Tag Archives: Outer Hebrides

Cycle touring trip: Outer Hebrides and beyond

A second cycle touring trip, a second mad dash for the ferry, only worse. The lesson we never learn is accounting for caravans (and cars) driving at 30 mph. Amazingly we managed to catch the ferry after arriving in Oban after it was meant to leave. 

But, as soon as you get a spot on deck calmness and relaxation take over and the mad rush is forgotten. We certainly enjoyed the sun while cruising past the Ardnamurchan peninsula. 
  

As usual, we didn’t have any plans apart from our first stop being Barra. I’d heard from surfing chums about the beauty of the small island, just 23 square miles, and  it didn’t disappoint.

Andy showed off his mean set of wheels and packhorse style set up. He’s since earned himself the nickname Kelpie. 

 

We did a wee trip south over the causeway to Vatersay, passing the plane wreck of a Catelina from WWII. This island is tiny at just 3 miles long. 

 

A perfect evening to start the trip with a BBQ on the beach and a dip in the turquoise water below the narrow strip of machair holding the island together. 

  

  

We camped near Borve in Barra and then headed up to the north tip and managed to time it perfectly to catch a plane landing on the wide bay of Traigh Mhòr; the only airport in the world where scheduled flights use the beach as a runway. The beach on the west side of the airport is stunning. 

  

   
  

We camped near Bolnabodach and had an early start to catch the ferry across the Sound of Barra to Eriskay. Any ferry involved a near miss and this was no different! Eriskay is only 2 x 1 mile and super cute. 

We crossed the causeway and made our way up the Uists sandwiched with Benbecula to Lochmaddy where we ended up camping on the local football pitch. 

In the morning we caught the ferry to Skye and after arriving in Uig, cycled across the Trotternish Peninsula to the Quiraing. Full of pillars and pinnacles it was a welcome hike off the saddle 

   
 

  

The fast and sweeping descent to Staffin Bay was worth the climb from Uig to the Quiraing. We then cycled the undulating A855 down the east coast of Skye to Portree. This was a tough day, especially in the heat, and we were ravenous by the time we reached Portree and glad of all the food options in Skye compared to the less populated Outer Hebrides.  

  

   

We braved the midges and camped at Sligachen but there was no hanging about in the morning when they were out in force. Definitely glad I’d gone for the extra weight and protection of my scarp tent than the tarp! 

  

We cycled to Armadale and caught the ferry to Mallaig on the mainland. From here we followed the coast to our camping spot in Arisaig and had a stunning sunset with the sillouette of the Skye and Rum Cuillins set below the glowing sky 

  
   

     

We rode to Glenuig and had lunch at the Inn. I’ve driven that road a fair few times and nothing compares with the senses you get when cycling. Despite being a group, cycle touring gives you a sense of freedom and solitude. After recharging we continued to Resipole with multiple ice lolly stops to help with temperature control.  

  

 

We decided to head round the Arnamurchan Peninsula to catch the ferry that goes from Kilchoan to Tobermory. Another ferry almost missed but this time due to a mechanical. Luckily some cable ties came to the rescue.  

 

After a lunch stop in Tobermory we climbed the rediculously steep hill south and meandered our way to Craignure to catch the ferry back to Oban. I always feel a sense of sadness on the last leg but we certainly deserved a beer! 

 

This was an amazing trip. We were blessed with the weather but it did cause some sweat issues! 

7 islands, 250 miles, stunning scenery and a whole heap of giggles. 

Cycle touring is such a special way to experience our landscape, flora and fauna. Get out and explore. Don’t plan, just go with the flow and whatever the weather throws at you! 

Route:

 

Advertisements

First cycle touring trip to Outer Hebrides

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.

IMG_2686

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.

IMG_2723

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.

IMG_2696

10309636_10152497798787526_5913489373084483446_n

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.

IMG_2703

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.

10361405_10152497800832526_6123533367565718412_n

He convinced us to push on to Berneray so we stocked up with BBQ gear in Solas and had a beautiful evening ride.

IMG_2735

The Gatliff hostel on Berneray is an old Hebridean Blackhouse perched on the waters edge providing a place to cook, shelter and share tales.

IMG_2742

We set up camp in the neighbouring sand dunes and got the BBQ on the go.

10341721_10152497807622526_2828054380807759387_n

10371456_10152497808062526_132839371228313168_n

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.

IMG_2775

IMG_2800

IMG_2816

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.

10418374_10152497815862526_3750758225418564069_n

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.

IMG_2716

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.

IMG_2842

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.

IMG_2850

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.

10150621_10152497818797526_9074223855934690288_n

Out last day was a wet cycle up to Tarbert to catch the ferry back the Uig.

984097_10152497819937526_7846875833490071130_n

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.