The Hebrides by Bike – Day three: the Uists, when the wind blows

I slept like the proverbial log at Borve. The sound of the sea lulled me to sleep and I didn’t stir… a rare decent night for me on the Thermarest. I awoke with ‘tent face’ – bucket-bags under my eyes. Bleary-eyed and not beautiful.

I chatted again to my new Reverend friend, broke camp in the rain and hit the road. I had a ferry to catch.

The roads of Barra were not appealing in the murk. Grey houses lined the tarmac and rusting bikes were left abandoned on verges or rested forlornly against wire boundary fences.

I passed a lonely lochan (Loch an Duin) and instinctively checked for rising trout. A stiff breeze combed the steely surface and fish spotting was impossible.

Continuing along the A888, I turned left heading towards the airport (landing strip on the sand) and then right to Aird Mhor Ferry terminal. This turned out to be a well-kept timber building with small garden containing a rather neat sculpture of a pair of otters chasing a salmon.

I sat and waited for the boat and chatted to a group of cycle tourists heading to Stornaway. I ended up perusing their far superior map, which they gave to me as they had a spare – generosity I was to find later on my trip.

The crossing was chilly to Eriskay, but the rain had stopped and, true to forecast, the sun broke through the clouds. Leaving the ferry, a stiff climb led to a store in the village and I stocked up on ‘gack’ or road fuel. Approaching the checkout with far too much chocolate, I swapped some bars for bananas.

Chores done, I started to ride with rhythm and slipped into the tempo of my journey. Crossing the first of many causeways that would rumble under my wheels that day, I breathed deeply and took in my surroundings.

The B888 headed north and a strong tailwind made progress easy. The western side of the Uists is predominantly flat with water becoming an increasingly common theme the further I pedalled. Lochans were everywhere and while I saw plenty of parked cars and angling club notices, I saw no-one with rod and line. To the east, the ground was rougher, with low mountains providing an impressive backdrop.

The morning passed at pace and I realised I was rattling along. The tail wind was a keen ally and, without a cycling computer, I could only guess at my speed. However, not once did I move from the big ring on the chainset or the top three sprockets on the block. Too fast, therefore.

I turned off the main road and headed east to beautiful beaches. Single-track lanes crossed the boggy, low land and connected lonely houses.

Back on the main road, I passed hotels with stark, unwelcoming signs and businesses that had been abandoned – left to rot. Life is tough up here and nowhere really encouraged me to stop.

I soon reached Benbecula, a beautiful word that I’d come across before providing the name for a now sadly defunct Scottish record label.

The island delivered more of the same in terms of scenery, and I couldn’t help being reminded of family beach holidays of my youth: grey buildings, deserted dunes, jumpers to fight against the wind. I stopped for more food and was introduced to the excellent local oatcakes and pies.

I continued to rattle along, propelled by the wind, and soon arrived at North Uists where the landscape became distinctly more upland. I took the A867, a fantastic road crossing fantastic scenery… it reminded me of a mini Rannoch Moor. It led to Lochmaddy and possible a bunkhouse for the night. However, on reaching the pretty village and stocking up with more water I decided to press on to Berneray for a planned ‘wildcamp’ near the hostel – two Hebrides thatched cottages.

I’m glad I did.

The road to the island and its small community was stunning, the best so far of the trip. The evening light enriched the expansive landscape and, despite a long-ish day in the saddle, I felt at one with the bike and the load. I had, after the false start and sickness, adjusted fully to my journey.

Crossing my last causeway near the ferry terminal, I bought two bottles of local beer and food at Ardmaree Stores and Lobster Pot and followed the road to the beach.

It was a fantastic camping spot, and for £7 you could user the hostel facilities. I pitched and sat back, drinking in the scene of low islands and over to Skye beyond. A perfect spot for the night.

Before turning in, I met Alan and Mel, two cycle tourists making their way to Stornaway. We compared notes and vowed to meet for the 10.15am ferry to Harris…

10 thoughts on “The Hebrides by Bike – Day three: the Uists, when the wind blows

  1. G’day, A question for you. At what times of year is cycling in Scotland pleasant/survivable? Obviously your recent blog posts give hints, but for a touring trip when in the new year would you consider touring again?

    1. Hi, thanks for dropping by. This is a good question. If I had to select one month, it would be May. The weather can be very kind ( I stress ‘can’, but be prepared for snow!), the days are long and the midges not at their horrible best (more of a consideration if you plan to camp). It’s a great place for a bike tour when you get off the beaten track. So many places I’d still like to ride through… a week trundling through Assynt with a fly rod strapped to the bike 🙂

  2. I’ve made trips to the Western Isles in May and late Sept/Early October over several years. I found them both good times. October can get a bit cool and of course the days are shorter, which is actually good when you’re wild camping. Mind you, I slept a good 12 hours straight after a ride from Tokavaig in Sleat,Skye to the top of the Applecross Pass.

  3. Hi, Great blog!
    My brother and I are planning this for June 2016, so your insights are food for thought. A qustion about equipment. What (if any) cooking facilities did you take/use. I’m thinking of getting something like the MSR microrocket. Would you think this adequate & how plentiful/scarce are opportunities to buy gas refills & other non-food camping consumablesin th Hebrides?

    1. Hi there, thanks for dropping by. I took my ever reliable Pocket Rocket and I don’t think you’ll have trouble finding gas cannisters. That said, I carried a couple with so had no need for resupply. Other basic camping consumables were available from general stores, campsites and the like. I hope you have an amazing trip and am glad you found the blog useful. Please let me know how you get on.

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