IN 1941 the SS Politician sank in the Sound of Eriskay. It had been travelling from Liverpool to Jamaica with £3m in Jamaican currency and, more importantly to most, 264,000 bottles of whisky.
Compton Mackenzie's novel Whisky Galore paints a rosy picture of what happened next – in fact more than 30 local men were charged by Customs and Excise officers. Nevertheless, there are plenty tales of bottles being stashed all over Eriskay with their whereabouts not always remembered – so keep your eyes open.
Above the Sound of Eriskay rises Beinn Sciathan (often called Ben Scrien – I've used Ordnance Survey spellings here). This appears to be an uninspiring lump and not something to drag you away from the wonderful stretches of beach that adorn the Western Isles. However, the pull to the top is more than worth it for one of the best 360-degree views of the Scottish islands.
After reaching the trig point you are rewarded with Barra to the south-west and, from south round to east, Tiree, Coll and Rum. Just north of east lies Skye. To the north, South Uist is stretched out. St Kilda is marked as 68 miles away on the viewpoint indicator at the top but it would have to be an exceptionally clear day to see the archipelago.
So, whatever you do, leave enough time to linger on the top and take in the fantastic view.
There are a number of ways up Beinn Sciathan, the one described below is just one. As long as you avoid any big rocky outcrops and keep going uphill you should reach the top with little problem. In mist, however, it is not a good idea to try it. First, there will not be any views. And second, you will more than likely get lost, which will result in a miserable slog that could lead to a serious injury or even hypothermia.
It can be boggy underfoot so wear good boots and take warm clothing as you are exposed to the Atlantic winds. The boggy ground can mean a number of detours are necessary but it is better than ending up knee-deep in a gloopy mass of rotting vegetation.
Distance 2 miles.
Height climbed 607ft.
Time 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours.
Map OS Landranger 31.
Parking Cross the causeway to Eriskay from South Uist and turn left. At the bottom of a hill, go left again to reach a phone box by the jetty at Haunn harbour, where you can park.
In summary Walk back up to the road, turn left then take a track on the right after about 20 yards. Pass in front of a red-tiled house and go left at a fork, on to a grass track. After passing below an electricity wire go right, off the track and over open moorland, marshy in places. Aim for the bottom of a patch of scree about half-way up the hill. (When you reach a fence you should go right and follow it uphill and round to a gate.)
At the bottom of the scree follow a feint track going left, diagonally across the hill. The track disappears but keep going in the same direction until the whole of the island of Calbhaigh is visible in the Sound of Eriskay.
Start to bear right round the brow of the hill then go sharp right to head west towards the top. After a short while the trig point comes into view and the route is obvious. Retrace your steps to the start.
Refreshments There is nowhere other than the Am Politician but it is a great place to go. Often when a bar is popular with locals it can be code for keep your head down or go somewhere else but that is not the case and if you are lucky the bar staff will show you a bottle of whisky purloined from the SS Politician. From the parking area go past the road to the causeway, carry straight on past a turning to the left and the pub is at the bottom of the hill.
While you are in the area The beach just south of the Am Politician is where Bonnie Prince Charlie set foot on Scottish soil for the first time, in 1745, to start his Jacobite rebellion. There were many consequences to this landing but one rather more unusual one is the presence of a sea bindweed on Eriskay which is not native to the Outer Hebrides. The prince is said to have accidentally dropped the seeds when he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket on landing.