Why The Outer Hebrides?
Well, I was going to do a walk to link the end of the Pennine Way at Kirk Yetholme, which I did in 1999, with the beginning of the West Highland Way at Milngavie and go from there to Fort William so that I could eventually follow the Great Glen Way to Inverness and the North To The Cape trail to Cape Wrath - part of my "big idea" to eventually have walked from Land's End to the tip of Scotland, albeit not in one go. However, the parts of the unofficial "South Scotland Way" between Edinburgh and Glasgow do seem pretty "industrial" and at least two days has to be spent walking the Forth and Clyde Canal.
Then I saw an article in the Long Distance Walkers' Association magazine "Strider" where a route called "The Timeless Way", walking the length of all 10 inhabited islands of the Outer Hebrides, was mentioned as:
"The Timeless Way is a walk from the Butt of Lewis to Vatersay, the isles most southerly inhabited island. It crosses moors and mountains, beaches and rivers, passes working crofts, weavers cottages and fishermans wharves, uses ancient tracks and ways, and is guided by historic navigational aids. The timeless way visits historic villages, ancient chapels and castles, thatched hostels and beehive houses. Here is the ultimate Outer Hebrides walking holiday. This is journey through a remote and beautiful archipelago fringed with white sand beaches, beyond which is soft green sward dotted with wild flowers and awe inspiring mountains. Here is an undiscovered land with a live Gaelic culture, crofting economy, untouched natural environment and a Celtic heritage."
It seemed idyllic - but little was I to know! However, more of that later.
The 10 Inhabited Islands
There are very many Outer Hebridean islands but it seems that only 10 are pemanently inhabited:
Before I set out on this "challenge" I must admit to having heard of Berneray, Eriskay and Vatersay but I had no idea at all where they were. Now I know (only too well!).
Thoughtfully some kind person at the LDWA put a .gpx file of the route on their website and, together with the wonderful book by Peter Clarke (The Outer Hebrides - The Timeless Way ISBN 0-9550696-0-2 - order your copy here!), who I regard as "The Messiah" of The Timeless Way, I attempted to stumble my way through all 10 islands. But it ain't for the faint hearted and I found many pitfalls, and "bogfalls", on the way.
I walked 230 miles (368 km in new money) and didn't find very many of the "ancient tracks and ways" mentioned by Peter Clarke. In fact, there seem to be very few marked paths along this long distance trail and for someone who experiences frequent "navigational malfunctions" I was a trifle wary of the route, to say the least. Also, I found a lot of the walking to be on roads of one sort or another; although not such a problem for someone used to the daily grind of the M60 during the rush hour(s) as the traffic is generally very light and often non-existent!
It's possible to complete the Timeless Way, as I did, in 14 days but that does represent 16 miles a day, sometimes over fairly "challenging" terrain. I was very lucky in that there was only one complete day of torrential, horizontal rain but the Outer Hebrides do have a reputation for inclement weather so I was well prepared.
What Did You Take With You?
All the usual stuff naturally enough and, with the luxury of having my every need looked after by my beloved, I took far too much, of course
Some of my more important stuff:
How Did It Go?
Very well, but it was much tougher than I'd imagined and the walks were very different from those of The Pennine Way, The Offa's Dyke Path and The Coast to Coast which I've done over the last 12 years. There was much more road walking than I'd imagined and most of the off road walking was over very harsh, wet, muddy and boggy moorland. If I never, ever see sphagnum moss again it'll be too soon! Moreover there were hardly any marked paths and without my trusty Garmin and the route from the LDWA website I would have struggled to find my way, especially from Kinlochroag to Bowglass via Kinlochresort. But I did it without any serious mishaps or nativagional malfunctions and parts of The Way were just out of this world.
One thing that makes this long distance walk rather more difficult than others is that, unless you set off with someone else, you're almost certain to walk on your own all day and quite often not see anyone at all. Getting lost, breaking a leg, etc. just doesn't bear thinking about. You really are on your own!
Here's a chart of my full walk, complete with all the stats (you'll need to click on it for the full size version in the unlikely event that you want to look at it in detail).
Any Photos, Other Stuff?
Ask a stupid question, this is me! I took two cameras with me - a Canon S3iS which Noelene used to good effect and a new Nikon S910 compact with an amazing 18x optical zoom. I took about 1,700 photos en route and The Boss took over 500 so I've had to be very selective and I've chosen what I reckon to be the best (and least embarrassing) 200 or so of those. You can see them on my Picasaweb site and scattered throughout my daily commentaries.
As I mentioned earlier, I used a Garmin GPSmap 60CSx throughout the whole walk. I downloaded the route from the LDWA website and used Quo to chop it up into the daily walks. Each day my routine was to arrive at the accommodation, upload the day's walk and photos, download the next day's walk from my trusty Dell Inspiron M101z , clean my boots of course, write my daily journal, etc. and then out for dinner, back to the accomodation and a good night's sleep. Such is the routine of John's long distance walks. You can download the planned routes and see where I actually stumbled day by day from here:
Yes, probably lots more, but I'm keen to get on with writing the day to day accounts so I'll (possibly!) come back to this page later.
If you want to get in touch, met me on the way, want some advice on what not to do, need to know where the best pubs are, etc. just contact me at