Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Tour d'Ecosse Day 6 Isles of Harris and Lewis to Callanish Stones Thursday 7th July 2016

Tour d'Ecosse Day 6 Isles of Harris and Lewis 113km 1187m ascent
Cumulative: 486km 4715m ascent Ferries 8 Islands 13
Callanish Stones
Ben View on Harris does have a view of the Ben!
It was so good not having to be up before 6 to catch an early ferry. Even better it was dry and we had a view of the Ben from Ben View B&B in Leverburgh on Harris this morning. Breakfast was lovely, one of the days I had a lovely home made compote and yogurt. We retrieved our bikes from the cosy shed across the road and took bets on when the forecast rain would start. We took the west coast route round Harris

We cycled past Seilebost Beach which is just stunning. Over to the west was Taransay where Castaway 2000 was located and filmed. Even in murk, the sea round Harris is turquoise, with perfect white sand. I remembered the beaches and sea colour from our honeymoon 28 years ago, but we haven't been back since. We passed a nice looking Arts Café but it was far too early for coffee and cake after a big breakfast.
Seilebost Beach, Isle of HarrisHarris
As we pulled up towards Lewis we diverted into the natural harbour of Tarbert (the Harris one not the Loch Fyne one) and a ferry was in port, that we were not actually utilising, to Uig on Skye, which was the route we had used 28 years ago. The First Fruits Tearoom was great tea shop but the cake slices were a bit small for cyclists. It was buzzing, and a welcome respite from the now very steady rain. Back up the steep pull from the harbour to tackle the big mountains.
Tarbert, Isle of Harris
Rugged Beauty of Isle of Lewis.
There is only one choice of road heading towards Liurbost, and it got wild very quickly, as was the weather which was approaching gale force with solid slabs of horizontal rain, fortunately more of a tailwind than a headwind again. A stiff climb into the Harris Hills, over 15% for 500m or so, and we were in remote mountains now, more reminiscent of winter mountaineering trips than a balmy bike ride. The descent was scary, being blown all over the road and leaning into the wind we inched our way down. There was no traffic so at least that was of no concern but we did pass a few cyclists heading in the opposite direction, on foot. They were having to walk up into the teeth of the gale, we had the far more preferable option.
Scary descending into Lewis buffeted by gale force winds
Moody Lewis
At Luirbost, down out of the weather somewhat and quite relieved that neither of us came off, we hunted in vain for the pub for a late lunch and didn't find it. We pushed on to Callanish, knowing there was a visitor centre and the storm clouds were lightening, the rain had stopped and we rolled along drying out. We made the pile of old stones...! A bit smaller than Stonehenge. I tried some arty photos. There is no charge to look round.
Callanish Stones Isle of Lewis
I'm still standing...yeah yeah yeah!
"Calanais" in Gaelic
Peter McRabbit at the Callanish Café
We devoured very visitor centre-y standard fish and chips as a late lunch come early dinner, not wonderful but very well received given how hungry we were. We watched Peter McRabbit outside snuffling about.

Suitably refreshed we climbed aboard the bikes for the last push up to Carloway and our pre-booked independent hostel. We did see a group of cyclists at the only garage/shop at the turn to Callanish, turned out they were heading the same way as us via Callanish to the The Gearrannan Blackhouse Village and Hostel. We arrived first and the very efficient village manager appeared, showed us about, asked if we wanted breakfast in the morning (£8 extra) and told us one other group of 7 (6 in one dorm and one in with us in the other dorm) were due, and were we OK to show them the ropes. We just knew the other 6 would send the inevitable snorer to the luxury of their own dorm, so we decided to upgrade to the family bunk room, £47 for the night (for up to 3) as opposed to £15 for a bunk. We had an early start in the morning and we didn't want to be waking others either.
Gearrannan Hostel Kitchen
This place was even more stunning than I dared hope. Two of the cob houses were a museum open in the day, we were too late to see round which was a huge pity. There is a cafe as well, again office hours, not evening. 
Canada is the next stop westwards...
 A superbly run enterprise, top notch conversions, squeaky clean and very reasonably priced. Remote, there is no nightlife but you make your own. Lashings of hot water, very modern shower rooms and you can stay just one night here or for a few nights/week in a self catering cottage.
Gearrannan Hostel
Gearrannan Self Catering Blackhouses
Wonderful coastal walks down to the beach
Our fellow hostelers were a mountaineering club group older than us! The leader was a keen cyclist and had persuaded everyone to go on a cycling tour for a change, they were doing the Hebriddean Way over a week, not 2/12 days like us, and scaling the highest peak on each island, on foot.. They were enjoying their eating and drinking along the way. We were right, one was a snorer, mercilessly teased by the rest of the party. It was a sociable evening chatting about adventures and sharing a wee dram.

Mark Beaumont's You tube account of his two day traverse of the Hebridean Way is here. Looks like it got wetter for him on Harris and Lewis too!

Another big and challenging day conquered, both in miles, terrain and weather conditions, and another big day tomorrow. We have another ferry to catch from Stornoway early afternoon, but a lot of miles to tick off first.

Touring Tips in Scotland

1 Use independent hostels, they are a world away from the hostels of our youth. Heating, full kitchens and copious hot water

2 Conditions can get seriously dangerous even in summer, risk of hypothermia or being blown off your bike. Don't push it.
3 Stock up/eat when you see a shop/pub/cafe. They are still very few and far between. I know I have already said this tip but it's very true.

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 Beneray 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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