The Scotland Blog....
Unlike that “Scotland Play” where disaster often strikes the players at the mere mention of its title, our particular Scotland play was great fun and quite possibly one of the best trips I’ve been on.
It started as a bit of an idle muse, as the best ideas often do, and grew into a full blown tour in a very short time. As soon as I floated the idea to some regular customers we were fully booked and we were committed. The plan was to meet in Oban, get the ferry to Barra, ride up through the Outer Hebrides, get the ferry to the mainland at Ullapool, travel south through the Highlands until we got back to Oban via Skye and Mull. In total 7 ferries, 660+km and around 10,000 mtrs of climbing.
Accommodation (or the lack thereof) in certain parts caused a few headaches but once we’d got that sorted the rest fell into place.
You could actually spend weeks touring this area of the UK but we decided to take 8 days. Including travelling. This meant some big days on the bike, but everyone was up for it.
We met in Oban at the ferry terminal, which very conveniently is located next to the Railway station, and loaded up our support van with everyone’s luggage. A delay in sailing due to one of the ferries breaking down allowed us (well me) to sample the world’s best seafood from the kiosk on the quay. One new boat later we wheeled our bikes on board and settled in for several hours of sea travel. There’s something very calming about this journey. Maybe it’s just the de-compressing from the motorway or train trip to actually get to Oban, or the fantastic scenery, the amazing light as twilight settled, or the porpoises playing round the ferry I’m not sure, but even though we arrived several hours late on Barra I, for one, was feeling pretty “zen”.
After a comfy night in our BnB we woke to rain and a fresh wind. Well no surprise there; there’s nothing between Barra and the Americas’ so wind is a constant feature and as for the rain…well we had mudguards and coats so no problem. A short ride up the coast saw us on the first ferry. Soon we were flying through the Uist’s with a roaring tailwind. To be honest there wasn’t much to see. The rain was falling and the clouds were low but the wind assisted speed of, an apparently effortless, 30 + km an hour made up for this. The road, improved since my last visit by EU money, was pretty (very) quiet and we didn’t see much traffic, maybe a dozen cars in 140 KM. Mind you it was Sunday and there was hardly anything open either. A couple of restorative brew stops and picnic lunch at the support van were very welcome and we made the afternoon ferry over to the Island of Harris. We arrived to glorious afternoon sunshine and a warming breeze that dried our wet kit on the Hostel washing line.
Fred (our o’ so fabulous van driver) cooked up a superb supper and then went off for a ride in the amazing evening light. The light quality on these Islands is magical, and being June it was light until very late.
The next day dawned….wet! One of the guys decided on an early start so he could spend some time in Stornaway before the ferry at 2 o’clock. One of the others, still recovering from a broken collar bone a few weeks earlier, decided on a day off in the van with Fred and the rest of us set off at 07:00 am.
Even in the rain the golden sandy beaches and clear sea were an awesome sight as we travelled north. The terrain on Harris is hillier than the Uist’s, but that tailwind was still blowing. With its helping hand up the hills, especially the climb out of Tarbert to Loch na Ciste, we were still averaging a good speed.
This climb guards the entrance to the Island of Lewis. The top has a remote highland feel but once over the top the rain stopped and the sun came out. Things were looking up. A restorative brew (good old Fred) and we dropped out of the hills into the Island proper. The scenery changed again and became softer and less forbidding. More tailwind assisted riding saw us meeting up in Stornaway for lunch in good time for the ferry to Ullapool (there’s only 1 a day so you can’t muck about).
Another sunny afternoon cruise saw us arrive in Ullapool and we had plenty of time to sort ourselves out, and wash and dry some kit at the excellent YHA. Ullapool is one of my favourite places. This old fishing port has a really good vibe going on with live music in at least one of the many pubs every night and some great places to eat.
Ullapool marked the halfway point of our Hebridean Highland Adventure, and it also marks the half way point of this story.
Look out for the 2nd half next week; be sure to receive your copy by subscribing to our newsletters at peakcyclinguk.com.