The headline of today is that, such was my progress on the bike, I am within 40km of the Butt of Lewis. And such was the weather today that, frankly, who wouldn’t want to cycle across some of Britain’s most spectacular landscapes to get to this point? My plan had been minimal; head north along the Hebridean Way and sort out accommodation later. That’s a formula that has never let me down and (spoiler alert) it didn’t do so today. I am now happily fed and watered on the small, friendly but quite busy site at Shawbost on the western side of Lewis.
But back to Horgabost on the west coast of Lewis. There can’t be many locations in the world in which you’d rather wake up in a tent, pull open the flap and watch the sun rising – see previous post if you haven’t already done so. My departure was happily delayed making the short video in that post, complete with sweeping drone shots of the beach. Stunning!
That morning sun was a sign of things to come as it shone throughout most of the rest of the day. Over the course of the day, three layers of factor 30 not only stopped the sun burning my skin but gave me much glee in seeing the midges squirm around trying to fight for their freedom after having sunk their teeth into my flesh. I am a sadist at heart.
My first job was to retrace my steps (albeit in the opposite direction) from yesterday’s loop around Harris. I knew there was a long climb involved as I cycled down it yesterday but it did seem a tad longer than yesterday. (How does that work?) The descent towards Tarbert however was a joy, reminiscent of the ‘Golden Road’ along which I had cycled as part of that loop.
As for Tarbet itself; what a smart little metropolis! And, with the investment being made at the harbour, getting smarter by the day. Everything is relative of course. It wasn’t quite Chelsea or Palm Beach (or Ilkley if you are from West Yorkshire…) but an assault to the senses after so much urban mundanity elsewhere on these islands. One thing that the Outer Hebrides doesn’t excel in is urban areas (see previous comments) but Tarbet stands out as an exception. I wonder what Stornaway will be like?
I knew, thanks to the many people who had pointed it out, often with a large dollop of delight, that there was some serious climbing to be done post Tarbet. They were correct of course, but it was Goldilocks hill climbing; not too easy, not too difficult, just right. I’m used to climbs in the Calder Valley that the EU have tried to ban (that’s not true but it will rile the gammons if they think it is so I’m leaving it in…) and as a result I’m not easily fazed by big hills. The Calder Valley hills however tend to be short and sharp. Up here, today’s hills were not-so-steep but oh-so-long. Ultimately, I enjoyed them and the reward, of course, are the views.
The descent from the mountains of Harris wasn’t immediate; it came after a longish stretch at height but once the cycling did return to sea level or there abouts, some 40km into the cycle, I crossed the border into Lewis. If you struggle to know where the border between Lewis and Harris is, you are not alone. It’s why they invented Wikipedia.
Thereafter the cycling was undulating at the more extreme end of the undulating spectrum. More stunning scenery and a sighting of not one bit two eagles near Loch Seaforth, just as my Hebridean Way map had predicted.
Thereafter it was a case of following the western coastline of Harris. At various points I stopped to ponder accommodation options. When Stornaway was a mere 30 minutes ride away I did consider the option of using the campsite there, but no. It didn’t seem the right thing to visit my final destination on this trip to the Outer Hebrides three days before I’m due to be there again. But there are no campsites on the route of the Hebridean Way be between the west coast of Harris and where I am now on Lewis. Why has no enterprising business person seen fit to establish a site near Callanish, the tourist Mecca of these isles? Perhaps it because of all the strimmers. Yes, strimmers. I lost count of the number of (let’s face it) men out on their lawns strimming. Is it only allowed on a Monday evening at around 5pm? It seems so… Wild camping? I spotted no obvious places although I admit that I’m a novice in this area.
Eventually, after a short visit to the standing stones at Callanish, I rang ahead and booked a space here at Shawbost.
It’s old school / 1970s camping but friendly enough. There is no view to speak of but they were never going to beat the views at Horgabost. The mist started rolling in shortly after my arrival making it all a bit Sherlock Holmes. Tomorrow: the Butt of Lewis… (stop sniggering at the back!)
…and the standing stones at Callanish:
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.