Posted by: brendaintheboro | September 26, 2021

The Outer Hebrides Trip

We have been to the Outer Hebrides 3 times previously and should have been going back with out Irish cycle touring friend last year- but we all no that didn’t happen.

So we made plans again and we were lucky to be able to get bookings on the ferry to Barra. Mostly they are filled up with commercial vehicles, cars and campervans. However, there always seemed to be room for cycle tourists and there were more than we have encountered previously.

So, we didn’t want the hassle of getting on various trains with our bikes and gear and so drove up to Oban and stayed in a Backpackers hostel for 2 nights. This gave time for Jill to come up from Islay where she had been spending time and doing some family history searching about her Great Grandfather. She found the house he owned and so will be sending the local museum some photos.

We passed Connel Bridge on the way up and the falls of Lora. In our earlier lives we have sea kayaked the west coast of Scotland and some of the lochs including Loch Etive which enters the sea near here. There were people kayaking and playing on the falls so it was interesting for us to see and remember times with friends up here.

Connel Bridge and the Falls of Lora
kayaking in slalom boats

Our other cycle touring friend Tim had also booked into the same hostel so it was lovely for us all to meet up. On Sunday, DH and I took a little cycle ride to stretch our legs after taking the car to the Oban camp site who we had arranged would look after it while we were away.

We found a nice route with a well paved surface if very steep hills and enjoyed the sunshine.

north of Oban

also north of Oban
CalMac ferry Oban

Monday, saw us last minute food shopping and then the ferry left at 1.30pm. Unlike previous years , there is only one sailing a day and takes almost 5 hours. You can imagine the distance when it takes 13 hours to cross the North Sea to the Netherlands from Newcastle. Its a long way out into the North Atlantic.

The shortening days, don’t help and so we rode straight along to the island of Vatersay in the mist and twilight. I noticed some yellow sheep on Barra as we rode past and then on Vatersay we saw the wreckage of a Catalina aircraft which went down in May 1944 killing 3 people.

Catalina Memorial

There is a community hall near the most beautiful beach equipped with toilets and showers. Unfortunately, the cafe had closed for the season but we cooked for ourselves.

wild camping Vatersay
cattle roam freely near the community centre

So on Tuesday morning we were ready to start our adventure.

start of Hebridean Way on Vatersay.

Off we went back along to Barra and then up the west coast. We also called at the airport where planes land on the beach according to the tide but there were no planes today because of the inclement weather. So we rode to the ferry at Ardmhor awaited the next sailing which wasn’t for a few hours.

otter and fish casting.

This has been there for years and I have never touched it until this year, I expected it to be a bronze but it is actually some sort of resin. It is at the terminal. The ferry goes across to the island of Eriskay which became famous after the novel Whiskey Galore by Compton McKenzie was published. It was portrayed as a comedy but for the actual people it was based on didn’t have a good time and some were sent to prison after “rescuing” whiskey from the SS Politician that ran aground with alcohol cargo bound for the USA during WW2.

Eriskay isn’t a large island and there is a causeway connecting it to South Uist. I remember , there was a terrible storm in the early 2000’s and an entire family were swept off the causeway and died in their car. I looked for a memorial to them but didn’t see one.

There was a very stiff headwind as we rode along to Kilbride where there was a campsite and we were soon pitched up and we managed to get a hook-up so could recharge our bike batteries.

Wednesday the wind was still blowing strongly from the SW so we decided to carry on northward with a following wind, and this was to be our longest ride so far. Tim dropped behind as he had more time and Jill and us went on ahead. We stopped to photograph a wayside shrine and well and Jill took off to go to a nature reserve.

Catholic Shrine

Jill noted that on the Scottish islands , the shrines she has seen always have the Madonna dressed in white whereas in Ireland she is dressed in blue. I find it interesting that the southern islands seem to have a lot of catholic churches compared the to northern Harris and Lewis which seem to be primarily protestant.

Carrying on we saw a Co-op in Daliburgh and so detoured to restock our food. Never pass up an opportunity is one of my mottos. Tim caught up with us here and we soon met Jill again. So carrying on we visited the memorial to Flora MacDonald who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape after the Jacobite rebellion. It was down a farm track and across a cattle grid.

Flora MacDonald birth place memorial

There was an old barn we sheltered from the wind and ate a snack before heading north again passing the Kildonan Museum with its replica Viking ship.

Kildonan

We had outpaced both Jill and Tim by now but just before Benbecula , we stopped to eat in a bus shelter. We had met a couple of other cycle tourists who were doing it credit card style and they didn’t have far to their next B&B. So we sat and ate and chatted to them. Just as we left , Jill rode up and she too took a break. We really didn’t know where we would end up camping but wanted to press on while the wind was favourable. We took the established route and passed a couple of campsites and the airport on Benbecula. We saw harvesting going on and I was pleased to see traditional hayricks all stcked up in the fields.

hayrick in a field

it certainly makes a change from the plastic wrapped bales we see further south on the mainland.

We stopped at a smoke house to buy smoked salmon and I asked about a campsite. The lady told me of one 10 miles north at Balrandald. So off again we sped and made it to an RSPB run site where we could hear many birds calling. As we pitched our tent , Jill turned up and although the man had gone away, she was able to get her tent up next to us. There was a well equipped kitchen and also the shower blocks had plug sockets so we were able to recharge.

We found out later that Tim had stopped on Benbecula at the Otter camp site so not too far behind.

Thursday was a beautiful sunrise.

old cemetery looking west

We were soon packed and on the road heading across North Uist, a tiny bit of Grimsay and on through Sollas to the causeway on Berneray. The ferry port is not far from the causeway and again we were early – but not as early as Jill. The wind was mainly a headwind but it did occasionally give us a bit of help. At least it was dry.

We landed on Harris at Leverburgh and by now it was a bit chilly with an increasing wind. We knew there was a campsite at Horgabost so set off up the coast road with Jill, the wondercyclist following behind. There were about 10 miles of hills but the worst was ferocious cross winds that nearly blew us off. I have never been so relieved to see the containers that house the campsite washrooms. There was also a van serving hot food, so once we pitched the tent, scampi and chips it was for us.

Fortunately, I had the sense to double peg the tent down and we needed it through the night as the wind became even more severe. We were watching the weather forecast intently to see what would happen. In the morning we realised that the wind would put paid to cycling that Friday, so made the most of it, chatting to other cycle campers who also stayed put. In the afternoon (GASP) we went swimming in the sea.

seaswim at Horgabost

A German cyclist called Gabriel took this photo. I know it looks like we were paddling but it was on our way out after swimming. Various plans were hatched and then changed. We tried to book a bike taxi if we got up to the Butt of Lewis but it was a no go. Sadly , we decided that we would have to turn back and cycle down to Barra.

Jill did go on and get to the Butt of Lewis and was able get on an ordinary coach back to Tarbet and thus across to Skye. Tim in the meantime had turned up and he rode up to Tarbet and also made his way back through Skye , Mull and Iona.

So Saturday saw us off early to catch the ferry from Leverburgh to Berneray and I had booked the Tractor shed – well a hut there near Bayhead on North Uist. This was such a treat.

tractor shed sleeping hut.
two different roof styles to accommodate planning laws

Duncan, from West Yorkshire, has developed these and when he heard it is our 50th year of marriage gave us some peat for a fire. I will write more in a later post.

As I am about typed out I will continue this later. Enjoy those who read.


Responses

  1. I saw that the weather looked a bit rough up the West Coast. You did well to survive the winds.

    • we certainly were glad to get back home early

      • You had bad luck.


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