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This is an account of our summer holiday Marilyn experience in the Hebridean Isles, from the 19th to the 31st of July 2005.
The start of the holiday was spent camping at Sligachan, so as my dad could do his favourite hill race - Glamaig. The weather was good for the race but the next day the heavens opened up and there was a torrential downpour that lasted for 24 hours. That night the campsite began to flood, and we were all slightly damp in the morning.
We spent the first five days of our holiday on Harris, staying in a lovely cottage just outside of Tarbert, a small but lovely village with a ferry port which is useful for island hoppers. We also spent the first five days drying out all our camping gear! The weather for the first two days was pretty dire, with rain and clag down to about 150 metres. Hardly attractive hill walking weather. A brief window in the weather after a trip to Stornoway gave us the chance to bag our first hill of the trip. After driving out to Siabost, we drove along a small straight road to Pairc Shiaboist, where there is a dead-end with a gate, but a full view of our hill - Beinn Bhragair. We left the car at this gate and walked the 2km to the foot of the hill. For future reference to other Marilyn baggers, you could actually drive along this road, something we never worked out until we realised it led straight up to the hill. There did not seem to be any restrictions to anyone attempting to do this, so it should be fine. Beinn Bhragair is a very rocky hill, and so held a little more excitement than the usual Lewis abundance of heather and bogs - that is not to say that they are not in great abundance too of course. However, it is a fairly easy ascent, and we were at the top in no time. The views from Beinn Bhragair are spectacular. On one side it shows mountains rising to the clouds, whereas on the other side it shows the complete opposite, the landscape being one of the flattest I have ever seen, with the only bump in the horizon being the most northerly Lewis Marilyn - Muirneag. My father described this hill as a heathery bump in the middle of nowhere when he went over it during the Western Isles challenge.
The grim weather continued the next day, and so hills were out of the question, but the next day my dad's friends Gerry and Donald arrived and we set off to do the hill of the week - Clisham. The weather was perfect, beautiful sun, hard to believe after the previous few days. Clisham is a very boggy hill lower down but further up becomes drier with large boulder fields. The last couple of hundred metres to the top was through thin cloud, and when we finally scrambled above them the view was breathtaking. A beautiful blue sky with clouds all below you, with a few unknown peaks showing their heads. The cairn is very obvious, a huge circular wall of rocks surrounding the trig point. There is another cairn further along that looks higher but it is an optical illusion. It was such a nice day that my dad wanted to get another hill in, so he battered up Toddun, which he described as having a magnificent view.
The next day we decided to go down to Beinn Dhubh. It was a lovely day but the hill was rather clagged in, so out came the compasses, and I got to put my navigational skills to the test. Myself and my two brothers, once we had descended out of the mist, ran ahead of the adults, so desperate were we to get on to the beautiful white beach at the bottom of the hill, one of many in the Hebrides.
The next day was spent island hopping to our next base - South Uist, where we were staying in a caravan at Lochboisdale. The forecast for the week ahead was brilliant. Our first hill of this half of our holiday was on the island of Eriskay, and was named Ben Scrien. It was yet another rocky hill, but we were up it in no time. Dad wanted to linger on top, but since the weather was gorgeous, and the view of the sea was incredible, we did not mind one bit. The other attraction on this island was the large beached whale on the magnificent beach on the west side of the island. Again, later on that day, dad wanted to get another hill in, so in the evening while mum was making the dinner, he disappeared to do Roneval.
The next couple of hills we did were also not on South Uist. Dad had said there were easy pickings on North Uist and said that we could do four hills in the one day! I agreed with my two younger brothers, Cameron and Fraser, that two would be a more realistic target, as we wanted to go horse riding as well that day. According to my dad, the first hill we would go up was the second lowest Marilyn on the list - Crogary na Hoe, a boggy little flog. The most amazing thing about this hill was the road you had to drive to reach it. It was almost lower than sea level, and you felt like you were in a boat, rather than in your car. If global warming continues, this road will probably disappear! After a quick bite of lunch at the car, it was off again to do Beinn Mhor. This is an easy straight-up-and-down-from-the-road kind of hill, but when we were finished, that was enough for us juniors. We waited in the car while dad bagged his third hill, Crogary Mor, and while we were horse riding he did the last hill of the day, Marrival.
The next day we left for Barra, and we were up a hill almost as soon as the ferry landed: Ben Cliad. We then travelled down to Castlebay, and after an hour or so we went up the biggest hill on Barra - Heaval. This hill was overlooking Castlebay and the other islands and was really, really steep. It also had a large white statue of Our Lady half way up. Although this is a very steep hill, and so is quite tiring, you can start high up and so it is not really that bad. That night we stayed in a private hostel in Castlebay, and went for a slap-up meal, which was great.
The next day we went up another steep hill - Ben Tangaval, which is also quite high, at 332m. Then we went to the island of Vatersay, which has unbelievable beaches. We played there for a while before dad coaxed us up our final Marilyn of the holiday - Heishival Mor. It was a quick hill and we were up and down in 40 minutes. Dad however had some unfinished business and had two days left to finish off the hills on North and South Uist that he hadn't done on previous occasions. So the next day back on South Uist we dropped dad on the north side of Hecla. It was cloudy as he vanished up into the hills, but sure enough he arrived about three and a half hours later at the end of the road near to Loch Eynort, having also bagged Beinn Corradail and Beinn Mhor en route.
The last day was a similar kind of day for us, i.e. we dropped dad off, went to do our own thing, and then picked him up at a pre-arranged location. This time we deposited him at Mingray and he headed off to do Arnaval, then on to Stulaval. Next, he went across to do Triuirebheinn. He described this area as feeling remote and unspoiled, with spectacular views across the Minch, just the kind of area he likes. His last hill of the day (and the holiday) was Beinn Ruigh Choinnich, which he said was extremely rough underfoot on the descent to Lochboisdale.
It was a tiring but very enjoyable introduction to Marilyn bagging in the Hebrides. I am sure one day we shall return to do some more.
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