Some days the effect of the sun can be felt not only on the skin, it can actually seem to warm our hearts. As I gazed at the turquoise hues of the sea lapping the deserted, white sandy beaches either side of the narrow headland, I had to make an effort to remember that I was on North Uist in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides.
I was on the Udal Peninsula following a trail marked out by the British TV Celebrity, Monty Halls, for his booklet to raise funds for the Hebridean Rangers. Monty lived close to here as a volunteer ranger along with his dog Reuben, making the BBC Series “Monty Hall’s Great Hebridean Escape”. I was also staying in a Bed and Breakfast nearby. The owner of the B&B had told me about Monty working on restoring the trail here.
I will not give a full description of the walk. I’d much prefer you to buy a copy of his booklet if you are interested. I’ll just include some of my recollections and photos of the walk. The Udal Peninsula is fairly flat and makes easy walking. Starting by the Picnic Area / Car Park (details and Map Reference in the booklet) the trail follows the shoreline on the sand flats in the inlet to the East of the peninsula.
Over the years the crofters have discarded materials on the shore. I wasn’t overly impressed by the wooden pallets or worse bits of plastic big bale silage bags. However, this wheel looked photogenic covered in seaweed. Apparently it is from a long defunct corn binder. I was grateful that Scotland’s infamous midges were missing, even though August is one of the worst months for them. Instead a few ordinary flies followed for a while but did not get close as I was protected by midge repellent.
Fortunately there is not too much rubbish to detract from the pleasant tranquil surroundings. The trail left the beach at a trail marker pole that Monty described placing. The next point of interest is a cross on the wall. Unfortunately from the moment I heard the landlord at the Bed and Breakfast mention it, I knew that I would not be able to find it. I searched and searched but my prophesy was fulfilled. It is believed to mark the position of a fresh water spring, but I’ll never know.
The next place of interest on the walk was pretty hard to miss. The graveyard of the MacLeans of Boreray holds the prime location on the headland looking out to Boreray.
From here it was a small climb to the Trig Point to have a picnic lunch and take in those views. The islands in Harris Sound with the mountains of Harris rising out of the sea behind, those sandy beaches on which I had the pleasure of making the first tracks on that day, maybe the only footprints that day. I must admit though I saw two other people in the four hours the walk takes, but they were a long way off and didn’t visit Traigh Udal, the arc of beach sloping gently into the Atlantic Ocean.
At the other end of Traigh Udal are the remains of a settlement that had its first inhabitants in the Iron Age. It has some of the best examples of Wheel Houses in the Uists, as well as a midden containing pottery shards, shells, bones and other items discarded over the last 5000 years. It forms a physical record of the lifestyles of the folks that lived here in the past. It was excavated in the 1960’s. I was surprised however, that the archaeologists had left the trolley and rails that they used to remove the excavated sand.
The path to the return of the walk leads across the Machair. This is land that is the result of the sand migrating onto peat and heather, an extremely rare habitat, home to equally rare plants and birds. The Outer Hebrides has most of Scotland’s Machair. It has been worked by the local inhabitants, but it is hard land to live off.
The last thing that caught my eye was this abandoned coach. It is not mentioned in Monty’s booklet but I wonder how it came to get here. Perhaps you have an idea? You can leave your theories as a comment, the crazier the better.
Monty Halls’s booklet 16 page booklet of walks in the Uists can be purchased in most Tourist Information Centres for £4 or you can buy a copy by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
All photos by John Williams, author of this post.