Nasty Nodes Manchester Night Specialist Team trek around The Outer Hebrides for FOP Friends and The Not Forgotten Association
As told by Mark Andrew
Early last year, 2022, Phil Booth floated the idea of walking ‘a long way’ for his 50th birthday. We discussed this over a pint or two and approached Mike Costin who suggested we also incorporate a charity or two to help and to motivate us. Ian Welsby was totally behind the idea as we, as a team, expected to all be off work for around two weeks at the same time (minus Colin Walker who would hold down the fort for us and cover all screamers!).
So, it was decided: Phil, Scott Bolton, Mark (myself) and Munro the Mountain Bear, were to walk the Hebridean Way. This was going to be a grand total of 160miles (250km) over the most diverse terrain you can encounter on any walk within the UK. The extensive planning process began to take shape.
What we didn’t take into consideration (and soon found out!) was the sheer logistical and time-consuming process it would be to arrive at the Outer Hebrides, walk it, and then return. Add to that the wild August weather, and we really did have a challenge!
In total it took eight hours by car to Oban and six hours on the ferry to Barra. We then traversed ten individual islands, caught four more ferries, then returned to Barra, another six hours to back to the mainland, then a final eight hours travel by car back home. This was all in addition to walking an impressive total of 160 miles while wild camping every night. We had estimated for 10 days – the lads smashed it in just 8.5 days with an average walk of just under 19 miles per day.
1st day walking
First day of walking was Vatersay to Barra, Ardmhor ferry terminal for Ericksay. We were stunned by the beauty of the beaches. It was apparent that the beaches here were almost tropical in appearance if not in temperature. For the second night on the islands, we had our own private beach and sunset. We were blown away on our first day, and pretty worn out too as it had been a strenuous 15-hour day after the immense travel just get here. But what a fabulous place to be exhausted!
Day 3, 2nd day walking
We were up bright and early with the sun, so off we went. We entered the Uists Islands, a group of six islands which are part of the Outer Hebrides. We began at South Uist which has beautiful long deserted beaches and dunes and long distances to be walked though and enjoyed. At this point, our feet were beginning to hurt… After a wild camp and breakfast, we started to head inland towards Benbecula. The reality of the mileage began to take its toll. Everyone was strapped up for backs, knees and now nasty blisters for me. However, the sunset on beach after the third day on the islands went some way to soothe our aching bodies.
Day 4, 3rd day walking
We entered Benbecula. This has historically been an MOD site for decades with its missile ranges and airport. The island isn’t as busy as it used to be, but it has some the biggest and most incredible beaches. Unfortunately, my blisters were too painful to walk on for the remainder of the day so it was down to Phil, Scott and Munro to carry on until I could rejoin the group. On the islands, there are many war memorials and Commonwealth War Graves which give a history of the Hebrides and tells its story about its contribution to the defence of Britain over many wars and conflicts. Whole families went to war from these far-flung isles. Yet, in many cases, they didn’t come home again. It was out last night on Benbecula before North Uist. Things were about to change, but we were still smiling…
Day 5, 4th day walking
Today was Benbecula to North Uist via Grimsay. The terrain was changing by the mile, and weather threatening to change too… Clouds beginning to roll in from the North Atlantic and the wind was picking up dramatically, looked like the nice days were going to be behind us. We arrived at a calm campsite just before all hell was let loose!
Day 6, 5th day walking
Todays’ stretch covered North Uist to Berneray then the ferry to Harris and Lewis. The weather had taken a turn for the worse: it was wet and windy to say the least! Scott can’t stand ferries at the best of times and this most definitely didn’t help ha ha! But we were all still smiling.
Incidentally, the ferry from Berneray to Harris has to navigate an impressive nineteen turnings to avoid sandbanks and rocks! So not only was the sea up but the ferry twisted and turned constantly. And would you believe it…Scott loved it!
Day 7, 6th day walking
We went from Leverborough ferry terminal to Horgabost campsite, Harris. I managed to sort out a respite camp for us all to grab much-needed showers and clothes washing. I was still crocked and shot ahead on the bus. What a beautiful island Harris is. All three of us were mesmerised by the beaches and the actual ambience of it. Again, it had its own signature but seemed to combine Vatersay, Barra, the Uists, Benbecula and all the other southern islands into one.
Day 8, 7th day walking.
This was the BEST day of the whole walk we think. I managed to join in too, as we headed up into the Glens of Harris, reluctantly leaving the beautiful beaches behind. The scenery was stunning and the weather fantastic. Beautiful lochs and heather…… We were happy chappies!
We started to descend whilst the weather held up, but the rain and wind arrived in force! We all got drenched so headed into Tarbert and indulged in food and drink to dry off. Guiness is a very good morale boost, plus scampi fries buffet.
Phil and Scott pushed on later when the weather had abated but I had to stay to sort my ever-worsening feet out. The guys were feeling the miles and the weather, but were more determined than ever to complete this walk. It was at this time we change the plan: we would complete the rest of Harris and Lewis in three days. As the wind dropped to a whisper, so the midges arrived! We had all been bitten to death, so nets were deployed!
Day 9, 8th day walking
The island of Lewis is huge, moody and as wet as an otter’s pocket! The ground is boggy and the rivers were in full spate. Phil “Bogdan the bog whispering trotter” and Scott jumped, slumped and waded their way to Ballalan, Lewis. Arriving exhausted and covered in sludge, we found a laundrette, a tearoom and a museum all in one, in a community historical preservation society building. It was an absolute godsend as there are no amenities between Tarbert and Stornoway. Trying to dry boots with paper whilst sat in laundrette was no mean feat! It was here we met the lovely Jimmy and Mary who offered their garden to camp in for the night as there was nowhere on Lewis suitable to pitch a tent. The Hebrideans are wonderful people.
Day 10, 9th day walking
After a wet and midge-infested night, we decided to push it for Stornoway and the finish line in one day instead of two. We had all had enough of the midges.
We encountered some strange things on the way into Stornoway and the traffic was horrendous on the last stretch of the way by road, but as it was the last push the morale was extremely high. We motored the last sixteen miles and arrived in Stornoway footsore, tired but elated. It was the most incredible feeling.
This expedition had taken an unbelievable effort, especially by Phil and Scott who managed every single mile at an average of 19 miles per day. I should say, I hadn’t been idle whilst moaning about my blisters! I busied myself by taking care of the logistical drama that was the return back to Barra utilising buses, ferries and taxis.
We eventually arrived at the main village of Castlebay in Barra, before setting sail for home the next day. We were bruised, blistered, exhausted but so incredibly proud of ourselves. Being able to support two such worthy charities, made everything worthwhile, and we all have memories and stories we’ll be able to share for years to come!
We raised over £750 for FOP Friends, so would like to give a special thank you to our families and friends who supported us and sponsored us.
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