Tuesday, 10 May 2011

that cycle

what we'd said when we got to oban was (and this after having the same trip completely washed out in march) that normally, if you're lucky, you can get one week round about the end of april/beginning of may when the weather's brilliant in the western isles. otherwise it can be a trauma of rain, wind and dramatic numbers of biting insects. at first the omens weren't good

it wasn't the gathering clouds, the sheets of rain or the rising wind. no, none of that. the crossing to barra was really quite clement. or at least it would've been had we not got ourselves some food poisoning in oban. even a gently bobbing boat is no fun for five hours!

we wobbled off the ferry and into the hostel and immediately decided and extra day on barra would be just the thing for recovery. we settled in - and then the silence. true there are cars in barra but not many so all you have is the sea, the wind and the sky.

and then the cycling. it's easy enough to 'do' barra in a day but if all you were doing is cycling from one ferry to another (and then you'd need to be believing that calmac would let you do such a thing) you'd miss out the beaches, the islands, the birds, the crashed plane, the crazy statue up a hill, the shell jesus, the place that has my name, the castle, the barra museum, the snails and, of course, an airport that's a beach. we didn't manage to see a plane land but we did take a picture of the baggage handling area(bus shelter) and i had a cake stop in their wee cafe - not something you'd want to do in your average airport!

a special mention too, to cafe kisimul for refuelling us in grand style after the stomach unpleasantness. but anyway, the cycling, was broadly fine. true someone did try to run me off the road in castlebay (!!!!!!) but other than that it was grand. on the right day you could do a circuit that included vatersay and out to the airport in an hour and a half tops. i was more leisurely, which was as well as my legs were still full of the stomach depredations. no matter, off to eriskay

a lovely crossing with many birds. of course as soon as we got off the ferry the rain started but no matter. we'd got some banter on with a family going up the islands on bikes and some young guy who was touring round the west coast, minimally equipped, with a salvaged old school bike and not much else. great to see all of them.

and off i set. eriskay is lovely and needs a return esp as we had entered the odd world of catholic scotland. roadside shrines the works. stuff that's normal in europe. but not here. and then the wind kicked in just as i was crossing the causeway. not a bad wind, not the usual wind but a genuine boost me along tailwind. i cycled like a god!! there were innumerable things i could've stopped at along the way but the cycling was too good. back in the day we used to hear that the southern islands had terribel roads. not now. these are the comfy slippers of cycling roads. i went so fast that t, having dawdled at some wool place ahd to do a mad dash across the island to catch up. end to end? three hours twenty, including stops, getting lost and detours!

along the way i passed another family, tandemed up with two children. i nodded and had a quick chat before disappearing away. and finally, lovely, lovely berneray. blazing sunshine and a rest for me. we made our way up to stay here for the night

where we met up again with the tandem family of dave and jane and kids. dave and jane were burst. the kids despite the rain (they were all rain geared up) were straight out onto the beach, too excited to stay still. their daughter (aged 8) had the cycle of the day having insisted on carrying her own gear. how do you know when the bike's too heavy asked t. when i can't lift the back wheel said the girl. they were great and our time with them was way too short but harris was beckoning.

i was still reasonably lucky with the wind but could feel it changing but the sun was shining and the harris beaches looked as good as ever. the climb up to tarbert was a bit of a bind but at least getting up the clisham was a bit of an anticlimx after that. oddly the roads in lewis haven't improved at the same rate but they're working on it in a no compromise for cyclists manner. by the time i was hitting leurbost it was lewis business as usual and i was taking a caning from the wind. bets stop instornoway i thought and have a triumphant run to the butt so a quick coffee in the woodland centre then off to the west side for a very pleasant camp. we'd got a windbreak for a bit of shelter while cooking - the wind ate it within seconds!

the following day the weather did not continue, at least not while i was on the bike. it is lewis and the wind knows me so the road up to ness was as 'pleasant' as ever.

but still that bit of the route was done. t got stuck behind some farm machinery and didn't make it until after i did. initially i had the weary legs on as well as being cold so started to cycle back but the sight of t in a balloon clad van had me retracing my steps back to the lighthouse and the completion of the western isles leg.

we stayed at the heb hostel in stornoway - surely the best showers in the know hostel universe. super comfy and rathert lovely all round, all they need to do is lose the tv and it's be just about perfect. which was what the weather was like when we left - no wind, all sun, a last lewisian joke!

then it was battering up to durness and a well earned bit of rest. you can't complain when you're waking up to this in the morning!

the rest involved beaches, choclate and off to handa island. we'd stopped off at balnakiel, which is a wee craft village near durness, but sadly these days there seems less and less there. handa island tho, was a revelation.

a nice wee rib journey out, brilliant sea cliffs, loads of birds and barely anyone there. we had great chat with the volunteer ranger types there and generally, despite my massive fear of heights over water, had a great time.

but still back to the road, the last day, as it turned out, was back down from durness and around the peninsula at achmelvich. the sun was blazing down but this was the day i was going to get a proper battering from the wind. not that i was that bothered - the last time i came down the road from durness it was so misty i couldn't see anything.

so despite any wind, and there wasa lot of it, the views down over suilven and stac pollaidh were amazing. as was my first turn down towards the loop around to achmelvich and the circuit around quinag. in the weather we were having it was sublime, one of the loveliest parts of scotland i've ever been in and a definite spot for a return visit. naturally there's a price to pay....

and eventually, finally, that was that. we had a plan that we'd go down via loch maree and finish on the bealach na ba but we decided an early return would give us time for rest and gardening. the right choice but possibly not the best choice. but still many, many routes left to try!


Titus said...

I'm agog. That beach shot!

swiss said...

it doesn't really capture it! lol i'll put some more up on flickr at some point

Marion McCready said...

what a mammoth cycle! and who knew there was so much to do in Barra! :)

Niamh B said...

some really breath taking scenes there, tks for sharing em

Dominic Rivron said...

A great adventure. I finished reading it with an urge to turn off the laptop and get outside... which can't be bad.

Quinag is still on my still to go to list.

swiss said...

we were uncannily lucky with the weather but even so! quinag was breathtaking!