Things have turned. In one way for the worse but in others for the better. Not that what preceded day 5 had been bad to turn against but you know what I mean… As I type I’m holed up in a small – minute one might say (‘snug’ an estate agent would say) – wooden shed on the south-western edge of South Uist but let me take you back to the start of the day at the campsite on Benbecula…
I had the best night of sleep yet on this trip. Probably down to the longer cycle yesterday and the two mugs of wine yesterday evening. The combination was a good one when it came to slumber. I can only remember waking up three or four times. Result! As soon as I woke for the third / fourth time my instinct was to check the weather forecast. A band of rain has been promised for a few days and it finally looked as though it was going to hit the Outer Hebrides at about 3pm today before moving away some time tomorrow morning. Looking at the accommodation options for tonight, I noticed a place called The Tractor Shed on South Uist (that I had previously mentioned in my ‘plan’ a few weeks ago). Upon investigation it had a ‘camping pod’ (aka ‘minute / snug wooden shed’) available for tonight for about £40. Further forays into the intrepid* world of wild camping would have to wait. Within a few touches of the screen, the dry pod was mine for the tonight.
[*Chatting to a woman on the campsite this morning, she described me as an intrepid cyclist. I quite like that.]
With accommodation no longer a concern I set off along the Hebridean Way which guided me around the western edge of Benbecula before passing its airport and then onwards across Grimsay and onto North Uist. Benbecula is no South Uist. (See yesterday’s comments.) Indeed of all the islands I’ve so far visited it probably comes bottom of the league. Do bear in mind that this is a good standard league of islands. We are talking Premier League stuff, not Conference South so think of Benbecula as a geographical Norwich City. Decent stadium, some good players, nice pre-match lunch courtesy of Delia… but something’s not working. Benbecula lacked the grandeur of South Uist, the escapism of Vatersay, the diversity of Barra. The most interesting area on Benbecula from the perspective of a traveller on the lookout for something to write about was the area around the airport. It was the greatest (in both senses of the word) urban landscape that I had passed through since Glasgow. Drab housing estate, run down petrol station, supermarket that was more cash and carry from the outside (but, curiously, like an artistically lit branch of Waitrose on the inside), a gleaming new hospital (Britain excels in throwing money at schools and hospitals in deprived areas as if that’s the way to sort out all the problems of society…), a man carrying his empties to the bottle bank – he nodded through an alcoholic haze in response to my cheery ‘morning’) and an old guy waiting for the bus swigging whisky from the bottle. It was full blown good old British urban deprivation. Makes you feel proud!
Moving to the east, away from the airport I encountered head-on wind for the first time on the trip. The battle continued along what remained of Benbecula towards Grimsay but I could see post-Grimsay that my direction would be reversed and the wind become my friend once again. But where did Grimsay start and finish? It was difficult to work out. Numerous causeways had me thinking it had come and gone (along with a sign saying ‘Welcome to South Uist’) but then I asked a guy collecting bait for his fishing trips and he told me I had only just arrived on the Grimsay. He also recommended a detour to the fishing harbour at Killan. I took his advice and detoured to the small village. The oppprtunity to see more of Grimsay was welcome – it was no Benbecula, thank goodness – but the harbour was a modern affair and nothing to mention in dispatches.
The remains of the cycling day across southern North Uist took on a slightly culinary dimension after a visit to the shop next to a smokehouse where I bought some peat-smoked salmon. Shortly after my arrival at the Tractor Shed camping pod, I headed off down to the small supermarket down the road to buy a collection of Scottish delicacies to add substance to my smoked salmon feast. These include some Orkney oatcakes, a Scottish cheese, some Baxter’s pickled onions, Maclean’s scones, some Skye beer and some cherry tomatoes from, err… The Nertherlands.
The camping pod is great. And dry. The rain isn’t quite lashing down outside but it’s moving in that direction. I need it to be dry for tomorrow morning as I have bought a ticket for the Berneray-Harris ferry that sets off at 1:40pm. It’s about a two-hour cycle from here. Once this rain stops, according to the forecast, it won’t return until well into September. As I type it has upgraded itself to ‘lashing’. More Skye beer I think…
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.
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