We woke to rain gusting around our little camping pod on the shores of the loch south of the standing stones. In no hurry, we tarried until a break in the weather, before grabbing a coffee and a breakfast roll in the visitor centre.
With just three hours of cycling until the end of our trip we pushed hard on the pedals and were soon making quick progress over the gently undulating terrain, assisted by the south-westerly wind.
The sun broke through the haze, and with the wind behind us, the weather was positively balmy! At least for a time…
As we neared the Butt of Lewis, and it’s nearest village Port Ness, the houses became more frequent and the landscape less wild, gently reintroducing us back into civilisation.
The Butt of Lewis lighthouse marks the end of the Hebridean Way and sits on a gnarled and twisted mass of Lewisian Gneiss – the oldest rocks in the UK, probably part of Canada/Greenland and formed over 600 million years ago.
After taking some photos to mark the end of our trip we retreated to the Wobbly Dog where the friendly owners serve excellent cakes and a steady stream of locals dropped in for a gossip.
We weren’t feeling the need to cycle 2.5 hours into a headwind to get back to Stornoway – so we called a local “cycle taxi” – a friendly local cabbie that could load our three bikes onto his rear bike rack and transport us safely to our hotel (luxury!) for our last night on the island.
A few beers last night and a comfortable bed and we slept until 9.15 am. We wolfed down the complimentary breakfast, packed, and then were back on the bikes and plodding up the steep climb out of Tarbert.
Our legs felt good and we made fast progress to the top, before a glorious descent – the rugged landscape opening up before us, with grey-black clouds scudding across the sky chased by the gusting winds, thankfully pushing us northwards.
We settled into a good rhythm, with the boys pulling effortlessly away on the climbs, while I worked hard to catch them on the downhill and flat.
The rain came and went, but thankfully didn’t last too long, and the odd patches of sunshine and the wind dried us almost instantly.
We sheltered from the wind in a bus stop for a quick lunch of gnocchi, before turning east towards Callanish and it’s famous Neolithic standing stones.
We had to work harder cycling across the wind, but with only a few kilometres to go we were in good spirits.
Arrived at our camping pod on the shore of a loch we quickly settled in before grabbing tea and cake at the standing stones visitor centre. The stones themselves are very impressive and you can walk freely amongst them. These Neolithic people were tough!
The might midge struck last night. The most feared little beastie in Scotland. It is not my first rodeo however, so we came equipped with both mosquito nets as well as two brands of repellent. After 10 minutes of panicked slapping and “I think they can get through the net!”, we got the situation under control.
We woke early and were on the road by 8 am, as the forecast had persistent rain from 11 am, and we had a short push from our camp to Tarbert to complete.
Within minutes we were out of the saddle and straining up a 10% hill, followed by some glorious descents. Rinse and repeat until we rolled into Tarbert and a well earned breakfast at the Harris Hotel.
We spent the rest of the day mooching about a wet, and largely closed, Tarbert, before checking into the very welcoming Backpackers hostel for the night. The hostel has great facilities and it was lovely to wash off the road grime with a hot shower.
Tonight we meet our fellow cyclists in the pub to watch France v. Germany football. Allez Les Bleus!
We rose refreshed, showered and rested after our stay in Wee Haven to continue our route north to the port of Berneray and the ferry across the Strait of Harris.
The blustery wind from the West quickly got into our minds, sapping our resolve as we pushed onwards into intermittent rain.
It was “three seasons in one day” and we spent the day zipping and unzipping trying to stay warm, dry and not overheat. Naturally one of the bikes got a puncture at the most exposed sections, in the rain!
We followed the west coast for most of the day and then cut inland to put the wind at our backs, and the last hour was a pleasing rollercoaster of beautiful roads, stunning views and the sound of our wheels eating up the kilometres.
At the port we swapped road stories with three lads in their twenties also doing the Hebridean Way, who we had first met on the ferry from Oban.
Arrived at Leverburgh we turned right and took the road less travelled – and what a road it turned out to be! Threading it’s way around the east coast it undulates perfectly and crosses a Middle Earth landscape of dark grey rocks, with an amazing panoramic seascape as a backdrop.
Arrived at a forested outcrop (rare) we hopped the fence and scouted for a place to pitch our tarp for the night, coming upon a perfect little secluded bay, with seals bobbing to the surface to observe the intruders.
The boys gathered driftwood for the beach fire while I pitched the camp and we soon had tea and macaroni with pesto to fill our rumbling bellies.
I type this sat by the fire listening to the gulls and oyster catchers settling in for the night, with 4 solid bars of 4G.
What a time to be alive!
We left our barn sanctuary with the wind still gusting, but the overnight rain turned mostly to fine mist. Before leaving we called the Orasay Inn who graciously accepted us for breakfast.
With the wind at our backs (and the prospect of a hearty breakfast) we made quick progress northward – only aware of the strength of the wind once we turned eastward towards the inn. The wild life didn’t disappoint, with sightings of a barn owl and herd of stags.
A hearty “full Scottish” followed, with the owners of the inn displaying the famous Hebridean hospitality.
Suitably stuffed we saddled up for another push north, with the mist gradually becoming more rain like – crossing lochs and causeways until we reached the small island of Benbecula and Wee Haven – our “glamping pod” for the night. I know, right?
Arriving early at Wee Haven we unloaded some of the saddlebags and then pushed onwards to the supermarket to the north. Sunday opening hours are still very much in effect on the islands!
We loaded our bags with ingredients for a Thai Red Curry for the evening and then battled a headwind (and rain) to return to hot showers, running water and biscuits. What a life!
Once clean we watched England v. Croatia, caught up on the latest weather and planned our onward journey.
We started the day with an easy 30 km of cycling around the beautiful island of Barra, which left us wanting more time in the saddle to drink in the views.
Breakfast/lunch was eaten watching the local football team warm up for a game behind the well stocked Co-op in Castlebay, before we headed north towards Northbay ferry.
We made good time, excited at finally being able to push our pedals. Such good time that we had a 3 hour wait for the ferry, where we enjoyed the excellent coffee, tea and cakes at the cafe at the tiny dock, striking up conversation with fellow groups of cyclists on the Hebridean Way.
The mist descended as we boarded the ferry to Eriksay, squeezed on with about 20 cars and 20 bicycles, and including the football team we saw warming up for a match in Castlebay. They had lost, but were consoling themselves with cans of lager and banter about the game.
We climbed the steep hill out of the port, passing the Politician pub, and then descended. The tiny island of Eriksay flashed past and then we crossed the causeway into South Uist – mostly exposed, flat and boggy. We wound our way along quiet roads past smallholdings surrounded by a handful of sheep or cows. The thickening mist obscured the distant hills and the wind strengthened, gusting to 30+ km/h.
Fearing for the integrity of our poor tarp we hunkered down in a barn, consigned to sleep on a concrete floor, but protected from the wind and impending rain.
Rehydrated Mac-and-Cheese washed down with tea and whiskey were a somewhat meagre meal at the end of a long day, but as the wind buffeted the tin roof and the rain strengthened we felt warm and grateful in our sleeping bags.
We rose at dawn and left Glasgow Queens station headed for Oban and the start of our adventure in the Outer Hebrides.
Our three road bikes meticulously packed for a week long traversal of the Outer Hebridean island chain, from south to north, starting with Barra, and its little cousin to the south, Vatersay.
We will be mostly wild camping so have been obsessively checking the weather forecast and debating what to pack. Forecast is fair, with occasional rain gusting in from the Atlantic. May the wind be at our backs!
No visit to Oban would be complete without a wee dram of the Good Stuff, so we duly booked ourselves in for a whiskey tasting. A delicious, if rather alcoholic, liquid lunch!
Suitably fortified we wheeled (two by two?) our steeds onto the CalMac ferry for the 6 hour trip to Barra, threading our way through the inner islands and an ever changing seascape of blues, greys and greens.
We spotted a pair of dolphins surfing the bow wake of the ferry and flocks of Kittiwakes dive bombing for fish. All was not peace and light however as our slumbers on the ferry were accompanied by the sounds of retching seasick passengers!
Upon arrival in Castlebay we turned left and cycled about 10 km to Traigh a Baigh beach on Vatersay. The locals have thoughtfully provided toilets and showers and we filled up our water bottles, before popping one pound in the honesty box.
We laid out our tarp overlooking the bay, lulled by the turquoise waves crashing onto the white sands. We appreciated our dinner of rehydrated vegetable and rice Tika, Bilar, and cereal bars – but it won’t trouble the Michelin guide!
We had a rather restless night, the wind flapping the hastily erected tarp and the odd rain shower blowing through. In the morning we had a nice hot shower (luxury!) before repacking and starting our trip northwards.