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Arch Walk 6 - Loch Ullavat and Loch an Eilein

Volunteer's account report author Donald Macdonald

Incredibly, for the sixth Saturday in a row, we were treated to dry, sunny conditions for our circular walk round Lochs Ullavat and An Eilein. A group of ten met, including four new faces who had not been on one of the archaeological walks before and two or three four-legged friends, which is probably as large a group as you would wish to try to ‘manage’. Again, we were fortunate to be transported about a mile from the Back fank up to the old water tank – even better at the end of day, and a new experience for me, DI’s open top.

We headed over the old ‘gàradh-crìch’ to what the Ordnance Survey calls Loch Ullabhat a Clì – well, that depends on how you’re observing it – more sensibly, Loch Ullabhat a Tuath. Here, Ian and DI examined the first shieling of the day - Àirigh na h-aon oidhche - while the rest of us went in a straight line. Reputedly, on the first night at the àirigh, the occupant was spooked by some being appearing out of the loch and it was never used again; the name occurs in many other island areas, including Uig, Lewis, Uist and Tiree with some other-worldly story attached.

On then to Loch an Eilein, more noted now perhaps for having several modern àirighs with mod. cons. like sinks and stoves, accessed by quad bikes, the first of which was built by two of the Campbell brothers from 8 Vatisker. There is much evidence though of older shielings all around the loch. We had ‘lunch’ on the banks of the loch, looking out at the trees on the titular island. A trip to look for archaeological artefacts on the island must wait for another day. Unfortunately, there is also much evidence of modern life with anything breaking or bogging down being simply abandoned. We saw a couple and child apparently heading for the àirigh.

The group split into two after Loch an Eilein, at Loch Ullabhat a Deas, with the first five passing between the two Ullabhats and heading directly back to the start. The others walked round the west side of the loch, mostly walking on the shore because the water level was so low following the recent dry spell, although one of us managed to go thigh-deep in a bog before then. On then to the other side of the loch where there is a tiny little island. Ian reckoned there is a causeway to it and put his money where his mouth is, having divested himself of anything that might not have taken kindly to water (including money) and waded barefoot along it to the island, where there appears to be the remains of a dùn. Even Bess, his dog looked on apprehensively but chose not to follow him. We were relieved when he returned with his top half, at least, dry

The final visit of the day, via DI’s peat banks, was to Stein Sheòl, where there is much evidence of habitation and from which a great view is obtained over Gress, Back and Broad Bay although it’s not that high but it would have been hard to approach unseen.

And so, back to the start, passing fences across tracks and track-wide gates with no track. It felt like a relatively short walk after the previous week’s trek to Muirneag, when I couldn’t face a hill walk the following day, thankfully, as anyone I know who was out that day got soaked. I look forward to the remaining walks and thank DI and Ian for their reconnaissance and organisation, even of the weather, apparently.

Donald Macdonald

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