We woke to grey skies, a few droplets on the flysheet the only trace of the rain that had fallen overnight. Fog hung over the hills we’d crossed the previous evening. We ate a banana each, took the tent down, and hit the road.
Just up the road a small sign announced that we were now entering the Isle of Lewis. A light drizzle set in as we pedalled along Loch Seaforth. We’d gone from cycling in shorts and t-shirts and being roasted to a crisp by the sun to cycling in fleeces and coats and getting a free shower from the clouds in the space of twelve hours.
We reached Balallan just after 09.00, and – as seemed to be the theme of this trip – the café was closed. (We assumed this was because we were early, but when we passed by a couple of days later in the afternoon, it was also closed. Maybe it’s only open on weekends.) We sheltered by a wall, wolfed down a Mars bar each, and scanned the map for somewhere on-route that would have hot food.
Further on, the road forked: the Hebridean Way follows the A858, while the A859 leads into Stornoway. We decided to detour to the petrol station, a hundred metres or so past the junction, on the A859, and boy was that a good decision. Hello, hot food (and, as the sign promised, ‘loads of other goodies’). I came out with a packet of Red Delicious apples (they lived up to their name), a bag of Haribo cola bottles, and a sausage roll (Cashier: ‘Small or large?’ Me: ‘Large.’). Is there anything better than a flaky, buttery sausage roll on a cold, wet day?
Refuelled and ready to resume our ride, we pedalled back up the road to rejoin the Hebridean Way. Since time was on our side, we decided to venture out to Uig (on the recommendation of the two cyclists we’d chatted to the previous day, who had evidently done more pre-trip research than we had).
We peeled off onto the B8011, which alternated between two lanes and single track as it wiggled through the hillside and round the lochs. Whether it was the admittedly sub-par weather or the fact we were there outside peak holiday season, Uig felt remote, wild and untouched. A smattering of cars and motorhomes passed us, but on the whole we had the road pretty much to ourselves.
Much of this part of the Isle of Lewis is moorland interspersed with lochs and set against a backdrop of rugged peaks. Even when it’s drizzly and overcast, it looks atmospheric.
When the rain cleared, the wind came. Gently, at first – little gusts blowing us along every so often. And then, just past Miavaig, we hit a wind tunnel that was nothing short of savage. It was the sort of wind that makes a metre feel like a mile. The sort that blasts you in the face and blows you sideways when you want to go straight on. The sort that, eventually, forces you to get off your bike and walk until it subsides for a few moments and you can hop back on.
When Uig Community Shop came into sight, we breathed a sigh of relief. At last: somewhere dry, with food – and, as it turned out, a hot drinks machine and a toilet. What more could a weary cyclist ask for? We bought a steaming cup of hot chocolate each, plus some crisps and ham to go with our bagels for lunch, and headed back up the hill to take refuge in a bus shelter.
We were amused to see that the timetable, complete with the multi-coloured Word Art I used to use in my school days, stuck up inside was dated 2007. These days, a local runs a ‘by request’ minibus service for those without their own wheels. Lunch munched, we headed back towards the Hebridean Way. Fortunately, it wasn’t quite so windy on the return leg and we had some speedy downhill sections (hello 42kmph, it’s been a while). We even ended up bumping into the two cyclists who’d recommended this detour on our way back to rejoin the route.
At Garynahine – where the B8011 meets the Hebridean Way – we pulled over and surveyed the map. Our eyes landed on a little purple tent icon at Shawbost, some twenty-odd kilometres further up the road. We Googled the campsite to find a contact number, and Laurence rang up to book us a pitch.
Moments later, the Callinish Stones (or Clachan Calanais in Gaelic) came into view: a cluster of rocks – some tall and thin, others short and stout – crowning a hill on the edge of the village. Arriving late in the day meant we had the site almost to ourselves, and with only a couple of other groups pottering around it was easy to snap some decent photos.
The Callanish Stones date back to 2900-2600 BC (making them older than Stonehenge), though their purpose remains a mystery. We wandered around the site, pausing at one end to read the information plaques. Local legend has it that the Callanish Stones are giants that were turned to stone when they refused to convert to Christianity.
Spurred on by the prospect of our first shower in four days*, we set off for the campsite. Sunshine compensated for the weary legs on this last stretch, and the miles passed quickly. We rolled up at the campsite around seven, received a warm welcome from the owners and were pointed towards our pitch – a neatly mowed, flat and, perhaps most importantly, midge-free spot. We pitched the tent, cooked tea and then found the showers. (£1 for eight minutes of utter bliss, and quite possibly the best quid I’ve ever spent.)
*We weren’t completely filthy; we did have a packet of baby wipes for wiping the day’s grime away on shower-less days.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
- Amenities | Pedal past the turn-off for the A858 and you’ll hit a petrol station within minutes. You’ll find the usual fare – cupboard staples and sugary snacks – here, plus a hot food counter and hot drinks. If you detour out towards Uig, as we did, there’s a community shop (with a hot drinks machine, for which you’ll need the exact change) near Timsgarry.
- 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 | 123.3km/77.1 miles; 1,411m of elevation gain. (Knock about 60km/37.5 miles, and a fair chunk of the elevation gain, off this if you don’t fancy detouring to Uig.)
- Misc. | Eilean Fraoich Campsite is a friendly, family-run campsite in Shawbost, Lewis. We paid £15 for a tent (two adults) in June 2021. For up-to-date information, go to www.eileanfraoich.co.uk.