Finding routes on Scotland’s islands has always been an important and non-negotiable element of the book. This is despite the fact that it would clearly be easier and arguably more useful to a greater number of people to concentrate my route finding on the mainland.
Scotland’s islands are amazing places: incredibly diverse; sometimes hard to get to and always a memorable experience. My last ‘book trip’ being a prime example! Due to the impending pressure of the 9-5 job and a staggeringly good weather forecast I set out on what in Glasgow seemed a rather over-optimistic road and boat trip.
First stop Harris. Thanks to the Westies I had heard of some old ‘green roads’ in the Western Isles which I was keen to track down. More local help from the organisers of the Harris Half Marathon led me to the last settlement to be connected to the public road network. In 1989 a single track road was built to connect the hamlet of Reinigeadal/Rhenigdale which previously was only accessible by foot or boat. The foot path – one of those green roads I’d been told about – turned out to be superb with an impressive set of zig-zags. Sadly I couldn’t linger on Harris as my whistle stop tour of Scotland’s islands had to continue if I was going to stay within the weather window and get to the 9-5 job on time.
Next stop Hoy. Not very close to Harris except by global standards. The whole of the North of Scotland was basking in the calm bright sunshine of a well established high pressure system as I embarked on the ferry from Scrabster. I joined the rest of the tourists taking photos of the Old Man of Hoy as we sailed slowly past it on our way to Stromness.
The following morning I joined a team of climbers heading for the Old Man on the passenger ferry to Graemesay and Hoy. As they waited for their taxi I set off on foot towards Rackwick Bay. At the start of the path was a small lochan where a number of large brownish seagull-like birds were swimming. I wonder what they are, I thought – naively as it turned out – they look a bit like skuas I’ve seen in the Arctic. Unsurprisingly I didn’t manage to catch up with the climbers and the next time I saw them they were at the base of the sea stack. It looked huge in comparison. They had certainly got the perfect day for the route!
I carried on along the cliff tops then turned inland to head over to the summit of Cuilags and back to the ferry slip. Although the path had faded into nothingness the moorland was springy and easy to run, the sun was shining and I was having a fantastic day. Then it started. The first I knew was a fleeting shadow and whoosh near my head. I looked up, circling round to begin its second pass was one of those big brown birds I had seen on the lochan. Yes, definitely a skua judging by its behaviour – I had better get out of there! Much easier said than done. The moorland had clearly been partitioned up and all I was doing was running from one bird’s territory into another! Not very clever. Eventually I reached the Cuilags and could relax as no-one else seemed to have claimed the summit plot. Hoy, Graemesay and the Orkney mainland were spread out below and surrounded by sparkling blue sea. Another fantastic view and book experience to add to my collection. Note to self: next time, avoid bonxie breeding season!