If I had to pick a favourite day on the Hebridean Way, this would probably be it. Why? We had glorious weather (always a plus), and some of the best views – of both beaches and mountains – from the saddle yet.
Laurence heard a faint hiss in the night and, sure enough, by the time we woke up my bike was sporting a flat tyre. With my puncture fixed (thanks to Laurence) and the tent packed away, we hit the road. Forty-odd kilometres of gently undulating farmland lay between us and Berneray. We cruised through Bayhead, and inadvertently went slightly off-route a little further up the road. (Heaven only knows how we managed that, but fortunately the road we’d gone down tipped us back on course a couple of kilometres later.)
We decided against venturing up to the St. Kilda viewpoint, and settled instead for a view of Haskeir, an exposed and uninhabited island, and Haskeir Eagach, a cluster of five skerries, thirteen kilometres off the coast of North Uist.
We stopped in Sollas to fuel up: a strawberry and banana smoothie to share, and a packet of four pains au chocolat. We ate one each, took one look at each other, and promptly helped ourselves to another. Clouds swirled overhead, and grey skies gave way to blue.
We rolled onto Berneray and, again, managed to use our tickets on an earlier ferry than planned. (I use the word ‘planned’ in a pretty loose sense, as we didn’t do much planning ahead of this trip – and once we’d cycled further than planned on our first day on the Hebridean Way, most of the planning we had done went out of the window.) Ahead: Harris.
Once in Leverburgh, I stopped at the community shop to top up our supply of Mars bars. We had lunch on our minds and fancied a caffeine hit, so we turned off towards Northton. Although the café was unfortunately closed on Mondays, the owner was happy for us – and two other cyclists, also fresh off the ferry – to use their picnic tables.
One of the things I love about walking – or, in this case, cycling – long distance routes, is that you often pick up tips from others doing the route along the way. We ended up chatting to one of the other cyclists before we left, and they recommended a detour to Uig if we had time. (We took them up on their suggestion – more on that in the next post.)
Cows, and their adorable calves, grazed by Scarista Beach. Just up the road, we spotted some quirky eco-cottages built into the hillside. I couldn’t help but think Bilbo Baggins wouldn’t have looked out of place here.
Whether it was our uncharacteristic lack of planning or the fact we were following a waymarked route and relying upon signposts to know where we were at any given time, we often found ourselves savouring the views without knowing what we were looking at. Case in point: the area around Luskentyre. Luskentyre Beach, it turns out, regularly appears on Lonely Planet’s lists of best beaches – and for good reason, as it is a stunner – but at the time, we were totally oblivious to this. Seeing a place in the flesh for the first time, rather than through the lens of social media, is magical.
As we pedalled inland, the road started to climb. It went up, and up, and up. People will tell you there’s a big hill going out of Tarbert. There is, but what they forget to mention is that there’s also a big hill going into Tarbert. In short: prepare yourself for a stonking great big hill on each side of Tarbert. Fortunately, the views more than make up for the tired legs.
We swung by Tarbert to pick up supplies for the next couple of days – bagels, bananas, ginger cake, crisps, water – plus ice creams and a Coke to enjoy there and then in the sunshine. With time ticking on, it was time to start thinking about where we’d pitch up that night. Onwards and upwards into the hills we went, for there are no campsites or suitable areas for wild camping around Tarbert.
Although you can wild camp (almost anywhere) in Scotland, until you’re ‘on location’, it can be quite hard to gauge exactly where you’ll be able to pitch up. We read up on the Scottish Outdoor Access Code beforehand, and knew we needed to avoid roads, buildings and enclosed farm land. So far, so easy. Until you’re pedalling through the Outer Hebrides and realise that there’s an awful lot of farmland, and most of what isn’t farmland is one huge peaty bog.
We pedalled over the hills, stopping occasionally to wheel our bikes away from the road and test the ground. At the slightest squelch underfoot, we’d turn back, keep cycling, and try again further on. (With distinctly iffy weather forecast for the coming days, I wasn’t taking my chances on us going to sleep on some peaty moorland and waking up in peaty-moorland-turned-bog.) Fortunately, we hit the jackpot near Ardvourlie with a reasonably sheltered, midge-free, dry pitch.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
- Transport | Caledonian MacBrayne run up to four ferries a day between Berneray and Leverburgh (Harris) and, as of June 2021, a single ticket for a foot passenger cost £3.80. There’s no extra cost for bikes, nor a requirement to reserve a place for them in advance. Book tickets at www.calmac.co.uk; their Twitter feed (@CalMacFerries) provides regular service updates and fields customer queries.
- Amenities | Plenty on this leg, you’ll be pleased to hear. Sollas (North Uist), Leverburgh and Tarbert (both on Harris) all have well-stocked local shops. I suspect Berneray does too, since two guys on our ferry were busy munching on a loaf of bread and a gooey triangle of brie. We spotted cafés in Northton (open Wednesday to Sunday, and unfortunately closed the day we passed through) and Ardhasaig (closed for the day by the time we cycled past around 17.00).
- Maps and guides | Buy yourself a pocket-sized Hebridean Way Cycling Map (£3.99; postage free) from Visit Outer Hebrides before you go: it shows you the route, plus various amenities along the way.
- Distance | 93.69km/58.5 miles; 1,060m of elevation gain.
- Misc. | Planning on wild camping? Familiarise yourself with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code before you go (www.outdooraccess-scotland.scot/practical-guide-all/camping). In a nutshell: respect the countryside and leave no trace.