Monday, September 05, 2016

Tour d'Ecosse Day 5 Isles of Barra Eriskay South Uist Benbecula Grimsay North Uist Berneray and Harris Wednesday 6th July 2016

Tour d'Ecosse Day 5 Isle of  Barra to Isle of Harris 132km 550m ascent
Cumulative: 373km 3528m ascent Ferries 8 Islands 12
Iain Brady's superb otter statue at Ardmhor Ferry Terminal on Barra
Cycling the Hebridean Way is one of the main highlights of our holiday. From our research it seems most people allow a week. We're attempting it in 2 1/2 days including getting back to Stornoway from Butt of Ness for the ferry on Friday afternoon. Are we mad? We would have loved 4-5 days to explore but then we could not attempt Bealach na Ba next week. If only time wasn't so limited. However, we did get the prevailing wind right by cycling south to north. Mark Beaumont officially launched the route (that has been here forever) earlier this year, and you can get a taste of the scenery from his You Tube video here. I have just realised that he did it over two days like us, not counting the return trip to Stornoway.

We left the comfy and warm Dunard Hostel in Castlebay at 8am. An early start after sampling one of those instant oat pots that you make with boiling water. If starving and that is all that is available they are OK, otherwise they are disgusting, even the posh Stoats one. Like watery cement. On that gastronomic low point we set off on our 100km+ day, and it's not raining. A very pleasant 15km circuit of Hebridean Way Island #2 aka Isle of Barra (Vatersay was #1 yesterday) was completed in the dry to hit the Calmac Ferry terminal in Ardmhor for the Barra to Eriskay Ferry #7 in time for the 9.25 sailing that takes half an hour. We already have our CalMac Hopscotch 8 tickets. I missed this gorgeous Otter statue, pic courtesy of Steve.
Isle of Barra
The weather is closing in on the Sound of Eriskay.
Once over the causeway from Eriskay (Island #3) to South Uist (Island #4) we were searching for a morning coffee and cake stop and spied the Borrodale Hotel where the road forks to Lochboisdale. To say it was slugging it down would be an understatement. We were wet to the bones after less than 20km from the ferry. We needed a second breakfast and hot coffee. It was a doomed café. One other family were already sitting down, (we then kept bumping into them during the day) and were having a hard time finding anyone to serve them. Eventually, after a joint search party, we dragged someone out from behind the bar area. The concept of scones and coffee at 11am on a Wednesday in high season seemed a bit beyond them. The sign did say Café Open! In the end we had a choice of yesterday's scones or the end of a Victoria Sponge. Goodness only knows how old that was. The coffee and scones finally came, I swear they were old Co Op ones, not home made. Do not go here! 
Looking at the weather from the cafe with no cake or service
The weather didn't let up all day, wet to the core but fortunately a very strong (near gale) tailwind so we lopped off the kilometres, whilst seeing very little. The temperature topped out at 12 degrees.
A causeway connects South Uist to Benbecula (Island #5). Quite a large Co Op loomed so we stopped and bought supplies in case there were no cafés or pubs, including a half bottle of medicinal whisky for the hostel tonight. We came across the friendly family from the hotel who were very admiring of what we were doing and sympathetic to our plight!
An "Island Deli" sign distracted us, lunch! It was amazing, bright, sparkly, cheerful café and small deli serving great panini and home made soup combo that made/saved our day. We warmed up a bit, totally steaming we were! Very highly recomended. The staff were so nice and no hint of distaste at our dripping forms. Refuelled we headed back out and continued north. Another causeway to Grimsay (Island #6) and on to North Uist (Island #7). We followed the west coast up North Uist, but could hardly see anything, and turned north through Sollas. The weather is consistent.
North Uist I think!
Still smiling
A white blissful better weather anyway
The road keeps going to Berneray
Another causeway across to wild Berneray (Island #8). We were heading for the lovely looking independent Gatliff Hostel on Berneray, no bookings are taken at any of the three Gatliff hostels on the Outer Hebrides, just turn up and pay £14 a night Gatliff claim they have never turned anyone away. Look at the lovely photos on their site of what our scenery should have been like! However, a couple of cars had passed us, and as we went past the ferry terminal a boat was in. The last ferry of the day to Harris was at 17.20. It was after 5, it had never occured to us we could catch the last boat, totally fortuitous. We made a very hasty decision to jump on it, Ferry #8 as we were contemplating a very early start for the 7.15am ferry in the morning and we were not going to see anything in this weather. We saw our friendly family again in the car queue who were really impressed with our progress. The chug from Beneray across the Sound of Harris to Leverburgh on Harris (Island #9) took an hour, covered by our Hopscotch 8 ticket again. I stood under the hand drier for ages, we feasted on mutton pie and grapes and this ferry even had a coffee machine, fabulous!

There is a very lovely looking Am Bothan Bunkhouse in Leverburgh whom I rang from the ferry, but unfortunately the very apologetic owner was completely full with the whole hostel booking by a scout party. We cycled off the ferry a little despondent. The plan to keep stopping at any BnB signs we saw, it was 7pm and still slugging it down.

We only saw one sign and that was for Ben View B and B in Leverburgh. Siane answered the door beaming, totally unfazed by our bedraggled appearance, she told us the nightly rate and apologised that only a twin was available, which we gladly accepted at £90 and ushered us inside after opening the garage for our bikes. Ben View is an excellent B&B with fabulous owners and great service and breakfast and not only because we would have accepted a stone floor out of the rain at that point, we would certainly choose to come back too. Siane and Mike dried our clothes and shoes, there was proper home made shortbread (big tick from me) fresh milk, and they invited us to bring our picnic into the dining room and provided plates etc as there was no way we were cycling back up to the port for the one and only pub in this weather. Hypothermia was setting in. The room was lovely with a view of the Ben...supposedly. We were conned, no 'Ben' in view at all tonight. Oh well, sometimes you have to compromise ha ha.
No view of a Ben at Ben View!
An epic day to say the least....the wettest day doing anything ever, but the near gale was mostly a tailwind. It was brilliant going to sleep knowing that we just had to have breakfast and leave in reasonable time in the morning and not be out on a 7am ferry. The leap of faith going "off piste" was now worth it.

Fortunately the  phone app version of Strava is clever and cuts out ferry distance if stopped and started, Garmin doesn't. I erased the separate Garmin tracks and took claiming July's 130km Gran Fondo. I am aiming to complete the Strava Gran Fondo every month this year, Strava state the distance, July and August are the longest at 130km, 7 months down 5 to go. My next chance will be 31st July for Ride London but if I didn't make that for any reason my year goal would be up the creek. 8 Islands in one day. Practically no ascent but still a very memorable day. We will just have to return. I would not even swap a day like today for a day on a boring beach in too-hot-sun in Spain. This tour is just amazing. Steve says he'll take the Spanish beach at the moment.

Touring Tips in Scotland

1 Sometimes it rains a lot for days, not a disaster if prepared for winter conditions. arm warmers, leg warmers, substantial rain jacket. Changes of cycle kit for following day as with the best will in the world it doesn't dry out overnight in these conditions even with radiators on full blast.

2 Sometimes you just have to wing it.
3 Cycle south to north in the Outer Isles, mostly the prevailing wind is south westerly which makes life easier.

Tour d'Ecosse quick links:

Day 1 Isle of Arran and a little Mull of Kintyre
Day 2 Inner Hebrides: Isles of Islay and Jura
Day 3 Inner Hebrides: Isle of Jura-Tayvallich to Oban
Day 4 Oban to Outer Hebrides: Barra and Vatersay
Day 5 Outer Hebrides: Isles of Barra Eriskay South Uist Benbecula Grimsay North Uist Berneray and Harris
Day 6 Outer Hebrides: Isles of Harris and Lewis to Callanish Stones
Day 7 Outer Hebrides: Butt of Ness to Stornoway and Ullapool
Day 8 Ullapool to Gairloch
Day 9 Gairloch to Shieldaig - Applecross Peninsula
Day 10 Bealach na Bà from Applecross to Plockton
Day 11 Plockton to Inner Hebrides: Isle of Skye Armadale
Day 12 Inner Hebrides: Isle of Skye Armadale to Ardnamurchan
Day 13 Ardnamurchan to Inner Hebrides: Isle of Mull to Oban to Loch Melfort
Day 14 Loch Melfort to Tarbert, Loch Fyne
Day 15 Tarbert Loch Fyne to Ardrossan THE END!

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