Walking: This little known path on the island border has fantastic views

Loch Ruairidh with Stulabhal in the background. Map below - � Crown copyright 2013 Ordnance Survey 091/13
Loch Ruairidh with Stulabhal in the background. Map below - � Crown copyright 2013 Ordnance Survey 091/13

From the small car park just south of Scaladale Outdoor Centre, go through the gate and set off along the obvious path. The track provides good, dry walking, but can be quite stony in places – take care not to slip on any downhill sections.

You are now entering Ardvourlie Woodland, the finest example of a young native woodland plantation on Lewis and Harris, and the brainchild of the local grazings clerk, the late Murdo Morrison.

Having been told by his mother that “trees will never grow round here”, Murdo disagreed. Starting with a small plantation on his croft, his forestry ambitions grew, and he soon decided that the hillside above the township would look much better if cloaked with trees.

With support from the Forestry Commission, Scottish Natural Heritage and various funders, Murdo started putting his plans into action and in 2002 work began on his ambitious project.

Today, 300 ha of hillside have been planted with over 200,000 young trees, including birch, willow, alder, rowan, holly and juniper. A further 9,000 saplings will be planted next spring by the landowners the North Harris Trust, with help from the Woodland Trust and the John Muir Trust.

Murdo wanted everyone to be able to enjoy this woodland, so he made sure the excellent path that features in this article was also included in the project.

Head uphill until you reach a junction in the path. Keep left here and continue up the hillside, taking time to rest on the wooden benches considerately placed along the way.

As height is gained excellent views start to unfold behind you. Beyond Seaforth Island, on the far side of the fjord-like Loch Seaforth, Beinn Mhor dominates the eastern skyline.

Looking south, the summit of the Clisham can be seen rising behind the dramatic cliffs of Sgurr Scaladail. Eventually, the path turns right and after a few hundred yards you will reach the top of a broad ridge; from now on you can relax – most of the hard work is over!

By this point you may be wondering where all the trees have gone. This is not a dense forest, and in many ways it still feels like an open hillside, with small pockets of trees scattered here and there. However, there is good reason for this. Young trees on an exposed hillside like this have to cope with very strong winds and poor, wet soils. If they survive at all, they will only grow slowly.

Indeed, much of the wetter ground hereabouts is so poor in minerals that it would never be able to support young trees.

Murdo knew this, and the young trees have been planted where they have the best chance of survival: on small pockets of better soils and on the sheltered slopes of the small hillocks and mounds which are dotted over the hillside.

These mounds are worth a second look. The floor of the glen is covered with them, and they are very prominent in the low winter sunlight.

These are moraines: heathery clad heaps of earth and rubble, gouged out of the glens and hillside by glaciers during the last ice age, then deposited as the earth warmed and the ice retreated.

Following the path downhill into Gleann Bhiogadail (Vigidale) the beautiful little Loch Ruairidh comes into view, the tree clad foreground providing an unusually sylvan setting to a Hebridean view. In the distance the summit of Stulabhal can be seen, soaring above the bealach at the head of the glen.

Look out for eagles soaring on updrafts along the skyline ridges – both golden and sea eagles are frequently seen in this area. Other birds to look out for on this walk include buzzards, ravens and (in summer) wheatears.

After admiring the views, it is time to follow the path back to the junction, and on down to the car park.

Hidden Hebrides

Mick Blunt runs the island based company, Hidden Hebrides, offering specialist walking holidays and customised day or half day tours. The tours are relaxed, with plenty of time for enjoying the wonderful views. If you would like to get off the beaten track visit the Hidden Hebrides website for more information at www.hiddenhebrides.co.uk.

Mick can also be contacted by phone on 07724150015 or email mickblunt@hiddenhebrides.co.uk.

Factfile

Distance: 3.1km/1.9 miles

Height climbed: 163m/ 534 ft

Time: 1.5 hours (with time for stops)

Start point: Car park 50m South of the Scaladale Centre

Footwear: Boot preferable, though possible in trainers, path mostly dry throughout

Outdoor safety

Staying safe while walking is a matter of common sense:

- Check the weather forecast before you set out

- Take appropriate clothing, a coat is almost always advisable

- Take care on the downhill sections, the stony path can be quite loose in places

- Carry water and a bite to eat

Scottish Outdoor Access Code

If you keep to the following you won’t go far wrong:

- Do not disturb livestock or wildlife

- Keep dogs under control, especially at lambing time

- Leave gates as you found them

- Take all your litter home