If you’re a paid-up member of Cycle Action, you’ll have received friendly emails from Jane Admore, our cherished membership secretary. She’s also an intrepid bike tourist, and is currently pedalling around the British Isles while waiting for a grandchild to arrive. Here’s her report from the Outer Hebrides….
We’ve only been away for 3 weeks, and yet it feels like we’ve had about 3 months of bombardments of new experiences. Barra, the largest southerly island of the Western Isles (or Outer Hebrides) is a gem. You arrive by ferry at Castlebay, a small town with – true to its name – a ruined castle in the harbour.
It’s a day’s ride around the island, and along the way you’ll see white sand beaches, low-lying machair meadows full of wild flowers, gnarly rocky mountains, cowering little cottages (plain stone or whitewashed), and cemeteries containing nothing but McNeils or McKinnons.
We spent one night in luxury, and then, because all else was booked out, spent a gorgeous night camping with other cyclists who had battled the prevailing wind by coming down the isles from the north – handy for us, as they were full of tips about places we had yet to visit.
We caught Ferry No. 8 (I love the ferries!) to little Eriskay, then biked along the causeway to South Uist, where we camped at Kilbride. Something about the spot reminded of a swim I’d taken on Stewart Island, and after a lovely but blowy evening I thought I might re-enact that southerly swim in the morning… but alas it dawned bleak, as it often has, before clearing later in the day. (It’s officially late summer, but we’re still hoping to get above 12 or 13 degrees and down to fewer than 3 layers of clothing.)
We headed to our ‘blackhouse‘ hostel; one of the old reed and stone houses, which had no chimneys but burnt peat. Much updated now, and full of great fellow bunkers.
The roads on the islands are mainly ‘single track’: one well-sealed lane wide, with heaps of passing bays, and all beautifully calmed for cyclists. The Uists and Berneray are quite flat, and riders are hurried along by rain and over causeways. There’s water everywhere and sheep all over the place and also little shaggy ponies, but no trees! Berneray has gorgeous white sand beaches, but was very blustery, so we spent a lazy day there before getting the delayed ferry over to Harris. (Harris is the southern part of the largest island, with the northerly part known as Lewis)
We spent a night at the rather gloomy town of Leverburgh, founded by Lord Leverhulme, who in 1918 purchased the island from its previous owner, James Matheson, who’d bought it after making his fortune in the opium trade. As one half of the Lever Brothers, Lord Leverhulme washed the island clean of its opium associations via his Lux and Lifebuoy empire, but didn’t have much success in turning it into the industrial fishing capital of his dreams. (Leverhulme also “thought the only healthy way to sleep was outdoors in the wind and the rain”, according to Wikipedia. No word on whether he was into cycle touring.)
We took a brilliant ride up the spectacular west coast of South Harris. Along the way: a gorgeous bird centre with a cafe; gloomy mountains oozing waterfalls through heather; golden beaches, swanky tourist retreats and a decent climb with a tail wind then a drop to the crenellated east coast. We stayed in one of the tiny fishing and crofting settlements called Drinishader for two comfy nights, before heading, as the old song says, over the sea to Skye…
— Jane Admore