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Monday, 22 June 2015

Cycling the Outer Hebrides

Ana and I always wanted to cycle the Outer Hebrides. Finally this year we chose a week, got train tickets with bike reservations from Broughty Ferry to Garve and from Oban to Dundee (not easy to book). Here is Ana cycling the road from Garve to Ullapool on day 1...
 ... and here she is approaching loch Broom.
 In Stornoway we stayed in Heb hostel, had a great night with live music in a Pub joined by Tuesday (her real name) from Australia who had a bike from the Friday bike company. The next morning we cycled out of  Stornoway over the great moor of Northern Lewis to reach Barabhas on the Western side. It was the Sabbath, the day when everything is closed in the protestant Northern part of these isles. Here is Ana under a wide Northern sky. 
 These islands are made for cycling (but not the weather) and so we saw many cyclists. 
 After a lunch stop in Barabhas I continued to the butt of Lewis in the north. Just before the butt a beautiful beach for a brief break to cook some Korean noodles. 
 The pace is slower than elsewhere and shops are sparse and closed on the Sabbath.
 I joined Ana in the Gearrannan Backhouse village where one of the houses had been converted into a beautiful hostel which we shared with one other couple and Craig Cameron, a Glaswegian who cycles the Hebrides every year.  
 Craig immediately sprinted up the hill for the Atlantic sunset and took amon other a photo of us. 
 We went down too early as the sky developed further into a beautiful red. 
 After a windy day the forecast was for less wind and only a few showers. We continued to see the standing stones at Calanish some miles down the road together with members of bus parties and folk that were touring the isles by car and motorbike. One of the best stone circles around in a beautiful location. 
 We used the relatively good weather to cycle all the way to loch Seaforth which separates Lewis and Harris. In Harris the mountains start.
 Here some sheep at the bottom of the big climb over to Tarbert. It goes up to 300 m so nothing Alpine but a challenge with a heavy loaded bike.
 We descended yo Tarbet. Here is Ana with the mountains behind. 
 The next day was the worst weather day of the trip. Winds up to 30 mph and frequent and often heavy rain again with a climb at the beginning. The going was tough and slow. Here is Ana in the fog higher up.
 Afterwards the descent to some beautiful golden beaches on the North-Western side of Harris. Here a photo of the beach at Seilebost...
 ... and here a photo of the beach near Sgarasta Mhor with a green of the local golf course. 
 We battled on to Leverburgh where the ferry times had changed to our advantage and stocked up on food in the local shop. 
 Here is Ana on the ferry to North Uist. 
 In stormy weather we cycled over the slipway to Berneray and to the hostel right by the water. We managed to get some of the last beds with wet clothing hanging everywhere but had a great night cooking and chatting with all the other folks. 
 The next morning was windy but dry and here is Ana going back over the slipway to Northern Uist. Note the 'crossing otter' sign. 
 After a hard, very slow cycle into the strong Western wind the skies turned to blue to showcase the beautiful beaches of Northern Uist. 
 We did not followed the coast but instead chose a shortcut over the hills to join the coastal road again near the beaches on the Western side. 
 Here some locals. 
 We stopped at the Hebridean smokehouse for smoked scallops and again battled the wind...
 ... to reach Benbecula and the Nunton House hostel which is a great place to stay if a little more expensive than others. We had a good dinner with smoked scallops as a starter.
 On Uist the Hebrides are changing from mainly protestant in the North to catholic in the South. The lonely Madonna on the wayside is evidence for that. 
 We also stopped at an ancient chapel and graveyard in Tobha Mor.
 The main road is well inland but the whole coastline is lined by beaches and the meadows are covered by flowers. Here a close up of some flowers with a beach and the Atlantic blurred behind.
 We also stopped at the Kildonan Museum (good coffee) further down the road and then reached the campsite near Ludag on the Southern part of South Uist. Great campsite and we met a mother and daughter that we had met twice previously further North. This is typical for these isles because people that travel in the same direction tend to meet each other. 
 The next morning we crossed the slipway to Eriskay to take the ferry to Barra. 
 Barra is unique as it has an airport where the runway is the local beach. When we arrived everyone was expecting 'the new plane' plus a B celebrity. Here the plane just after landing. 
 We explored the Northern bit of Barra and then cycled down the Western coastline. Here is Ana near one of the beaches.
 We finally reached Castlebay and stayed a night in the hostel. On the second day we sea kayaked in the morning (£35 for 3 h, ask in the hostel) and then pitched our tent on the Eastern shoreline of the bay. The skies turned to blue for a great shot of our tent and the castle. 
 Whilst Castlebay is the ferryport and end of the route for most cyclists we continued out of Castlebay...
 ... up a steep climb...
 ... to approach Vatersay, the last cycle-able island on the road. 
 Finally some Caribean-like seas...
 ... and beautiful colours. 
 Here is my bike with just two instead of the normal five bags. 
 Vatersay has again beautiful beaches.
 It rained overnight but it was not too windy and so we had a good night in the tent before boarding the ferry back to Oban in the morning. Here we pass Lismore whilst another Calmac ferry enters the sound of Mull. 
 Here are Ana and myself on the car deck of the 'Clansman' which was our ferry. 
A great trip and one to repeat but hopefully in better weather as this was apparently the worst summer since 1945 so far. 
HW