You left me striding south, beside a narrow mountain lochan nestling below Beannan a Deas in the Uig hills. If you want to follow my progress on the map, my grid reference was NB 051 291.
From here I gradually picked my way up the rough gneiss bedrock slopes of Tarain. It was too sheer for me to manage the direct scramble with my rucksack on, so I skirted round its base to approach the climb from the east. The weather was cool, grey and I could see a wind whipping skeins of cloud up and over the sheer north side that I had avoided. I decided to duck down between some boulders and cook up some noodles. It seemed ages since breakfast, and it looked too windy to light the stove if I climbed any higher. The noodles were comfort in this harsh and barren place. Whilst hidden away out of the wind, I noticed the second eagle of my day, a goldie, balanced in the updraft, holding her position in mid air with minute adjustments of her foot long primary wing tip feathers, whilst the cloud skudded upwards causing her to appear and disappear to me. I am calling her a female as she was an eye wateringly large raptor. It was almost a relief when she banked off into the mist once I started to continue my climb.
My philosophy is, it's always good to eat before you become tired or hungry. I think it helps you avoid injury from stumbling, or losing concentration due to tummy rumbles. Whenever I start to think 'bloody hell this is hard', or 'that rocky slope looks impossible', I have a snack and/or a drink. I love a hot drink on the hill, so whenever the stove is out, I top up my flask. You can feel very pleased with yourself when you fancy a cup of tea, and there is one there ready for you that you made earlier.
As I slowly gained height, the cloud base also ascended. By the time I reached the summit of Tarain, the layer of cloud had organised itself into a ceiling which I could all but reach up and touch. It was also thinning, and I could feel the warmth of the sun through it. The day was going to clear for me.
The descent from Tarain was fun; straight down over wonderful wave-like slabs of gneiss all the way to Loch Mor Braigh an Tarain; an idyllic piece of water nestling between Tarain and Tathabhal. Once again I was confronted with a sheer gneiss scramble to the top of my next peak which was Tathabhal, but this time I could see an exciting route up, via a huge gneiss armchair which I really had to get into, pack or no pack!
Half an hour later I was sitting in this giant's chair with a dizzying view of Loch Mor Braigh below. At some points in the scramble up I had been pleased that no-one had known what I was up to! The pack had to be taken off and thrown up ahead of me so that I could scramble over an overhanging lip into the chair, which was a gorgeous gneiss basin about 4 meters across. Now I spread myself out in it on my back to enjoy a brief rest and to watch the clouds, now small and fluffy, dispersing to reveal patches of blue sky above.
After another rather ungraceful sketchy scramble out of the giant's chair, it wasn't far to the top. At 515m this is only a small hill by Scottish standards, but the remoteness and the lack of paths made it feel a wonderful achievement to climb. There is a cairn at the top, but this is the only sign that you have that you are not the first human to set foot up here! I was absoulutely delighted with the view south to Scarp and Huisinis, which are beloved home tramping grounds for me. The phone had to be unpacked and switched on to take the selfie at the top of this page, with the island of Scarp and the Huisinis peninsular visible in the back ground. I also took this video.
Two more peaks and down!
The way down from Tathabhal was due south, steep but grassy, with spectacular views over the sheer cliff to my right into the deep glen which allows the Tamnabhaigh track to strike its direct route to the estate lodge. The sheer cliffs rising on the opposite side of the glen gave me a good indication of what was below me on my side, and I was careful to keep well away from the edge, at least until I got to the small lochan in the beallach. Here I had to find a smooth slab as close as possible the to the point where a crystal burn babbled innocently from the lochan into a free fall of well over 400m. Lying on my front I had an eagle's eye view into this long, narrow and awesome scour from the ice age. It is hard to wrap one's head round the idea that the ice here was once kilometres thick, and that the weight and unstoppable force of slow moving ice could rend such a chasm through some of the hardest rock on the planet.
Carefully picking myself up from the edge I backed away before swinging the pack back into place, clicking waist and chest straps, stooping for poles, and heading up, once again. The summit of Teinneasabhal at 497m is a little lower than Tathabhal, but it still gave me those fantastic views of Harris. In fact, one of the aspects I enjoyed the most about day one of my big walk was the view of Harris from this northerly perspective. It was so satisfying and pleasing to piece together a skyline comprised of the very surprisingly different north facing profiles of all my familiar friends.
The top of Teinneasbhal opens out into a high plateau that drops gently and narrows to a pinch in a shallow beallach before ascending in a graceful sweep to the summit of Tamnasbhal. In the pinch, you become very aware of a virtually sheer drop to your left into Coire Dhiobhadail, and there are glimpses of a beautiful sheltered loch down there, surrounded by cliffs and steep hills on three sides.
It was at this moment that I encountered my first rock sign post, but I think I very probably misread it. As I approached the edge meaning to peer down towards the loch, I noticed a red figure formed by the flat face of a rock that had been stood up. The figure had the profile of a little old man, and was clearly pointing north (to my left as I looked at it). I didn't take any notice of the pointing gesture of the rock, I simply noted that it was red, and red is for danger. I took it as a sign NOT to go any further in that direction, due to danger. There was no question that it had been placed there for a purpose by another human being, so I felt a certain companionship from it on this lonely day. If I had been in low cloud, as sign like this could be a life saver. I heeded its warning and didn't approach any closer to the cliff edge, but turned instead towards my final summit of the day, Tamnasbhal.
My plan from Tamnasbhal was to descend for about a kilometre before turning 90 degrees to the east and descending to find a sheiling I could see marked on my map. It looked like a good place to spend the night, and in spite of my frequent snacks and drinks, I knew I was getting tired. The walking was easy, so I timed myself roughly, thinking I would cover a kilometre in about 15 minutes.
Suddenly a big bonny mountain hare hopped out from behind a rock straight into my path! We were both surprised, and we both stopped. I stood still for what seemed an age while the hare twitched his nose and whiskers and wondered what I was. Eventually he decided to casually hop away, showing me his lovely light coloured furry britches as he went; a hint of his ability to turn from a dark grey/blue to a pure white hare in the winter months.
After this special encounter, my timing was all awry and it was anyone's guess when I should make the turn! Anyway, I had good visibility, although the sun was by now dropping towards the sea, and reflecting off it giving a dazzling evening light. I stomped off down the mountain, heading inland, having to skirt around some cliffy bits, and attempting to line myself up with a couple of small lochans I could see both on my map and on the flat plain in front of me. Soon I could see my sheiling, at least I was convinced that I could. There was a section of man made walling standing out from the random scatterings of rocks all around. However, when I got there, it was not a sheiling, it was simply a few rectangular rocks that had been stood on end side by side.
Hmmm. I was a bit stumped. I looked around for a good viewpoint so that I could do a scan for my sheiling. It couldn't be that far away. I spied a huge boulder with a flat top about 100m away, towards the beautiful hidden loch I had seen from above. I headed over to it and climbed on top. From here I could see very well. There was a cairn about another 100m to the north, again, in the direction of the loch! Well I was tired now, and cairns mean things, even if you don't know what they are, so I was drawn to it. When I got there, to my fascination, I could see another interesting manmade rock pile, again to the north, tempting me further and further out of my way towards the hidden loch. I was so excited realising that I had stumbled upon an ancient path! This was obviously a way that many people had used in the past, or why would it be so carefully signposted in stone? But for me it was back tracking, and I couldn't risk being pixy-led at this time in the evening!
I decided to follow the path back the other way, and continue my search for the sheiling. I turned and suddenly there it was! Obvious for me to see from this cairn, but hidden to me when I had been standing atop the flat rock. I laughed. I felt as if I was being taught something. A penny should be dropping, but the people from the past could only speak to me through their placing of stones. It is a language that felt very relevant and useful to me at this stage in the day. Of course I wasn't the only person that had ever tried to find this sheiling! But in the past, people hadn't wanted to risk the exposure and effort entailed with walking there via the peaks as I had.
And then a penny did drop. Perhaps the red stone bodach at the pinch of the beallach had been pointing to a safe way down? Instead of saying 'no entry' as I had read it, the sign might actually have said 'this way'. If I had followed that sign post, would I have traversed safely down a steep rocky descent to the head of the loch? Then it would have been easy for me to follow the loch until the sign posts started again at the far end, bringing me, in the end, like many before me, safely to the sheiling I sought.