The Outer Hebrides

A few years ago I undertook a cycling/photographic tour of some of the islands which form the Outer Hebrides. I’d lived in Scotland before when the Royal Air Force posted me to RAF Kinloss and I knew how beautiful the country was and also how many of the roads were single track.

The difficulty with driving on single track roads is that when you crest a hill and see a fantastic view spread out below you, there is never anywhere to safely pull up and park. By using a bicycle I’d be able to stop wherever and whenever I wanted and for as long as I wanted.

A trip like this needs a bit of planning…

Hebrides Planning

…and my chosen form of transport needed some tender loving care…

Hebrides Planning Bike

This map shows Oban, where I caught the ferry for the Islands and Castlebay on Barra where, after about twenty hours travelling, I finally arrived at the start and pitched my tent ready for a good night’s sleep. The weather was less than encouraging, oh well, maybe it would be brighter in the morning.

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Passing the Isle of Mull

I finally made landfall and began cycling. But not far as it had been a very long journey from Cambridgeshire so I just wanted to sleep. I quickly found a random beach about 20 minutes from Castlebay itself and pitched my new home.

First night on Barra

The weather was generally cold and very windy, not entirely unexpected as it was early May in the north of Scotland. The wind however was a constant battle and very draining physically. I’d discovered that the prevailing wind in the Hebrides blows from the south, hence my journey beginning in Barra and heading North with the wind towards Harris. Well, that month, the gale force winds decided to come from the north which meant I was fighting a headwind all the way. You know it’s windy when, having slogged up one side of a steep hill on your bike, you have to keep pedalling downhill just to make some progress.

In the interests of scientific investigation (and also because I was knackered) I stopped pedalling and freewheeled down a steep road. The headwind not only stopped me rolling downhill, it actually started to blow me backwards up the hill.

Navigating in the Hebrides is very tricky, sometimes there are two roads to choose from, what’s a chap to do?

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Decisions Decisions?

So. the A888 or the A888? I eventually decided to take the A888, the one that goes past the Heathbank Hotel. A hotel which not only does a fine Sunday lunch but also has a supply of the latest (yesterdays) newspapers, soft, well worn leather armchairs , and an excellent selection of Whiskys. In other words, a perfect place to while away a few hours as the freezing cold wind driven sleet lashed the windows.

Breakfast on Erriskay

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Next morning was a different matter, I’d spent the night on a completely isolated beach miles from the nearest human habitation and woke up to a beautiful sunny day. Breakfast watching the Eider ducks and Seals, perfect.

 

 

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