Marhofn 153.08 - May 2006

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Shiants, Seaforth, and Scarp

by Jon Metcalf, aged 41

Last September I joined the Harris bagfest of Michael and Sue Curtis and Iain Price. Thoughts turned to some persistent outliers months in advance, and plans were laid with Ann Bowker and Gordon Adshead for another attempt on the Shiants (my fourth).

Come the day, while not counting any chickens, I was indescribably happy to even set off from Stornoway towards our goal. Basking sharks on the way out were all good and fine, but it wasn't until the Shiant Islands finally loomed out of the sea haze that I started believe we would finally land there. And yet horrors! On all sides the main island, Garbh Eilean, seemed to be flanked by precipitous drops. As we went through the pantomime of landing the party by toy dinghy, the boatman darkly warned of there being only one way up.

I adopted my normal position in the peloton when the gradient reared. A series of twisting ledges and gullies were negotiated using wisps of will-it-or-won't-it-adhere vegetation, then I missed a retrospectively easy traverse into a gully, and was faced with a horrid line up through crags at the bounds of my psychological comfort. I didn't find a single ledge big enough to recover on until the top, where I was reunited with Iain, Michael and Sue, who had considerately waited for me. The rewards for the climb included stunning cliff views over the kilometre-long traverse from the top of the stiff climb to the summit, and a fine dram from Ann to celebrate what she thought would be her last new Marilyn. I remarked that if there were more ordeals like that, I might consider not climbing any more either. Back at the cliff, instead of reversing the way we had come, we elected to descend a grass gully that would have been suicidal if the grass were damp. This option seemed far preferable to reversing the ascent route, despite the boatman's warning. Gordon wisely hung back to be last going down this gully, remarking that he didn't want to be swept off by a friend falling from above. Thankfully, it led down fairly simply to an enjoyable scramble round the coastal boulders back to the landing point. Our trip back was blessed with easy and plentiful mackerel fishing, which provided a splendid supper back at the cottage.

Jon Metcalf adheres to Garbh Eilean (photo: Ann Bowker)

Jon Metcalf adheres to Garbh Eilean (photo: Ann Bowker)

Seaforth Island

Seizing on the precious commodity of a reliable and contactable boatman plying the east side of the long isle, we booked him for a visit to Seaforth Island the day after the Shiants outing. This relatively expensive option put an end to a frustrating string of weather let-downs and no-shows from other boatmen over the years. Never again will I have to drive past this tantalisingly short crossing wondering if it is ever going to be. The fish farm appears to have been moved elsewhere, so the opportunistic ferrying available in recent years has disappeared.

The hill itself sadly does not have much intrinsic merit, and it wasn't the best of days for views into Pairc and down Loch Seaforth, which are probably quite dramatic on the right day. I was too happy at slaying another longstanding foe to be bothered about how ridiculous the landing procedure of drifting to shore in the toy dinghy looked, or that Gordon was recording events with his digital camera.

Scarp and Mealista

Ho hum, this success was getting routine. The next day the cottage four met Roddy of Seatrek at Huisinis slipway exactly when arranged, after he'd travelled the length of Lewis by boat. Scarp was far more like it after mundane Seaforth, although it was a real rush to get from the drop-off slipway to the top and back in the three hours available. The excellent deserted village near the start merited far more time than we were able to give it, but the striking views of St Kilda and the Monarch Islands, together with a sea eagle sighting, were superb compensation from the summit. Afterwards we took in the nearby island of Mealista, too low for Marilyn status, but large enough to be listed in the Hamish Haswell-Smith islands guide. This has become another list to tick which I would never have picked up if I hadn't stumbled across Alan's book on a wet afternoon in Fort William.

Jon's flight of fantasy

Jon's flight of fantasy

Mealista had an idyllic untrodden beach and a rock scramble landing. Michael and Sue ambled along the deserted beach, while Iain and I made the obligatory summit visit over ungrazed vegetation, similar to that on the equally uninhabited Longay east of Skye.

Fingers crossed for similar fortunes next year when we hope to dice with the authorities on St Kilda.

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