I usually prefer my hills to be above the 3,000 feet mark – and admit that, when the prospect of moving back home to Lewis was first suggested, I flat-out refused.
“There are no Munros in Lewis.” It was simple, really.
But fast forward 10 years and, oh, how things have changed.
I did, in fact, move back to Lewis, proving that you should never – ever – say never.
The man who had first suggested I make the move from Glasgow is now my husband and we have two lovely children together. Life is very different to what it was – mostly in a good way, of course! – but although I can no longer Munro bag whenever I feel like it, my love of the hills has never gone.
What has been changing is the way I look at hillwalking and adventure. Partly because of the logistics – it’s not easy (or cheap) to get on the ferry – but also because there are a lot of treasures to discover right here on our own doorstep.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not new to the outdoors delights of the Hebrides. I’ve climbed the Clisham and Tòdun before – the Clisham more than once – and I remember the day I walked the old postman’s route from Urgha to Rhenigidale as being the day that I began to really appreciate where I lived. But now I am looking at Lewis and Harris in a closer focus and trying to get to know it better, especially the spots that are more off the beaten track.
There are many hidden jewels to discover and you can’t beat the hills of North Harris, to my mind, anyway. And the purpose of today’s piece is to recommend one of them in particular – Tiorga Mòr, which is accessed from the Huisinis road, north of Tarbert.
The Huisinis road is a bit of an adventure in itself, it has to be said. It is chronically windy, single track, and often choked up with camper vans at this time of year.
Your reward for enduring it, though, is access to an undisturbed land and some very fine walking with views for miles across the blue sea, golden beaches and down the islands chain.
The start point of the walk to Tiorga Mòr is the track towards the Chliostair power station, which you reach by turning right off the B887, about a kilometre before reaching Amhuinnsuidhe Castle.
We parked about 500m up this power station road, on a bend, and the walk began from here.
Take the track signposted to Gleann Uladal. Head northwards on this track, which soon slopes down to the west side of Loch Leosaid, with Tiorga Mor coming into view ahead.
Carry on to the bridge over the Abhainn Leosaid and turn off here, heading north-west into Gleann Leosaid and crossing some flat, boggy ground before picking up the path that heads to Glen Cravadale. Follow this path until it reaches the high point. Don’t drop down into Glen Cravadale but turn right off the path at about the 200m contour line.
Following the Abhainn Braigh Bheagarais, head north-east up the slopes, eventually passing Loch Braigh Bheagarais on your left. Carry on from the loch up to the bealach between Tiorga Mòr and Ceartabhal. Head up the ridge for the summit of Tiorga Mor, avoiding the crags on the left. The gradient eases and the ridge becomes narrow but there are no difficulties.
The views from the summit are incredible and the chances are you will have it to yourself. We didn’t, on our outing, and probably looked as surprised to see a man sitting at the summit before us as he looked, at seeing us. We got chatting, as you do – hills are such common ground – and this man remarked that “this was what the Munros were like 30 years ago”.
That chimed with the description I had read of North Harris on the WalkHighlands website.
It describes the area as being – with the exception of the Clisham – quiet and providing “superb outings for the hillwalking connoisseur”. It’s true, too, and hills like Tiorga Mòr, for all its relatively short stature at 679 metres (it’s classified as a Graham), offer something really special.
They’re not cheap ticks. They are largely pathless; there’s no motorway to the top.
It’s just a hill, off the beaten track, with an awe-inspiring view and – usually – nobody else around.
The trig point at the top is quite the viewpoint, looking down the west coast of Harris and towards the Uists. We had the most amazing blue sky day for our outing, and could easily see the Shiants. We thought we could also make out St Kilda – but that might have been a trick of the light.
When the time comes to tear yourself away, the route down is in a south-east then southerly direction, making sure to avoid the crags on your left which could be dangerous.
Pick your way down until you reach the flat ground again in Gleann Leosaid, where you rejoin the track near the power station and follow it back to the road.
Your only decision, then, is whether you tell other people about Tiorga Mòr – or keep it all to yourself!
Directions: Tiorga Mor from the B887 Huisinis road in North Harris.
Time: Four to five hours
Difficulty: Rough hillwalking, largely pathless, with steep sections and a boggy approach
Map used: Ordnance Survey, Explorer 456, North Harris and Loch Seaforth
PS. I don’t really expect anyone to have noticed, but I changed the tagline on my blog a while ago. Gone is the culture, arts and political thing – and in its place is a simple tag of ‘life on the edge’, with edge having whatever kind of meaning you want it to have. In the Outer Hebrides, it’s obviously geographical. In other senses – hanging off the Aonach Eagach, for example (not that I intend to EVER do that again) – it’s pretty literally physical, and when it comes to exploring the shenanigans around wind farm development, it’s more like psychologically edgy.
What has changed, for sure, is that I became pretty fed up with the way political or cultural issues get debated on social media, so I’ve taken a big step back from all that and a wee change of direction on the blog is part of that. Life can be really hard and I’d rather blog about good things – finding the joy, etc! – and, because I enjoy being outdoors so much, I’m going to try and share some more of that kind of thing with you. It’s my happy place and it makes sense to bring it onto the blog, too.
It’s also because I’ve been given a new opportunity. The Press and Journal got in touch to ask if I’d write some features for them, for their weekly outdoors section, which I was really happy to agree to. It gives me a reason to have adventures, which can only be a good thing, and means that I’ll at least keep my hand in on the blog, as there’s always the danger of letting it slide a bit, when life gets too busy!
So you might see this story on Tiorga Mòr in the P&J soon, as it was emailed off to the features editor this afternoon.
Might see it this Saturday, maybe the Saturday after. I’m not sure exactly.
But it’s something a bit different for me and it’s good to mix it up a little. Stops us all from getting bored and I’d hate to become too predictable.
It just remains for me to say a massive THANK YOU for reading and / or following and please do get in touch any time and share comments. It’s always lovely to hear from the friends I’ve made via the blog, some of them a whole world away! (Special shout out there to Mark and Maureen, down under! And Maureen, I hope this starts to give you some ideas about outings for the next time you visit!)
Go well, friends. Katie xx
Loved reading this – made me want to drive 12 hours to start the hike – and especially the route details. Thank you.
That’s great, Robin! Thanks for commenting. x
The interior of Lewis and Harris are my favourite, although it’s been many a year since I ventured to the likes of Loch Langabhat or the summit of Teileasbhal…
I need to get back to Harris!
Just a pause to wish you all the best with the P&J gig: I’m looking forward to reading a lot more columns like this alongside the other work that you do! If you don’t mind the comment, I think it would be really great if, alongside the route descriptions (and the great photos), you could delve a little into the history on some of the walks you describe (not here so much as the walk into Rhenigidale, which of course is absolutely loaded).
Sorry to see the old tagline replaced: I have a bit of a problem with the ‘from the edge’ stuff: I understand the reasons it’s there but have always felt that this is an outwards-in perspective: living here, this is never ‘the edge’ of anything; it’s absolutely central to our lives.
Anyway, in the meantime, and as always, do keep on keeping on!
Congratulations for getting the ‘outdoors’ gig at the P&J .
Great choice of hill here, Katie; my favourite of all the Harris Hills. And yes you can see St Kilda from the summit on a clear day!
Here’s a trick though, if you carry on up the Chliostair track and leave it where the hydro pipe turns right, you can pick up the south-east ridge of Tiorga Mor, which is a fine climb, and then return via the north-west ridge, Loch Braigh Bheagarais and the Cravadale path.
Hills are always better with dugs!