Thursday, 21 June 2007

A tale of two walks

I've been seeing the beaches of Berneray an awful lot these last few days.


On tuesday, Dave - the journalist, author and locator of phantom accommodation - accompanied me on my daily 6 mile trundle across the machair and down the west beach. It was hot and sunny, and the beach was - by Berneray standards - crowded. In the three miles of beach walking, we passed 10 people. I'm kinda not used anymore to that many people on the beach, and it just seems peculiar, having so many people within the same mile of sand as you. Odd.

Dave seemed to enjoy the Berneray experience. Back in the Lobster Pot tea room, over a bowl of Morag's excellent vegetable soup (all 5 daily fruit and veg portions and a lot more, in something you can stand your spoon up in), he frantically scribbled like a maniac into his notebooks. Looking forward to what appears on his blog, and in his article in the Guardian about Berneray.


Walk number two took place last night. Today is the shortest day; last night was the shortest night, with sunset here at 10:33pm and sunrise at 4:27. The weather forecasts had not been good, up to yesterday evening when they improved and blueness gradually filled the sky in the evening. A few phone calls later, and a semi-spontaneous group was formed with a rough objective; walk around the edge of Berneray, leaving at sunset, and doing a lap before sunrise, which would be watched over breakfast.

Several of us set off shortly after sunset. 5 did the whole distance, while 2 did a junior version. Identities of the successful people are under wraps - we decided halfway round to be known collectively as "The Magnificent Five", and we'll leave it at that.

My camera is rubbish for night shots and gloomy light. About halfway round I gave up trying to get any decent pictures; the few in any way discernible do not give a realistic idea of the light level,  This picture below gives a vague idea; this was midnight, at the north end of Berneray, with Pabbay in the distance:


Things we noticed:

  • Otter tracks; loads of them in some places. Best of all, an otter with a fish in it's mouth wandering across rocks close to the shore.

  • Mobile phone reception is best where there are no houses e.g. on the west beach and the northern part of Berneray. Ironically, where people live on Berneray the reception is not good.

  • Berneray oozes history. Every rock, every outcrop, every plot of land, has some family connection, anecdote, story, legend or deed.

  • The natural light was surprisingly good the whole time. We never needed a torch, or came close to needing one, at any point. Dark it was not, and the strange twilight accenuated the moon skulking on the horizon, and Venus which we followed as we walked down the long west beach.

  • In the middle of the night, even one light seems like outrageous light pollution.

  • Even boggy machair, after several weeks with virtually no rain, dries out into something more crumbly. Not good for plants, but great for walkers.

  • Large flocks of sheep look sinister in the solstice twilight.

  • There is little better sociably than sitting on a magnificent Outer Hebrides beach at 1am, with a small group of equally appreciate people, watching the waves, and the light change over distant islands. Whisky and chocolate accenuate the experience.

  • Beaches never get boring. After walking the length of the east beach, west beach, and a large chunk of the cockle bay beach, we were still up for more beach walking if need be.

  • It's easier and dryer to walk on recently drained sand than trying to hop over machair streams ...


On long walks, choose wisely who you go with. Ours was a good crowd, helped perhaps by being quieter people who are still up for doing something spontaneous and less officially organised. There's a few other people who would have been good to come along but who couldn't make it, or who couldn't be contacted in time, once we knew that it was possible from a weather point of view. There will be other days - and nights - for other circular walks around Berneray...


  1. Staggering pics, as ever

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