What an amazing week! The programme for 2015 was our biggest and most ambitious yet – packed full of guided walks, evening talks, workshops, boat trips and sporting events. The festival is now managing to bring a significant contingent of visitors to the island, at a time of year when things would otherwise be slowing down for the end of the season.
Our headline speaker was the fascinating Jim Crumley – a Scottish nature writer with an infectious passion for all things wild. He spoke about his book “The Eagle’s Way” which is about the reintroduction of sea eagles to Scotland, as well as touching on his latest publication about Beavers. Photographer Laurie Campbell gave some fantastic insights into nature photography, and mountaineer James Ogilvie told us of his adventures climbing the highest mountain on each continent around the globe, collectively known as the “Seven Summits,” The best turnout was for Alan Rowan, the “Munro Moonwalker” with captivating stories and images from his night-time climbs. He has inspired us to consider a night walk for next year’s festival – ascending a hill in the early hours of the morning to be at the summit for dawn.
Laurie Campbell also ran another set of photography workshops; an amazing opportunity for photographers to get tips and advice from one of the UK’s top nature photographers. These workshops ran alongside a very popular session hosted by local landscape photographer Darren Cole.
We had a mixed bag of weather for the guided walks; half the week we were treated to bright sunshine and gentle winds, whilst the rest of the time we were walking in full waterproofs! The first walk of the week was to Cravadale from Hushinish, with beautiful weather and an abundance of eagle sightings. We weren’t so lucky on the hill-walks up Todun and the Clisham – both days were wet, windy and cloudy, but we still managed to reach the summits. Spirits weren’t dampened – only our clothes! The Eagle Walk was once again massively popular, with 37 walkers and a good handful of sightings. Our top walk of the week was an ascent of Tiorga Mor, a hill in the west end of North Harris – a perfect hill day!
This year was the first time since year one that we worked with the Islands Book Trust, who ran a set of boat trips to the Isle of Scarp. Participants were given a few hours to explore the island before heading back across the sound to Hushinish. The event was so popular that the boat had to make seven return trips through the day.
Many events were delivered by partner organisations. Working with our numerous partners allows for a greater variety of events and helps to spread the benefits of the festival much more widely. Segway Hebrides returned to Harris to run trips up Glen Meavaig; The Scaladale Centre put on powerboat tours of Loch Seaforth right through the week (with Eagle sightings from the water on nearly every trip); Comhairle nan Eilean Siar ran rock climbing and Hill Skills sessions; and Sir E Scott School supported the Sea Kayaking sessions. Conditions on the water were perfect for the kayaking, and both sessions were fully booked. SurfLewis were also set to run surfing sessions but unfortunately weather and sea conditions didn’t permit the event to go ahead. Whale and Dolphin Conservation ran a special set of Shorewatch events in Rodel, and the Hebrides Mountain Rescue team hosted a “Night Nav” race in Glen Meavaig.
A few other highlights included the annual Raft Race in East Loch Tarbert – five teams participated and the race was won by the team calling themselves “Noah’s Ark”. The Rhenigidale Hill Race was also very popular with 22 runners, and marshalling from Hebrides Mountain Rescue. We also had a go at running a set of fishing taster sessions; one on freshwater at Lacasdail Lochs, and the other sea fishing at Scarista.
The festival dance was held in the Harris Hotel and for a second year running, the music and entertainment was provided by local celtic rockers Rock Island Line.
We are incredibly pleased with the attendance figures this year – just over 650 people attended all the events – well up from around 560 people the last two years. Now in its fifth year, it now feels as though the festival has become properly established in the annual calendar of walking festivals across the UK. Many people came from all across the country, and we are now gaining a sizeable following of people who are travelling here every year to take part. Again, we counted over 40 people who had come to Harris for the week specifically to attend the festival – bringing significant benefits to the local economy.
We are already getting to work planning next year’s event – if you have any suggestions please let us know by dropping an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We can also add your email address to our distribution list so that you’ll be kept up to date with developments for next year. Also check us out on Facebook and Twitter, and have a look at our website at www.harrismountainfestival.com.
The North Harris Trust would like to extend a heartfelt thanks to everyone who attended the festival, and to all the individuals and organisations that have supported us. We couldn’t have done it without you! Also we would like to thank Awards for All Scotland and Marine Harvest for funding the event.
Hope to see you all next year!
Matt Watts, North Harris Ranger