IntroductionThe title only makes sense if you've read the first post about my (our) adventures on the Hebridean Way last year. You don't have to read the first one for the body of this one to make sense though, you just have to understand I'd ridden the first 24 miles or so of the Hebridean Way on the tandem the day before the first ride here.
Early StartI asked the staff at the hotel the night before if I could get an early breakfast. "How early?" they said. "Just after 4 a.m." I said. They looked a little shocked. And even more so when I told them why. The plan was to ride from the hotel in Daliburgh to the Butt of Lewis. The rest of the Heb Way. Clearly I was the only person that didn't think 160 miles in a day on a bicycle is a crazy thing to contemplate. However, they were most accommodating and told me where the milk was so I could get my cereal! "Just help yourself". I did. And having done so, I got the bike off the car, sorted it out, and set off in the dark up the roads of South Uist.
The reason for leaving so early was to make sure I made the mid morning ferry from Berneray to Harris. This would allow me to get up to the top of Lewis reasonably early. Otherwise it would be a mid afternoon start to the Harris and Lewis leg which would, in turn, lead to a late finish. With The Stoker in the car providing support none of us wanted that!
The Uists and BenbeculaThe forecast had been none to pleasant. Very windy and very wet. The latter especially true in the morning. Thankfully the wind had done its job early and the rain appeared to have been driven through. It was breezy though and from what I could see as I set off the clouds were low again. The advantage of the wind was that it was mostly helping and with this part of the ride being flat (1600 feet in 65 miles is flat...) I got a good start to the day.
Being May, even at 5 a.m. it wasn't really dark and soon I was riding in what could be described as the gloaming. The one thing I wasn't used to at all was the quietness. For the first hour or so I saw nothing at all on the road or any other sign of life. Eventually there was a lorry and then some red deer sauntered across the road on their way up to higher ground. My assumption is that they came down the hill at night and then went back up in the morning. I may very well be wrong. But they were nice to see.
On South Uist the route mostly followed the main road with one notable exception. And it was on the section that is much closer to the sea that I saw what I assume were coastal defences with some very big boulders lying on the ground behind them. Again, I'm assuming the sea washed onto the land here at some point and deposited said rocks causing the defences to be built. I certainly hope these bits of stone weren't thrown over the defences. The noise the wind and the sea were making though it might very well have been possible.
The road crosses from island to island and across watery patches using a number of causeways. These are fun to cross from the novelty point of view but are exposed. Watch the wind on a breezy day! They do provide a much easier crossing than having to wait for ferries. And it was the second of these bridges that took me on to Benbecula.
The weather wasn't great here, smirry rain, low cloud and a slight depression around me. I had really hoped that the weather was just going to keep getting better after the dry start but no. On went the flappy jacket and I settled in to grinding out the miles. The route here leaves the direct path and goes around the coast ending up navigating round the airport. No beaches for runways here! A much more traditional installation with big wire fences. But it did increase the interest factor on a mostly dull section.
The Hebridean Way claims to cycle through 10 islands but I found it hard to count Grimsay as I reckon the whole experience takes up at most 1.5 miles. It was more of a bit of solid ground between two causeways. So, off Benbecula, touch Grimsay and into North Uist! I see from the map that there is more to Grimsay than this so maybe when I go back I'll have a better look.
The weather had taken a turn for the better again here which was nice but the wind was now a side wind which made things more interesting. I was halfway to the ferry and in good time. I was back beside the coast and, once again, the road took me past lots of isolated houses strung out along its length. The postman must have fun delivering letters.
The road surface was great until I took the official route on a little diversion away from the main track. I can see why the route goes this way. There's a nice looking camp site and a little beach but I'm not sure it added much to the actual route. The views were visible from where I turned off and it did involve a little height loss and the inevitable requirement to make it back up again. For me though the killer was a little unavoidable patch of gravel and flints. With my tyres being damp it was that much easier for something to get in and that's exactly what happened. I turned back on to the nice surface of the main drag, said thanks to the cycling gods for not giving me a puncture and my back wheel went flat. Then it started to rain.
There was no point crying over spilt milk and I settled down beside the wall to replace the inner tube. I did that but then spent the rest of the ride to Berneray worrying about whether I had got enough air in the wheel to stop another puncture. Still, I didn't have too far to go.
The worst bit of this ride was to come though. The route bends round a little bay near Malacleit and here I was hit by a very nasty headwind. Combined with a road surface covered in mud and rubbish from recent tree felling it made for a horrible couple of miles. The same wind made its presence felt again at the next bay before I made it to the junction that would take me on the road to Berneray.
The weather was definitely getting a little better now and, as I had time, I stopped to take a couple of photos. Until then the all pervasive greyness had kept the phone in my pocket.
|The first decent view on the ride through the Uists|
|But not the brightest of days|
BernerayThe amount of cycling on Berneray is even less than that on Grimsay! I did spend more time here as I had beaten The Stoker and the car up and I had a good long time to wait for the morning ferry. 65 miles done and all good. I did get rather cold waiting for the ferry despite the building at the terminus. If you are doing this trip make sure you have warm clothes for hanging about in. Or time it better than I did. Eventually (probably 10 minutes later) The Stoker arrived and got in the queue for the boat. They were booked on the lunchtime one (in case of emergencies) but when it came to it there was no trouble transferring and we were able to share the journey. Again, there were a number of cyclists on the ferry; all taking their time.
Harris and LewisI did, eventually, remember to pump the rear tyre up. Now that would have been truly stupid.
After the flat trip across 4 islands Harris was a bit of a wake up call. It wasn't that I didn't know it was coming, I do know how to read a profile, but I still wasn't quite prepared for the initial slopes from Leverburgh. As ever, though, I settled into the new ride.
Along with the feel of the roads being different, so was the scenery. Hills, beaches and sea. All very picturesque and much more my kind of thing. The riding, of course, is harder. And, I should add, the road surfaces were not as good on Lewis and Harris as they had been in the morning. And despite the weather picking up, the wind was also increasing and was not helping in making things more fun.
My first task I knew was to get through Harris. And that means taking on two climbs; one either side of Tarbert. Getting to the first one took several ups and downs along the coast before turning inland at a very attractive bay and beach.
Unfortunately this turn also removed any help from the wind. It wasn't in my face precisely but it wasn't helping either. I remember the start of the climb being pretty steep and I passed a couple of touring cyclists, loaded up and struggling. Once again, I was more than happy to be riding my way. The climb goes up in a series of steps, some steep, some not so. The terrain looked very different to the Uists; this was all rock. Very barren but very impressive. It's a sneaky climb and I thought I'd finished it only to come around a corner to see the last section a little in the distance. Annoyingly this was not only steep but the road changed back to single track. Luckily I did not have to stop.
The descent down to Tarbert was quick with a couple of little rises to contend with. It did however give me an inkling of what was to come with some nasty swirling winds catching the bike a couple of times.
The route passes by Tarbert by and large and the road climbs up and round the corner to the biggest climb on the whole route. I met the Stoker just before this climb and we agreed a strategy for the next meet point. At this point I was approaching 90 miles for the day and the legs were beginning to feel the effect of the day before. One big effort I told myself before dropping down to the beginning of the climb.
Make no mistake this climb is imposing. The road rises up from the corner of a bay towards some pretty big hills and is cut through some rock. The cutting didn't seem to make it any less steep though and the next half a mile or so was hard. I was definitely in the lowest gear and grind mode up here. It did relent eventually and the section in the pass was spectacular before the road tipped up again to get through this part. Sadly, it was not quite done and after a lovely descent the tarmac pitched up once again. There was a lay-by here and the chance for a bike and scenery photo. On a day of not many photos I decided that this was an opportunity too good to miss.
|The bike was having a rest|
|The scenery in Harris was spectacular|
Back down to what felt like terra-firma I dusted myself down, cycled on and soon came into Lewis, the last island on the ride. 60 miles to go! I was feeling ok and a mile or so on I passed The Stoker and the car, parked up just where we'd planned. I gestured I was going to carry on. They knew the next meet point. It was just after this that I had one of the most enjoyable single miles of cycling ever. The same wind that had given me such trouble was now behind me and a slight downhill section gave me easy speed for virtually no effort. Fantastic.
Sadly, it didn't last. This part of the road isn't hilly per se it just rolls up and down. It twists and turns, or at least it seemed to. For one reason or another I was not enjoying it. Two pleasant incidents remain with me. As I plodded up another slope (not a hill just one of what were becoming infernal obstacles) I passed some local youths hanging about at a building. I don't know why but I thought I might get some abuse. I was most surprised, therefore, when one of them said "Good luck". Maybe he surmised that a lycra-clad cyclist on a road bike was targeting the top of the island as his end point of the day. Still, it cheered me up a little. And the second was a really nice piece of driving from a bus driver. He waited very patiently as I ground up yet another obstacle. As soon as I could I moved as far left as I could (into a sort of hard shoulder) to let him past. He went and then almost immediately had to stop at a bus stop. I think we were both a little amused as I had to overtake him. Luckily the next time was much easier for him but he did give me a decent amount of space which was very nice.
This section of road has a huge amount of riding beside or near water. Both open sea lochs and small pools in the landscape. And it was by one of these little ponds that I saw my only roadie of the day. It was nice to see a cyclist. Since the climb over to Tarbert I hadn't seen another. Then, in the way of things, I came up behind a touring bike. We were both making the climb up to the fork in the road at Leurbost. The main road carries on to Stornaway but the Hebridean Way takes the road to the west side of the island past Callanish. I did catch him but it took a long time and given I was on a skinny bike and he was heavily laden I was beginning to doubt my ability to finish this one off.
I thought I was supposed to meeting the car at, or just after, the turn off but there was no sign. I phoned. "Up near the next junction". Sigh. "Are you ok"? Yes, I'll make it there. Two and a bit miles. Into the wind, and overall slightly uphill. Virtually no speed at all and no go in the legs. I saw the car. I parked up, had a sandwich and, very reluctantly, binned the ride. The next section headed west to Callanish and I just couldn't face the wind again. I was gutted then and I'm still gutted now. One bonus of stopping was getting my brain in gear again a little and taking this photo of the view from the road.
|You just can't see the wind...|
Really the rest"And", you might say. And you'd be correct. The next day was truly hideous and it was tourist time. The Callanish stones are impressive and the cafe was good. I felt for some cyclists we saw there; wet tired and generally not having a good time. Still, it gave my legs a wee chance to recover. And the day after that The Stoker dropped me and the bike at the place I got off.
It was still windy; probably about the same strength as when I'd abandoned two days earlier. But I was more prepared this time and happier to try my luck. And having been a tourist in between I'd seen some of the road. That always helps. It places little markers in your mind to help you out. The run down to Callanish was just about as tough as I'd thought it would be. And me and the biker were moved around a fair bit on this section. Luckily cars round there seem to anticipate it and give plenty of space otherwise it could have been nasty.
I passed the car at one of the other Callanish stone rings (look it up; there are lots...). I felt fine now, and I knew that the wind was probably going to help most of the time now. My Strava notes say that from there to Port of Ness was a real blast. And that's my memory of it. The Stoker decided to wait to overtake when they came up behind me because I was going pretty fast...
For anyone reading this to try and glean information about the Hebridean Way, I'd like to point out that this section is not flat either. It rolls up and down. If you are lucky like me then the wind will be coming from the south west and it will push you all the way to Port of Ness. Remember that, unless you are being picked up like me, you will need to cycle back the way into the wind. And I'm not sure I'd fancy that. I met a tandem on their way back from the lighthouse and I flagged them down. We'd seen them once or twice while we were on the islands and I wanted to say well done. They told me they'd been blown clean across the road the day before (when I was cowering from the weather) which had damaged both tyres. Luckily a local had picked them up, taken them to Stornaway where they'd got replacements and brought them back to the bike. How good is that?
The ride wasn't without it's concerns. There were big black clouds about and eventually I caught just the very edge of one. Just as I took the small road from Port of Ness to the Butt of Lewis. It's easy to miss and even though I knew this, I still managed it. I passed some other cyclists on this section of road, again laden as I was not. And the wind was making its presence known. The rain went as quickly as it had come and the end came quickly enough, on the rougher lighthouse road, and suddenly I was there. So was the car and The Stoker who, by some miracle, had found take-away coffee in Port of Ness. Glorious.
It was here, as we looked around, that I found the end of the Heb Way marker which made me think there should be one at the beginning. I'll have to go back.....
|Happy enough - even if I was two days late!|
|The Butt of Lewis is an amazing place. The wind was whipping up the sea.|