Author Topic: Outer Hebrides 2017  (Read 1624 times)


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Outer Hebrides 2017
« on: August 09, 2017, 01:08:04 PM »
The Hebridean Way

The memory of the West Scotland Tour had worn off. We had looked at the Outer Hebrides last year but surgery on me had put the mockers on that.

So the plan was to get the Caledonian Sleeper again from Euston to Glasgow and then hop on the train from Queens Glasgow to Oban. A ferry ride out to Castlebay on Barra and we would cycle northwards. The sleeper is a bit tired looking at the moment but is due to be upgraded soon (trains being built in Spain?) We were the only bicycles in the six racks. You do need to book these as they are often full. In that case ScotRail will van your bicycle overnight to meet you at the other end free of charge.

No dramas on the journey but it took 24 hrs from home to Castlebay, arriving on a drizzly and very windy dockside about 1830hrs Friday 16th. Cycle up the one way street the wrong way, well everyone else was so we joined in. There must have been about 9 cyclists doing some form of journey.

We stocked up with some bread and cheeses and headed off for Vatersay, the most southerly point . There is a nice 12.5% hill as you leave Barra and it was blowing a 20 mph headwind. Good to be back in Scotland. This beach could be in the West Indies...until you put your toe in.

This small island is joined to Barra by a causeway that was built in 1986 after Bernie a prize bull was drowned swimming the 250 m channel. The slight drizzle disappeared and we followed the single track road down to its southernmost point where the road ends amongst a half dozen houses. We set the mileometer and turned back towards the beach. There is a Community Hall on Vatersay that is opposite the main beach on the east side of the island. There is a grassed area that is the “preferred” camping spot. No one about and we pitched our tents. The hall is about 60m away and has toilets and running water for travellers use. The showers were undergoing maintenance but a nice luxury to have when “wild camping”. My cycling chum Dean enjoying the Scottish weather first night.

It blew all night and I was reminded how noisy camping in Scotland can be. However with wind you don’t get midges, always a bonus. Being mid- summerish it didn’t really get dark so eye masks and ear plugs were part of the dress code. (7 miles)

Saturday 17th

Up at 0530hrs we chomped through our rolls and bananas and set off.

That headwind was now a tail wind and it certainly helped us around the west side of Barra as the road undulates rather well. We were using a Cicerone guide book and although the mileages seemed accurate, the numbers of cafes and other facilities mentioned seemed to have disappeared in the year since printed. The one mentioned at Aird Mhor that we hoped to breakfast at turned out to be a vending machine. Maybe it meant away from the ferry terminal and up the road.

The 40 min ferry crossing to Eriskay is £3 with the cycles free. We shared the seating area with about 20 children off to play football in an inter island competition. I hope they weigh the balls down or play inside. Eriskay is a small island joined by another causeway to South Uist. A nice climb out gives you views back to Barra before a downhill run to a local shop. However stick with the road and you soon come across a lovely café at Kilbride camp site which provides a full breakfast. A slight drizzle after eating followed us for a while but after a short distance the road turns northward and we felt the tail wind pick up.

The main road on South Uist runs basically north/south but the cycle route has markers that divert you along a couple of coastal back roads. Unless you are in a rush these roads are worth taking as there is little or no traffic and some interesting sights on the way.

As you approach Benbecula though it starts to look a bit industrial and although we had planned to camp here we decided to push on. It started to rain heavily and as we were dressed for the occasion we just put our heads down and carried on towards North Uist. Here the land starts to return to the beauty you expect. You cross another two causeways before you reach the main island of North Uist.

We found a campsite here. Moorcroft Campsite has good facilities but the bunkhouse was full and it seemed to lack a tent area.
The lady owner, Catriona, said we could use her new Hobbit House if we wanted. This is an octagonal wooden hut straight out of a film set that has a heater, microwave and tea making facilities. Not wanting to look too hard for the tent area we took her up on the offer. The heater was switched on and  the inside was soon festooned with hanging gear. We ate our dry food rations of Chicken Curry and Rice pudding as it was still raining and the only pub/hotel was some distance away. Apparently booking was essential so that precluded us anyway. A very comfortable and dry night after a long day. I have to mention that it was at this stage that I discovered my travelling companion had brought his “onesie”. He maintains that it is a long john style undergarment purchased in Canada but I am afraid on this side of the pond it is viewed differently. I will show the photo to you, the jury, for you to decide. (52 miles)

Sunday 18th

Woke up at 0530hrs again, but I let Onesie boy sleep in till 0600hrs. The sky was brighter and it was dry. We set off expecting a café within a few miles but saw nothing. Apparently this side of the island has few opportunities for refreshment anyway. It soon dawned on us that it was Sunday and in this religious community nothing would be open, not a local shop, garage or tea room. Although we had dried food rations we decided to carry on. The west part of the island is beautiful and has some good views. Although the road is minor there are some detours towards the coast that are even smaller. We saw little traffic and stayed with the wind behind us.

You cross another causeway onto Berneray and then stop at the ferry port that takes you to Leverburgh on Harris.

At the ferry port we cooked up a good meal that made up for the previous hungry miles. The 1300hrs ferry took us across to Harris in an hour. Now you have a choice, take the Gold Road on the east side which is more rugged or the more open sandy beach side on the west. That decision can be made very easily when you sit at the T junction just up from the ferry port. If you look eastwards the ground rises up very steeply.

The west appears flatter. We changed our minds and headed west. This side has massive sandy beaches but the road is busier than the east side. However about half way up the coast is Horgabost, a campsite in the dunes. Good showers and toilets, and a go where you want camping policy. The beach is big and the dunes looked enticing but we settled for a grassy area again. The site is reasonably busy with campervans but they cannot access the beach and best camping spots.

Another bonus is the food wagon which is manned from 0830hrs and will supply all your calorific needs. (40.62 miles)

Monday 19th

The food wagon was late opening but we forgave her as the full breakfast was well worth the wait. A sunny day but we knew we were now entering the hilly area. We had been told that a nice section before Tarbert would test us. Part of the reason for coming to the Outer Hebrides was to visit the distillery at Tarbert which was now producing their own gin and whisky. My wife seems to have taken a liking to gin and had allowed me this wandering subject to posting some to her. So with this noble quest in mind we started uphill. The hills do rise and fall on this section but the views make up for any pain.

The road eventually runs downhill, with the odd climb back up just to tease you, into Tarbert. This large village has everything you need food wise and the distillery has a nice café for cake and drinks. With the object of the quest paid for (their whisky is still some years from bottling) we set off again.

If you thought the hills to Tarbert were testing then a major exam is now thrust upon you. Stop at Aird Asaig for some food and then pedal downhill (why do they insist all hills should start at loch level?). The hill starts immediately and is 15% for about 500m distance before levelling out a touch. It is at this point you wish you hadn’t bought so much food.

The tail wind was too light to assist but at least it wasn’t a headwind. We saw a Sea Eagle playing in the sky as we topped out and spent several minutes tracking its path above us. A reward for the effort.

We hadn’t really sorted a camping site out as there are no commercial ones in this area. However we were directed to the only pub in the area just east of the main route near Baile Ailean. (I couldn’t stop humming Come on Eileen by Dexys Midnight Runners for ages) The pub is the Loch Erisort Inn and had a bar with a wood burning stove on. Yes, whilst the rest of the UK was enjoying a heat wave of 30 deg plus we had 12 deg and a log fire. Two pints of Guinness, purely for the medicinal qualities, and then a large meal (usually need to book but as we were early we snuck in prior to the main diners). We then wobbled off towards Ravenspoint, an adventure centre down the south side of the loch about 5 miles away. On arrival about 1900hrs there were no staff contactable so we just pitched our tents on the loch side of their property.

Full of food and knackered I fell asleep with a great view. (39 miles)

Tuesday 20th

Up at 0630 hrs, a slight misty damp feel to the air but not raining. We left some monies in the post flap and cycled off. We had to cycle 6 miles to get back on route but it passed quickly. Breakfast was the first order of the day and we headed for Liurbost which is basically the only village since we last bought food to have a shop. A nice slope leads you up to a junction where the cycle route turns towards the west coast. Mild panic settled in as no shop was in sight. Ignoring the turn we needed and taking a  short cycle along the main road leads you to a garage with a sign for Roxys Hairdressing. Now this salon smelt of cooked breakfast and a quick foray lead us to the secret. Roxy also does breakfast between 0730 and 1300hrs. A small sign said it was also men’s styling day but I settled for the calories.

Replenished but still holding onto what hair I still had we returned to the junction and took the coast road towards the Callanish Stones.

The road undulates without any testing hills and we soon arrived at Callanish. The stones are split into three groups and Callanish 1 has a visitor centre and splendid café. I had without doubt the best chocolate wrapped flap jack with fruit filling ever. (I am now understanding why I came back from this trip 4 lbs heavier).

Pick your time and you may enjoy the stones more. Our visit was along with a coach load of stone huggers, but these stones have stood for 4000 years, and even with the people wandering amongst them, it was a magical place. There appeared to be some tents in a field on the north side so it may be possible to camp nearby and choose your moment to stand amongst them alone.

It was at this point that we were informed the weather was supposed to be bad for tomorrow but fine thereafter. Our proposed camping site somewhere on the exposed west coast would be a tad dull just sitting in a tent so we decided to cut across the moors to Stornoway on the Pentland Road that ran from Breascleit, just north of us. This track is a gem with no traffic and relatively flat. It is easy to miss from the coast road as it is not signposted. It ran across about 12 miles of moorland before entering Stornoway on its north side. This leads you within minutes to the Laxdale Campsite, no need to go all the way downhill into the town itself.

We plumped for the bunkhouse, no one else in it, the sole use of the TV room, kitchen and a superb drying room. We booked for two nights as we now had a rest day and then an out and return day ahead. (43 miles)

Wednesday 21st

Never trust a forecast. With the prospect of bad weather that day and a town to wander around we had gone out the evening before and filled up with curry and beer. Now with a “beach ball” lodged somewhere above my waistband I awoke to a grey but dry day. I watched the forecast and saw that today’s winds were more useful than the next days. We had to go today. A 56 mile out and return.

Cursing my food choice the night before I pulled on my cycling gear. Spandex should  not be the first choice of those men approaching 60 yrs old, but it came into it’s own today. Agreeing with my cycling companion that no profile photos would be taken without first warning the other, we set off. We’d had SW winds all the way up but they were now SE to ESE and supposed to veer SW. This meant the wind would be off our right shoulder going out across the moor. We sailed across to Barabhas where the garage sells freshly made bread and fillings. The spandex was tested yet more as I opted for the cheese, bacon and onion baguette. With that inside me we turned northwards to the Butt of Lewis. It was more of a cross wind now and increasing in strength . The coast is open and undulates, nothing too serious. We passed through small villages and just short of Ness is a café/Blackhouse visitor centre with the usual yummy fayre. At this stage you only have about 3 miles to go so fired up we set off. Don’t miss the 90 degree left turn and you can see the end, past the Ness Football Club pitch and out onto the last bit of land before the lighthouse.

It was sunny on our arrival and the usual mixed feelings of completing the adventure and having to get back surface. We had covered 209 miles of varying countryside to reach this point. Only a few people about to witness our success and no banners. So some photos and then with heavy legs we turned back. The wind was now more southerly as forecast and we knew it would be a long ride back. It started to rain heavily between Barabhas and Stornoway but we stuck with it and it eventually cleared just before we entered the outskirts of the town. We saw a lone cyclist ahead and recognised him from the Barra ferry. He had also just completed the trip and was about to take a well earned rest at a B and B. I would say he was a touch older than us and had done the trip solo. Well done that man.

Thursday 22nd

The return trip to Inverness was supposed to be on the following Monday. It was now Thursday morning. We were early so changed our train times to leave Inverness on the evening sleeper on Friday. We had arranged  to pick up the D and E coach from Ullapool to Inverness on that Friday morning. They advertise a service that allows bicycles. However we discovered when we rang to give them the required 24 hrs notice that the service has been dropped. We were informed that if we met the coach it was up to the driver if we could put or bicycles on board. They wouldn’t tell us if the coach was booked up or not. I won’t bore you with the details but suffice to say the woman was very unhelpful.

That meant a dash across the 60 miles of the Great Glen to make the train. The forecast was for heavy rain that night, followed by 40 mph winds from the SW. Our last trip had meant a trip across the Glen with 30 mph headwinds. That memory was still strong. We thought of meeting the train at Garve about 31 miles down the road, but ScotRail said we needed the train app to see if we could get the bikes on, but the app was apparently not working so he couldn’t help either.

We stayed the night in Ullapool, and set off early. We needn’t have worried. The winds were in our favour and we sailed across. Occasionally drowned  by those strange showers that appear and then burst into sunshine in the same stretch of road.

I don’t think I have cycled with such a tailwind to assist but the gods were definitely on our side. We arrived in Inverness in plenty of time. The rest of the journey home was uneventful. It is worth considering the overnighter from Inverness to Euston on a Friday, cost £43. I ate more than that in cake.

With the extra miles we did 301 in total from Vatersay to Inverness.

To anyone considering the Hebridean Way. Take into consideration Sundays. Although there are several good campsites along the route if wild camping is your thing then there were lots of suitable places too numerous to mention. It would be worth exploring the Great Bernera area to the west of Lewis. We were told it had some of the best beaches. We met a couple of women who were criss-crossing the Hebridean Way and spending time exploring the minor roads. That would be a plus in my book. Plan for some windy days and be midge free. We only found some on the moor when the wind dropped. There are a few bicycle services on the islands and even a mobile one so repairs are a possibility.

Once again my Thorn Nomad aka Munro behaved impeccably. If it’s possible to get emotional over a bicycle, then I have.
« Last Edit: August 09, 2017, 06:02:48 PM by StillOld »

B cereus

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Re: Outer Hebrides 2017
« Reply #1 on: August 10, 2017, 11:37:59 AM »
Thanks for that, it brought back happy memories of a similar trip I did in 2013. On that occasion we cycled back to Oban from Ullapool via Applecross and Ardnamurchan.

I returned in 2015 to explore in more detail. On Harris, I can recommend excursions to both Husinis and Reinigeadale, and the Golden Road on the eastern side is also well worth the effort. On Lewis  the road out to Mealasta is a long out and back but gives access to some wonderful scenery.

Thanks again for posting.


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Re: Outer Hebrides 2017
« Reply #2 on: August 21, 2017, 11:42:13 AM »
I will definitely go back but this time wander down some of the more remote lanes as you mentioned. Pick the weather and it is a beautiful place.


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Re: Outer Hebrides 2017
« Reply #3 on: August 31, 2017, 08:16:02 AM »
Heroic man and adventurer! Might have been brave enough to have tried this myself...when younger. ;)

Matt Baker does this sorta thing...but he gets paid for it(£500k so I believe)...but stays in hotels and goes without a bike. ;)

All said joshin like  ;)