A strong contender for the finest walk on Lewis and Harris

The path to Traigh Mheilein.
The path to Traigh Mheilein.

From the small car park at Huisinis head up past the two wind turbines, go through a gap in the stone dyke, and follow this down towards the sea. From the end of the wall join the obvious path heading north east, away from Huisinis, along the coastline.

The path soon starts to climb, zig-zagging up a steep slope, and after 10 sweaty minutes you will reach the high point. Stop at the cairn to admire the view across to the island of Scarp.

Home to 213 people in 1881– its population declined during the 20th Century and the last residents moved to mainland Harris in 1971. Like St. Kilda, Scarp had its own parliament, with the menfolk meeting every morning at the ruins of an old house to agree what work was to be done that day. Whilst the men chatted, the women – of course – were hard at work….

Descend the track, admiring the impressive stone revetments as it crosses a small burn. When the path becomes fainter continue diagonally downhill, aiming for the two old stone gate posts in the distance. Pass these and make your way down onto Tràigh Mheilein. At first sight this appears to be a modest sandy beach, but as you walk round the corner it reveals itself to be a magnificent golden strand – ranking as one of the finest beaches in Scotland that is not accessible by car.

The beach was the site of the famous Rocket Post experiment in 1934, when German inventor Gerhard Zucker attempted, unsuccessfully, to launch letters across the Sound to Scarp….with explosive results.

Follow the beach, watching the gannets as they dive for fish in the shallow waters. From the headland, either climb steeply up the small hill or contour along the coastline, admiring the views up the fjord-like trench of Loch Reasort. Donald John MacLeod, who was born on Scarp, recalls islanders sailing out at night to net a few salmon for the pot, cutting the outboard at the head of Loch Reasort so that watchers would not hear the noise of the engine.

To the north the houses of Mealasta and Breanish can easily be made out; a short hop by boat, but a two hour drive by road.

Whichever way you choose, you will soon come to the freshwater Loch na Cleibhig, complete with a beautiful whitewashed cottage on its northern shore that looks like it has been placed by an artist wanting a focal point for their composition.

Make your way past the eastern shore of the loch and over extensive lazybeds to Cravadale beach. After relaxing in this remote and idyllic spot, it is time to start making your way back. Return to Loch na Cleibhig, pass the little cottage (which is usually occupied throughout the summer) and pick up a small path along its south shore.

Groups of John Muir Trust volunteers come to North Harris twice a year to support the great work done by the community landowner, the North Harris Trust. This autumn a party spent several days clearing litter from Tràigh Mheilein and Cravadale beach, and improving the drainage on this path. They were rewarded for their efforts one day by an unforgettable sight - a buzzard, two golden eagles and six sea eagles soaring in a big group above the hillside.

At the west end of the loch head steeply up the hillside for a short distance, aiming for an obvious gap on the skyline. Go through this bealach, descend part way down the other side until a cairn marks a small path branching off to the left. Follow this as it contours along the hillside until it joins the path you followed on the way out. Pass the cairn at the top of the rise, descend the steep zigzags, and retrace your route back to the start.

Fact File

Distance: 8km/ 5 miles

Height climbed: 311m/ 1,020 ft

Time: 3-4 hours (with time for stops)

Start Point: Car park at Huisinis

Footwear: Boots required

Map: OS Landranger Map 13 - West Lewis & North Harris

Outdoor safety:

Staying safe whilst walking is mostly a matter of common sense:

- Check the weather forecast before you set out.

- Take appropriate clothing, this walk covers some rough, wet ground, so wear your boots. A coat is almost always advisable.

- Take car - the initial sections of this walk crosses some steep ground.

- Carry water and a bite to eat.

- Always tell someone where you are going.

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 The full access code can be found at www.outdooraccess-scotland.com.

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.

(Map - Ordnance Survey Landranger Map 13 - West Lewis and Harris © Crown Copyright 2014 Ordanace Survey Media 013/14