The Hebrides by Bike – Day one and two, and a false start

In common with other Beta Males, I’m not very good at being sick. I mope around the house feeling sorry for myself and emitting pathetic whimpers while snotting into my soup.

Unsavoury as this image may be, my pallor and conduct were even worse while stuck at Oban campsite recovering from a debilitating sickness bug. Thank the lord for ‘Aggers and the gang and the ever-excellent Test Match Special. Without them, I would have been shaking a fist and shouting at the blackbirds.

Had my condition not improved by Sunday morning, then plans for a trip through the Western Isles by bike may have had to change. However, I managed to get through the first hour of the day without singing into the toilet bowl and, with a relatively light day cycling and five hours on a ferry, thought it was time to hit the road.

Although there are free car parks in Oban where you can leave a car while you head out to the islands for a few days, I decided to pay a very reasonable £2 a day and have my car locked in a spare field at the campsite. I’d do this again in future.

Bidding the campground manager a fond farewell, I pedalled tentatively down a pretty lane to the town… a route I’d paced with the camera the previous two days desperately trying to get well. It felt great to be riding at last.

I locked the bike in town, bought my no 23 hopscotch and killed some time with TMS and, eventually, the most enormous portion of fish and chips. I needed to feed my system with calories after the consuming just three digestive biscuits over the previous 48 hours.

I joined a bevy of other excitable cyclists at the ferry terminal – some like me bound for Barra, some for Lochboisdale and the Uists. The ferryman glanced at my Hopscotch and said: ‘So, going all the way to the top are we? Should be grand!’

I parked my bike ahead of the cars and made quickly for the upper deck to take in the view. Mountains and islands slipped by and I tried to focus on the journey ahead rather than the location of the nearest toilet.

We reached Castlebay on the dot at 8.30pm and I disembarked into a gloomy evening. I pedalled around the village looking for something, not really sure what.

I followed Barra’s main road to the west and eventually happened upon a campsite at Borve, which had a fine vantage point over the day and a working toilet and water tap.

I pitched the tent quickly and a van arrived. £5 for the night, the chap said, and he highlighted the meagre facilities to underline the value of the transaction. I realise I could have wild camped, but it was late and the pitch was flat… so flat you could probably have calibrated a sprit level by it.

With my pitch organised a fellow camper came over for a chat. I recognised him from the Oban site. He was a man of the cloth and was a frequent flyer to the Highlands and Islands. He seemed pleased to have a rare Sunday off.

In common with other clergy I’ve met, he spoke with a calm authority. I enjoyed his company, although I don’t think he necessarily approved of me espousing the qualities of Norman MacCaigs’s poetry – a writer sceptical of religion.

We chatted until late, enjoying what can only be described as softening light rather than darkness. Bidding one another goodnight, I retreated to the tent and listened to waves crashing on the nearby craggy shore…

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