Climbing Chaipaval on the Isle of Harris

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At the foot of Chaipaval, Isle of Harris: A wall of white cloud rides in on the waves, dragging rain with it. A question hangs in the air: start the ascent or seek the safe haven of the car? Above us, a steep, rocky climb. Below, the path back through the machair. Retreat looks appealing – but it’s at least an hour back to our vehicle.

Behind the approaching cloud bank, small islands gleam. A teasing promise of the return of this morning’s sunshine. Decision made: press on. Climb Chaipaval to the summit. The rain will appear any second, but it won’t last long and it will certainly have passed long before we can make it back to the car.

So anoraks on, we nod goodbye to the curious sheep and head up the hill. The wind and rain chase us, blowing hard from behind, but offering little in the way of help as we climb.

Less than 15 minutes later the rain has passed, the clouds obscuring the summit drift away – and the sun reappears. The decision was the right one.

Reaching the summit (1092ft / 368m) of Chaipaval is more than a walk, but less than a serious climb. It’s a hands and feet clamber. My inner Capricorn goat revels in the challenge, determined to make it to the highest point. However, Chaipaval has a cruel sense of humour: not one, not two, not even three, but four false summits before we finally reach the cairn at the top.

The views of course are our reward. The grumbles that accompanied sliding over rocks, stumbling on heather and splashing through boggy puddles are forgotten. St Kilda rises out of the mist to our west, the islands of the Sound of Harris are to the south, and the never-ending golden beach of Taobh Tuath to our east. In every direction, beauty – including above us. As we look up, a buzzard circles lazily on a thermal looking for lunch.

Rested and reinvigorated, we start the long walk down the other side of Chaipaval towards the vast sandy beach, picking our way carefully through purple heather. Eventually the vegetation changes; the heather makes way for coarse grasses clinging to sandy dunes. Rabbits scamper out of our way and sheep greet us with a cursory baa.

Once over the dunes we re-join the track again and head back to the houses of Northton where we started our walk. The lure of the Temple Café with its home-baked cakes and mugs of tea encourages us to pick up the pace.

We by-pass the ruin of Rubh’ An Teampaill reportedly built in the early 16th Century. We had stopped here on our way to the hill, taking a break on the rocks as the sea foamed just below us.

Harris has much to offer walkers: a variety of landscapes with hikes that can take in empty beaches, wild flower covered machair, and heather carpeted hills all in one go. Wear strong, waterproof boots, carry clothes suitable for any weather (you can get the full spectrum in just a few hours), and don’t think of setting out without a camera and binoculars.

Harris Hotel, Tarbet

After a day enjoying the natural beauty of Harris, it’s time to indulge in some man-made enjoyment. The Harris Hotel in Tarbert makes a good stopping place. It’s a large white-washed house set in a well-tended, colourful garden. Rooms are light and airy, the lounge and bar area are comfy and there is a restaurant for evening meals. So kick off your boots, soak in the bath then treat to yourself to whisky before bed (try their “malt of the month”). After all, you’ll get plenty of fresh air and exercise again tomorrow.

Highlands & Islands Discovery – Self-guided drive and hike from MACS Adventure
This self-drive and hike trip is sure to appeal to all those who wish to embrace all that is dramatic, awe inspiring and unique about Scottish walking.

Fact Box:
Distance: Walking up to 10 Miles per day
Duration: 14 Days and 13 Nights
Availability: March to October
Price: From £895 per person, which includes all accommodation, breakfast, detailed info pack & guidebook, and ferry crossings as per your itinerary. Flights/rail to and from starting point are not included, but Macs Adventure’s team can advise best value travel options at the time of booking. Car hire can be arranged if required. Macs Adventure has more than 200 walking trips around the UK & Europe, which can be tailor made according to level of fitness.

Macs Adventure: or 0141 530 1950


About the Author

Chantal Cooke is an award winning journalist and broadcaster with a passion for the planet. In 2002 she co-founded the award winning radio station PASSION for the PLANET and in 2009 Chantal was awarded London Leader in Sustainability status. Chantal also runs a successful communications agency Panpathic Communications

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