British Isles

Walk of the Week: a scramble up Rueval, Benbecula

If you climb just one hill in the Outer Hebrides, this should be the one.

If you climb just one hill in the Outer Hebrides, this should be the one. This walk explores the boggy moors of eastern Benbecula from the safety of an access track and leads up to the summit of Rueval. There’s a mixture of open ground and paths near the summit but its modest height of 124m (406ft) means there is much less effort than required to scale the heights elsewhere. The walk is not signposted but the route is easy to follow and in good weather the summit is always in clear view.

The route

8km (5 miles); 2hrs; OS Explorer 453 Benbecula & South Uist; Start/finish: car park by municipal waste tip (NF813534) just east of the A865 & 3km (1.8 miles) south of Uachdar

The walk starts from the car park by the recycling centre and municipal waste tip. Don’t be deterred by the high metal fence that rears up along the lane, and the ugly bank of rubble. Things get better and this walk dismisses the waste tip at a stroke by simply striking out east, towards Rueval along a track (in effect, this is a continuation of the access road from the A865) into open, unoccupied moorland.

The route follows the northern shore of Loch Ba Una, with wheatears striding around (the male distinguished by its ‘robber-mask’ eye-stripe) and stonechats often hovering around the gorse. The grainy dots on distant ledges may well be white-tailed or golden eagles, while more easily identifiable buzzards float on the breezes above.

Along with hen harriers and short-eared owls (which frequently fly over the moors, hunting in broad daylight), this makes for an astonishing number of charismatic species for such a short walk. You can often spot a hen harrier floating just below the summit of Rueval, occasionally settling and disappearing down in the bracken. Please don’t investigate too closely, just in case they are nesting nearby.

Here and there you pass large squared-off chunks of excavated peat, taken from huge gullies that cut deep and far into the moors, ending in a blur of inky-black, soggy bleakness. Peat cutting has been practised here for centuries and, as fuel prices have increased over recent years, it has seen something of a resurgence.

After around 450m, or about two-thirds of the way along the loch, look out for the narrow but distinct path on the left by a small quarry and marked with a small cairn and a wooden post. Take this path, which heads northeast, to ascend the southern flank of Rueval. As you ascend, one or two smaller paths break off and make their own way uphill, although they all later converge near the summit.

From the loch shore, it should take about 15 minutes to get to the top where the low-lying surrounding land gives Rueval a disproportionately elevated view of the fretwork of innumerable inlets and lochs that speckle the landscape. The causeways that link Benbecula to North and South Uist and to Grimsay are clearly visible; to the south the Beinn Mhòr range on South Uist looms large, and these in turn give way to Barra at the southern end of the island chain.

Everywhere, houses look like pieces of Lego dropped from the sky. Looking north, Benbecula’s tiny airport nudges against the sands. To the east, across the Minch, the Cuillin peaks on Skye bare their jagged teeth on the skyline.

Retrace your steps to the loch shore where you have a choice: you can return to the start; or you can continue eastwards for another 3km (2 miles) where the path seemingly falls into the water, but in reality peters out at Rossinish.

The summit also has significance for long-distance hikers. The Hebridean Way, Scotland’s newest long-distance footpath, links the causeway-accessed islands that make up the Outer Hebrides, from Vatersay to Lewis. Walking up from the south – the recommended route – Rueval is the first sizeable bump you will encounter and need to clamber over. From the summit you can see more than half of its 252km (156-mile) length, and gaze deep into the North Harris Hills.

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