The obvious choice for our first cycle touring trip was the Outer Hebrides. We’d all developed an affection for the islands during previous visits but going self powered meant leaving the surf boards at home and facing the challenge of fitting everything in two panniers.
As usual we had no plans apart from to catch a ferry and as usual we almost missed it, with minutes to spare. We were like excited kids at Christmas as we walked our bikes onto the ferry at Uig.
We headed over to a campsite on the West side of North Uist, just south of Carinish. You get a good feeling about trips and as the sun shone and we were decanting layers, this was one of those feelings.
In the morning, the wind was northerly and forecast to swing round the next day so we decided to leave our camp set up and explore south for the day. We followed the coast down into Benbecula finding a nice spot for lunch on the beach. As the stormy clouds hugged the hills on South Uist we stayed put for a while, watching the changing light.
We headed over the causeway and touched down very briefly on South Uist before being met by a bunch of cyclists travelling north and soaked to the skin. This island could wait until another time so we turned around and took the road up the middle, stopping to climb up Ruabhal.
In the morning we had our first mechanical as Tracy managed to get her pannier strap caught on her back wheel, bending her disc in the process. Without any real tools, we headed north although it was clear Tracy was cycling with quite a lot of resistance. We stopped off at the Balranald bird reserve, exploring the sandy beaches, rocky foreshore and machair as lapwings and ringed plover played. Thankfully we bumped into a fellow cyclist who was a bit better prepared on the tool side of things and managed to straighten out the disc.
He convinced us to push on to Berneray so we stocked up with BBQ gear in Solas and had a beautiful evening ride.
The Gatliff hostel on Berneray is an old Hebridean Blackhouse perched on the waters edge providing a place to cook, shelter and share tales.
We set up camp in the neighbouring sand dunes and got the BBQ on the go.
The tranquillity of the morning was very special with breathtaking views over the Sound of Harris, big sandy beaches and plenty of time for yoga. This is one of those unique spots that captures you and won’t let go; we didn’t need any convincing to stay another night. We explored the island by foot and had the whole beach to ourselves.
The next day we arrived at the ferry terminal to find the crossing to Harris was cancelled because of high tides. The weather was a bit grim so we set up camp.
We grabbed dinner in Leverburgh and headed up towards Northton which would allow a breakfast stop at the wonderful Temple Cafe. The moment you reach to top of the hill and are rewarded with your first view of the stunning beaches on Harris is one of my favourites on the island.
We found a place to camp overlooking the sandy bay to the north towards Scarasta. As usual, our plans were based around food and the Temple Cafe has become a firm favourite with it’s stunning design, views over the bay and delicious homemade food. Unfortunately we didn’t realise the menu didn’t include breakfast so we settled for a scone and coffee.
It’s a tough call but perhaps my favourite view on Harris is the one you get from the hill above Seilebost which looks out over Luskentyre Bay. The contrast of the blues and turquoises of the water against the near white beaches and backdrop of the North Harris hills is simply stunning. Even on a dull day, this view is special.
No trip to Harris would be complete without a wee trip to see Gill’s Auntie Morag and although this was to be our last visit, her warmth, character and passion for island life will not be forgotten.
After a hill climb we headed east on to the Golden Road and towards another favourite, Likisto campsite. As you weave down a path, hens scatter and an old Blackhouse is revealed. Individual pitches have been cut amongst the wild bushes giving the place a feel of wild camping yet having the comfort of the Blackhouse should the weather turn.
You’ve got to time your food shopping right on Harris and we didn’t do too well but thankfully discovered the services of Croft 36 which delivers delicious home cooked meals to your tent! Within no time we were tucking into Fish Goan Curry followed by pancakes with whisky and orange sauce. Simply superb.
We decided to stay put another night and pay a visit to Mission House Studio. An old church conversion houses a wonderful display of photographs and ceramics and it is virtually impossible to leave without making a purchase.
We then experienced what some might expect the Hebridean weather to offer – a storm which blew some of the lighter members off their bikes into ditches and soaked us to the skin, all within 30 minutes. Still we couldn’t really complain especially when this resulted in another trip to the Temple Cafe to dry off and get homemade pizza.
Out last day was a wet cycle up to Tarbert to catch the ferry back the Uig.
Unfortunately the adventure didn’t finish as the boat set sail as my car had a little surprise in store resulting in it being laid to rest in Skye.
This trip was not about exploring new landscapes but about revisiting old ones with new eyes, allowing the senses to deepen the connection and the islands to draw you in further. Travelling on two wheels gives you time and the opportunity to enjoy the subtle changing hues of the turquoise water, the sound of ocean waves rolling onto the white beaches, the smell of wild flowers and the rasping call of a corncrake.
Yes, things would have been different if we’d had a week of gales and rain but we didn’t.