Back on the schoolbus and it is not raining this morning. This is being lazy as I could just walk down the hill as I have lots of time before the Stornoway bus. But I am fancying a cappuccino from First Fruits, the little cafe near the ferry Terminal. Expensive, but very good indeed.

Only when I get there it is shut and so is what used to be the MaCleod Motel. Nowhere to get a coffee. Bugger, I should have stayed and drank more tea with Tracey! So I have to mooch about Tarbert for half an hour or so before the Stornoway bus gets ready to depart.

The sun is coming out as we set off and I try to get a photo of The Clisham as we approach it as it looks better from the road than the way I walked yesterday. My seat is too high though.

View Arivruiach to Leurbost in a larger map

The driver drops me at bus stop at Arivruaich, were I finished yesterday and I walk on past the last house in the village.

There is another old road here but this one is not cut off by a barbed wire fence and it runs very close to the new road. The rough moorland off to my left is extraordinarily rich in bird life. There are rock pipits of course but also redshanks, and what, after getting the bins out, I realise are golden plovers.

And then a diver flies overhead, too far away for me to tell if it is red or black throated.

Shortly afterwards a merlin  half circles me.

The old road takes me to gate and beyond this is an elegant stone monument to the Pairc Deer Raiders,  men who revolted against their family's villages being cleared for sheep and who invaded the estate and openly killed and ate some of the deer that had supplanted the people.

A camper van comes up the old road which is here used as a layby. Are they going to actually get out of their bubble and look at the monument? Since the introduction of free ferries there has been an invasion of them. The people driving them do not have to interact with the place, often they bring their own food so the only contribution to the local economy is the petrol they buy. The places people could informally camp are becoming impossible - and there are almost no places that they can formally go to and at least pay something.

And of course, spacious as they are they would never give anyone a lift, which is why I just thumbed at them yesterday for a laugh. 

To me the worse thing is that many of them seem to have cut themselves off socially and culturally from the places they are "visiting." With their own food, cooking facilities, TV etc, the Western Isles or wherever they go to provide little more than a scenic backdrop to the same life they would have at home.

Why not just look at pictures or project a film of Island scenes on one of their walls?

Predictably, they don't get out of the camper van to find out what the monument is about. 

Having had a good look I head off up the old road. I can see the start of Ballallan up ahead. Now I have been wondering about this bit for a while. I don't really want to walk through Ballallan which is the champion crofting township in the Hebrides for length and goes on for miles of road walking, which will inevitably involve a fair bit of getting barked at by dogs.  

But the trackless moor inland is boggy and a maze of lochs, and it has been raining steadily for the last month. Also there are some rivers with stepping stones that may be impassible if they are in spate.

However, peat does drain quite quickly and it has been mostly OK for the past couple of days. So I decice to  chance it. I am feeling OK and today's distance is not huge, so if I have to backtrack it is not the end of the world.

There is a track, unmarked on the map, leading off, and another one that I can see ahead. Also unmarked, I vaguely remember taking it when I went walking with my mum up Roineabhal some years ago.

I take the track a way but it soon starts veering south so I head off across country towards the other one. My way is blocked by a deep burn so I start to follow it back, looking for a place to cross.

I do find some stepping stones but two of the three are under a couple of inches of fast flowing water. Don't like the look of that much, so I continue.

There is a little dam where the burn exits a loch.  There is a gap but it looks jumpable. If I was younger I was do it but I remember jumping down from a field in the Yorkshire Dales avoiding bullocks and jarring my dodgy knee. That made me limp for two days. 

Reluctantly I go back to the stepping stones. Take a deep breath, and get across them, very glad to have a walking pole to steady me.

After a bit of scrabbling I make it to the track that climbs uphill. This is fine, taking me round the lump of Gasaval which screens Ballallan from the moorland to its north.

Soon I come to a gigantic crossroads, bullzozed into the peat. Tracks go off in various directions but my one soon turns into a boggy path and, soon enough, that disapears too and I am just following the fence line through the heather.

I start to climb, partly in search of dryer ground, but also because the lochs to the north are coming into view and I want to see them better.

This is, I realised from studying a way though on the map, one great system. A dozen or so lochs interconnected so if I go the wrong way I will be caught in a watery maze. This is why I am sticking to the slopes of Gasaval. Actually I could go beyond the first loch, Loch Cuthaig which is seperate, but it looks much more likely to be boggy then the heathery slopes that I am on.

There is lots of birdlife here too. Particularly golden plovers. Orchids are starting to come out on the ground and the moor is studded with yellow tormentil. Some of the plovers are clearly trying to attract my attention and lead me away from chicks.

I make my way to the top of the ridge but though I do get good views to the north across the lochs, I don't get sight of Ballallan which is just below me to the south until I start to descend when I can see a glimpse of it through a gap in the hill.

Now I have to make my way downhill and a movement arrests my attention. It is a dragonfly yellow and black and not one I am familar with (the photo I took is too blurred to be worth posting but I am fairly sure now that it was a black darter). 

I take a break and can see, on the other side of Loch Cuthaig, a couple of guys on quad bikes who are herding three sheep back towards the track that comes from Ballallan a bit further on. I watch them for a while and then start off again.

I reach the edge of the loch after they have gone on. There is a rusty tangle of fence wire, dumped into this beautiful loch. Jonathan Meade made a TV programme called Isle of Rust in which he found various rusting carcases,  corrugated iron sheds, tractors etc to pontificate against. I thought it was a bit daft because though I can remember these things being common it was ten years out of date. He must have searched the island for them. But this would have made a good backdrop for him to talk to camera against. 

The loch is fenced off  and I decide that the best thing is probably to use a gate in one of the fences which should lead me over a lump to a track that comes out from Ballallan.

The field is grassy and good going. To the end though I find the rusting remains of a car. Ballallan denizens are clearly beleivers in Meade's view of things.

I make the track, hearing the quad bikes off towards Ballallan. After a lot of hesitation, because the track will take me back to the road and the other way into endless squidgy unknown, I go in the opposite direction.

There is a guy fishing at a small loch and as I pass he shouts. "Hey!" It is an authoratitive sort of shout. There is no reason why I should not be there but he strides purposefully towards me. "Are you fishing?" I guess he is a watcher of some sort (gamekeeper).  "No," I say, "just walking." This should be fairly apparant as I have no rod though I suppose I could have an otter board in my back-pack.

But he is not a watcher. Just a fisherman who wants to chat. He asks where I am from and nods when I say I live in London. "The locals here are so stupid" he says. I cannot place his accent but there seems to be something local in it to my ear. "I just saw two guys on quad bikes following sheep around the moor."

I am a bit non-plussed by this. John, as he tells me his name is, seems to be completely serious. I consider suggesting that the quad bike guys might have been herding the sheep somewhere rather than following them aimlessly across the peat bog in some sort of bizarre Ballallan pastime. But I want to get on and I am wondering if he is slightly mad now. 

So I make my excuses and trudge off up the track past some more rusting cars. Again it is not on the map. Well part of it is but it has clearly been extended since my map was surveyed and it is headed off in my direction. This is very good because the main thing that gave me pause when I reached the track was that I am very unsure if I will be able to get over the River Laxay.  Several stepping stones are marked but my previous encounter with stepping stones does not bode well and the River Laxay looks a lot bigger than the burn I crossed earlier.

I am hoping that there might be a river crossing at the end of this track as it seems so well made. A footbridge or something, built since the map was surveyed.  The track heads off in exactly the right direction but then, predictably, it peters out.

A movent catches my eye. It is a young rock pipit. Not fully fledged I think as it does not seem able to fly. I must have startled it out of its cover. I take a few quick photos and then head off, to let it get back into cover.

I can see where aga cats or quad bikes have driven but it is over spongy peat. If I had done this when I was last up after the long dry spell it would be no problem. If I had done it a week ago in driving rain it would have been a nightmare. Instead it is in between. My feet are getting wet because I sometimes sink into wet bog. But mostly it is springy, slightly soggy and more than a bit strange. I am going over a mostly flat, huge area of untouched peat bog.

A black backed gull (greater, I think) flies by. It is dive-bombing the ground but seems to be doing so randomly. I wonder if it is looking for young rock pipits. They are so ubiquitous that most of the territories are filled and if they young ones are all semi fledged like the one I startled a while back it may be that a big bird flying at the ground would have a good chance of spooking a young pipit into showing itself. 

That is my best guess, anyway.

The trek across the flat bog takes a while but eventually I get up a low rise and can see the river up ahead. It snakes around a bit disorientatingly and I check to see where the stepping stones are. As I continue I can see something ahead of me.

It turns out to be an aga cat and some men fishing. I decide to make right for it. After all, if there is a way across the river a ghillie ought to know it.  One of the fishermen is just finishing talking to the ghillie who is getting something from the back of the Aga Cat when I get there. They look a bit startled to see me, out in the middle of nowhere. It is a nice spot, a salmon pool with a must swan, the first I have seen on the island, gliding around. 

I ask him about crossing but he is not hopeful. Yes there are stepping stones, he says but they will be well under water. And no, there is no bridge.  He entirely neglects to offer to run me across the river in the Aga Cat. So there is nothing for it but to trudge back towards the road, following the river just in case.

Soon I come across one of the sets of stepping stones. The ghillie was right. There is no way at all. Most of them are under about three inches of water and the river is very wide.

This is a bugger as I am now about three kilometres from the road and walking there along the river is going to take me in entirely the wrong direction.  The walking soons get harder too, with the river going through a little gorge. 

A ravan croaks at me as go over a lumpy bit to avoid the gorge.

The next bit seems to take forever, a sure sign that I am tiring. rough and trackless going,  spongy, wet, irregular, wet again. On and on. I find myself going beside a fenceline which cuts me off from the river. There is a track off to the south but I can see this one on the map and will bring me out on the road a long way from where I want to be.

So I persevere with tracking the river. And eventually, at long last, I see the bridge and road. A short bit of track makes the last section slightly less onerous though the track is so wet to start with that it makes little difference. My boots are soaking now in any case.

But it is sunny and I am on the road again. And the road, once more, is fast but not that busy. I walk on into Laxay. As I do so three greylag geese fly over the road. Not long ago wild greylags were a thrilling sight up here, mostly confined to winter. If they saw a person they would be off in an instant and the best bet to spot them was usually from a car.

But they have bred and bred in the last couple of decades and they are now not just a common sight but becoming a pest in places. Still, I am glad to see them (but then I don't have any grazing land that they might ruin).

I pass the church which I have passed in cars and buses innumerable times.

And a bit further on I pass the Kinloch Historical Society building, something that has long intringued me. As I am going past a woman rushes out. "Hi Spencer!" It is Jan, my host for tonight. She has been doing something with the historical society and had seen me coming up the road.

Jan has kindly offered to pick me up wherever I get to, so we briefly confirm the plan and she goes off to whatever she was doing and I carry on walking.  I pass a small field with what looks like ridge and furrow. Lazy beds are common here but this could have been a section of one of those fields in Northamptonshire I passed a year and a half ago. 

Laxay comes and goes in late afternoon sunshine. There is a cemetery ahead and another memorial with a seat so I decide to stop for a break and to wring out my socks and try to dry them.  I leave both pairs out in the sun as I enjoy the views back down towards the Harris hills. And they do feel much better when I put them on again.

Time for the last section of the penultimate day. I head off up the road. Passing the concrete mushroom at the Keose turn off. This is where Jan and her husband Mun live but it is too early for me to knock off. These mushrooms are a design classic. Concrete edifices with a roof and four sides so that you are sheltered which ever way the wind comes from. Nowadays the bus stops seem to be conventional steel and perspex but I bet in fifty years the concrete mushrooms remain when the metal and plastic ones are long gone. Actually, I think these bus shelters would protect you against a nuclear explosion. 

In contrast to the brutalism of the bus shelter I find some orchids in full bloom at the side of the road.

Which is faster than I like but not too busy and mostly not unpleasant as the sun is shining and I am still enjoying not walking through bog.

I see more greylags on a small loch these ones with goslings.

And a redshank on a fencepost. 

Before a bit of a grind uphill, dodging the occassional cars and lorries which are mostly travelling in convoys behind the slowest.

On the road I see a woolly bear caterpillar well out onto the tarmac. I know it is a bit silly but I have seen so much road kill on my walk. Birds, mammals, even that magnificent black adder back on Skye, that I think, fuck it and push it back onto the verge, wishing it was that snake and not just a common caterpillar. 

I am quite high above the next wee loch and something draws my attention. A greater black backed gull is flying at pair of greylag geese. The geese rear up in the water, fending off the gull and as I get the bins to my eyes I can see that they are protecting goslings. The altercation is over before I can get a photo. The gull goes off and bobs on the loch surface forty meters or so from the goose family, biding its time I guess.

The road  heads gently downhill now. Past a couple of isolated houses and I can see Leurbost ahead of me beyond Loch Shobail. This is a big loch, its water brilliant blue, but there is a little section of it by the road with lilies and water lobelia.

Just after that there is a bit of old road to take me off the main drag. It is tiny but I take it because I want to get off the main road for a minute to do something.

That is to change my map. I am now on the Stornoway Map. I have one change to make as this is a double sided map and the next few miles are on the other side to the Stornoway one. But still it feels like a significant moment.  I need no more OS maps to get me to my final destination. I have some chocolate too and finish my water.

And then it is the long hill up to Leurbost. I pass the medical practice where my brother in law Alf used to have his office.

Just beyond it, Marine Harvest vehicles are parked. Their dark blue is becoming as familiar as the peat bog.

And  I ring Jan as I approach Cameron Terrace, a row of houses by the last road junction between me and Stornoway. 

Finally, I get to the garage. I have run out of water and go in and buy a cold bottle to drink as I wait for Jan.

She arrives just as I finish it, and whisks me back down the road to Keose for a bath, excellent food and fine wine in a beautiful situation.



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