It’s been difficult to fault the Outer Hebrides so far (as you will continue to discover below). Only one very modern facet of life has let me down; mobile data coverage. Uploading text like this isn’t a problem. Photos need 3G and video needs 4G. Why am I telling you all this? Well, you may find that the usual mix of text, images and video (that you have become accustomed over the years…) takes a few days to upload. Today, North Uist offered me a Vodafone 4G signal so, for the first tome since arriving on Barra, I was able to upload videos. You may want to look again at the previous two posts to watch those videos before you read this. (And come back to this post tomorrow or the day after for today’s video…) On with the show!
I wasn’t really expecting much from South Uist. It’s not one of the big boys when it comes to Hebridean islands (other than by its size). It’s not at the start or the end, it’s not where they made Whisky Galore, it’s not where Bonnie Prince Charlie first set foot on Scottish soil… It’s just South Uist. It’s not even linked to the other islands by ferries. Two man-made causeways do that job very well. It is ‘famous’ for its seaweed, or rather, I assume it is. Last night I searched the word ‘Uist’ on BBC Sounds and the only thing listed was a podcast about the wife of the local GP who forages for seaweed. I listened and it was quite interesting. But that was it.
However, in terms of cycling, it packs a mighty punch. What a wonderful ride today turned out to be. Perhaps 80% of it on South Uist. Leaving the lovely campsite at Scurrival Point, I retraced my route past the beach airport to the ferry terminal. What was left of the ferry (most of it had rusted away) transported about 10 vehicles and double that number of bicycles to Eriskay. Eriskay is a hill in the sea. No flat plain to cycle around. It’s too small for that. You’d have thought Bonnie Prince Charlie would have chosen one of the nice beaches. Apparently not. So, as soon as the ferry docked, it was a climb up the hill of Eriskay and down the other side to the ‘watch-out-for-otters-crossing’ causeway. I didn’t see any by the way. From there on in it was South Uist all the way until about 5 km from this campsite on Benbecula.
A quick geography lesson. To the east, South Uist is very mountainous with peaks rising to just over 600 metres. The Hebridean Way, mercifully, stays well clear of the east and follows the main road – with some minor roads thrown in for very good measure – towards the west of the island which is basically a flat plain covered in a mixture of farmed land, small, dispersed houses and the famous macair that blankets much of the Outer Hebrides to very pretty effect. Think Boris Johnson’s hair made from a mixture of pretty purple and yellow hardy wild flowers. The combination of mountains to the far right and plain to the near right and left of my route made for a dramatic contrast and a stunningly beautiful ride. I’d go so far as to say one of the most memorable rides of my life. And here speaks a man who regularly cycles in Yorkshire. Truly, utterly, wonderfully beautiful!
The weather was in on the act too; light winds from the east, sunny later in the afternoon and only two drops of rain (one on my left cheek, one on my nose). Even that ‘major’ road was hardly busy and even, at times, was down to one lane with passing places. The Hebridean Way does deviate from the main road twice in South Uist and on both occasions in the direction of the plain and the beaches. Paved farm tracks with barely any other traffic. It was like cycling in the fruit fields of Belgium or rural Normandy…
Had this been a ‘normal’ (non-Covid) summer, I might have stopped at the Gatliff Trust hostel at Howmore. Alas it remains closed so I extended the day to the southern flank of Benbecula and this campsite, the Otter’s Edge Campground. It’s run by a chap from Coventry who spent 40 years working for Jaguar and then moved up here with his family. It’s nothing special but that’s what I like about it. I’m reminded of the wonderful French municipal campsite. Every town in the world should have a French municipal campsite and courtesy of a chap who used to make cars in the West Midlands, Benbecula has one…
I’m off to make the video that you might not see for a few days, ponder the weather forecast (which doesn’t look great for the next two days) and plan my onward route. Good night!
Here’s the plan for my trip to the Outer Hebrides…
…and here’s a podcast I made about cycling the Hebridean Way prior to setting off:
More episodes of The Cycling Europe Podcast can be found on this page of CyclingEurope.org.
And finally, since you’ve made it this far, just one more thing:
Since 2009, CyclingEurope.org has established itself as a valued, FREE cycle touring resource. There’s now even a podcast, The Cycling Europe Podcast. If you enjoy the website and the podcast, please consider supporting the work of CyclingEurope.org with a donation. More information can be found here. Thanks if you do!
A full list of ‘Cycling Europe’ related content (books, social media, video…) can be found here.