Wednesday, 7 December 2005


This name is liable to send some people's bloodpressure soaring. It used to be problematic if you wanted to have free access to the countryside. Or if you were the crofter at the top of the road. It is actually the portal to some pretty impressive countryside in the island. Until recently, walkers were not made to feel particularly welcome. Signs like"private" do not exactly convey an image of open arms and all that. However, after I spoke to the owner in early March and following a letter in the Stornoway Gazette, there seems to be a mute understanding that everybody is welcome to walk, provided they don't interfere with the workings of the estate. Which is normal practice.

If you manage to make your way through some pretty impressive bogs under Scalabhal, you'll eventually arrive at the famous beehive dwellings. How anyone ever managed to live in them is a complete mystery to me. I've been in them, cripes, they're cramped to say the least. Other beehive dwellings are situated on the other side of Scalabhal.

A few miles of boggy moorland further on, the ruins of Kinloch Resort (stress first syllable) are reached. A very sad place. Two or three houses, inaccessible, stand on either side of the river, with the long, narrow loch stretching out towards the sea. A stunted rowan tree stands by one of the houses, and reminds me of the story of the rowans.

In the old days, people would plant a rowan tree by their house to ward off evil. However, thousands of people emigrated (sometimes against their will), and the house would remain behind. With the rowan tree standing beside. It would remember all the joys and the sorrows that happened around the house. The births, the deaths. The marriages, and the departures. Once the family had left for good, the tree would lament in the wind. Calling for the people to return - but that will never happen at Kinloch Resort. Or so many places in the West.

Click here to listen to Rowan Tree, the Burns song
One story originates from this area, that of a carpenter who went to Kinloch Resort to do some work. He was going back to Harris, and he was told to take all the wood that had not been used. As he made his way over the mountains, he heard the sound of a hammer on wood. He thought it was the village children playing tricks on him, but when he whipped round, there was nobody about. This continued all the way home. When the carpenter arrived home with all his wood, he found his wife had fallen ill in his absence. He tended to her in the following days, but she passed away. Being a carpenter, he made the coffin himself. And as he sat hammering at the wood, a chill ran down his spine. The tapping noise was exactly the same as what he had heard that day out on the moor, as he was coming back from Kinloch Resort.

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