Hebrides – A cycling holiday by Eric & Ros



Day 1.   Day 2.   Day 3.   Day 4.   Day 5.   Day 6.  Day 7.  Day 8.

During June of 2017 Ros & Eric cycled from the southern tip of the outer Hebrides to almost the furthest point North. After some research it proved more economical to plan this trip ourselves, rather than subscride to a pre made holiday. The route we chose was in the main on the Hebridean Way.  Here is what happened.

Day 1 – We were all packed and ready to go by 5.00am to drive from home to Oban where we had arranged to leave the car in secure parking. The Caladonian Mcbrayne ferry left Oban at 12.30 bound for Castlebay on Barra some 4.5 hrs later.  We were unable to book our bikes on the boat but in the event had no need to worry; it is a massive boat.  On arrival at Castlebay the proprieter of the Heathbank Hotel where we were staying told us to turn left not right at the ferry terminal in order to miss a big hill – wise advice.  So about 6.00pm the cycling started witth the short 12km ride around Barra to the Hotel.

Click here for details of the ride (opens in a new page).

Day 2 -Today we are still staying at the Heathbank, so the plan is to cycle south to southern most tip of the Hebrides on the island of Vartsy.  This involves getting back to Castle Bay which we did via the route not recommended by the hotel manager; I can see where she was coming from.  While we were descending this steep hill at the summit there was a cyclist who appeared to be having a pee by a big rock, while a way further down the hill there was a woman pushing her bike with some difficulty.   Although an island it is  joined to Barra via a man made causeway, made in the 1990’s.  Prior to this cattle were made to swim across the short stretch of water to be got to market.  If you like deserted long golden beaches with blue seas, search no further. En route we stopped and inspected to site of a plane crash complete with aircraft parts.  We took lunch at a cafe in Castlebay before retracing our steps of last night to appreciate yet more beaches en route to Barra Airport.  This is the only airport in the World where planes regularly land on the beach – I can only guess that the timetable is engineered to take tides into consideration.  Although just a massive sandy bay there are in fact three ‘runways’ to take the wind into consideration.  We timed our arrival in time to see the 1330 from Glasgow land, with a cargo of about five people who had come to run the Barra Marathon the next day.   Very flash.  A little more two wheeled exploration of the lanes roundabout ( where we saw the pee’er and the shover again) then back to he Heathbank for dinner.

Click here for details of the ride (opens in a new page)

Day 3 – Today we leave Barra by taking the ferry from Northbay to Eriskay across the sound of Barra famous for the film and book ‘Whisky Galore’ which are based on the following true story.  On 5th February 1941, during gale force winds, The SS Politician an 8000-ton cargo ship sailing for Kingston, Jamaica and New Orleans with a cargo including 28,000 cases of malt whisky ran aground off the Island of Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides.  We suffered no such mishap and landed safely on the tiny Island of Eriskay and out of respect for this shipwreck decide to take lunch in the pub called The Politician.  While we suffered no mishap at sea we were not so lucky on land.   From leaving the Politician,  where Ros gathered a thorn in her tyre, we were beset by punctures, or more correctly one puncture which ED failed to repair properly on three occasions during our short ride to tonight’s hostelry  the Polochar Inn on the Island of South Uist.  The trip to South Uist was via a quite complicated causeway.
Click here for details of the ride (opens in a new page).  Clearly the technology for this day had failed (or maybe the operator) – so click here to see the proper route

Day 4 – After a great stay at the very well located Polochar Inn we set off on what we knew was to be one of our longest days, made all the more long for Eric, who despite his meticulous check of rooms, realised after about 6km that he had left the phone charger plugged in the wall; so 12 km later our journey north resumed.  This is a very lonely road where we could not expect much in the way of services, but one of the only outlets was indeed a bike repair shop where we managed to get a new tube for Ros’s bike (or mine for that matter, since we both have tha same size wheels).  Better still the very silent guy produced a 31/32 inch spanner and was able to to tighten the headstock on my bike which had been causing trouble; not any longer.  One might well be forgiven in thinking that traveling north from South Uist you would next come to North Uist; well you do but not before passing through Benbecula, where we took the coastal road diversion to inspect this busy town.  Our first enquiry for food directed us to the airport cafe, which when we arrived had just closed, but the lady fettling up pointed us a little further along to the Stepping Stones, the other cafe in the town, where after a while the same woman turned up to resume her culinary skills once again; a small world.  Benbecula Airport is surprisingly big for a small town, the reason may well be something to do with the extensive military ranges that are nearby, and I think it is considered as an emergency airport for planes crossing the Atlantic.  Fully fed and watered the by now weary party continued over yet another complicated causeway head for Lochmaddy where we would stay the night.

Click here  for details of the ride (opens in a new page)

Day 5 – Lochmaddy is a biggish ferry port from where the ferries run to Uig on the north of Skye, but this was not our way off North Uist.  Instead we were to cycle north to Berrneray from where we would sail to Leverborough.  The manager at the Lochmaddy hotel showed us the secure bike store which was to lean the bikes on a wall outside the front door; it was secure enough because the bikes were still there next morning. Todays ride was not too long but it was not great weather for us to continue north to reach the ferry terminal at Berneray from where we would board ship to cross the Sound of Harris to reach Leverborough, leaving us a short ride to get us to Sorrell Cottage for our overnight stay.  While on route and again on the boat we came across the pee’er and shover, who it transpired were too staying at Sorrell Cottage.  Being Sunday we had been advised to book a meal at the only eatery around The Temple Cafe, about 2km along the rode.  So by the time it came to set off the rain had stopped so in the company of our new found travellers we made our way to the cash only, bring your own booze cafe, which turned out to be splendid.
temple-cafe2 temple-cafe1

We were without drink, but a very kind Glaswegian lady gave us her bottle of white since she only wanted one glass, and her husband was a non drinker.  While having our meal we discovered the pee’er was in fact very short sighted and he had to get his map very close to his face to read it, so my interpretation of his body language while leaning on the rock was miles out.  And the shover, his wife, revealed that she was not particularly keen on cycling but had enjoyed the walks immensely.  They hail from north Leeds and had booked the trip via a travel company who provided the bikes.  However when push came to shove they could not provide a bike to fit the shover, so she had to hire a bike from elsewhere and just to rub a bit more salt in the wound the travel company would not give a refund; a wise decision by us to go it alone.

Click here for details of the ride (opens in a new page)-

Day 6 – Today we start our ride north up Harris to go via Tarbert.  The rain has gone and the day was fair, so the pee’er and shover would enjoy their taxi ride to Stornaway; at least for the first time they would be together.  Our route took us up the coast and across to Tarbert but we did take an unscheduled diversion to have look at a tweed shop at Grosebay or should it have been Gross- price; my M&S Harris Tweed jacket is just as good and 1/5th the price.  Despite being the A589 road there was next to no traffic and we had a very good ride stopping at a gallery come tea shop where Ros bought the bulkiest scarf imaginable; long live elastic panniers.

Overnight at the very Posh Ardshaug hotel where we met Henry

Click here for details of the ride (opens in a new page)

Day 7 – Today is the biggest climb of the holiday heading for the B&B at Callanish and its Stones.  Close to the top of the ascent Henry caught up with us and we road together and had lunch at a greasy spoon cafe where we were to part company, Henry heading to Stornaway, while we went west to Callanish.  We stayed at a very good B&B run by a chap who worked at the Callanish Stones visitor centre which was the only place to eat in the village.

Click here for details of the ride (opens in a new page)

Day 8 – Today we head North to see the Black Village and then on to our last stop of the holiday at Stornaway .  The Black Villge is a restored crofting village where one can hire a cottage, stay in the part that is now a Youth Hostel, have coffee in the tearoom, or watch a demonstration by a weaver, making Harriss tweed.  From here we found our way to the cycle path which is constructed on the route of a would be but never built railway from the east coast to Stornaway; in places very beak and lonely.  In Stornaway we met up with Henry who was borrowing our spare iphone as his had conked out a couple of days previously.  In the bay outside the harbour the QE2 cruise ship was moore up.

Click here for details of the ride (opens in a new page)

The End – This morning we took the early  morning ferry to Ullapool followed by a four hour taxi ride to Oban via Inverness, an then the long wet ride home to North Yorkshire.

One of the best holidays ever.

POST SCRIPT – vary sadly I have had the following correspondence with Hawaii