The Western Isles Tour
A dream I have had for many years....... My grandparents sadly passed away last year and I was left some inheretance money. I thought it would be a good idea to get fit through having something to aim for. This tour, for example. So I planned this 600 km tour........ which then became a 1000 kn tour due to a map reading error. I already had purchased a tent and a new sleeping mat after the Islay tour I did two years ago. A new sleeping bag and a new camera was also purchased. The bike also got some upgrades. I only needed to get reasonable fit.
The 2009-2010 winter was very stressful with the icecold winter and a lot of personal issues which took all my time. I therefore managed to gain two stones instead of loosing two stones as I had originally planned. Due to stress, I had no oppurtunity to loose this weight again. That besides of putting in 1100 km on the bike between April and June. Which I did. I had many good cycling tours this year and most of them are described somewhere else on my Tours page. My fitness was acceptable and my bike was as good as new. I therefore thought that I was as prepared as I could be and that although this tour would be a very hard tour, I would be able to complete it.
What could possible go wrong on a cycling tour in July.......... ?
The alarm clock rang early that morning. For once, I had managed a decent night sleep before a major tour. I had a small breakfast and got my bike and rucksack together. I walked the bike down to Paisley and Paisley Gilmour Station instead of risking an accident even before the start of this tour.
The bike and my rucksack at Paisley Gilmour Street
I was soon at the station and got myself a ticket on the 0726 Largs train to Ardrossan South Beach.
I had planned to take the extra ferry service at 0900 instead of the regular ferry at 0945. I therefore had an hour to kill in Ardrossan . This time was spent on getting my get-on-my-bike technique sorted out. With the tent and the big bag containing both my spare tubes, sleeping bag and air mattress impeding my movements, this was a pretty difficult task. I eventually mastered these movements...... sort off.
I bought the Hopscotch ticket # 5 in the ferry port just before the small ferry MV Saturn arrived. Some other cyclists also arrived for this ferry. But they were doing the full Arran circuit without knowing how hard this tour is. I did not envy them.
The ferry loaded up with five cars for the Ardrossan to Brodick sailing.
The entire car deck of MV Saturn.
The sea was pretty choppy and the ferry was small. We passed the regular ferry
MV Caledonian Isles just outside Ardrossan Harbour.
The 110 cars ferry MV Caledonian Isles
It was pretty obvious that MV Saturn is not a fast ferry and it took over one hour to cross over to
Isle Of Arran.
The other cyclists from the ferry took of to the left and up a big hill while I started this tour with the long, flat ride up the east coast of Arran. The cycling was good on rather bad road surface. I was pacing myself because I was trying to reach the 1315 ferry over to Claonaig. I soon passed the idyllic village of Corrie and it's twin village Sannox. This village is also the start of the big hill over to Lochranza. The climb had a small false climb first before it descended down to a small river and the real climb. This climb is short, but very steep throughout.
The climb up from Sannox
I knew this climb from previous cycle tours so I took it easy.
This road is very typical for a Scottish hillroad. A steep climb which ends up in a very steep descent again without wasting any time on a top of the hill plateau. The top of this mountain was around 100 meters across before it started to descent again.
The descent towards the whisky distillery and Lochranza
I took it also easy on this descent down to the whisky distillery at the bottom of this mountain. I soon reached Lochranza Castle and I glimpsed the 1200 ferry to Claonaig at the end of the pier at Lochranza.
Lochranza and Lochranza Castle
The ferry approaching the quay
The ferry MV Loch Tarbert rounded the pier and unloaded the cars five minutes after my arrival there. I went on board and secured my bike with some ropes for the Lochranza to Claonaig sailing due to the blustery weather. A wise choice. The forty minutes long sailing over to Claonaig was pretty bumpy. I was glad I had taken some sea sickness tablets. I was pretty happy when we reached Claonaig. The wind was getting worse and I was happy that I was not going the opposite direction.
The ferry returning to Lochranza
A nice old man offered to take me up the hill from Claonaig, but I kindly refused this offer. I know this road from the Islay tour two years ago. It is a fairly steep climb, but not as bad as the one I had one hour previously. The wind was picking up though and I was pretty pleased to be on the top of this mountain.
Looking back towards Claonaig, Lochranza and Arran
The descent down to the other side was pretty hairy and I was glad to be at the West Tarbert Loch where I passed Kennacraig, the ferry quay for the Islay ferry. I was heading up the loch though in the direction of Tarbert and a lunch. One steep climb before the local graveyard was the only resistance encountered before I arrived at the pretty scenic village called Tarbert. I had a lunch and a small break before I ventured into the first piece of unknown territory of the tour. I have never done the Tarbert to Lochgilphead road alongside Loch Fyne. I was not looking forward to this piece of road either due to the perceived dull nature of it. But I was in for a positive surprise.
The road out of Tarbert was pretty steep for a mile. Then it became undulating before it fell down to Loch Fyne and the flat road up to Lochgilphead. I had the wind in my back and the cycling was reasonable effortless. I met a Norwegian pair of cyclists just before passing the
Crinan Canal and had a chat with them. They were touring the British Isles and they also run a small business. That's seems like an excellent life to me. It is called living life to the full. I wish I could do the same....... But I love my sofa too much.
Lochgilphead from this road
Lochgilphead is the administrative centre of the Argyll & Bute county and I have paid a lot of council tax to an office in this village through my bank account. I had never been there before though so I was more than a bit curious when I arrived here. I was also glad to start on the 80 km ride between Lochgilphead and Oban.
Looking down Loch Fyne from a park in Lochgilphead
After some more sandwiches, I started on the road towards Oban. The road was pretty flat alongside the Crinan Canal in light rain before the Crinan - Oban crossroad took me up a small climb through the forest and then down a small descent to an area called the Kilmartin Glen. This is one of the strangest landscapes I have ever seen. It is a large hollow between some hills. I crossed this hollow and passed an old castle called Dunadd. No picture can make any justice to this area though. It has to be seen to be believed. The road was flat and I made good progress to the end of this glen; the village called Kilmartin.
Kilmartin from the south
The Kilmartin area was my planned overnight campsite. I therefore visited the local museum and asked a member of the staff (a local girl) if she knew of any good places to pitch up a tent and how the road was. She pointed me towards an area outside the next village and laughingly told me that the road was very hilly from Kilmartin. She was not joking.
The road up from Kilmartin took me through a steep narrow canyon during some heavy rain to a mountain top. The descent down from this mountain top was a vertical drop down to Loch Craignish again at Ardfern. The descent was pretty hairy and I was glad that my brakes was working well. I had been adviced in Kilmartin that there was some good campsites here. I did not find them. The road climbed again after Ardfern over a moor towards Loch Melfort. Just before the road joined Loch Melfort again after some more hairy descents, I found the only excellent campsite on the Lochgilphead to Oban road where I pitched up my tent at around 2200 at night. The tent gave me some problems, but I was soon at sleep in my sleeping bag.
The night both revealed that Scotland does not have a tropical climate and that the sleeping bag did not offer my upper body any good comfort. I therefore woke up with a sore throat that morning.
Thankfully, it was not raining. But there was still some menacing clouds around. I was pretty quick to pack down the campsite and load up my bike again for the 35 km ride to Oban and the 1540 ferry to Castlebay, Barra. My throat was not good so I paced myself down to Loch Melfort.
The road continued over a small hill past Arduaine Garden and a hotel. The road then became dead flat for some kilometers until I reached the head of the loch and then the small village of Kilmelford. The road now climbed pretty vertically up past some lakes and up to a hilltop overlooking a lake. The road dropped down again to this lake and then dropped down a pretty scenic valley to Kilninver, which lays on the shore of a Loch Feochan. I was feeling pretty OK despite of a sore throat. I reached the head of this loch too and had some kilometers before I reached Oban.
The hill over to Oban had several summits and it was a pretty funny ride. Before I knew it, I was in Oban some hours before the ferry was leaving.
Just some words about this road from Glasgow to Oban: I have now done Glasgow to Oban through Loch Lomond, over Inveraray, by train and now this way. Which is the best ?
If you choose to go to Oban by the road, my alternative over Arran is at least 40 km longer than the other two alternatives. It also have two ferries. It is more scenic though and a far better alternative than the pretty dull alternative over Loch Lomond and Tyndrum. It contains some good riding too and the Kilmartin Glen is superb. Yes, this tour is perhaps the best way to get to Oban. But the best alternative is probably still the train from Glasgow to Oban. But I am still very glad I did this ride.
I stopped at Tesco in Oban for a breakfast before I went to the ferry port. Just when I was sitting down at a table at the Tesco cafe with the breakfast, Oban was hit by a very intense rain shower. I was glad to be indoors.
I continued the two hundred meters down to the port and purchased the Hopscotch # 8 ticket which was going to take me all the way to Ullapool at the mainland again........ which was my plan. More about this later. I was told the Oban to Castlebay ferry was leaving one hour later due to a mechanical breakdown of the main ferry MV Clansman. The ferry ride would now take six hours instead of five hours. This was due to the replacement ferry being a smaller ferry called MV Lord Of The Isles.
I spent around six hours at the ferry port, wathching the Oban to Mull ferry MV Isle Of Mull and the Oban to Lismore ferry MV Eigg arrive and leave several times. I also stocked up on after-bite spray, more water and a book from the shopping streets in Oban. I was sitting in the big waiting lounge while I was reading the book. I was also very surprised to meet around 20 + other cyclists at the port which was also going to Castlebay. I later learnt that there were around 30 cyclists on the previous sailing and that Castlebay and the Western Isles has now become a very popular destination. £ 29 for the full circuit of the Western Isles is excellent value for money and I understand why this tour is so popular.
The arrival time of the ferry came and went without any sign of the ferry. My fear was having to pitch up the tent in darkness. In hindsight, I should had bought a torch in Oban. The ferry rounded the northern tip of
Kerrera and docked in Oban at around 1800.
The ferry rounding the northern tip of Kerrera
The other 20 + cyclists heading for Castlebay
The packed full ferry
There was a lot of cars too on this sailing and the ferry was soon packed full with bikes and cars. It was in fact over-crowded in the cafeteria and in the lounges. I was smart enough to take a sea sickness tablet before the ferry left Oban even before the captain announced that the six hours long sailing would be rough.
Oban and the ferry to Tiree
Our ferry soon got company from the Mull ferry which now were on it's daily sailing to Tiree and Coll. We sailed in a convoy through the Sound Of Mull past Craignure, Salen and Tobermory before the Tiree ferry peeled off towards Coll and Tireee just after Mull.
The ferry to Tiree saying farewell to us
At this time, the waves was pretty heavy and the ferry was rolling. I was enjoying some fish & chips while other people was getting pretty sea sick. I went out again to take a photo of the most western point of mainland United Kingdom though, the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse. The tour out to this lighthouse and the ferry crossing from Tobermory is high on my wishlist.
The Ardnamurchan Lighthouse
We were now out in the Atlantic Ocean and the swells were pretty big. The next four hours were eventful, to say at least. Most people were violent sea sick in the very choppy sea. I was never scared, but it was not much fun seing the fading daylight and witnessing so much vomiting. The smells and sights was horrendous. I was OK though and I had even managed to grab a seat where I was enjoying a good book. I was pretty happy when land was sighted and the lights of lighthouse on Barra came into view. This is the roughest sailing I have ever been on. It was now midnight when we approached Barra.
The ferry rounded Kisimul Castle and docked in Castlebay at 0100 this very dark morning. It was almost pitch dark and raining like mad. I was pretty unhappy about the situation. I also had a sore throat. I decided to go for the 0855 sailing from the north side of the island. It was a matter of 15 km to cover in rain and darkness. I had a serious, and potential health damaging brainfade when I decided to go straight up the east coast for this ferry.
The ferry at 0100 in the morning
I seriously wish to forget the next hours of this journey. The road up from Castlebay was steep and I was only guided by the white stripe between the road and the potential abyss outside. I was walking the bike for the next five kilometers. After a long walk up and down the steep mountain with my bike in darkness, I finally found a bus shelter next to some private houses. It was raining like mad and I put out my sleeping mat and sleeping bag. It was sheer madness due to the wind and I was freezing. I was woken up by a young guy offering me a bike shed for the night. I gratefully accepted the offer. It was still raining like mad and the wind was howling. I did not get a moment sleep. I gave up at around 0600 in the morning and continued up the road. I could now cycle and the wind was carrying me up to a crossroad between the airport and the ferry port at Aird Mhor. I was now heading into the wind for the final 3 km. It was impossible to cycle in this wind and almost impossible to breathe too. This was gale force 9, to my knowledge.
The Aird Mhor ferry port
The waiting room was closed which in my view is almost a crime. This ferry terminal is a god forsaken place with no other houses or even possibilities of shelter. It is pretty easy to freeze to death on this place. I was both tired, wet and very cold. I found some shelter behind the building. I heard a noise from the sea and spotted the ferry arriving.
The ferry approaching Aird Mhor
The ferry docking at Aird Mhor
I was hoping for some shelter there and for salvation at Eriskay which actually have a big waiting room and a cafe. My hopes and the hopes of the other passengers, including two other cyclists, was soon dashed when the ferry announced that the sailings with MV Loch Bhrusda was canceled for the foreseeable future. We were in effect stranded on this very remote place. I was too tired to cycle back these 15 km to Castlebay and I was frozen stiff too. I was clearly not prepared for a gale force wind and torrential rain out on an island in the Atlantic Ocean. So I and another cyclist decided to get a taxi back to Castlebay again. The taxi arrived and I packed down my bike for this journey back to Castlebay. The taxi cost me £ 6 which was a small price to pay.
What now, was my immediate thoughts. My plans to get to Eriskay was destroyed for that day. Unkown to me, the ferry sailed at 1200. But I was then back in Castlebay, wandering around without anything to do. I ordered a bed at the local youth hostel and parked up my bike in their back yard. The ferry back to Oban was cancelled too and the wind pretty strong. All good tent places on the harbour front was occupied too. In despair, I took a walk to the west coast and to the local Coop store where I stocked up for the night on food.
Castlebay from the west coast road
I walked back to Castlebay again and the ferry terminal......... where I was told that they were trying to get on a 1900 sailing up to Lochboisdale on South Uist. This sailing was in combination with a 0300 sailing from Lochmaddy on North Uist (70 km further north) to Uig on Skye to get people home again from the Western Isles to the mainland. Due to many canceled sailings, both Castlebay and South Uist was full of stranded holiday makers. The end result of this emergency sailing was that my bikeride was back on course again.
I moved my bike down to the ferry terminal, informed some new found friends about this good news and rolled out my book for some hours of good reading in the waiting room. I was soon joined by other cyclists with the same idea.
Kisimul castle and the ferry
Castlebay is also most famous for the excellent Whisky Galore movie and I visited all the places in Castlebay I recognised from this film. I would recommend this film to everyone.
The weather was a mix of gales with sun and rain. Castlebay was a very windy place that day. I was very pleased when we got the go ahead to board the ferry again. I tied up my bike again on board
MV Lord Of The Isles for the two hours journey up the coast of Barra, Eriskay and South Uist to Lochboisdale. The sailing was not as full as the sailing from Oban the night before. Neither was it certain to leave Castlebay until the captain found a weather window at around 1915 and we set sail for the Atlantic Ocean again. I was very glad to see the back of Castlebay that night !
Leaving Barra behind
The sailing up the coast was not as rough as I expected. I was still taking the sea sickness tablets just to be sure, though. The mountains and the coast line at Barra, Eriskay and South Uist was very impressive though. This was true wilderness. The sun made an appearance for a change and we soon arrived in Lochboisdale.
Arriving in Lochboisdale
We were stranded on the ferry for a while when they were trying to unload two big lorries from the ferry. But we were eventually on dry land again and I was more than happy to cross over from the east coast to the west coast along the road to Daliburgh.
Finally back on track again at Daliburgh
The other cyclists went of to their pre-ordered B & Bs along the road. There were plenty of them from Lochboisdale to Daliburgh. I though went looking for a good place to pitch up my tent on the single track road going north along the west coast from Daliburgh. I passed the famous Askernish golf course on my way to the north. I finally found a sheltered campsite behind a stone wall and pitched up my tent there. This is one of the finest campsites I have ever had in my life. A very eventful 24 hours was over and I was very tired. I went to sleep at around 2230 that night.
The early morning was pretty rowdy with very strong wind and rain. I was sheltered behind a wind, but my tent was still almost ripped to pieces. That experience served as a warning to me and strongly influenced my decission to change my plans later that evening.
My campsite just north of Askernish golf course
I packed down the tent at around 0600 in the morning and started to cycle at 0700. I was aiming at the 1700 ferry at Bernaray, 80 km further north.
From the moment I started cycling from the ferry at Lochboisdale, I got the impression that South Uist an the next islands was going to be a very special experience. The next pictures is from South Uist and proves my point.
Starting the day with a rain shower and a small hill
Looking back south
Looking towards the Atlantic Ocean and Howmore, 1 km further west
The single track road towards north
A house on the prairie
The mountains at South Uist
Looking back towards the south
A farm towards the west and the Atlantic Ocean
I have never ever seen such a landscape before. South Uist is covered by high mountains to the east and flatlands to the west. It is also littered by small lakes and some houses and farms. In the middle of South Uist, a single track road runs from north to south with some small roads branching of to some farms, houses and small villages. This narrow single track road made this bikeride an unforgetable experience. I would had preferred some more hills on this 35 km crossing of South Uist. But the cycling was still excellent fun with the wind from behind and some intense, but short rain showers. Most important of all, South Uist really feels like the end of the world with a very strange ambience. There was also hardly any traffic here too. I hope this island will retain it's single track road. A bigger road would spoil this island. But I am afraid the locals would disagree with me !
I passed the museum at Kildonan and the crossroad over to Howmore
on my way north. I did not have any direct feeling with the Atlantic Ocean though. The road was always inlands and had a strange inland feeling. The small lakes also gave me the feeling that I was cycling over a big mountain instead of being only 10 - 20 meters above sea level. Some small hill climbs up to 30 meters above sea level gave me some good overviews. The most impressive hill was at the north end just before West Gerinish.
West Gerinish just before the first ford
The descent past this village took me down to the first ford of the day. A ford is the same as a causeway. Instead of building expensive bridges, the locals has built small causeways, named fords on the local language, which crosses the many sea lochs on the road between Eriskay in the south to Berneray 100 km to the north. These fords is absolute vital for the communities out here and was built between 1940 and 1999.
The first ford on South Uist just after West Gerinish
A new inland section took me towards the northern end of South Uist and the final ford over to Benecula.
I was now hungry and was looking for a shop. I also heard a plane overhead which landed at Benecula Airport. A small descent took me down to the final meters of South Uist and the ford over to Benecula.
The ford between South Uist and Benecula
A nice Coop grocery shop was awaiting me on the other side of the ford and I had a small breakfast there. I was also hit by a heavy rainshower here. This shop is one of only three shops along the 70 km long road between Lochboisdale and Lochmaddy. That says everything about these islands.
I continued my cycling on the 10 km long road over Benecula.
The war memorial on Benecula, looking south
Looking north from the war memorial
After some flat and rather boring cycling, I ended up on a small hill overlooking the final bits of Benecula and the 8 km long fords taking me to North Uist over Grimsay and Carinish.
Looking north from this small hill, one of the best viewpoints on these islands.
This viewpoint is excellent and gives a true overview of the next 8 km over the twisty fords to North Uist. The road was also turning into the strong wind and the roads over the small islands and fords was pretty undulating.
One of the many fords with a Crossing Otters warning sign
I am pretty fond of otters. I did not see any otters out here though. But I am very glad that their health and well being is duly taking care of out on these islands. I guess the amount of fish here gives otters an excellent environment.
…...But I saw plenty of cows and sheep, though....
After some twists and turns, I rolled over the final ford and set my wheels at North Uist.
I was now looking at the Clachan An Luib crossroad. My original plans was to go to the west here and around the island via the western road. But the strong wind from the west made that impossible. I therefore settled for the east coast and the wind in my back. I am really glad I did this........ But I first had to find this crossroad.
Looking north towards Clachan An Luib
Looking towards my original route to the west from near Clachan An Luib
I finally arrived at this crossroad and a small shop with post office. I sent some postcards from this post office to friends around the world. I also met another cyclist here which was going the same way. My shivering fingers made the handwriting hard to understand, but I later learnt that the postcards arrived....... although nobody understood what I wrote. I continued though up a small hill towards Lochmaddy and up to a big moor.
The moor and mountains at North Uist
Looking the outskirts of Lochmaddy
The road here was brand new and the tempo very high over and down again from this moor. The views too was excellent. I tested out my salt tablets with water from one of the inland lakes. The taste of the water was excellent and the salt tablets was working fine. Just outside Lochmaddy and in the crossroad over to Berneray, I was overtaken by some of those I had met on the Oban to Castlebay ferry. They had taken the 1200 sailing from Barra to Eriskay I did not know about and then stayed overnight at a hotel on Benecula. We duly compared notes. But the clock was 1200 and we tried to reach the 1330 ferry at Berneray. A visit to the pretty big village of Lochmaddy
was therefore dropped and while the others was waiting for a straggler, I cycled ahead into the wind and some small hills. The wind was strong and I used a lot of energy on the next five kilometers to a hill overlooking Lochmaddy from the north.
Lochmaddy from the north on the road to Berneray
The road then dropped down again and rose to another hill again. Another descent took me down to the crossroad between the west side of North Uist adn Berneray. I took the road towards Berneray in a pretty intense rainshower. The climb from this crossroad took me up to another excellent viewpoint.
Looking back towards the western side of North Uist on the way to Berneray
This final part of the 80 km long cycling from my campsite that morning to the ferry at Berneray was the finest of the whole tour. The descent from this hill (where I took the previous photo) took the road down to a small village called Newton. This was the old ferryport between North Uist and Harris. But the new (ten years old) causeway between North Uist and Berneray has given us a very scenic road. The views along these few kilometers is excellent. In particular the views towards the Atlantic Ocean, some fine beaches and Berneray.
Looking towards the west from the Newton to Berneray road
And finally, the causeway to Berneray appeared with the ferry port on the other side. I crossed it with 45 minutes to spare without running over any otters.
Looking towards the Berneray and the causeway. The mountains in Harris in the background.
I had planned to stay in a yout hostel in Berneray the night before so I was pretty glad to be here just 12 hours late. The 80 km from my campsite to this ferry port was covered in record time. Much due to the wind in my back and the flat terrain. I believe I did these 80 km in around 6 hours. I did not feel that I lost out on anything despite of my fast pace. Well, a detour to a beach on South Uist and a visit to Lochmaddy would had been nice though. But I still feel this was a fantastic experience. I would like to return to this road one day, though........ Or even several times. There is nothing like it on this planet, I believe.
The open waiting room at the ferry port
We were now several cyclists and some cars hanging around the waiting room at this ferry port. A very beautiful ferry port, I have to add. I had good fun. The ferry had been canceled the whole yesterday due to the gales and we were a bit worried about this sailing being canceled too due to the still ongoing gale. But the ferry soon appeared from behind some rocks.....
The approaching ferry
The ferry docks at Berneray
Looking back towards Berneray from the ferry
The name of this ferry is MV Loch Portain and she is a new 31 cars ferry built only for the Sound Of Harris sailings. This ferry became my favorite Caledonian MacBrayne ferry and the sailing over Sound Of Harris is my new favorite sailing.
Looking towards Leverburgh and Harris from the ferry
A bit closer to Leverburgh......
This ferry is in effect running on dry land because of the very shallow water here. Several sailings a month is also canceled due to low tides. This sailing was spectactular where the ferry was sailing straight at some rocks and then suddenly changing course and avoiding the rocks by only some meters clearances. Truly jaw dropping stuff and all us cyclists agreed that this was the best sailing of the tour. But all good things had to end and we were in Leverburgh after a one hour long sailing.
We disembarked at the ferry port in Leverburgh. This port on Harris was built in the 1800 century by a industrial magnate and the owner of this island who wanted to establish a modern fishing port here. The name “Leverburgh” sounds like a soulless place and the place is a bit strange compared to the islands in the south.
My camera needed new batteries and I was looking for a shop in Leverburgh. I found one shop and a cafe. I purchased some batteries and a sandwich before I started on the 35 km long road over to Tarbert up the west coast. This road started with a climb up a canyon which where a lot of sheep were grazing near the road.
The climb up from Leverburgh
Overlooking Scarista and the west coast from the same viewpoint.
The view over the sands at Scarista was jawdropping. The descent down to this beach and sea loch was a bit hairy though. But I soon made good progress along the flat road up the west coast towards the Isle Of Harris golf course
Cycling out the sea loch towards the golf course
On the top of the golf course looking back towards Scarista and the sea loch
This nine hole course must be one of the most scenic golf courses in Scotland. It also seems very difficult to me. I would love to try it one day. But the next picture proves that there is not any place to a golf bag on my bike.
Posing next to the Isle Of Harris golf course, regretting not bringing the golf clubs
Looking up the coastline from the Isle Of Harris golf course
The scenery here was just fantastic. The wind and the very audible heavy sea made this bikeride up the coast truly fantastic. I had by now been overtaken by three other cyclists (from Yorkshire). I continued in my own tempo, just taking in the scenery on my way up this coast. The beaches along the road was stunning and far better than the ones in the rest of the British Isles.
The very undulating road along the coast
The road was also very undulating here with several short 10 % climbs and some more civilized descents. I loved this ride so I was a bit sad when the fun ended at the famous and spectactular
beaches at Luskentyre.
The beach at Luskentyre
This place is spectacular. The sound and the smell was almost overpowering. That was also the views overt to Taransay. Unfortunate, the road now went up the hill towards the east coast of Harris again.
The road up the hill with the beach at Luskentyre in the background
The climb was not particular steep. But I ran out of water and I had to refill my bottles and rehydrate myself too. I let the other cyclist go ahead while I took my time up the climb. The steepest part of the climb was at the top. The climb went straight into a descent again from the top without wasting any time with a moor or any flat piece of road. I was now heading towards East Loch Tarbert on the east coast.
East Loch Tarbert on the descent towards Tarbert
The wind now became a huge problem. I had to approach this pretty difficult descent with utmost care. The road also went around some small lakes and up some smaller climbs again. The last climb just before Tarbert. But after some careful descents and climbing, I reached the road overlooking Tarbert.
I was soon down in Tarbert where I first had a meal from a take away shop. I then enquired about the weather forecast at the local hotel............. And that piece of news changed my plans.
I guess I will forever ponder over my decission to return to the mainland instead of continuing north to Butt Of Lewis. I still feels bad about this decission. The weather forecast I got was severe gales and even storm for the next two days. With the almost torn up tent I got the night before and the very bad experience I had on Barra too, I really did not have any choice. I was heading into the very exposed Isle Of Lewis and the even more exposed Western Ross. My tour was also based on the reliance of my tent and my other equipment. The fact is that my tent would had been shredded to pieces if I had continued my original plans. The ferries between Stornoway and the mainland was also canceled for several days. Which meant I would had been delayed with at least 4 days if I had continued. I did not have that luxury. The torrential rain and gales during the last days has also proved that I was right. In short; I did the only right thing based on this weather forecast which was proven 100 % right. For once; I used my brain instead of my heart. But it was a very, very bitter pill to swallow. But I will be back.
Based on the weather forecast, I decided to accept a bed in the local bunkhouse and to go for next day's ferry to Uig at Isle Of Skye. I did that with a very heavy heart.
I woke up in the morning with heavy heart after a good night sleep at the local bunkhouse. The ferry was not leaving before 1130, but I still went down to the tourist information to check out if the weather forecast had improved. If possible, the weather forecast was actually worse than yesterday and I was starting to worry if I could get of Isle Of Skye and back to the mainland at all. With good reason. I met up with some other cyclists and we chatted about everything until the ferry arrived.
The ferry approaches Tarbert
The ferry docking at Tarbert
With regret, I bordered the rather spacious MV Hebrides for the 90 minutes long sailing to Uig and secured my bike on the deck with some ropes. The sailing over to Uig was without drama or even some big waves.
Leaving Tarbert at the East Tarbert Loch
The ferry approaching Uig and the Trotternish peninsula
Rounding the rocky outcrop at Uig Bay
At 1300 precise, we docked at Uig. This sailing actually proved to be the last sailing between the Western Isles (Tarbert and Lochmaddy) and Uig for over two days. The ferry returned to Lochmaddy from Uig later that day and was then forced to sit out two days in that harbour due to bad weather. My decission to return to the mainland was indeed proven right.
I continued my ride around the bay towards Portree and my goal of the day; the youth hostel at Broadford. The other cyclists headed up the hill towards the very scenic ride around the Trotternish peninsula which I did in May 2001 as a part of my two days long Isle Of Skye circuit.
Watching the ferry leaving for Lochmaddy
I wished them good luck (they would need it) and climbed up the hill from Uig Bay on the road south towards Portree. I thought it was a good idea to visit Uig Youth Hostel to order a bed in Broadford. Thankfully, nobody was in. I was deflated having to leave my original plan in Tarbert. The very strong headwind and the very exposed road towards the end of this loch at Carbost did not help my mood either. Broadford seemed like a bridge too far when I was fighting my way in this loch up and down some small hills. It was like cycling in syrup. The death of my camera (later revived when I arrived at home two days later) did not help my mood either. Neither did the rain.
The 25 km over to Portree was pretty tough and I did not reach this very idyllic village before 1700 after an epic battle in the wind. Both the wind and the rain was increasing. Stupid as I was, I still tried to ring the youth hostel in Broadford. But nobody took my call. I then ordered a bed in the independent hostel in Portree due to the worsening weather. I then ordered train ticket and a bike reservation on the following night's train to Glasgow. Or to be more precise, it was on the nighttrain to London, but my plan was to jump of at Dalmuir and cycle home over Erskine Bridge around midnight. A stupid idea, btw.
I also had a nice fish and chips in the very idyllic Portree and went back to this excellent hostel. A hostel I warmly recommend. I spent an excellent night there and slept well.
I was wide awake at 0500 the following morning and was on my bike at 0530. I was trying to reach a ferry at Armadale for the connecting train to Dalmuir. I know this road pretty well from both 2001 and 2005 so that was not an issue. The main issue was the gale force wind and the rain though. The run in to the start of the hill taking me over to Sligachan was pretty sheltered from the wind so I made good progress here. The gale force wind hit me halfway up the not too hard climb. I fought on though and made good progress through the wind and the rain. The wind was so hard on the top that I had problems keeping the front wheel straight on the road. The wind was joined by some hard rain on the descent down to the hotel at Sligachan. The descent was anything but fun. I had the wind in my back on the ride out the loch to the Raasay ferry. I was continuing ninety degree around the corner and straight into the wind at the golf course at Sconser and the beginning of the big hill taking me over to another loch. Normally, I would here choose the much more scenic old road which winds itself around this peninsula. But the gale force wind did not make this an attractive solution. I therefore stuck to the new road over the hill. I climbed it and was soon at the top overlooking Loch Ainort. The descent down this hill was without any drama and I was now heading out the loch towards Broadford. After crossing over a small forest, I finally reached this small village. I stopped for some minutes before I continued the ride. I turned off the main road now and went up the hill towards Armadale. I headed straight into the wind and a pretty severe gale. My progress stopped up and continued in walking pace over this hill. The wind was whipping my face and it was a pretty uncomfortable experience. I was therefore looking forward to a nice meal in Mallaig. I reached the sea again just before Isleornsay.
The ride from this place to Armadale was very undulating with a long, boring climb inland and ditto descent down from this hill. The rain and the wind was horrendous too. In fact, the worst of the whole tour. My right eye ceased up and I lost a pad on my triathlon handlebar. I spotted the ferry
MV Coruisk leaving Armadale at 1215 just before I reached the port. I was fifteen minutes too late to reach that sailing.
When I saw the struggle the ferry had to get over to Mallag, I understood why I was given the message in the port that all the remaining sailings was cancelled that day. I am all for reaching a train. But my main priority is my own safety and welfare. Something this cancelation safeguarded. But I was again stranded on an island. The bridge at Kyle Of Lochalsh was closed too so there I was. I was not the only one stranded on Skye that night though. I rang Scotrail, the train operator and made a reservation for the 1010 train the following day. My hope was that the calmer weather forecast for the following day would be proven right.
I was again checking into a youth hostel. This time the Flora Macdonald hostel five kilometers from Armadale. I checked in together with a woman which had proceeded to fall apart. We were joined by two cyclists from Israel and a family from India. I spent the rest of the day reading a book and conversing with the other cyclists at this very good hostel. The owners tried their best to create good hostel....... and succeeded. I was pretty happy to share their company and I will have no reservations with visiting this hostel again. The weather was pretty horrendous and I had a good night at this hostel.
We woke up again to a very windy morning. I seriously doubted that the ferry would leave as scheduled at 0840. I therefore enquired if a taxi could take me to the train station at Kyle Of Lochalsh on the mainland. A major detour for me. But I still cycled the five kilometers to Armadale ferry port. I did not have any high expectations. But to my joy, I was told that they would do this sailing and then review the situation. That was good enough for me to dance around in pure joy. This to both the horror and joy of the other waiting passengers who got the message that the sailing was on. MV Coruisk left Mallaig as per schedule and arrived in Armadale a couple of minutes ahead of schedule. I bordered this ferry and secured my bike for this half an hour long sailing to Mallaig.
The sailing was not too rough and I was in so high spirit when I reached the mainland again after days of problems that I almost kissed the ground. I and the other cyclists hurried up to the train station for the 1010 and the six hours train journey. The train had not arrived yet so I spent some money and time in the local Coop grocery shop. The train eventually arrived and the seven cyclists, including myself, established ourselves in the front of the train. The bikes too were secured and the train left for the most scenic train journey in the world , according to Lonely Planet guidebook. I have done this tour many times already and was a bit tired after this long tour. But the two Israelis and the two Germans was very impressed and called it one of the highlights of their visit to Scotland. It is truly a great train journey , but I was glad when I arrived in Glasgow again after having said goodbye to the Germans in Dumbarton who were cycling over to Edinburgh from there. I walked from the Queen Street station to the Central Station with my bike and the two Israelis following me. They were booked on a train to London and I was heading to Paisley. We said our goodbyes and I boardered a Largs train (again) to Paisley. I jumped of the train there and cycled home again to my welcoming flat..........
…... And that was the end of the tour at around 1700 that night. The following days was used to washing, sleeping and repairs of my equipment.
What did go wrong ? In short, the weather. The weather was horrendous throughout and it remained horrendous long afterwards. Numerous ferries was canceled too. So much that I would had been at least four days delayed due to the weather and ferry cancelations. Delays I could not afford due to work commitments.
I also grossly underestimated the weather and the harsh climate of the Western Isles. Hence, neither my tent, my allweather clothes and my sleeping bag was up to the task. I was also a bit unfit and at least twenty kilos too heavy for the tour. Carrying a big rucksack instead of using panniers is not a good idea too. This is a fundamental flaw in my tour which means I will not be able to do more than short weekend tours with the current setup. In short, I need a new bike.
I will do this tour again when I have shed these twenty kilos and purchased a new bike + new tent and sleeping bag. I really want to do the Western Isles again from Barra to Butt Of Lewis + the Western Ross over Applecross. This year's tour has not scared me.
Was it a great tour ? Yes, it was actually a great tour. The ride to Oban was great. The ride from Lochboisdale to Tarbert on Harris was excellent. I also met a lot of other cyclists and interesting people. For these reasons, I think this was a great tour.
….....I'll be back.........