Walking into the New Year

Did you make a New Year’s Resolution? If you have, chances are it’s something about getting more exercise and improving your fitness. You won’t be alone, if you have! Because among those who do make New Year’s Resolutions, getting more exercise and improving fitness is the most popular.

Most New Year’s Resolutions, in and of themselves, don’t tend to last that long – but creating good new habits, which you intend to make part of your life going forward, are a different matter. 

In that sense, resolving to get more regular exercise could be one of the best things you could ever do to improve your health and wellbeing. And walking is surely one of the easiest ways to do it.

The great thing about everyday walking is that, once you’ve got yourself a pair of sturdy shoes and a waterproof jacket, it won’t cost you any money.

While many folk will be staying off the bigger hills during the winter, shorter walks at lower levels can be managed by many, all year round – provided we put our minds to it.

In some ways it’s even more necessary to keep making the effort to get out there, with the bad weather and the long nights – Seasonal Affective Disorder, anyone? – as the benefits of taking a walk outside are massive and far reaching. Whether it’s alone time or time with friends, walking brings significant psychological and emotional benefits, as well as physical.

Personally, even though I like bigger physical challenges, I also really enjoy short walks, especially with the dogs and the kids and even more if there is a cup of tea and cake at the end of it!

With that in mind, I’m going to share with you a route today that I’ve recently written about as part of my work for Point and Sandwick Trust.

The route takes in the completed first section of the Point and Sandwick Coastal Community Path, starting from the Point end of the Braighe.

It passes Eaglais na h-Aoidhe (the Ui Church) and follows the coastline before carrying on through the village of Aignish and returning along the main road.

Walkers on the coastal path, along the perimeter of Eaglais na h-Aoidhe
Walking the new coastal path, alongside the perimeter of Eaglais na h-Aoidhe

The Old Knock School, now home to Cafe Roo, Buth an Rubha and the Point and Sandwick Trust offices, is an alternative start and finish point – and whether you choose to start here or at the Braighe, make sure you call in to complete your outing with a cuppa at Cafe Roo. (They also do cakes, cooked breakfasts and lunch – just saying.)

Personally I don’t think any outdoors outing is quite right without a cup of tea at the end of it. That goes for wee walks, big walks, sea swims – the whole lot. 

The Point and Sandwick Trust (PST) connection to the walk is that they helped to fund a stretch of path that features in this route. PST had, through their Joint Projects Fund with Stornoway Trust, put £57,000 into the first phase of the Point and Sandwick Coastal Community Path, with the other £57,000 coming from LEADER.

The Point and Sandwick Coastal Community Path vision is for a 40km route that will go all the way from Stornoway around the peninsula of Point. The total cost of the project could be around the £1million mark and the work will need to be done in something like five phases. The effect would be transformative.

The first phase alone cost £114,000 and it’s great to see the effect it’s had. Visually, the area near the Ui Church is much improved and the sea wall beside the church, plus the church’s graveyard, have been saved from the severe threat of erosion.

There has been another, less visible impact of the project – on the health and wellbeing of people in the area, as it has opened up this part of the coastline for walking.

I went out with the lovely ladies from the Women For Mission group from Garrabost Free Church, and friends, on the last Saturday before Christmas, to walk this part of the path as part of a circular route.

Accompanied by my photographer pal Sandie Maciver (thanks for the lovely pictures, Sandie!) we enjoyed a half-hour ramble and blether on the rapidly darkening winter afternoon – it was the shortest day of the year – and felt the benefit of being out in the fresh air, in good company, stretching our legs and looking at the views.

The quality of the new path is so good that the walking is really enjoyable and I discovered a wee beach that I had not known about and was treated to the sight of more seals than I have ever seen in one place before, apart from at Dunvegan.

The highlight for many people on this walk, though, would likely be Eaglais na h-Aoidhe, St Columba’s Church. This is such an impressive and important building and Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe (the Ui Church Trust) have done a power of work to protect and preserve it. 

Eaglais na h-Aoidhe
The historic Eaglais na h-Aoidhe, pictured in the summer. All pics by SandiePhotos

Eaglais na h-Aoidhe (the Ui Church) dates back to the 14th Century and was one of the most important medieval churches in the Outer Hebrides.

It was once the parish church of Stornoway and has a fascinating history. 

It has been linked to the Knights Templar, due to the presence of the Sword Stone – a coffin-shaped stone with a faintly-visible sword on top – but the most recent theory is that it marks the final resting place of the clan chiefs of the Macleods of Lewis. 

All research now points to the Sword Stone as marking their exact burial spot, with the sword believed to be a reference to one particular chief’s reputation as an excellent swordsman.

The church was also once the richest one in the whole of the Hebrides and was burned down twice in its early days, possibly by the Vikings. As Colin Scott Mackenzie, Honorary President of the Ui Church Trust, has said: “That it’s here at all is a wonder.”

As a burial site, hundreds of bodies are known to lie there, some in layers upon layers, and there are even bodies under the coastal path between the church and the sea.

The location itself is incredibly exposed – so exposed, in fact, that waves have been known to come right over the church in the winter. Starfish have even been found in the church afterwards!

Thankfully, the site has now been well protected. Conservation work was carried out on the church in 2012 and 2015 and the outer perimeter of the churchyard was protected as part of the first phase of the coastal path work.

Work on this first phase of the coastal path was carried out in November and December 2018 and this shored up about 100 metres of coastline, including the area outside the Ui Church.

It also repaired a damaged culvert near the Aignish grazings, so the route is now totally dry.

Catriona Dunn of the Garrabost Women For Mission group said the new coastal path had made a big difference to their experience of walking in the area. “It’s pleasant underfoot. It’s easy to walk on and parts of it weren’t before. It was grassy and muddy in parts, especially where the culvert was. You wouldn’t even attempt it in winter.”

It was a different story now, she added. “I think it’s really pleasant because you’re walking along the coastline and you’re seeing the views and the seals – there was a heron as well – and what’s been done to the church.”

The Women For Mission group walking and talking

The Women For Mission group walking and talking
Another mission… to walk and talk regularly, for health and wellbeing

The Women For Mission group usually meets to go walking together once a week and agreed the group gave them all a physical, social and psychological boost. The physical exercise improves their health and sense of wellbeing, while the group aspect helps them get to know each other.

Having an improved infrastructure helps them plan their routes and explore their local area more.

Another member of the group, Chrisann Mackenzie, said people from outwith the area might not think of coming to Aignish for a walk but it had a lot going for it. As well as the Ui Church and the Braighe coastline, it was a circular route, which always appeals, and route-finding was easy.

Donald John MacSween, general manager of Point and Sandwick Trust, said the wind farm charity was pleased to have played a part in creating such valuable infrastructure.

“Getting out and about for an easy stroll in our area is now much easier along this completed part of the coastal path. It is good to see more and more people locally out walking – the easiest and cheapest exercise available all year round, if suitably clad.”

For those unfamiliar with the area, the route which has been made accessible by completion of the first phase of the coastal path is on OS Explorer Map 459, Central Lewis and Stornoway.

It begins at Grid Reference 483 321 (the parking area at the Point end of the Braighe, near the Aignis Farm Raiders Monument) or from GR 492 320 (the Old Knock School).

If starting from the Old School / Cafe Roo, walk westwards down the A866 main road towards the Braighe, until you come to the parking area that is the alternative start point, just under 1km away.

Next, take the path northwards across the Braighe isthmus, passing the raiders monument.

Eaglais Na h-Aoidh and the coastal path will be obvious on your right-hand side. Follow the path round as it skirts the outside of the church and its graveyard, following the very edge of the coastline and then crossing grazings. Conditions are excellent underfoot.

About 250 metres past the church, there will be a road off to your right. Ignore it and keep on the path. Shortly afterwards, you will pass a small beach to your left – there are often many seals to be seen here – and very soon the path will end and become a road. Follow this road uphill for about 200 metres until you see another road off to the right. Turn right here and follow it all the way along until you meet the main A866 road again. 

The Women For Mission walking group from Garrabost Free Church
On dry ground… repairing the culvert made a big difference

Turn right downhill and you will arrive back at the Old School / Cafe Roo after about 200 metres.

The walk described is 3km but can be extended slightly by continuing on the road uphill after the path has finished, instead of turning right after 200 metres.

This would take you all the way uphill and out onto the main road near the houses at Seaview. To complete the walk, as before, turn right downhill and return to the Old School / Cafe Roo. 

So there you go. A wee walk to get you started. Just remember to take money for a cuppa.

(Ps. I’ve come off social media… so if you want to make sure you don’t miss anything, please hit the subscribe button on my home page.)


Route: Aignish circular

Distance: 3km

Time: 30 mins

Difficulty: Easy

Map used: Ordnance Survey 459, Central Lewis and Stornoway


Comments 1

  1. Hebridean Walking Club have recently walked most of the Point Coast It has some very interesting scenery and wildlife and would not take much to make it a waymarked path.

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