Author Archives: Andrew

Hebridean Way: Day 8 – Day off at Uig Sands

Distance cycled 0 miles / 0 km
Cumulative distance cycled 201.3 miles / 324.1 km
Islands visited (daily total) Lewis
Total islands visited 10+1 of 10
Average speed n/a mph / n/a kmph
Weather conditions Windy and rainy. Very rainy

Joining 2 days worth of cycling together gave us a fantastic semi-wild camping spot and day off to recover and explore an area of Lewis that’s a good 20 miles away from the official Hebridean Way route. We’d seen a large wood carving near the entrance to the Uig Sands and Ardroil Beach community campsite so we went back to learn a little more about it..

Large wood carving of the King piece from the Uig Chessmen chess set, and explanation board

The very much enlarged wood carving of the king from the Uig Chessmen

This sculpture is based on one of the kings in the collection of walrus ivory chess pieces which were discovered nearby in a sand dune in 1831. According to the information board they’re believed to be of Norse origin, and 82 of the pieces are now in the British Museum, with 11 in the National Museum of Scotland.

Abhainn Dearg (Red River) distillery sign board and 2 whisky barrels

A few miles down the road is the first single-malt whisky distillery on the Outer Hebrides since 1829 – Abhainn Dearg or Red River. We understood they were open with limited spaces for tours, but like most of the businesses on the islands they’re closed on Sundays.

However, in their car park were 2 more Uig Chessmen carvings..

Andrew and Julie pulling silly faces in the style of the 2 Uig Chessmen carved statues

Two more carved Uig Chessmen were guarding the empty car park of the distillery – a knight on the left and a berserker on the right. Berserkers would bite their shields before battle to get themselves into a state of frenzy. Look out!

Another reason for the timing of our day off was the weather forecast we’d been keeping a keen eye on and sure enough, at this point the weather started turning for the worse. We headed back to camp via the sandy beach as the drizzle started and before the wind picked up. From the inside it felt like our little tent took a battering!

Hebridean Way: Day 6 – Harris (Leverburgh to Likisto)

Distance cycled 18.5 miles / 29.8 km
Cumulative distance cycled 135.6 miles / 218.3 km
Islands visited (daily total) Harris
Total islands visited 9+1 of 10
Average speed 10 mph / 16.1 kmph
Weather conditions Overcast and very still (perfect if you’re a midge)

After the long, tiring but extremely enjoyable previous day hiking around Hirta, and after many a discussion with our wonderful bed and breakfast hosts about locations of suitable wild camping spots the other side to Tarbet (which they lamented the lack of given the unsuitable moorland landscape), we decided to stop a little short and set off for a campsite just before it on the ‘Golden Road’.

The western coast of Harris, like the western coasts of the isles so far, is a string of white sandy beaches and gorgeous turquoise waters, each one as breathtaking as the last. We were compelled to stop at every one to pause, take in the view, and take a photo!

Scarista Mhor

Horgabost

Seilebost. I think it’s a requirement to pull into the lay-by and appreciate this view. While we were here a guy hopped out of a camper van and said “Devon & Cornwall aren’t a patch on this”

After crossing to the east coast of Harris we turned south away from Tarbet and onto a lovely twisty single-carriageway called the Golden Road – very nice on a bicycle!

Julie on the Golden Road

Soon we arrived at Likisto and our home for the evening, but the welcoming party of midges soon found us and with no breeze whatsoever at our pitch they were about as thick as we’ve seen them. We just managed to put the tent up then retreated into the converted blackhouse where we found not only a small kitchen, bathroom and shower, but a huge lounge and dining table! Best of all it was a midge free zone!

Inside a converted blackhouse

Inside the very homely converted blackhouse. We spent the remainder of the afternoon drinking tea and writing up our diaries, then set up the stove in one of the fireplaces to avoid the midges!

Julie had explored the campsite and found another pitch named ‘Otter Watch’ right by the loch side and with just enough breeze to keep the midges away the spot proved true to its name – we spotted one, then two, then three sea otters – shame we’d left both the cameras and the binoculars in the tent!

Hebridean Way: Day 4 – North Uist, Berneray, Harris

Distance cycled 26.9 miles / 43.3 km
Cumulative distance cycled 117.1 miles / 188.5 km
Islands visited (daily total) North Uist, Berneray, Harris
Total islands visited 9 of 10
Average speed 10 mph / 16.1 kmph
Weather conditions Blue skies & sunshine, cool breeze

We woke to a beautifully clear, crisp and sunny morning with a fairly short ride ahead of us to make the second and final inter-island connecting ferry. This north western area of North Uist is how I had imagined the Outer Hebrides: Remote. Sparse.

Small stone folly or tower on an island in the middle of a loch

Scolpaig Tower, a small folly built on an island in a loch. A suitable metaphor for the sparseness of this part of the Outer Hebrides and is why I think North Uist is my favourite of the trip

3 horned sheep grazing with rolling hills behind them

Sea Eagle souring high in a clear blue sky

A Sea Eagle! It was circling overhead long enough to get the zoom lens on the camera and this is the best photo – it was about a mile away at this point

The causeway onto Berneray seemed like it was always going to be over the next rise or just around the next corner, instead it teased us, just out of reach with more sparse rolling countryside until eventually we were leaving North Uist. After a very decadent packed lunch of local smoked salmon and seaweed water biscuits, we took the ferry hoping we’d see sea otters. Sadly it wasn’t to be, and as the terminal is pretty much at the causeway we didn’t see much of Berneray either.

We dropped our bags at the bed and breakfast in Leverburgh – our home for the next couple of nights – and with lightened bikes headed south east to Rodel to visit St Clement’s church which has some very detailed carvings inside and out.

St Clements Church, a small church

St Clements Church at Rodel. We got to it and the signs said follow the road to the right (even though the parking was straight in front of us) and we ended up cycling all the way around it where we serendipitously passed The Girnal – an old storehouse in Rodel’s tiny fishing harbour

We ended the day with a lovely meal in The Anchorage.

Hebridean Way: Day 2 – South Uist, Benbecula, Grimsay causeway

Distance cycled 42.2 miles / 67.9 km
Cumulative distance cycled 74.7 miles / 120.3 km
Islands visited (daily total) South Uist, Benbecula, Grimsay
Total islands visited 6 of 10
Average speed 9.4 mph / 15.1 kmph
Weather conditions Partly cloudy, headwind

Weather being much the same as the day before made for an easy and very enjoyable start to our second day and by the end of the day we’re over half-way through the islands! Julie had found an architectural trail of the Outer Hebrides and along the route on South Uist is the little ‘brutalist’ church Our Lady of Sorrows. I’m a big fan of the brutalist architectural style which explains why I enjoyed Russia so much!

Our Lady of Sorrows church on South Uist, Outer Hebrides

The ‘brutalist’ church Our Lady of Sorrows on South Uist, Outer Hebrides

We continued along the western coastline of South Uist and after stopping at a tiny cemetery containing Commonwealth war graves, we completely failed to find the Cladh Hallan Roundhouses, even though we’d seen a photo, found a signboard, and had some rough co-ordinates we still weren’t quite sure what we were looking for! When the route re-joined the main road we stopped at a Co-op for provisions and received a wild-camping spot recommendation from a lone cyclist enjoying his 4 days of leave from working on the ferries that service the islands.

Then disaster strikes – Julie’s pannier rack breaks after one too many cattle grids. We’ve a full toolkit so after a spot of lunch we bust out the cable-ties and patch it up as best we can until we reach the house of one of 3 bicycle repair places listed on our map – armed with only a phone-number we find out he’s only 3 miles away! When we arrive he nods approval at our bodge, but he only has front salvaged pannier racks. “Stornoway’s your only bet for a new one”, he says and adds a washer to hold it together while we make friends with his 2 sheepdogs, then he checks we have spare cable-ties (we do) and won’t take any payment whatsoever “because I can’t guarantee it’ll hold”.

Cable-tied rear bike pannier

Our improvised roadside repair – fortunately the break left an ‘n’ shape sitting over the bolt so the cable-ties just had to stop it jumping out. Spoiler alert.. the addition of a washer and some careful riding makes it all the way home to Newcastle!

The final section on South Uist is on the main fast road through the centre of the island and while it wasn’t busy and we found the traffic very courteous to laden cyclists, we were pulling in often to let cars, trucks and motorhomes past. It seemed like we’d no sooner get our speed up than we would need to pull over which was a little frustrating.

It’s a short causeway to Benbecula and again the route takes us along the western coast. The afternoon sun is out and we’re feeling good so we skip the proposed campsite and its luxuries and press on to our first wild camping experience!

Tent pitched by the side of a causeway

Our first wild campsite experience – the instructions were “there’s a gap in the wall along the causeway onto a little outcrop, you’ll be hidden behind the wall with lovely views and a little breeze to keep the midges down.” A delivery truck had nabbed the lay-by but we were knackered and decided to pitch up anyway!

Hebridean Way: Day 0 – Getting there

Distance cycled 2.6 miles / 4.2 km
Cumulative distance cycled 2.6 miles / 4.2 km
Islands visited (daily total) Barra
Total islands visited 1 of 10
Average speed 9.3 mph / 15 kmph
Weather conditions Blue skies and sunshine

The Hebridean Way is a 185 mile cycling route that connects the 10 islands of the Outer Hebrides with ferries and causeways.

The suggested itinerary of ~35 miles a day would take about week or so, but we’ve allowed a fortnight for side trips, detours and days off – this is a holiday after all!

The Outer Hebrides is almost as remote as you can get without leaving the UK so even getting there is a bit of an adventure. Starting in Newcastle on the Friday afternoon of the August Bank Holiday we travelled to Glasgow (with a change in Edinburgh) for an overnight stay before another full day of travel with a train to Oban and a ferry for the final leg to Barra.

The ferry docked at dusk in Castlebay which left us just enough daylight to get to the campsite and pitch our tent.