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Hebrides 2011 - The 'Single track' Odyssey

Part 3 - Harris and Lewis

 

11.08.11 - Berneray to Harris

map linkWe woke to a much better day as the wind had dropped and the sun was just starting to get through. We were quite glad as it was a beautiful spot and we were so glad to see it in good weather. We had plenty of time to get to the ferry, as it didn't leave till 1.30pm. On the way to the ferry we stopped at the tearoom and had a great chat with a couple from Yorkshire who had hired a holiday cottage. When we got to the ferry terminal we met 2 tourers one from Lancashire and the other from Scotland. The Scottish guy had a brand new Dawes Galaxy, which he was very proud of. As we waited for the ferry we had a long discussion about the merits of Brooks saddles and as we sat on the ferry we carried on our cycling discussions as to best routes in Scotland and the chap from Lancashire suggested that we take the route go up the west side.

When we got into Leverburgh we found the local Post Office as we had several things we wanted to post home. We quite often do this as it can save a lot on carrying extra weight. The Postmistress was looking after her young grandson for the day and he was obviously getting bored and running her ragged messing about with the shop displays, he even tried to get into the box we were assembling on the floor! With our parcel sent we headed north on the A859. It was an absolutely gorgeous day as we headed up the west side the scenery was absolutely stunning and as you reach the top of the short climb up Gleann Choisleitir and start descending again you get this wonderful vista of the lovely golden sands of Trŕigh an Taoibh at Thuath with the small hill of Ceapabhal as a backdrop. As we headed towards Sgarasta we had to stop for a herd of cows to pass by as they were being herded on to one of the many hay meadows. As we past the Harris golf course we noticed that it was closed on Sundays, they certainly respect the Sabbath here in the Outer Hebrides. The views just got better and better as we continued around the coast, with firstly views over to Taransay the island that was featured in the BBC series ‘Castaways’ in 2000, which launched the career of Ben Fogle (he is currently trying to by the island which is being offered for sale a 2 million pounds). Then a bit further on we got the lovely views across beautiful blue waters of the sounds of Taransay with the mountains of North Harris in the background.

At Horgabost there was a small pull-in by the side of the road with some picnic tables so we stopped to have a bit of a late afternoon cup of tea and a snack. It was a lovely location with the golden sandy beach of Trŕigh lar, the turquoise blue of the sea and the mountains beyond it was no wonder that there was a chap painting the scene. From there the scenery didn’t decrease as we passed alongside the wide expense of the sands of Corran Sheileboist and started our climb up towards Tarbert. It was early evening and there were some great views looking back to the sound of Taransay. Unfortunately as we cycled up the single-track road we had an altercation with a Scottish fuels tanker who couldn’t wait a few seconds for us to pull in to a passing place and stormed passed us. I couldn’t quite believe he would try and pass us at that point, it is quite unnerving to have those enormous wheels passing just inches from you. I yelled to Frank who was just ahead of me to get off the road as I decide to do the same to avoid getting caught in his rear wheels. Well the air was a bit blue as I waved my fist at him. Oh it just winds me up that drivers are so ignorant to the dangers that cyclists face from long vehicles passing so close! Having calmed down we carried on up the hill without any further incidents from drivers. We decided that we had better find a campsite and looked at the map, unfortunately the terrain wasn’t good for wild camping as it was either too rocky or boggy so we decided on our fall back which was Minch view campsite at Ceann-na-Cleithe. It did mean that we lost a lot of height but on the plus side it did mean we got a nice hot shower!

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12.08.11 - Harris to Loch Čireasort

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We had said to each other as we rolled down to the campsite last night that it was going to be good pull up to the main road in the morning and it was! Fortunately it was downhill all the way into Tarbert! It had started to rain as we pulled on to the plain by the tourist office on Pier road, we decided that if we were to get up the An Cliseam we definitely needed some sustenance, so we headed into the pierhouse café & restaurant at the Hotel Hebrides just opposite. As it was a bit cold and rainy we decided that a bowl of ‘Cullen Skink’ and a cup of tea would warm us up. Unfortunately it wasn’t the best ‘Cullen Skink’ we have had. I think we both have been spoilt by Frank’s rather wonderful seafood chowder recipe. As we sat there in the warm we realised that we couldn’t put off the inevitably climb any longer so got ourselves underway. Although it was raining fairly hard we both decided that we would just get too hot and sweaty in full waterproofs so decide not to wear our waterproof over-trousers. The climb wasn’t quite as bad as we had been led to believe, certainly the first part from the junction of the B887 is quite steep as we were both soon down to bottom gear. However at about 113m it did ease out a bit and we could move up a gear or two. The climb just went on a bit until we reached the first summit at 189m which gave us a little rest bite with a small descent to 136m and then it was a long grind to the final summit near Cliet Ard at 187m. We both managed the whole climb with no faults (we didn’t stop until we had past the last summit) and it wasn’t as bad as the climb out of Eksingadalen in Norway or the climb out of Sey?isfjör?ur in Iceland. As we stopped at a small lay-by just down from the last summit both our shorts and boots were soaked through but we decide to put overtrousers on for the descent just to keep us warm.

The descent wasn't that easygoing as it was still raining hard and we couldn't see very well as the rain was running off our helmet visors and blowing into our eyes and we both had to keep gently pumping the brakes to clear the water off the rims so we could control our speed as the road surface wasn’t too good. By the time we got to Loidse Ath Linne we realised that there was no way we would get to Stornoway that evening as we were both tired and wet through from the thighs down and we could see that we still had a fair few miles to go. We stopped to get water as we could see from the map that there was a forest ahead that might give us a wild campsite. However when we got there it looked very boggy so we decide to press on. As we were approaching Baile Ailein Frank spotted a sign advertising that there was an Inn advertising camping 1 mile along the B8060.

It wasn’t that far off the main road and when we got there and walked into the reception we met the proprietor and she said it wasn’t really a campsite but we could camp on the lawn behind the house and use the hotel’s toilets. We were grateful for anywhere so we sat in the pub’s lounge and drank 2 pots of very welcome tea. The staff were really nice going out of their way to go and get us a gas heater to warm up the lounge for us, which gave us an opportunity to dry out our shorts and boots. We apologised to the proprietor about our wet clothes, she laughed and said that it was no problem as long as we didn’t take them off. I told her that certainly wouldn’t happen. Oh good she said the last set of cyclists we had in were Germans and they had all the gear but it obviously didn’t work very well as they were soaked through and they then stripped off to just their underpants in the lounge bar. She said I wouldn’t have minded but they were nothing to look at! Fortunately it had stopped raining for a short while so we went outside to put the tent up and then came back in for a very welcome meal. Frank had Haddock in beer batter with chips and I had the Lamb shank both washed down with some excellent Islander Hebridean ale and for dessert we both had an excellent apple crumble. The waitress asked us if we liked custard or ice-cream with it. I couldn’t make my mind up so she said I could have a bit of both, it was yummy!

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map link13.08.11 - Loch Čireasort to Stornoway

It was still quite overcast when we woke in the morning but at least it was dry. We set off around the bottom of Loch Čireasort and were soon back on the A 859 heading for Stornoway. At Baille Aileen we stopped at Post Office hoping to get something for lunch but it was only a Post Office with no groceries. As we were waiting out side looking at the map to see if there might be any other shops further on a lady asked if we were lost. I told her that we had stopped hoping to get something for our lunch. On she said there is a gallery just at the end of the village that does snacks. It was only a very small gallery with one table and two chairs but the lady did us a lovely bacon and egg bap with a good pot of tea. The road on from there was quite up adown but by the time we got to the junction to Liurbost it was a fairly easy ride down into Stornoway. We popped into the large Co-op and picked up supplies before heading off to the campsite at Lacasdail, which was just up the A 857 from the town. As it hadn’t taken us very long to get to Stornoway we had a bit of the afternoon left so we took the opportunity to do some clothes washing.

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map link14.08.11 - Stornoway to Siabost

It was a bright morning as we climbed out of Stornoway up the A 857 and across the wild open moorland of North Lewis. It was a steady climb to its highest point at 120m with a strong side wind, part the way along we came across a large white stone that was moved in 1850 by Angus Graham “Strong man of the West Side”. It was a good run down Gleann Mňr Bharabhais to the junction of the A858 at Barabhas, but the last 6 miles after that was hard work as it was straight into a strong 25mph head wind. We turned off at Arnol to have a look at the Arnol Blackhouse museum but unfortunately it was closed, we should have thought that it might be closed, as it was Sunday. As we were hungry and a bit thirsty we sat in the lee of one of the Blackhouses and had a brew and made some cheese sandwiches.

On the way to Shawbost we went through the village of Bragar and stopped to look at the whalebone arch that was erected by the village postmaster and general merchant, Murdo Morrison in 1921. He had salvaged it from a dead whale that had been seen out to sea and was towed into Bragar bay. We also stopped to look at the village war memorial for the service men that died in the 2 world wars and the Iolaire disaster. Eventually after a long slog against the head wind we got to the campsite. It was quite a nice little site and we found a nice little spot in the lee of a small hedge. As it had a nice little kitchen and seating area we decided to cook our meal in the kitchen. When we started there was no one in there but halfway through cooking our smoked fish the place was taken over by about 20 French students. The campsite owner kept coming in to check that they weren’t getting in our way, which was very sweet of her.

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map link15.08.11 - Butt of Lewis

We decided that as we had travelled this far up the Outer Hebrides we might as well go on to the Butt of Lewis to complete the end to end. We decided that we would leave the tent, as we would be coming back this way on our way round to Callanish. It was quite nice to be cycling without the weight of the panniers as we had a good tail wind but we knew that we would heading straight into the wind on the way back. We turned off again at Arnol to have a look at the Arnol Blackhouse museum, as we knew that it would be open today. We were glad we did as it was very interesting to go inside and we had a long chat with one of the curators about its history. It was quite different to any of the old houses that we had been in before as it had its fire in the center of the main living room and not in a fireplace. As we passed through Barabhas we had hoped to find a shop to get something for lunch but there was nothing. Fortunately we found an art gallery just out of the village who did teas, so we stopped and had some mushroom and spinach soup with apple cake to follow.

Just a little way on we came to Siadar and stopped to look at the stone enclosure at Steinacleit. It was another of those ancient sites which archaeologists are still unsure as to whether they were stone circles or enclosed settlements. At Bail Ŕrd Bhuirgh we stopped to have a look at the war memorial, which was of a similar style to the one at Bragar. Unfortunately the straight road is a little uninteresting as the scenery is flat moorland with rather dull grey rendered crofts but we pressed on. Fortunately we found shop at Cros so we could buy something for our lunch. We came across a similar war memorial at Ness and we couldn’t believe how many names we had seen on the 3 war memorials in North Lewis, there were so many names and there were several where there were 3 or 4 brothers from the same family. We decided to have a quick look at Port Nis before cycling on to the Butt of Lewis along the B 8014. When we got to the Butt the Stevenson's lighthouse was a magnificent building and the views of the rocky cliffs made it seem at least worthwhile in making the long trip. It was just after 6.00pm when we left the Butt and it took us just under 3 hours against the strong head wind to get back to the campsite and we arrived just after 9.15pm. It was a long day.

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map link16.08.11 - Siabost to Loch Čireasort

It was actually quite sunny and dry when we packed up the tent, which was good, as we hate having to pack a wet tent, but we could see dark clouds building from the south soon after we set off it begun to rain.
Only about half a mile out of the village we stopped to have a look at the Norse mill, which was a very interesting reconstruction of the type of mill very common to this part of Scotland. As we passed around Beinn na Cloich the old road looked quite steep no we were glad of the new one set at a much gentler gradient. As we approached Carlabhagh it started raining harder and we were glad to get to the Blackhouse museum at Na Geŕrrannan and warm up in their café. This Blackhouse museum is slightly different from Arnol Blackhouse museum in that it is a complete village of houses, which were all inhabited until the early 1970’s when the residents moved out to newer modern dwellings in Carlabhagh. The whole village was declared a conservation area and the houses are now preserved. One has been reconstructed as it was in 1955 and the others are used as a hostel and as holiday accommodation.

It was still raining hard as we left Na Geŕrrannan so we stayed in full waterproofs but as we reached the turning to the Dun Carloway Iron Age Broch it was easing off. The Brooch is very interesting and is the best-preserved broch we have seen and you get a much better idea of their construction. We could see that it was starting to improve as the skies were clearing in the south and by the time we got to Calanais Standing Stones the rain had stopped. We decided that if we were to get further on we would need some more sustinous so stopped at the cafe first which was a good move as the weather was improving all the time and by the time we had got out to the standing stones the sun was beginning to come out. Well the standing stones are a delight and set out in a cross formation with an inner circle and chambered tomb. It was nice to be able to walk amongst them although it did mean you we had to wait awhile to get pictures of them without people in the shots. There are also 2 other sets of standing stones close by Callanish 2 - Cnoc Ceann a' Ghŕrraidh and Callanish 3 - Cnoc Fhillibhir Bheag which we stopped to have a look at as they were on our way. They were lovely to see but unfortunately not as impressive as the main Callanish set.

It was early evening as we left the last set of stones and headed our way up the A858. We worked out that if we made good time we could make it to the Loch Erisort Inn and camp on their lawn. It was a beautiful evening after all that rain earlier and made for a lovely evening ride. The views across to the mountains of North Harris were just stunning. It was easing going until the A859 but the last bit to Loch Erisort was a bit up and down and hard work on tired legs. It was close to 9.30pm by the time we got to the Inn and Geraldine the owner was surprised to see us again. She was really sweet as although they had stopped serving food she offered to cook us something but I told her that it was very kind of her but we did have food we could cook for ourselves but asked her if we could buy some milk from her. She came back from the kitchen with a half full 5 pint container. I said we didn’t need quite that much, oh she said don’t worry gives us back what you don’t need in the morning! After pitching the tent while Frank was cooking I popped over to the bar and bought a couple of bottles of their Hebridean beer which went down a treat with our pasta sploge!

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map link17.08.11 - Loch Čireasort to Uig

Fortunately there were a few breaks in the clouds as we woke and after breakfast it was sunny enough to get the tent dry. We said our goodbyes to Berney and Geraldine and we were away by 10.00am. There was a short shower as we made our way along the B8060 and back on to the A 859. About half a mile on from the turning we stopped to have a look at the memorial to the Pairc Deer Raiders. We had a lot of sympathy with the crofters struggle against the brutal aristocracy, so much is known about the highland clearances to give way for sheep farming but little is known about the crofters that were evicted just to create Deer parks for the entertainment of the landed gentry. It didn't seem to take us long to get to the bottom of the An Cliseam climb. Fortunately this time it was sunny and much better weather than the time we had come over from the other direction. We agreed as usual to go at our own pace and meet at the top. At least climbing from this side there was no steep section at the beginning, it was just a straightforward low gear slog, which we both did with out needing any stops. I waited for Frank at the top of the first summit at the base of the Cleit Ard. The next section to the top of the second summit was fairly easy climbing and it was actually nice to get some great views which we had missed coming up the other way.

It was great ride down from the top and part the way down we met 2 tourers who had stopped to get their breath back after the first steep part. We pulled over to have a chat, I told them that unfortunately there was still some way to go to get to the actual summit but the ride down the other side was well worth it. We wished them well and set off to complete the rest of the descent. Frank felt rather pleased with herself as they were two 18 year old lads and they had had to stop to catch their breath after the steep part and she had done the whole climb without stopping! As we were coming down the last steep section I saw some roadies coming out of the B887 turning ahead of us. I had built up a good speed so decided to race past them and flew past them doing about 30mph and cried out a ‘hello’ as I went past. I managed to keep ahead of them for awhile but unfortunately the road started to climb and I couldn't keep it up. They then easily past me laughing that I was causing a road block. Just after that one of their group came along side and we got chatting. They were a group of farmers and their wife’s from the Dunfermline area and they were touring on road bikes. I commented on their lack of gear, oh he said that is back at the hotel in Tarbert. They were very much credit card touring and had left their car at Oban and had come up through the Outer Hebrides to Tarbert on a route very similar to ours. They were catching the same ferry as us to Uig.

As there was about an hour before the ferry departed they invited us to join them for a drink. So we sat in the sun in the garden of the Harris hotel and had a drink with Neil, Mary, Roy and Shona while we waited for the ferry. Neil was laughing at our overladen bikes and when we set off they brought out there gear there was hardly anything with them both Neil and Roy had a couple of small rear panniers each while the Mary and Shona had nothing. When I quizzed them about waterproofs and other clothes they had very little. They were very lucky that the weather had been so good for them, if they had some the weather we had earlier they might have got quite wet and cold. I suppose if you know you will be spending the night in a nice warm hotel and have the opportunity of a nice hot shower it doesn’t really matter that you get wet. The ferry journey was quite fun as we sat and chatted with them. Frank and I laughed at their organization we thought our planning was quite lackadaisical but they were wee totally making it up us they went a long and didn’t seem to have any maps with them as they borrowed ours and poured over the map to try and work out their route for the next day. They were trying to work out if they could get to their friends on the Ardnamurchan peninsular the next day, when they added up the distances it was just over 100 miles you should have seen the look on Mary’s face it was a picture. When we arrived at Uig we said our goodbyes to Neil, Mary, Roy and Shona at the Uig ferry and wished them good luck in getting to Ardnamurchan. Fortunately the campsite was only a few minutes from the ferry terminal and it didn't take us long to pitch the tent and get us settled in.

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18.08.11 Uig

Although the weather was good we decided on a rest day as we were both just too knackered after the last few days!

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