Uneasy Walking to the Tip of South Uist

6 04 2011
A particularly remote and desolate walk on South Uist is to visit the very southern tip by way of the Glendale hills or the glen track. There is a beautiful small hill there called Ru Melvick. I used to walk the glen track on most of my visits back to the Uists but, for several reasons, never really felt at ease… One was that you were in a valley completely surrounded by hills on four sides where nobody ever goes nowadays – the track is an old one which used to go to the ruined sheiling down at Hartavagh Bay. The other reason was the sheiling…

Although the walking in these areas is straightforward (albeit a bit rough and often very boggy), it is quite risky as you only have to turn an ankle and you could be stuck in this glen for days! Ideally, you would inform your accommodation where you had gone but I always used to decide at the last minute so just used to leave a note on the dashboard of the hire car.

I first saw Ru Melvick from the ferry on the way to Barra and Oban – we passed pretty close to it. It was an audacious little peak with huge cliffs falling straight down to the sea and it rose to a perfect point. I rushed to the little map they had on the ferry wall to look up what it was – I even liked the name (this was in the days before the maps were re-Gaelicised). I saw it was the very tip of South Uist and started hatching plans to find a way to visit it…

Ru Melvick – the tip of South Uist

In the end, I tried two different routes. The first was via North Glendale and I only got as far as Maol na h’ Ordaig and then gave up and went back up the glen as it’s a 6 mile walk each way. There are two approaches to North Glendale, one is from Ludaig on the south coast – you then take the road to South Glendale – at the roadend the road becomes a made track.

Ludaig seascape

The better approach though is from the South Lochboisdale roadend, although the start of the track is difficult to find from there until you’ve rounded the first part of Kearsinish hill. As Loch Kearsinish comes into view the track appears curving left round into the glen.

As you descend to the loch shore the hills seem to close in around you and civilisation disappears. You can then see the long glen stretching ahead – it looks a long way! The track is pretty good though and the glen is a great place for hearing cuckoos as they seem to live on the northern slopes of Maraval…


About a mile after leaving Loch Kearsinish you reach the lovely Loch Marulaig. The path crosses the outflow to Marulaig Bay (which isn’t really seen from the glen). In another mile the complicatedly shaped hill of Maol na h’ Ordaig looms ahead – this always looked like a jagged set of fangs to me when I passed on the ferry – it was another hill I was interested in visiting anyway. Maol na h’ Ordaig is in sight pretty much the whole way down the glen.

Loch Marulaig

In about another mile you arrive at Hartavagh Bay where there is a little bridge over the river and the ruined sheiling…

Hartavagh Bay & Ruined Shieling (have to admit it doesn’t look creepy here)

I was never happy passing the old building – it just gave me the creeps – I could always feel a presence waiting there. So I was very interested to later read a ghost story in ‘Tales from Barra’ which is narrated by ‘The Coddy’, a famous story-teller.

In this tale, some fishermen stayed in the sheiling overnight during fishing trips. On one of these nights, just as they’d spread their fish and potato supper out on an oilskin on the floor of the building, a giant’s clawed fist suddenly appeared up through the middle of the floor, opening and closing… needless to say they all scarpered. Now I don’t believe the story but it’s strange that I hated the place before I read anything of that nature – there’s just something eerie about it really – possibly that gave rise to ghost stories being written about it in the first place. The Coddy says after his above tale that “Hartabhagh Bay was always terrible for ghosts”. There were quite a few places on the Uists which I always found creepy and then heard tales afterwards from the locals of murders and suchlike.

Loch Moreef & Maol na h’ Ordaig

Maol na h’ Ordaig was an interesting clambery hill and provided great fun for a while.

Maol Na h’ Ordaig

Ru Melvick fm Maol na h’Ordaig

For variety on the route back, I first went up over Hartabreck via its eastern ridge and then dropped down the northern slopes to the track at the eastern end of Loch Marulaig. I was probably just avoiding the haunted sheiling!

Maol na h’ Ordaig from Hartabreck

The other route, which ended up getting me to Ru Melvick, was over the hills from the South Glendale roadend via Ludaig…

The Target Hills from the South Glendale Approach Road

There is a long trackless pull onto the end of Cruachan – a long, sprawling and lumpy hill but with good views towards Eriskay as it overlooks the south coast. All this walk is rough ground though so I couldn’t spend too long looking at the view. After a gentle descent of the eastern end of Cruachan I was faced with a much rockier prospect – Roneval. This was an aggressive looking hill and had steep, rocky, almost terraced slopes. Going up was okay but I ended up on my backside a few times descending the other side…

Ru Melvick from Roneval

From the bottom of Roneval it was just a few easy lumps to Ru Melvick. I’d been worried about how steep the walking side would be after seeing the huge sea-cliffs on the other side and seeing how sharp it looked. However, I soon saw there was no cause for alarm. The back was both short and easy, although quite steep. I was soon up on its pointy vantage point and looking down the sheer cliffs to the sea and the various fishing boats. I sat for a while on the summit admiring the view…

On the way back, I couldn’t be bothered to traipse back over the hills and wanted to cut down onto the southern beaches as the tide was well out by now. However, the side of Roneval over the coast was exceedingly steep and craggy so I decided to wait until I’d got back over that and then just miss Cruachan out. I dropped down onto the end of the beach where it was a lovely walk back to Ludaig and then back up the South Glendale road for the car.

Ru Melvick at sunset



4 responses

4 09 2012

The sunset one would look good on canvas 🙂


8 09 2012

Thanks 🙂


31 08 2012

Great blog as usual. Missed this first time around – just noticed it because you’ve updated it.


1 11 2014

it’s a lot better with more photos 🙂


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