Monday, 26 March 2007

Gym routine, Berneray style

This posting was inspired by Dave, a colleague on the mainland who is paying 60 pounds a month for membership of a gym ("Only 2 pounds a day - bargain!") 1 mile from his house. He drives to it three times a week, then spends time mainly on the walking treadmill machine, then drives home. He doesn't see the irony in any of this.

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This is the walking route I try and do most days. It's mostly on either single-track road or beach, so it's okay to do even after a lot of rain. The pictures below are from yesterday's walk; they are also in a set in my Flickr area, so you can get them in different sizes.

First up, leave the house, wait for the remorseless flow of traffic to pass (cough!), then in a suitable gap turn left and start.


At the crossroads, take a right, and stroll up Borve Hill. Wave at people. They'll wave back. Maybe stop to chat to crofters, but only briefly; Berneray is a working environment (not a theme park), and crofters, fishermen, and others are usually out and about (or in the case of teleworkers, indoors) working and making the best use of the daylight and good weather.


At the top of the hill, there's a bench. First pit-stop, and the first glimpse of the other side of the island and the dunes. Soon, you'll be walking along the other side of those dunes, on what the Lonely Planet guide described as one of the best beaches in Scotland.


Follow the road. Go through the gate onto the machair. As everywhere, shut the gate after you; it's there for a reason.


Walk across the long machair road. At the end, look back and the houses of west Borve are tiny dots in the distance. As you follow the road, you'll hear the roar of the sea, over the dunes to your right.


Go through a wooden gate, and head across the machair looking for a gap in the dunes; there are several. Avoid any cattle on the way; they may approach you, thinking you are Hector about to feed them dinner. Go through, and you're on the west beach of Berneray.


Turn right and head north. Advise at this point putting some suntan lotion on the back of your neck, as it is a heck of a long walk along the beach and around the headland. Keep going. On your left, a few miles offshore, you'll see Pabbay. If you have binoculars, then try and spot the deer wandering over that island.


Look back, and all you should see is footprints disappearing under the water. At some point, stop. Gin and tonic, a slice of lemon and ice are good here; if hungry, a smoked salmon sandwich also goes down a treat.


Keep walking. It's a deceptive beach, because the end looks near, but then you gradually realise it isn't. There's also a headland (Rubh' a' Chorrain) which the beach gradually curves around.


After a while, you'll approach the end of the north beach, indicated by some big rocks up ahead on the beach. Look for a narrow gap in the dunes. Currently, it is also marked by a wooden stake atop the dune. Head for it, go through it, and you should come out at a gate through a fence.


Go through the gate and cross a short piece of machair; you're ultimately aiming for the left of a big white house that's roughly ahead of you on the first hill rise. You may need to curve to the right a bit to avoid any boggy bits of machair. Join up with a track, then a road, that crests a small hill. At the top, you can see Harris, North Uist, Skye and the mainland.


Hit the coastal road. Turn right, then follow it round.


And that's it. Takes me between 2 and 4 hours, depending on pace, how many people I end up yakking to, picnicing on the west beach and other factors. Don't rush it.

p.s. Dave: thanks for the pic. But you're down by 720 quid a year and you're still evidently a fattie... :-)


  1. Nice photos! You certaintly had a nicer view than I did on my weekend walk around Glasgow, although even the city looks nice in the sunshine.

  2. Sheer magic! We are moving to the Western Isles in 3 years time. When we tell people they say 'Why?'. I'll just refer them to this blog in future. Thanks.

  3. SIGH - I NEED a trip to the sea!Thanks for sharing your amazing photos. They're nothing short of brilliant!

  4. Thank you for bringing back many happy memmories of my 2 stays on Berneray last year! beautiful shots.

  5. Great photos! It's a wonderful, wonderful beach, even with a freezing north wind in August!Its the photo on my GCSE Geography blog!.... but lets not tell?!

  6. Fab photies John. Can you keep the weather like that for the next couple of weeks for me - or at least 'til I make it to the beach. Ta!

  7. Certainly beats the gym.Staggering pics as ever.

  8. Well done John! That's my kind of workout!

  9. Yes, I guess it is pretty. But where are all the people? The place looks deserted. Has everyone gone away or been abducted by aliens.A bit too weird to walk around a deserted place. Not my cup of tea. Think I'll stick to city life.

  10. To James - on a walk like this in the Outer Hebrides you might see 6 people. All of them will wave to you and, if you are close enough, they will all speak to you. Compare that to your city. You might see 1,000 people none of whom will acknowledge you or look you in the eye. So which, from a personal contact view, is the more deserted?

  11. John,Thank you for reminding me how good it is to walk in Berneray and how I wish I was there right now - fantastic pictures and just how I like it - not a soul in sight. I have walked there often in such glorious weather but have also been out in some fairly horizontal stuff but still good! My eldest daughter and husband - Alona and Stuart (plus three springer spaniels - well behaved, as are the dogs)are up for a week (from Friday 5th May) - you may well bump into them on your travels!

  12. Election day in the Outer Hebrides at Silversprite4 May 2007 at 00:15

    [...] the polling station is on my daily walk route, so was able to vote and still enjoy my two hour amble over road, across machair and along beach. [...]

  13. What a GREAT blog. I've done that walk once, but going in the other direction. Fantastic. Truly.

  14. What a great website. Although now sitting in an office in London I am planning another trip my sixth to Berneray. Great walk which I have done several times each way depending on the wind. Sand in the eyes a problem. The hostel there is the most relaxed of all of them. Great photos.