10 Islands, 6 Causeways, 2 Ferries….
185 miles of rugged coastline, machair, white sandy beaches, remote moorland, townships, flatlands, steep hilly sections.
I often mulled over the route, Vatersay to the Butt of Lewis and thinking ‘aye’.
Having retired over two years ago and taken to cycling in a way I’d never have imagined. Over 5,500 miles in year ’16. I’d planned this from 2015 and in the months of June, July I got busier to put in regular 50 miles plus, I’m not the lean flying machine like the Froomes of the word, more your MAMIL and not known for having a sylph-like figure.
I enjoy all my cycling around the back roads of Renfrewshire but ’17 has seen me spread my wings and visit places like Arbroath, Forfar and the Angus area basing myself occasionally in the area. Runs across the country to the Falkirk, Edinburgh, Dunblane areas.
Mrs M has joined me in retirement, I had a plan, let her holiday in the sunshine then ask her to join me in my Hebridean odyssey. I should have planned this meticulously but this time everything had been so random.
A visit to the Lake District was soon followed on the drive home by a ‘Do you fancy the Outer Hebrides?’, there was no hesitation, ‘When?’, ‘Soon’.
A month passed and I pencilled in September to mid-October, the problem is trying to find good weather for at least four to five days. I don’t mind the rain, the wind is another matter especially on such exposed terrain. A family birthday attended to and that night on the way home, ‘Let’s go tomorrow!’, with one of Calmac’s excellent Hopscotch tickets soon booked online.
The next day was Oban to Barra ferry…
The first piece of advice, PLAN and BOOK ahead.
We booked accommodation at Breibhig for the night, hoping to wing it as we headed north, I’d cycle and Mrs M would scout ahead and get things organised. advice for dining out, once again for Barra, phone and book ahead as we struggled to find a table.
We packed Polly (my bike) into our small Chevy and left earlier than needed on our journey north to Oban. Last minute shopping and lunch before boarding and setting off on a five-hour sail, now Mrs M gets seasick looking at a glass of water but the crossing was a gentle one with sightings of dolphins along and at one point deciding on giving us a display of leaping in and out of the water. We had spent the first couple of hours on the outside deck watching Oban, Lismore them Mull disappearing behind us. Time to catch some coffee then later, I stood outside watching Barra and the Bishops Isles coming into view and thought ‘Tomorrow starts my biggest adventure’, I’d complete this before I’d turn 64(I’d 15 days).
We arrived at Castlebay and with the words of our landlady advising having dinner first before heading but no, we did the opposite, bad move.
We booked in and back over the hill to Castlebay, at the third eaterie we were lucky, last table. Tucked into a pleasant meal before having a walk around the bay, the one thing I found was the randomness of everything, houses etc. The village is well named by the impressive ruin of Kisimul Castle.
One building dominates over the bay, the Lady of the Star of the Sea Chapel HERE. It was back to prepare.
After a good sleep, I looked out on a still, calm morning and thought midges. Prepare to meet them throughout the summer months, I normally use Avon Skin so Soft as a deterrent but not when cycling, I just hope I go fast enough to avoid them. A filling breakfast and it was off up over the island and the causeway to Vatersay and my starting point. I readied Polly at the community building and 13 miles later I’d meet Katie at the ferry terminal. A slow rise and descent to my first causeway, one built after the loss of Bernie the bull HERE and now back on Barra, a trip around the west end of the island and it was just over an hour travelling when I drew along the Chevy. I’d stopped midway around the west side of the island to marvel at the first of many white sand beaches en-route. I spoke with an American couple from North Dakota who was doing the same trip on their tandem, impressive. Other cyclists were also boarding the ferry heading north.
We could see a vehicle moving up the sands to the north at the airport then caught sight of a Loganair Twin Otter plane descending to the unique airport at Traigh Mhor HERE, a trip now planned for ’18.
A calm, smooth ferry trip and we had arrived in Eriskay, the island of ‘Whisky Galore. I found out that not only did the SS Politician carry whisky, it carried bicycle parts and banknotes on board. Whisky would be more popular, I’d think. As we headed towards the ferry terminal, I could see the outline of a ruin high on An Stac, Casteal an Reubadair HERE. It was a short stay in Eriskay and I was crossing the causeway which brought me into South Uist, I looked across to the area where the boat had grounded and thought of the delight in the islands when a cargo of whisky salvaged. Katie had headed north to find us accommodation in an area I’d estimate I’d finish my day (Benbecula) and with an intermittent mobile phone signal, I stopped occasionally to check texts etc. For reference, I was on EE. Coverage was better than I expected.
I moved up quickly through a sunny but breezy South Uist, impressive hills to the east on my right I headed north on the B 888 then following NCN 780 signs, I left the road passing through South and North Boisdale, Kilphedar and joining the road again at Daliburgh, It was back onto the main road with only an occasional car passing, I passed through Askernish and the location of a ‘lost’ Old Tom Morris designed golf course being rediscovered, story HERE. Just a few miles on is the track leading to Flora Macdonald’s birthplace, an inspiring woman whose life changed after helping Bonnie Prince Charlie escape the Redcoats, her story HERE.
Heading still northwards, another left off the main road and a gentle flat run through Bornish, Ormacleit then eventually joining the A865 once more. Near Gerinish you join another causeway which takes you across Loch Bi, a short run before thenext causeway which takes you into Benbecula.
It was on to Linicate, the 780 takes the route to the west off the main road. I stopped at the hotel where we would overnight, I decided as it was still early, a quick snack and drink to head a bit north on B 892, passing Benbecula Airport, I stopped after fifteen miles, just north of Caranis. Headed back to a well-earned meal and some chilled cider.
Tomorrow would be another ferry day leaving North Uist over to Harris and the first of its serious hills.
Day One was over 62 plus miles of mostly flat terrain, elevation graph below.
Elevation data courtesy of VeloViewer
Click on any image to embiggen.