I climbed Heaval after a day walking on Vatersay. It had been hot and sunny all day and with barely a cloud in the sky and no haze the opportunity to ascend Heaval and see up and down the chains of the Inner and Outer Hebrides and possibly all the way out St Kilda was too good to miss.
I parked in the car park up the hill from Castlebay. At the side of the car park is a stunning house. Most houses in the Hebrides, as I’d also found in Shetland, are not particularly nice to look at. You wouldn’t go to either place to wander round quaint villages as you may do in the Cotswolds. On the whole the houses are functional boxes, often pebble-dashed.
But this house is something completely different. It has a stunning, uninterrupted view over the bay and the castle that sits in the harbour, and the house has been designed with the view in mind. The side facing the bay is almost all glass, with a soaring double height ceiling over the living room. Around the outside overlooking the bay is a large decking area. If I was to move to Barra, this would be the house I would want to live in. Actually, even though I have no thoughts of moving to the Hebrides at all, if I was offered this house, I think I’d move anyway.
Enough of the view of a house from the car park. I was here to see the view of the islands from the top of Heaval. By starting at the car park I was already part way up the 383 metres to the summit. The hill looks like a mini Matterhorn and seems to rise to a distinct point. It looks steep. Very steep. Just below the summit is a statue of Our Lady of the Sea which can just be made out as a tiny white speck from the car park.
Striding out from the car park, I crossed the road and came to a standstill. There was a barbed wire topped fence seemingly all the way along the side of the road. There was a gate but that just led to another layer of fence. Supposedly down the road a bit was a stile. As I was looking the guys from Kent who had been on my trip to Mingulay arrived, along with a girl from their hostel. Four heads are better than one and together we wandered up and down looking for a way over the fence. We did find a stile but it was so rickety it didn’t seem safe to stand on, let alone use to climb over a fence. Eventually we decided to go over the fence near the gate as there was a bit without the barbed wire.
Once over it was onwards and upwards. It really is steep and there is no set path, just lots of slightly beaten down bits bearing footprints that show which way people have gone before. Of course, following these can give a bit of false hope, as they could have walked that way only to have to turn back when they could go no further.
Ever so slowly, I picked my way through bog, heather and moss. I scrambled over rocks using my hands and poles for support. Eventually I got to the top and the view was amazing. I could make out Mingulay and the other islands to the south. Skye was clear to the east. But best of all, way on the western horizon, I could make out the islands of St Kilda. My first ever view of them. Now I want to go there even more than before.
Photographs taken, view admired, I started to descend. It was too windy and a bit chilly to stay at the top for long and I knew it could take me a long time to get down. It seemed almost like a vertical drop. I’m sure it would have been easier to abseil down. I detoured slightly to the statue and then continued picking my way down using my hands and poles again and sometimes sitting on my bum to get down the bits I knew would jar on my knees if I jumped down them.
Very inelegantly I got to the bottom. I had wondered how I’d fare getting back over the fence with no-one to lean on for support. The other three were much faster than me and I could see them getting back into their car whilst I was still mooching around the statue. The wire was quite wobbly to stand on and so it had been good to have a shoulder to lean on when crossing to go up.
Just before I got to the bottom I spotted another gate further down. This was a proper big wide gate, which if locked, would be easy to climb over. I headed for this and was able to open it and walk through. There was a little ditch to jump over, but that was it. Easy-peasy. I walked up the road and back to the car park where I stayed for a while looking at the hill I had just climbed, the view of the bay and castle, and of course my dream house.