North Harris Hills

North Harris Hills Outer Hebrides Scotland by Laurie CampbellThe North Harris Hills – viewed here from Northton, South Harris – form a spectacular backdrop to the many bays of Luskentyre © Laurie Campbell,

The North Harris Hills attract walkers for the breathtaking wilderness they offer, along with the chance to climb Clisham (An Cliseam), the highest mountain in the Outer Hebrides. 

Named from the Old Norse for ‘High Land’, Harris looks and feels like an ancient island and boasts some of Scotland’s most remote and rugged terrain. This is a landscape of imposing hills and peaks, formed from some of the oldest rocks on the planet. If you’ve come from Lewis, Harris will immediately seem startlingly empty of people; heading north from the Uists, meanwhile, Harris is a sharp topographical shock to the system. 

A glance at the map will reveal that Harris is not an island but part of the same landmass as Lewis. The boundary between the two runs west–east from Loch Rèasort to Aline on the shore of Loch Seaforth (Loch Shìophoirt) at the foot of the North Harris Hills. In truth the borderlands are sometimes blurred, and certainly the lands around the dividing point between the two islands are visually indistinguishable. The North Harris Hills may fall short of being Munros (a Scottish term for a hill more than 914m (3,000ft) high) but they still form a substantial barrier, representing not just the Harris side of the boundary but also a watershed and a weathervane – often keeping one part of Harris wet while another is bathed in sunshine. Any cyclist will tell you that these mountains can be a heartbreaker after the flatlands you encounter elsewhere.

Harris is divided again into North and South Harris. The northern half is rugged, mountainous and populated with a handful of scattered and minuscule townships. The south is almost as hilly but has, around Luskentyre, a clutch of stunning showcase beaches. North and south are conjoined by the thinnest of geological membranes, a narrow isthmus, at the tiny port of Tarbert (An Tairbeart). 

Walking in the North Harris Hills

The majority of the hills of note in the Outer Hebrides are clustered together in the north of Harris, and their northernmost limit demarcates the boundary with Lewis. While Clisham is the highest and offers simply stunning views from its summit on a clear day, many walkers argue that the hills to the west are even more impressive with swooping overhangs and textbook glacial valleys. The whole area is now managed by the North Harris Trust, which has moved quickly in the early years of its ownership to make the mountains more accessible and leave walkers less subject to the vagaries of high river flows. An extensive network of paths through the estate covers some 50km (30 miles) along the coast, through glens and overpasses. The North Harris ranger service runs guided walks from April right through to the deer rut in October. See the website for the schedule of walks and details of the annual Isle of Harris Mountain Festival, usually held in the first week of September.

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