Looking out of Loch Reasort towards Huisinis, and across to Taran Mòr and Taran Beag
Cearstaigh! The tiny island that tempts you to quest through the narrow mouth of Tealasbhaigh is none other than Cearstaigh, an islet slightly adrift from Scarp's northern shore. A narrow channel separates Cearstaigh from Scarp right opposite its most beautiful, and most certainly deserted, sandy beach. From Tealasbhaigh settlement, there was no sign of Scarp at all, so Cearstaigh must have kept the people here company, knowing that they were essentially looking at the northern tip of Scarp, the home of friends and relatives to be sure.
Tealasbhaigh feels so secure and hidden that you feel this would be the place to weather whatever the future has in store for us. People have survived here with little or no help from the outside world before, so they could again. I imagined Tarka, our family lugger, sitting happily on her mooring in this sheltered lagoon. I knew there would be plenty of shellfish on the sea bed spread before me. I knew that shoals of mackerel and herring would be within easy reach. Bigger fish too, if we wanted them; the fishing north of Scarp I know to be good, and would be easily accessible on a benign summer's day.
The rounded enclosed shape of the bay invites a fortress feel, and as I climbed out of the bowl to continue my journey south, I was drawn to another huge boulder. This one is perched overlooking the settlement on the south side, and gives a very clear view out to sea. Here again I found shelter under the boulder, from where, lying propped up on my elbows, I could scan for viking raiders, or any other threat (or promise) from the sea.
It was difficult to drag myself away from that place, but I was motivated for the next chapter of my exciting day. I couldn't wait to set eyes on Loch Reasort, and to re-aquaint myself with Taran Mòr, Taran Meadhainn, and Taran Beag. I have teetered on top of these fabulous crags on a very windy spring day, and I have motored past them in Angus' boat, but they still have so many secrets to give up to me. From the Harris sideit's impossible to study their gnarled sheer seaward faces which plummet 300m into the fjord, and Angus, the skipper of 'Harmony' was busy racing tide and swell with no time to slow down and let me take a better look. Today was perfect to study them and there was no-one to please but myself.
I came down from my boulder look-out at Cleit Reinol* and headed to Loch Lamadail. Here I gained my first glimpses Taran Mòr's rugged tip. I headed eagerly to Cleit Lamadail for the best view, and it is from there that the photo above was taken.
I couldn't take my eyes off the glistening sea loch and the sheer mass of gneiss flanking it on the Harris side. I stumbled along, staring across the water. Tolkein would have loved this. I could see a deep dragon's lair and a troll stairway*. Vertical white threads weaving down the rough expanses are waterfalls plummeting towards sea level, and a deep idyllic geo lined with trees and honeysuckle has formed where a Harris river surges into Reasort, spreading fans of peaty froth across the surface of twinkling the Loch.
I hadn't been looking where I was going, and the sharp bark of a hind brought me back to earth. I had come up against a steep wall-like cliff and it was not going to be easy to continue along the shore line at this elevation. I could either drop down, or head up. I could see the hind half way up the cliff ahead of me, and it looked like a fun route, so I followed her at, what must have seemed to her, a snail's pace. Once I had gained the height with the help of some very narrow deer paths, I found it easy walking over Snehaval Beag, past the Loch of the same name and then down to a tiny cluster of rough sheilings opposite Dirascal.*
The sheiling here was not built with the usual attention to detail. The stones had not been skilfully worked and there were no fireplaces or beautiful lintels to compare with the sheiling where I spent the previous night. I felt that these huts were not intended to be as permanent, and I thought of the families from Dirascal coming across to work the lazy beds on this, the south facing side of the loch. They probably hardly ever stayed the night, but just appreciated some shelter for breaks out of the weather when working on the land.
The next section of shore was flat, so I simply followed it along. I was hungry again and the sun was beating down. I was glad the sun was on my back, otherwise I would be burning. I untied my hair so that it would shade my neck. Why on earth did I not have a hat?
I was heading to Torray, which you will find marked on the map as 'Old Sheilings', When I got there I gratefully accepted its hospitality and slung my pack onto one of its low wide walls before unpacking my stove and heading off to the river with a pan to fill with water. Time for some noodles!
To access the river I had to negotiate a very sketchy little path that clung to the side of a narrow river gorge before tipping me down a short earthy shoot into a cool glade lined with fragrant heather and honeysuckle, inhabited by bees and butterflies. Heaven!
I took my boots off and soaked my feet in the freshness of the water, which danced its way to the sea over rounded pebbles that proved terribly slippery to try and walk on. I didn't want to carry my pan of water back up the scramble, so I did manage to wade, with some difficulty, out of the river mouth and back to the sheiling, where I made my second lunch (or first supper).
I was, therefore, well fed and watered before starting the last, and in some ways most remarkable leg of my day. I wanted to camp at the head of the loch (Ceann Loch Reasort). Only 3km to go, but they look hard. My map shows me that the shoreline will be steep ground and difficult to follow, so I know I have to head slightly inland and up. I raise my head from the map to plan a good route, and what do I see? A massive stone forefinger pointing upwards, propped precariously on the steep ground ahead of me, and barring my way forward! Had I decided to follow the shoreline I would have been forced to climb round it. But here it was, unmistakably showing me the way. I would have had to have been an idiot to ignore it!
On the map, the nearest words to this pointing rock feature are 'Creag Mhòr' (large crag) and the feature itself doesn't even get a dot, but I tell you, it stands out a mile when you need it. It is much bigger than a man, and imposes on the blue background of the loch which frames it. The 'forefinger' is propped up by a fist-like boulder wedged firmly into the hillside, without which it would tumble into the sea below.
I laughed to myself and muttered, "That's for me!".
But why didn't I turn my phone on and take a photo?
I guess the full significance of it hadn't really dawned on me. I thought it had to be a completely natural feature, randomly happening to give me a signpost.. until I followed in the exact direction that it pointed, and found myself focussing on an unusual church shaped rock silhouetted against the skyline. Whichever way I veered, up or down over lumps and bumps, zig zagging as I climbed, I could still see this rock clearly, and I was heading for it. Just before I reached it, the higher aspect I had gained brought another 'odd' rock to my attention. I didn't have to climb to this one, as it was on my level, and once I reached it I could see that its strange shape was created by someone placing a triangular rock onto its flat top. It was definitely man made. Now I knew to look for the next one. Which was easy, and a flood of delight and recognition surged through me as soon as I saw it. It was such a comfort to know I was following in the footsteps of those that knew. It was as if they were with me. And I needed them. I was tired and the sun was dropping rapidly behind me. The stone markers lead me safely all the way across the rough high land until I could see the first fank* of the settlement. Here they culminated in a rather impressive cairn, congratulating me on my arrival.
Pausing at the cairn and taking in the view over the Ceann Loch was deeply satisfying after such a long day. I was a long way from anyone, but I honestly did not feel alone A white tailed eagle took off silently below me and glided out over the water. "You can find your own way easily from here", came the comforting message from the past.
The welcome view of Ceann loch Reasort from the friendly cairn
*I have since learned that 'Cleit', a recurring Gaelic word in place names, originates from Norse and refers to 'hills and big rocks'. Certainly in the case of Cleit Reinol it is the latter.
*We know that trolls were not unknown in Harris as there is a bay named after them on the east coast: Trollmaraig
*Dirascal is an amazing ruined settlement of three enormous black houses and their byres, situated on the Harris shore of Loch Reasort. One of the black houses was built by my neighbour Cathy Bell's great grandfather, and her granny was brought up there. The families were moved to Dirascal from Scarp in 1904, when Scarp was overpopulated, but they were only allowed to stay there for 11 years before they were forced to 'flit' again to Govaig, which is where Cathy Bell herself grew up. During those 11 years the families achieved a huge amount in Dirascal, rebuilding the ruined settlement (vacated during the clearances over 100 years beforehand) and cultivating lazy beds on both sides of the Loch. They also built a path to guide the children to school in Ceann Loch Resort. People say the path was never finished, and that they started in the middle and worked their way out towards each settlement, never quite reaching either. Having walked the path, I believe that it serves its purpose of conveying the children safely to school perfectly as it is. The children were more than capable of following the stone markers to the beginning of the path from either end, and then the well built section of the path, which is about 2.5km, would have kept them clear of the very considerable bogs that would have been a serious hazard on their regular journey on foot to school and back.
*A fank is an enclosure for sheep management. This particular fank is exceptionally well built from the local stone, and is marked on the map at NB101 177. Its quality evidences the wealth of the Morsgail estate at the time, who evicted the self sufficient indigenous people from this whole area during the highland clearances, to create a vast sheep farm that doubled up as a hunting ground for red deer and grouse.