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Wonky Walking

Adventures on foot when living with disability and chronic illness

Hot smoked salmon

Our last day at the bothy. After cleaning out the fire I settled down to read whilst Rich had a lie-in. It’s the peace and quiet that we’ll miss. Whilst we live in a town, it’s in a quiet part of town fortunately, but it’s still urban nonetheless and we’re both better in remote places. Holidays such as this, where you have to wrap up warm to go outside to the fridge, and where you appreciate having access to a stove for heat, make you appreciate the simple things in life, and remind you that this is still more than many people live with.

Just after noon we headed south to North Uist’s one and only pub – the Westford Inn. Neither of us could face what we’ve been eating for lunch pretty much every day for the last 2 weeks – corned beef slices, edam, and crisps, with some olives thrown in as the vegetable component! These are all easy for Rich to eat when he’s tired though, and so we do what we can to limit choking episodes, and keep his weight up. Thanks to a mum-in-law brainwave we also pack sachets of Deliciously Ella baby food. When Rich is cold and tired he often can’t eat solids at all, so these sachets mean that he can get some fuel inside quickly, without having to resort to disgusting gels. We all agree that the sachets are absolutely wasted on babies!

We were the first diners to arrive and were served quickly. Rich opted for scampi and chips, whilst I had salmon and seaweed risotto. The portion sizes were huge, and Rich’s double cooked chips were sublime. Had we known the food was this good we’d have come down sooner, but it made for a lovely treat on our final day, and we’d heartily recommend if you’re driving around North Uist.

Once sated we headed back to the Hebridean Smokehouse to stock up on vacuam packs of hot smoked salmon as gifts, before taking one last walk along Hosta beach. There was a little van full of collie dogs parked up when we arrived, and they all bounded over for cuddles. Wherever we go we seem to attract the daft dogs and cats. Rich seemed not to have realised that the tide was coming in and managed to get wet feet and trouser legs. It’s easy to see how people get into trouble in the sea here as the waves and currents can be ferocious. The surf on this side of North Uist is definitely best admired from afar, unless you know what you’re doing with a surfboard. I wouldn’t mind trying bodyboarding or stand up paddle boarding, but with my dislocating knees and Rich’s lack of cochlears, normal surfing is out of the question unfortunately.

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Griminish

We’d planned to walk up a hill called Burabhal today, but locals advised us that the stepping stones would be submerged, making the route too precarious for Rich with his balance issues. Whilst I’d be happy to fish him out of the water, getting hypthermia would not be an ideal way for us to end the holiday. Instead we drove 5 minutes north and parked at the top of the track to Griminish, which we’d been told was another beautiful bay.

We started by walking down to Callernish pier, not having realised that it’s still very much a working pier, and got talking to two fisherman, one of whom was from Cornwall. They fish for shrimp, and fish farm feed, and had an amazing display of lobster pots and other paraphernalia. They proceeded to regale us with tales of local feuds which we found fascinating – it’s all going on on North Uist! They found it hard to believe that people could be nice to each other in church on Sunday, and go back to hating each other on Monday. Fortunately just as they started telling sexist jokes their boss turned up so they quickly got back to work, and we continued up the track in search of the stone monument. Alas the local laird has built a new estate here and prohibited access. We got as far as a field of friendly horses, had cuddles with them, and then decided to cut our losses and turn back rather than traipse over land where we clearly weren’t welcome, especially as Duncan the bothy owner had told us tales of walkers being shot at on the island. Lo and behold we again ended up at the world’s best Co-op in Sollas, where the mini creme eggs were finally on sale a good few days after Easter, marking a perfect end to the walk.

Vallay

A slow start to the morning consisting of tryptans and my frozen gel pillow – essentials that I have to pack for any trip as part of my migraine management strategy. Fortunately I felt human by 10am so we decided to head down to the nearby hamlet of Paibeil as we’d seen a postcard of the beach there and it looked absolutely stunning. We parked in an old stone cattle enclosure on the track leading down to Baile Mor, and indeed were greeted by a magnificent stretch of sand. As there aren’t any designated picnic or parking areas though it appeas to not be on the tourist trail.

We walked north west to the promontory – Masgeir, and then on the Airigh Nighean Allein, all the while watching the birds. We saw only one dog walker, but otherwise had the place to ourselves. At 3 pm we headed back to the bothy for a late lunch, in time to cook a chilli before this evening’s adventure. Duncan, the bothy owner, had arranged to take us on an excursion to Vallay – a tidal island. You have to know the route across the sands and so we opted to travel in his car, rather than submerge ours. Whilst I’d have driven over at about 20mph, Duncan, much to Rich’s delight, got his rickety truck up to 50mph. As it had no back seats Rich had to literally sit on a pile of rubble in the back, and I could hear him squealing with delight as we bounced over the still wet sand!

We parked near Vallay House so that we could explore the ruins which would have made quite a home in its heyday. It must have been a nightmare to heat though, and would explain why most rooms had two fireplaces, and the walls were so thick. North Uist is not known for its balmy weather. We were then taken on a whistle stop tour of some of Vallay’s magnificent beaches – without a doubt some of the most beautiful we’ve ever seen. No one lives on the island now, it’s privately owned and is just used for grazing. Definitely not a bad place for the coos to live though.

Back at the bothy for a late dinner in front of the fire, you can tell that we’ve settled into bothy life as we decided that we wouldn’t bother to take showers tonight because we’d risk getting cold again. Rich says that washing is over-rated. At least it is when it’s cold out. And cold kills the bugs. Apparently.

Lolling around Lochmaddy

Rest day! Hurrah! After a leisurely breakfast we headed off the to the North Uist metropolis that is Lochmaddy. We parked in the Arts Centre, and then crossed the road to the Lochmaddy Hotel for a much anticipated lunch out. There are only so many packed lunches of cheese and salami slices that we can tolerate. We were surprised to find ourselves the only diners, but when we spoke to the bar owner she said that this was still too early for most tourists, and that they don’t really get the numbers until the school summer holidays. Our meals were tasty, good size and good value.

Whilst Rich settled the bill I quickly walked over to look at the teeny tiny ferry port. We then explored the Arts Centre gallery as there was an exhibition of the work of local photographers which I’d read about before coming out to the hebrides. I also bought another book as I’d almost finished my last one, and I can never be without reading material – I usually get through 6 on a two week trip.

After visiting the mackerel mosaic behind the Arts Centre, created by Rosalind Waites, the women who taught me to mosaic no less; and the ‘High tide, low tide’ sculpture by Christine Boshier, we moved the car to the village hall and followed the trail to ‘The hut of the shadows’ – a camera obscura designed as a small turf-roof bothy. We tried our damndest to see the picture of Loch nam Madadh that’s supposed to be projected onto the wall, but I’m guessing you need actual sunshine outside, so we saw nothing. It still made an enjoyable way to explore Lochmaddy though. It’s a very small place with just a bank, a small shop, and a post office as well as the hotel and arts centre, but it felt like a town compared to where we’ve been staying on the hill.

Crogearraidh Mor

Knowing that the forecast was back to strong winds and rain tomorrow, we couldn’t not climb a hill today. We drove north east from the bothy, parked alongside Loch Aonghais, and then walked up Crogearraidh Mor – a rocky hill which provides magnificent views over towards the islands of Berneray and Vallay. Whilst it was by no means a long walk, the views on the top made negotiating the very boggy ground worthwhile, so much so that we decided to walk up the adjacent hill – Maari, as well. This provided yet more stupendous views inland, with not a soul to be seen.

With our need for fresh air and exercise satisfied, we headed back to our favourite ever Co-op to stock up, but were disappointed that they hadn’t reduced the prices of the Easter Eggs. Rich refuses to pay full price, so we usually treat ourselves after Easter Sunday! It was so sweet though that with just one other person in front of us in the queue, the manageress insisted on opening another till to serve us. Now that’s customer service!

Wanting to make the most of the good weather we then drove up to the St. Kilda viewpoint to eat our packed lunch. That there was another car in ‘our’ space shows how at home we’ve come to feel on North Uist, but fortunately they soon left so we were able to take in the views.

Griminis

For the first time since we arrived, I heard the birds singing when I went outside to fetch the milk. Until now, it’s been far too windy. I could even see St Kilda from out front! The weather has definitely started to turn, although we still need a bowl of hot porridge for breakfast, and today Rich had the fabulous idea of adding the last of our posh drinking chocolate flakes to it – given to us as a gift last Christmas. The result was a revelation! Although now it means we’ve developed a taste for decadent porridge.

Today’s walk started from the school and community college at Lionacleit, on the island of Benbecula. Whilst the sun had emerged, we had to brace the car doors against the wind when getting out. We followed the minor road to Torlum, and then on the footpath to Griminis met a local family who were curious as to where we were staying and for how long. It seems that most tourists just zip through the Uists, rather than lingering as we were.

From Griminis we headed west to the sand dunes and magnificent beach, where apparently otters can sometimes be seen, but there were too many dogs being walked along it today. We also spotted our first walking group of the trip. At the promontory we met a local farmer busy collecting seaweed to fertilise his fields. He was very friendly, and again curious as to what we were doing on the islands. He said that he wouldn’t want to live anywhere other than Benbecula, and it’s easy to see why. When we mentioned that we’d visited Barra the year before he quipped that he didn’t like it down there because “anything goes”! So it seems that Barra has a dark side that we didn’t quite manage to unearth! Friendly farmer also pointed out the EDF festival site over by the wind turbine – definitely something to consider if you like smaller music festivals in stunning locations, but eventually he had to go and rescue someone who’d driven onto the dunes by accident.

From the promontory a narrow footpath followed the edge of the fields before heading inland to the remains of Borgh Castle, dating back to the 1300’s. It was then just a short walk back along the road to the school, and a very late lunch, before heading back to the bothy to relax before watching the sunset. Unfortunately I went out too late to get decent pics, but I shall persevere!

Baleshare

No migraine to contend with this morning thank goodness, but I decided last night to stop drinking alcohol altogether. I’ve never drunk very much, well not since I was 25 and last got drunk and hated it, but I respond so poorly to even a little alcohol that it seems pretty pointless. I certainly don’t need it to fit in socially, not least because I’ve never been a pub person, and to be honest have never been that keen on the taste anyhow. So we shall see. At the very least, it’ll save a few pennies.

After a breakfast of creamy porridge, followed by fried eggs and potato waffles – our new ‘thing’, we drove down to Baile Sear (Baleshare), another small island connected to North Uist by causeway in 1962. Even the electricity pylons over to the island get submerged by the rising tide, so it’d be interesting to know how often they have to be replaced. We parked Skyra in the small coastal car park, and walked south along the shingle track before heading on to the sand as the tide retreated. With the wind behind us we made good time, stopping for a snack where the Beul an Taim channel separates the island from Benbecula. Suitably refreshed, we headed inland  a little way to admire the views from the highest sand dune, before walking back along the beach. Unfortunately this meant walking headlong into the wind, so we were both shattered by the time we reached Skyra. Wind burnt too!

After a car picnic, we stopped off at what has become our favourite shop – the Hebridean Smokehouse, to buy postcards. Rich noted that the shop is always cold to help preserve the fish, so it must be rough for the staff who work there. But then this is the Outer Hebrides so they just don a hat and scarf and get on with it.

Migraine misery

I woke to silence, and it took me a few minutes to realise that until today all we’d heard was wind! I managed to read a few articles before a migraine reared its ugly head and I had no choice but to go back to bed and let the tryptan hopefully do its thing. Rich never minds having a peaceful day when I’m not well, and spent the morning preparing dinner, and reading one of my favourite ever books – ‘A man called Ove’. There aren’t many books that can make you laugh so hard that you’re at risk of doing yourself an injury.

Fortunately I was able to get out of bed by mid-afternoon, and not wanting to waste any more of the day we decided that we’d walk directly from the bothy down to Hogha Gearraidh, and round the cliffs to Hosta beach. Whilst it was still a tad breezy, the rain stayed away. We saw lots of coos, baby coos, and gulls, but alas no seals or otters. Walking back up the ‘drive’, really drove it home that the bothy was one of the highest houses on the island, and that the track probably needs some attention!

Hosta, North Uist

‘Busy’ Benbecula

I got up early to read some articles for uni, then clean and start the fire to get some warmth back into the house. Walking, especially in cooler temperatures, gives us quite an appetite so we enjoyed a two-course breakfast, before heading off to the island of Benbecula. We’d planned on making today a rest day and spending a little while exploring Balivanich, but as it’s little more than a village this didn’t take long. It has a small community hospital, police station, fire station, a small independent supermarket called Macleans, a restaurant, and a little cafe and deli called ‘Island Deli’. We refuelled Skyra and then stocked up for the Easter weekend in the supermarket. It was lovely to hear the locals complaining about it being busy, when there were only a small handful of people in there, but it must be hard to bear when if feels overrun if you’re not used to more people being around. I was expecting more local produce for sale in Macleans, so was a bit disappointed that it was all big brands, but then if must be difficult to turn a profit in such a small community where tourists only tend to appear for a few weeks over summer.

The Island Deli lies on the outskirts of town and made a pleasant way to while away an hour over coffee and cake. It’s a popular place and was full by the time we left so hopefully it does a good trade all year. We coldn’t resist stopping at the Hebridean Smokehouse on the way home again too. Their peat smoked salmon is sublime and became our favourite holiday snack. With food supplies re-stocked we then headed to Hosta, our local beach, to watch the waves crash into the shore. I thought a seal rolling around in the surf, but then realised that it was a surfer, but as their companion was ensconed in the camping van and seemed unconcerned, they must have reckoned that the surfer was doing ok. Sure enough, they kept swimming out for more.

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