The 2013 Isle of Harris Mountain Festival – what a week! This year’s celebration of the mountains of Harris turned out to be the best one yet, despite some unsettled weather.
The festival began with great weather for the two competitive events. The Raft Race returned for a second year – 7 teams entered the competition which was held in East Loch Tarbert. A crowd of around 100 spectators gathered on the in-fill, kept fed from a barbeque provided by the Harris Inn. After three heats, the final was won by the team “Cash & Carry On.” Alongside this was the Rhenigidale Hill Race, now a regular fixture; eleven keen runners took part in the race along the Postman’s Path from Urgha to Rhenigidale and back.
Cameron McNeish gave the first evening presentation of the week with an inspiring talk on legendary naturalist John Muir, which culminated in a rousing call for a “champion” of wild land in Scotland. As well as providing a day’s photography masterclass, festival regular Laurie Campbell gave a fascinating evening presentation of some of his recent work. The third guest speaker, Chris Townsend, was a new addition to the festival – he retold the story of his latest long distance trek along the Scottish Watershed, accompanied by some stunning landscape photography.
We had two film nights – screenings of Brave and Touching the Void in the Harris Hotel; only a modest turn-out for these, despite the lure of popcorn provided by the hotel! The two sea-kayaking taster sessions in West Loch Tarbert were well attended, but the Mountain Biking session not so. The activities provided by SurfLewis were very popular; Stand-Up Paddle Boarding in the shelter of the Bays around Miavaig, and two packed surfing sessions at Sielebost including a few hardy souls out after the Ceilidh the night before!
A personal highlight for me were the powerboat tours of Loch Seaforth, provided by the Scaladale Centre. Unfortunately the first day of these trips was postponed and later cancelled due to unfavourable conditions, but we still managed to fit in four trips during the week. We were treated to superb sightings of Sea Eagles, Golden Eagles, Common Seals and Dolphins, whilst getting to view the North Harris hills from a different perspective. This event will definitely be making a return next year!
Despite the unsettled weather during the week, all but one of the guided walks went ahead. Unfortunately it was the Clisham Horseshoe walk that had to be called off, to save anyone from being blown away from the top of the ridge! We still managed a couple of hill walks later in the week, up Bleabhal in West Harris, and Giolabhal Glas just North of Tarbert, as well as a record-breaking golden eagle walk with an incredible turnout of 43 walkers (who were all treated with good eagle sightings). “Barefoot Shepherdess” Alison O’Neill led two guided walks this year over the Machair at Northton and Hushinish, and got everyone to go barefoot for both walks! A new addition was a “Night Time Rutting Walk” – it turned out to be a bit early in the season to hear the stags roaring, but participants were treated to a great walk by moonlight. The walks programme culminated in an eleven mile hike through the heart of the North Harris Hills, following the track from Meavaig through to Bogha Glas. This was a really enjoyable end to the festival, with great company, and spirits that weren’t dampened by the rain coming in through the afternoon.
The festival dance was held this year in the Tarbert Community Centre. Harris band Catch 22 provided excellent music for the evening, along with Corina MacInnes and Sandy Maciver playing for the dances.
Chatting to people through the week, we found a least 25 people who had come to Harris specifically to attend the Festival (as well as many other visitors who had happily chanced upon it) – this is exactly why we chose to hold the festival at this time of year; to boost tourism in the area at the end of the season. Overall, we had around 570 people attend all events, well up from last year’s figure of 450.
We’d like say a massive thank-you to everyone who attended the festival, as well as all the individuals & organisations who gave their time to support the festival and make it the success it was. In particular, we’d like to thank the Scaladale Centre, Harris Hotel, SurfLewis, the Tarbert Community Centre, Sir E Scott School, MacLennan Coaches, Catch 22, the West Harris Trust, Wee Studio and the Tarbert & Stornoway Tourist Information Offices. Also thanks to Scottish Natural Heritage, the John Muir Trust and the Carnegie UK Trust for part funding the festival.
We’re already planning next year’s festival, and are always on the lookout for ways to improve and expand the festival for future years– so if you have any ideas please get in touch by emailing email@example.com. Keep an eye on Facebook, and www.harrismountainfestival.com for updates. Hope to see you all next year!
North Harris Ranger