The Pathless Peaks Between Loch Eynort and Lochboisdale (S Uist)

27 03 2012

Done over two walks… The second walk was done in 100% plastic, waterproof walking boots which didn’t work out to my advantage despite the wet ground…

On one of my annual visits back to the Uists, where I was based in my Army years, I decided it was high time I visited some of the smaller principal hills near the south of the island. I’d been ogling them for years from the Loch Eynort road and also from the main road while driving past. I would say there are 3 principal hills, Stulaval (my main desire), Triuirebheinn and Beinn Ruigh Choinnich – the latter being the peak which you pass beneath on arrival onto the islands by ferry into Lochboisdale.


Beinn Ruigh Choinnich – fondly and locally known as Ben Kenneth (excuse the posing hire car but I thought it was pretty)

Thinking that I could probably do all three peaks in one walk I decided to set off from Lochboisdale and tackle Beinn Ruigh Choinnich first. I’d studied the map for hours many evenings and decided that the best way to access this was via the service road to the dam near Auratote – that had the advantage of having one of the three bridges over the wide outflow of Loch a’ Bharp and also had a track which continued for nearly another mile to Loch nan Smalag. This loch has a dammed outflow and a little building by it which I think constitute a mini-hydro scheme.

Somewhere around Auratote and just over the bridge, where the road turns to a track across the wild moorland, I saw a crofter cutting peats. Now, in England, when you’re caught crossing someone’s property where there wasn’t a footpath sign saying you could, you would be due a sharp reprimand and, in the worst cases, even risk being turned back – you would be TRESPASSING!

I gulped nervously but determined to continue past him – possibly hoping he wouldn’t notice me as he was pretty hard at work. As I neared him, he looked up… a huge smile broke out over his face, he leaned on his peat shovel and proceeded to question me thoroughly about where I was off to on such a fine day. He continued to smile encouragingly… I told him I was hoping to summit some of the hills surrounding us, starting with “that one over the harbour – how do you pronounce it?” He informed me it was Ben Kenneth – I’m sure he anglicised it specially for me when he heard my accent. I was a bit disappointed not to hear the authentic pronunciation from a local but thanked him. We then chatted for quite a while. He didn’t have any advice to offer on a route of course as the locals don’t generally walk the hills – not unless they have to when rounding up sheep. They rarely visit the summits.

Anyway, on all my travels in the islands, I met the same kind of welcome from all the locals I encountered – they are a really hospitable and friendly people. Quite often I would pass a croft and be invited in for tea and scones – and they’d never seen me before in their lives, I was just a nice diversion wandering past they could waylay for a chat. I had some really good natters with the locals in their croft-houses and have never met with such hospitality anywhere else, although mainland Scotland is like that to a certain extent as well – just normally without the tea and scones.

Eventually we parted and I reached the end of the track by the loch. It was easy to cross the top of the mini-dam to start on my ascent of Beinn Choinnich and I headed for its northern ridge. The ascent was rough and heathery and took much longer than, say, a hill in England where you would have an easy path leading up it. Presently I came to a flattish shoulder with just the final dome to ascend. When I reached the summit, what a view burst into sight! Lochboisdale, with its harbour, lie far below my feet and I sat and gazed at fishing boats going in and out of the harbour.


Lochboisdale Far Below

The serrated ridge of the Skye Cuillin was away to my east, Eriskay’s Ben Scrien was to the South and Barra away to the South West. There was a superb view across Loch Boisdale to the southern peninsula of the island with the fantastic mini-peak of Ru Melvick which, at that time, I hadn’t visited. My later visit to those parts is in my ‘Uneasy Walking to the Tip of South Uist’ post.


Pointy Ru Melvick on Distant Tip of South Uist

I never linger long on a summit though, no matter how good the weather or the view – always I’m chafing to get off to my next peak so soon I headed off back down the northern ridge until I could drop off North East to the col before my next peak of Triuirebheinn.

I was lucky that this col, unlike most others, was around 450 feet above sea-level and the next hill was only 1,178 feet so should be an easy climb… that was if I could find a way up it. Quite a bit of craggy hillside was immediately in front of me and the summit had disappeared from view above it but I’d already had a good study of the hill during my descent and had more or less worked out a way up heathery and grassy rakes through the crags. From the col I was to head off on a rake rising to the right between the crags (clearly visible on the photo below as a brown wedge leading rightwards from the col on the left of the photo). This took me nicely above the craggy area and onto plain, heathery slog.


Triuirebheinn

The ascent seemed very hard for a hill just over a thousand feet and was a much harder ascent than the first hill. I came out on the southern shoulder and then just had to head up the final summit cone. This mountain is another principal view on the way into Loch Boisdale on the ferry – it’s the hill with a prominent rounded cone and two distinct shoulders either side.

I puffed to the summit and another beautiful view burst into sight – this time of Stulaval. There was an obvious ridge rising up to Stulaval from the northern shoulder of my hill but, looking at the route I’d need to take back from the third mountain, it was clear I would be having a very long tramp across rough moorland and there was the huge double loch of Stulaval and Coragrimsaig and their associated river systems to circumvent. I decided Stulaval would make a lovely walk with the hills nearer Loch Eynort and had already thought of two possible approaches. I headed off onto the northern shoulder of Triuirebheinn and made a more or less direct descent heading for Loch nan Smalag for my return.

* * * * * * * *

For Stulaval (1,234 feet) I had several choices. I could either drive down the southernmost arm of the Loch Eynort road and park just short of the roadend and go up to the col west of Trinival (an ascent I made on a later date along with a re-ascent of Sheaval from the east).


Stulaval from Northernmost Branch of Loch Eynort Road

Or I could park at Mingary below the peak of Sheaval – a peak which had our Army sea-watch radar atop it. From the end of that road, I could either go over Sheaval (which I knew was a hard slog from there as I’d done it in my Army days – goodness knows how they carried a whole radar up there and built it with no track!) or pass south of the hill along the northern shore of Loch an Ath Ruaidh. In the photo below you can see ancient and modern together – the radar on Sheaval above a very ancient chambered cairn on the lower slopes of Reineval.


Ancient and Modern – 1970s Radar Above Chambered Cairn

For my first visit I chose the Mingary road-end and parked the hire car up, deciding to traverse the loch shore below Sheaval in preference to another gruelling ascent of it. I had three hills in mind on this walk, Trinival, Arnaval and Stulaval itself… For this walk I had the aforementioned bright red, shiny, 100% waterproof boots with the nice fleecy lining – just the thing for all the bog-trotting ahead I thought…


The Mingary Track

It was hot, airless and cleg-ridden all the way past the loch and round the lower slopes of Sheaval and rising up to the Trinival col. It was then a tough, steep but straightforward ascent up to Trinival’s summit at around 650 feet. There was then a steep and awkwardly rocky descent to Bealach Arnaval where I was confronted by the steep rocky wall of Arnaval itself. Just round the rocky wall on the North West side of the hill there was a wide, steep grassy stream gully so I headed up that.

This seemed a much easier ascent than Trinival, possibly due to the interesting rocky surroundings and it had a nice rocky plateau for a summit with the odd small pool scattered between the flat slabby summits.


Stulaval and Loch Snigisclett from Arnaval

I visited most of the summits which are all around the 825 foot mark and then it was just a case of picking my way down the very rocky slopes south west to the outflow of Loch Snigisclett. I could see the loch the whole way down and more or less just lined myself up on my desired ascent ridge – the pronounced north-western ridge of Stulaval. This ridge had looked narrow and craggy on the map but I could now see it was much wider, had no difficulties whatsoever and was merely rocky rather than craggy. The gneiss rock of the Uists doesn’t really seem to lend itself to steep crags, tending to prefer to form slabby and quite flat outcrops in the grass – rather like the bare bones of the hill sticking through…

I was soon down at the loch and found an easy way across the outflow and ploughed on eagerly up the very easy ridge to Stulaval. I seemed to be at the summit in minutes! I was very tempted from there to do the whole ‘ring of hillocks’ round the loch – it looked a delightful route. But I was put off by the thought of having to re-ascend to Bealach Arnaval from the other side – another day maybe.


Beinn Mhor from Stulaval


Truirebheinn & Beinn Choinnich from Stulaval’s Ridge

I headed back down my ascent ridge to follow the Hornary River all the way to a peat track which came out to just behind Reineval and ran, past the chambered cairn, back to Mingary. The ground alongside the river was grass rather than heather and made quite quick going until I came to where I needed to cross the main river. At this point I walked right up to what I thought was the edge of the riverbank to see whether I’d be able to jump across the river. Suddenly I realised my feet were going cold… I looked down and saw I wasn’t stood on the bank at all – I was stood in long grass in the river itself and water was pouring into the top of my completely waterproof boots. It had looked like river bank but was just long grass growing in the river! Of course, 100% waterproof and lined boots are great – providing you don’t pour water into them. Then, as they are 100% waterproof, you keep very wet feet for the remainder of the walk. I had at least a couple more miles to go but fortunately, although very uncomfortable, I didn’t end up with any blisters on the walk back.

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7 responses

20 09 2012
Iain MacKillop

Great account of your walks in Uist, together with great photos. Thanks.

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20 09 2012
mountaincoward

The islands are really beautiful, especially South Uist, Harris and Barra. If you haven’t been there, make sure you get a visit there sometime. They are the most peaceful place I’ve stayed in throughout the whole of Britain!
Carol.

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29 03 2012
fedupofuserids

Thanks for the report Carol. Another one to follow on the map.

Booked & paid for the ferries last week so just counting off the days 🙂

Did you make it up Stuc & Beinn Each ?

Has the new ‘fuel crisis’ hit the Dales as I was hoping to head down that way next week ?

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29 03 2012
mountaincoward

Hi, not sure whether the fuel crisis has hit or not but there was a huge queue outside an Ambleside petrol station right up the road today. Having said that, the Lakes were literally heaving so that could have been the cause and i wasn’t that surprised to see it at the time without thinking of the fuel crisis.

I’m sooo jealous of folks making it to the Uists this year! But I did put the report out for you and the others who read my blog and are heading that way soon 🙂

Yeah, I made it up Stuc a’ Chroin and Beinn Each and then also Beinn Buidhe via Glen Shira the next day. Reports to follow – after an exciting outdoor climbing one from yesterday!!

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30 03 2012
fedupofuserids

I do appreciate the TRs 🙂 & follow your routes on a n OS map.
Amazon kindly delivered Richard Barretts guide (not free :~) & I will probably order the Uist Cicerone guide when it gets published (in June). So thanks to you & others I’ve got a nice selection of walks depending upon on weather.

I’ve heard reports of petrol stations Workington, Whitehaven & Carlisle running out of fuel so I’ll probably stay a bit closer to home and stay in the Lakes.

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28 03 2012
Paul Shorrock

Great post Carol, with pics to match.

Love your plastic boot tale 😀

I had an early pair of plastics (Koflachs) in the 1980’s – they took a bit of getting used to but solved my ‘cold feet’ problem in winter. In fact it’s been years now since I owned a pair of traditional leather boots – I much prefer fabric/leather combinations.

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31 03 2012
mountaincoward

Being vegetarian, it’s been many years since I’ve walked in leather boots too. I have to admit they have an advantage in natural waterproofness but I find them hard and heavy – I like my music like that but not my boots! I currently use ones which look and act very much like leather and are as tough and waterproof and come from ‘Vegetarian Shoes’. They’re proper serious boots though – before I managed to get those, I used to have to use approach shoes most of the time as they were the only ones without bits of leather or suede stuck on.

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