A pleasant Hebridean walk to a land cloaked in mists and mystery

This week Rambler Malcolm Christie describes a walk he did at the end of May to the Isle of Lewis with his wife.

My wife and I travelled to this foreign land on the Western edge of Scotland.

I say “foreign” because a visit to the most western of Scotland’s islands is to go to a land as different to our landscape around Milngavie as, say, New Zealand.

We travelled to the very northwest of Lewis via Skye and the Calmac ferry from Uig in northwest Skye to Tarbert in Harris. We then drove to Stornoway in Lewis. The scenery in Harris is grand and mountainous but once in Lewis the land flattens out. At intervals along the road to Stornoway there are small plantations of anaemic-looking conifers, but once you take the road across the island from Stornoway to the west coast you are into peat bog territory. Its main feature is its lack of landmarks; no trees, no hills, no rock outcrops, just a never-ending blanket of heather, broken by patches of grasses and reeds. The peat bogs are scarred by brown slashes where peat has been dug recently. It is evident that this is still an important fuel and source of heat in Hebridean households.

It took me a while to see the beauty in this landscape. But after a couple of days of grey skies and a howling wind the gently varying shades of colour in the grasses betwixt the bogs and the coast became evident, akin to the subtle tones of hebridean tweeds.

We had booked into a newly opened bed and breakfast in an area called North Galson. The Galson Estate Trust manages the 56,000 acre community owned estate and organises walks in the area. We went on one led by a ranger from the John Muir Trust. The walk started at the Butt of Lewis lighthouse designed and built in 1862 by the brothers, David and Thomas Stevenson; the latter was the father of Robert Louis Stevenson.

It was fortunate that we saw it on a wild afternoon when the seas dashed against its jagged cliffs. Fulmars wheeled between their nests on the cliffs and the turbulent sea. The Butt of Lewis path is way marked and follows the cliff edge to the south. The turf is short and springy and dotted with rabbit burrows. Besides the great number of fulmars there were also plentiful oyster catchers and shags and the occasional ringed plover. The cliff edge leads to a bay on the opposite shore on which you can see the slipway from where the men of Ness could launch their fishing boats. The path leads into the village and on its edge is the ancient 12th century chapel dedicated to St Moluag, a Celtic saint.

It was restored from its ruinous state in the 19th century by a Scottish Episcopalian clergyman and is still in use as an Episcopal chapel. It is a place of peace and well worth a visit.

You return to the lighthouse by a narrow road and you are very unlikely to meet a car.

In all, the walk is two miles long and well worth it for its dramatic cliffs. It’s a magnificent place and well worth coming to.