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It feels like the past couple of weeks have been two steps forwards, one step back, but progress has been made!Continue reading “Mountain Bike Makeover — Final Push”
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.
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.