First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
A windy spring morning in the Isle of Harris, cold and grey. Gunsmoke cloud drifted along the mountain ridges above Glen Meavaig, one of the prime locations in the Outer Hebrides for spotting a golden eagle.
Maybe it was beginners’ luck, but as soon as we set off up the glen we saw our first golden eagle, a big black shape cruising the air above the peak of Sròn Smearasmal, keeping close to the ridge before diving low beyond the skyline. As it turned out, we would not see another until the end of the walk, a splendid view of a bird gilded by evening sun as it glided out across Loch Meavaig.
The cold, clear Abhainn Mhiabhaig came rushing down among rocks spattered white with the droppings of dippers and wagtails. Deep purple violets and pale pink milkmaids grew among the pale wiry moor grass, insectivorous butterwort and fluffy white bog cotton like rabbits’ tails in the wet squelchy peat.
Boulders of coarse grey gneiss wore wigs of heather and peat. Grey knobbly outcrops of the three billion-year-old rock rose on either side to tall mountain slopes and craggy ridges.
The curve of the glen sheltered us from the worst of the wind as we came in sight of the dark rippling waters of Loch Scourst. Beside it stood the North Harris Eagle Observatory, a modest wooden hut with picture windows looking out across the loch to the crumpled flanks of Cathadal Granda.
Golden eagles nest close to Glen Meavaig, the actual locations of the nests kept secret to frustrate any selfish fool out to steal the eggs. Two are laid, hatching in early May. Of this pair, only one generally survives. An eagle chick can’t regulate its own temperature, so the female adult broods it while her partner searches for food, their roles reversing every so often. The chicks grow like billy-o; by the time the young eagle leaves the nest in late July at ten weeks old, it is the same size as its parents, and often heavier.
Eagles aren’t the only attractions of Glen Meavaig. Red-throated divers nest around Loch Scourst, merlin hunt the moorland. As we sat eating our sandwiches by the loch, a bird hidden among the rocks maintained a silvery trilling call – a ring ouzel, keeping its conspicuous white bib well out of view.
From the observatory we followed the stony track north up the glen, over a low pass and down past Lochan an Fheòir to the lonely shore of Loch Bhoisimid. Wind furrows raced across the steely water, and there was not a man-made sound to be heard.
How hard is it? 8½ miles there and back; easy; good 4X4 track all the way.
NB To avoid complications, main place names are given in Anglicised form. Maps and road signs also give Gaelic form.
Deer stalking season may stretch from 1 July to 15 February.
Start: Roadside car park at Meavaig, north Harris, Outer Hebrides HS3 3AW approx (OS ref NB 100062)
Getting there: Bus W12, Tarbert to Hushinish (schooldays and some summer days only – check with Lochs Motor Transport, 01851-860288, lochsmotortransport.co.uk)
Road – car park is on B887 (Bunavoneadar to Hushinish), signed from A859 Tarbert to Stornoway.
Walk (OS Explorer 456): From the car park walk up the track, past the hide at 100088 and on past Lochan an Fheòir to the south shore of Loch Bhoisimid (105127). Retrace steps to car park.
Accommodation: Hotel Hebrides, Pier Road, Tarbert, Harris HS3 3DG (01859-502364, hotel-hebrides.com)
North Harris Eagle Observatory: www.north-harris.org; visitouterhebrides.co.uk/see-and-do/wildlife/bird-of-prey-trail