Rhenigidale

15 June 2022

One of the hillwalks that’s been on our bucket list since moving to the Outer Hebrides is the ‘Postman’s Walk’ on Harris. This map shows the location of the walk in relation to our home, and the second map shows the topography of the path in more detail.

Rhenigidale is a little over an hour's drive from Rudha Glas B&B
A well-marked path traverses the hill from Urgha to Rhenigidale, with a fork leading to the now abandoned township of Molinginish

The name of the walk originates from the 20th century, when men used to carry the post over the steep and arduous path between Urgha and Rhenigidale. The last postman to do this, a man named Kenneth Mackay, would walk from his home in Rhenigidale three days a week to collect the post from Tarbert and return on the same path, come rain or shine or whatever else the Hebridean weather threw at him.

It was the same Kenneth Mackay who spent a large part of his life campaigning to have a paved road laid to his village as he feared that without it, Rhenigidale would end up as yet another abandoned settlement (which is what happened to Moliniginish, also shown on the map).

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Mr Mackay worked tirelessly with the relevant authorities to realise his dream, and his efforts were finally rewarded when the road to Rhenigidale was opened in February 1990.

When we did the walk, Helen (with our spaniel Isla) started from the Urgha side and Rudi drove round to the Rhenigidale side (with Rune, our other spaniel) to meet them. It was a warm, sunny and calm day in May and we were able to get some amazing photos of the landscape.

The path comes over the saddle of the hill and zigzags down towards the gorge and a pebble beach
We added a stone to the cairn near the summit
This photo indicates how steep the path is down to the gorge, with the river and waterfall to the right
This photo was taken from the opposite angle as Helen and Isla came down the zigzag path. The river flows over a pebble beach and into a fjord
Looking out to sea, the fjord opens into the Minch, the stretch of water between the Scottish mainland and the Outer Hebrides
The mountains on the Scottish mainland can be seen in the distance in this photo
Almost there... just around the next bend
Nearing the end of the path, the ruined dwelling houses of Gearraidh Lotaigear, next to a crystal clear river, come into view
An information board on the Rhenigidale side tells of the history of the village over the last 200 years
The sign on the Rhenigidale side shows that Urgha is 3½ miles away by foot
Today Rhenigidale is connected to the rest of Harris by a paved road, whose completion in 1990 helped save the settlement from complete abandonment
Enjoying a well-deserved breakfast at the end

We wouldn’t have liked to have done the walk on a cold, wet and windy day in December and, after doing the 2-hour walk in one direction, we definitely wouldn’t have wanted to then turn around and do it all again. We have the utmost respect for Kenneth Mackay and all the postmen who went before him! (In 2021, Kenneth MacKay was awarded an MBE for his lifelong work in Rhenigidale.)

Incidentally, one may be wondering, “Why not just allow the village to become abandoned?” After all, it wouldn’t be the first time people had migrated from remote to more populated areas in search of a more comfortable lifestyle. However, an excellent point is made in the book by the author when he asks, if you do this in one location, what’s to stop central authorities doing it with all ‘outlying’ settlements? Where do you draw the line? Isn’t is preferable to live in a society in which each of us is free to choose the place we wish to make our home? A convincing argument indeed.

Rhenigidale now consists of a handful of houses and possibly one of the remotest Youth Hostels in the UK.

References
Rhenigidale: A Community’s Fight for Survival, Kenneth Mackay (2016, Acair Books)

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