day 1

I have posted before on the Burma Road of Lewis, also known as the Hamnavay Track (see the Feb 17, 2015 post). It is a 10-mile unpaved road, gouged out of the moorland and hills in the interior of Uig, that leads from Ardroil to Hamnavay Lodge.

I have walked this road about 10 times over the past 20 years. After each time I tell myself I'll never walk it again. It is a hellish grind, this long and winding road, with its seemingly never ending series of false summits. It saps your strength - especially if you are carrying a pack with 30 pounds of gear to camp for several days. But I always seem to end up walking it again, as it is the quickest way to access the remote interior of Uig.

And so, last month, I decided to walk it yet again, in order to visit some of the shieling sites that dot the moorland in the Ardveg. An hour into the walk I came to the gate that was installed when they built the road in 1999 to prevent riff-raff (like me) from driving the road. On all my previous walks the gate had been locked, and so I was surprised to find it propped open.

Another surprise awaited two miles past the open gate: it was another gate, one that had been installed since my last walk this way in 2017. This gate was locked, but I was happy to see they'd provided a bypass for walkers around one of the posts. I had no idea at the time why they'd built this second gate. But I was to learn why in a few days. (I do not know the details, but it seems the old gate blocked access someone legally had to the nearby moorland lochs, so they have to move the road blockade a couple of miles south.)

As I passed around the locked gate I wondered what other surprises awaited; I would have to wait three hours to find out, as that's how long it took to climb the pass (1000 ft), and then make the descent to Loch Tamnavay.

The surprise was yet another new, and locked gate, blocking the track just before it reached Hamnavay Lodge. Not only was it locked, but there was no way for a walker to get around it. If I'd had wire cutters I'd have clipped the barbed-wire on one side of the gate to get past, as it in not legal to block access like this. But lacking cutters, there was nothing to do but climb the nearly 5-foot-high gate. I have always respected their privacy when walking in this area, staying as far from the lodge as possible, and I have always checked with the Estate Manager when passing this way in hunting season, and so this gate made me mad. Respect has to be two ways, and this onerous locked gate was a blatant sign of disrespect.

Once over the locked gate, and past the lodge, I crossed the footbridge over the Tamnavay River. Then a climb up the hillside to the south led to Loch Grunavat. After seven hours of hiking I was nearing my destination for the night, the beehive cells of Bothan Aird: a place I'd been to before, but had never spent the night. 

From Loch Grunavat I followed several of the petrified WWI telegraph poles to the east, then headed up the slopes of Cliet nam Bothan Aird.

Near the summit of Cliet nam Bothan Aird I came to its two beehives cell, one of which is 100% intact. I had been considering sleeping in the cell, but its floor was covered with stones and wet moss, so I pitched the tent next to the cell. 

I then enjoyed supper, and the can of beer I'd lugged for 12 miles, while sitting at the summit of the hill. The cell-dwellers here had a fantastic view west to the Atlantic and the island of Scarp.

The night was exciting. Around midnight a storm blew up, and I was glad I'd securely staked down the the tent. After putting in earplugs to drown out the howling wind, I managed to get back to sleep. I would need the rest. The plan for the next day was to head farther inland to spend the next night at Fidigidh, a cluster of shielings, some used up until WWII.

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