Tour d'Ecosse Inner and Outer Hebrides and West Coast Scotland July 2016

Discussion in 'Member's Travelogues' started by Cranky Knee Girl, 25 Feb 2017.

  1. Cranky Knee Girl

    Cranky Knee Girl Über Member

    N Somerset
    This time last year we were planning our Highlands and Islands tour, I have only just finished writing it all up on my blog, so here it all is. One amazing adventure for two 50 year olds who had started cycling 2 years before. Perhaps it will help/inspire others.

    Tour d'Ecosse July 2016 Planning

    We are nearly there. Our 'Grand Depart' is on Saturday 2nd July 2016 from Ardrossan, where we will hopefully return two weeks later after:
    15 islands 14 nights 13 ferries 12(000)m ascent
    11 islands 10(00)km 9 B&Bs 8 shoes
    7 Puffins 6 pairs cycling shorts 5 seals 4 hostels
    3 spare inner tubes 2 hearts 1 dream.

    Well the puffins and seals are hopeful!

    Meanwhile a 1000km south of Ardrossan the Tour de France kicks off in Brittany!

    Tour d'Ecosse route

    We have detailed routes for every day which roughly adds up to this whole (this map includes ferry kilometres). I have the nerdiest of nerdy spreadsheets with all route details, ferry times, accommodation details and places of interest, based on the excellent Cycling in the Herbrides guide by Richard Barrett and published by Cicerone Press.

    Basically we have to ride Plan A otherwise Plan B takes effect. A bit like the referendum, we don't really have a Plan B other than we can get a train from Oban, Kyle or Mallaig back to Glasgow and Ardrossan if disaster strikes. Between us we have a heart condition and a knee replacement so we are only carrying the minimum, which rules out camping, and we have to have accommodation booked or run the risk of hypothermia! Cal Mac ferry timetable rules the plan. if we miss a ferry we're up the loch without a paddle.

    For instance, on Sunday, we cannot get from Arran to Islay without wasting the whole day, any other day of the week is fine. We have to be off Arran on Saturday by 18.30 ferry, so a B&B is booked on Kintyre peninsula that night. We cannot get a ferry from Islay to Oban as that only runs on a Saturday and a Wednesday, we tried reversing the route or starting in Oban, but no option has us on Islay on the right day without wasting time, so we are getting the Jura Passenger Ferry to Tayvallich from Jura, and riding up to Oban (as the ferry is not on Ride w GPS it would not let me route that way so the above is not quite accurate)

    Travelling light.....
    Oh, and we're supposedly going over Bealach na Baa from Applecross. The highest road pass in the UK.
    It will be wet, it will be windy, there will be midges. We can't wait. I had better go and finish stuffing all that lot into panniers before we shoot up to Penrith tomorrow night to stay with my parents for 6 hours and head for the 11.05 am ferry from Ardrossan to Brodick on Saturday.

    Weather forecast for Saturday, Lightening/storm at 11am and heavy rain with sunny intervals and a stiff westerly all afternoon.
    Last edited: 25 Feb 2017
    User32269, sotkayak, Mrs M and 9 others like this.
  2. OP
    Cranky Knee Girl

    Cranky Knee Girl Über Member

    N Somerset
    Tour d'Ecosse Day 1 Arran and a little Mull of Kintyre Sat 2nd July 2016

    Day 1 Arran 95km 1200m ascent Ferries 2 Islands 1

    Day 1 route (part A)

    Grand Depart at Ardrossan on CalMac

    After a whistle stop visit with my parents in Penrith (we live in Bristol) last night, arriving 11.30pm and departing at 7.30am, we drove for 2 1/2 hours to Ardrossan to abandon the car, wobble round the car park with panniers on our road bikes for the first time. Very worryingly the 11.05am departures on were on amber alert for wind.

    We purchased our first CalMac Hopscotch Ticket #5 Arran and Kintyre (covering today's two ferries Ardrossan-Brodick and Lochranza - Claonaig) and our bikes are lashed down and we're first in the coffee queue.
    Arran looms up shrouded in black cloud.

    The strong wind is supposed to be westerly but a bit West by Nor West. Route finding was easy, signs out of the port were 'North' or 'South'! South we headed on our three quarters of the island tour, straight uphill. Ooph. All I can say was I was a snail all day. Our panniers are around 10kg , 5 in each.
    Brief respite from rain for Nakd Bar number 1 of the holiday.

    We brought down the tone of Blackwaterfoot Golf Club but they had great cake and a sign saying 'open to all'.

    We pushed on and the terrain was flatter but the north westerly kept our speed right down, but the views were great.

    Finally the road turned towards Lochranza and we had a tailwind at last. The last ferry was 18.30 so we thought fish and chips first, but there is no chippy in Lochranza! We joined the throngs in the only pub so to keep us going we ordered cheesy chips which we would abandon if too slow. The one portion did arrive in plenty of time and kept us going, we could have eaten there.

    The crossing Lochranza-Claonaig was 30 mins. Not far now..

    Day 1 route (Part B)

    Up n over the Mull of Kintyre 10km to our
    B&B Bluebell Cottage which looked ropy from the outside but perfect as a one night stay. Very clean and contemporary as built specifically for business.
    After dumping our panniers at B&B we then had to go to Tarbert for food, it was 8pm and we hadn't eaten properly all day. Tarbert has a good chippy, so good. Hauled our weary bones back to Bluebell Cottage knowing Kennacraig ferry terminal was 500m downhill in the morning.

    Touring Tips in Scotland

    1 Plan meals/food We added 15km to our day through bad planning

    2 Arm and leg warmers are essential, to keep warm and to cover up against midges!

    3 Golf clubs seem to often welcome passers by, great home cooked cakes.
    Last edited: 6 Mar 2017
    User32269, sotkayak, Mrs M and 9 others like this.
  3. OP
    Cranky Knee Girl

    Cranky Knee Girl Über Member

    N Somerset
    Tour d'Ecosse Day 2 Islay and Jura Sunday 3rd July 2016

    Day 2 Islay and Jura 56km 700m ascent
    Cumulative 151km 1900m ascent Ferries 4 Islands 3

    Day 2 route

    Come to Islay but especially Jura, and stay at The Jura Hotel for a night or two. Very reasonable price, contemporary Scottish, not twee and food to die for. The surroundings are not shabby either. We wished we were here another day to mountain bike to the end of the road.

    First the riding, after an excellent 'light' breakfast at Bluebell Cottage we rolled 500m down the hill to Kennacraig, nothing is there but the ferry terminal to Port Askaig and Port Ellen on Islay. We would have preferred Port Ellen but the only ferry on a Sunday is in the evening, so we sailed at 9.30am to Port Askaig (Ferry#3) and planned a shorter circular route to catch the 5 minute hop on the Feolin ferry (Ferry #4) to Jura later, either 16.30 or 18.30.

    Boy the pull out of Port Askaig is brutal, 14% hill bends from cold straight off the ferry and into the stiff westerly but although overcast we did stay dry. In a couple of kilometres we have passed two whisky distilleries, but we headed for Bowmore.
    I always stop for gratuitous bike pics

    Bowmore Distillery Islay

    After a wee dram in the bar we headed off on a short loop, after a failed attempt at finding a decent café. Touring on a Sunday needs very careful planning as so many cafés, restaurants, tourist attractions and nearly all shops are still shut on the Sabbath in the Western Isles. The only tea shop open in Bowmore on a Sunday is grim. Do not go there!

    A stiff pull out of Bowmore. This was not to be our resting place!


    taking us through sporting estates, very wild heath and moorland.
    Sporting estates on Islay, not quite the Glorious 4th thank goodness!

    But those horrible bends out of Port Askaig were rewarded with a lovely swoopy descent back down to catch the 16.30 ferry to Jura, and a spare 45 minutes for a cheeky gin and tonic. I heart Botanist Gin now.
    Here I fell in love with Botanist Gin...distilled on Islay, waiting for a ferry.
    Waiting patiently for Ferry #4
    I just love harbours and boats...there will be many shots like this!
    Feolin Ferry Islay to Jura £1.50 each and we were the only passengers
    Jura's only road!

    We swept down the one and only road to Craighouse. Just beautiful, today it was not actually raining. Running into Craighouse was like coming home. We found the Jura Hotel easily and were shown up to our lovely modernised room totally keeping the local character. Steve was convinced it would be awful old Scottish tatty hotel, but the young owners have worked a miracle on this place. It caters for everyone and we did not feel out of place here in our limited wardrobe! We had the cheapest double, so a view of the distillery, not the harbour and a bit smaller but a third less. If we had been staying a few days splashing out on a £120 sea view suite room would have been well worth it.Post hot blissful shower we spent our evening in the characterful public areas, restaurant, bar and village.

    Dinner was stunning, seafood and more, and very very reasonable, as were the wine and bar prices. I would come back here for a short break in a shot. Apparently they are going to start doing mountain biking, sea kayaking and other activities and I suspect these will be very reasonable cost too. It would have been nice to have had the time to go to the end of the road, explore Islay properly. Climb a Pap or two. Sea Kayaking, fishing. We are already realising we need twice the time at least!
    Craighouse Harbour
    As it says on the photo!
    After dinner we sauntered around town. we missed a gin tasting that had been on the previous evening and had drained the island of Botanist Gin!
    Swanning Around 10pm
    Jura is just idyllic.

    Touring Tips in Scotland

    1 Plan Sundays carefully when touring, shops, cafés and tourist attractions are often shut. The Sabbath is still very important in these areas. I wish it was elsewhere, makes for a nicer pace of life.

    2 If you have the time allow 2-3 days per destination.

    3 Every ferry port is at sea level. Every ferry destination means the first few kilometres are littered with expletives as you battle up the first hill cold!
    Bored Man, sotkayak, Mrs M and 11 others like this.
  4. Cranky Knee Girl likes this.
  5. OP
    Cranky Knee Girl

    Cranky Knee Girl Über Member

    N Somerset
    Tour d'Ecosse Day 3 Jura-Tayvallich to Oban Monday 4th July 2016

    Day 3 Jura-Tayvallich to Oban 71km 878m ascent
    Cumulative 222km 2778m ascent Ferries 5 Islands 3
    Jura Passenger Ferry Jura to Tayvallich

    Weather alert, very brave in shorts. Dreich* plus a bit. eating! 500m from hotel to ferry terminal (aka pier) and the blighters chomped my legs!! I still love Jura.

    *From the "A combination of dull, overcast, drizzly, cold, misty and miserable weather." At least 4 of the above adjectives must apply.

    Weeks before, after seeing a reference to the Jura Passenger Ferry in Richard Barrett's superb Cycling in the Hebrides book (that we based our holiday on), I had booked us and our bikes on the first ferry at 8.45 from Jura to Tayvallich on the mainland. Ferry #5

    We said goodbye to the lovely Jura Hotel after a superb breakfast, packed up the panniers and sauntered down to the dock. We were getting better at this routine already. Here is the plan:

    Day 3 route

    Originally we had wanted to take the CalMac sailing to Oban (from Port Askaig) possibly via Colonsay, where on a Wednesday or a Saturday you can spend 4-7 hours on the island arriving from the twice weekly Islay-Colonsay-Oban service and then get the daily Colonsay-Oban CalMac ferry in the evening. However we routed it we could not make it work for a Saturday or Wednesday without having to cut the plan elsewhere, as days go to waste. Even if we had parked in Oban and worked the route as a figure of 8 we were scuppered. But Richard's excellent book mentioned that the private Jura Ferry runs daily, and fortunately it still has funding and is running, but you need to book, as there is limited bike space and only 2 crossings a day (none on Wednesday and only 1 on Sunday). This "Plan B" then entailed cycling up to Oban from Tayvallich. The crossing (around an hour) was a bit more exciting than CalMac, but we didn't see any seals as it was so claggy.
    Tayvallich has a highly recommended Inn that serves delicious seafood, we were told, and a 7 day a week community shop and café, where we spent some pennies in the shop on lunch and bananas as the café stop isn't allowed before any effort has been expended! As we had already found, there are often are no cafés when you want one, so emergency supplies to last the day are necessary "just in case." It's also very picturesque and remote. Route finding is not hard when there is only one road. It skimmed the wooded shore and was very picturesque. The weather dried up a bit and we waited ten minutes for a swing bridge to be swung so we could proceed on our way to Oban. I am sure we had a cereal bar or a banana as we appreciated the scenery and waved at the yachts chugging through.
    Patiently waiting at the lock
    Slow boat to ....
    The terrain got lumpier and we did end up on a dirt cycle track at one point that would have been perfect on a mountain bike but was at the limit of the road bikes. Mightily relieved when we escaped back to the road. We joined the main A816 and the first of three big lumpy bumps today. We reckon anything over 100m ascent to 10km distance classes as lumpy...we exceeded that ratio today, and most days. I spotted a sign for a marina and cafe/pub/restaurant at the bottom of Loch Melfort and we diverted a couple of miles for lunch. Big mistake. Well, it added on a hell of a kick of a lump and after that diversions for nice looking cafés were rarely allowed. This turned out to be a very run of the mill pub and we had a perfectly OK soup and ploughmans but it was not worth the detour! Snotty Yotties all tied up in the marina, as ex-dinghy sailors call them ;) We are booked to stay at Loch Melfort next week, but the other end.
    Loch Melfort marina
    The rain returned and got steadily heavier as we hauled our way over the lumps to Oban. To be honest it was not very pleasant, not that much traffic for a trunk road but an artic or bus every now and then, no alternative route and it was the main road to Oban from the South. Coming into Oban we got a bit lost round the suburbs and had a couple of false starts tracking our B&B down which was up a ruddy hill of course! It did mean there was a great view.

    We did feel a little out of place arriving like wet otters dripping at the lovely Sawdays recommended Greystones. I had been very lucky that they had had a one night gap as this place is usually full and only takes bookings for 2 nights plus unless a gap. All the rooms here have a stunning view of the harbour and the ferries coming and going, it was worth that last climb! We were also kindly allowed to leave our bikes in the shed, which entailed a cross country style yomp down slippy steps in the garden. We were very glad to get to our lovely room and start the nightly hot shower, washing shorts, drying off us and clothes, warming up and eating routine. Very nice home made Florentines were left out for us on the tea tray. I am very good at weighing up a B&B by their complimentary tea trays.Home made offerings are essential. Greystones was excellent. The architecture was very Scottish and very stylishly updated, and had originally been the Maternity hospital. No ghosts of labouring mothers though. I took this picture later on when it had stopped raining and we had cleaned up a bit! Again a 2-3 night stay here would be great. Walking distance to the centre but very peaceful.
    Greystones B&B - not the laird


    View from our bedroom at Greystones

    Oban Harbour
    Oban Prom
    Oh look, a whisky distillery, Oban

    We walked into town having managed to get an early booking at The Waterfront Fishouse on the CalMac pier. The early-bird £13.99 (and lunch) menu was good value and delicious but not quite enough for two hungry cyclists so we did partake of dessert too, which bumped the bill up a lot! Eat here, but watch what you order. We didn't stay out late, and as this was the fanciest B&B we were staying at we went back to appreciate our room, although not a stunning sunset it was still a breathtaking view. We may also have had a complimentary sherry that was left out for guests, a nice touch.
    View from our bedroom; time 22.45 !

    Touring Tips in Scotland

    1 Try and avoid trunk roads, although not busy by any means rumbling lorries do make for a workhorse approach to "getting done". There were only 2-3 sections in the whole holiday like this, not bad really.

    2 Do not spend the whole holiday dreading the one section of road we knew we were reversing part of later in the holiday. We made the lumps into Mount Everests in our head by the following week. We were fitter by then and laughed at ourselves for making mountains out of molehills, well lumpy molehills but nothing like we remembered!

    3 Wash cycle shorts out whilst having a shower, as if treading grapes, squeeze excess water out at hourly intervals and even with heating you are lucky if they dry by morning. No hope of dry shorts if camping in this weather.
    sotkayak, RedRider, Donger and 6 others like this.
  6. OP
    Cranky Knee Girl

    Cranky Knee Girl Über Member

    N Somerset
    Fabulous, I do love reading all blogs. We only did a tiny bit of Skye, on our way back down in the second week, as just not enough time to do everything.... and we didn't have a day off our bikes..we have to go back to explore properly as we decided that if the full circular journey was our aim, we didn't have time for exploring. Oh to have unlimited time!

    My blog is in my signature, or will be in a minute!
    User32269, Pat "5mph" and velovoice like this.
  7. Pat "5mph"

    Pat "5mph" A kilogrammicaly challenged woman Moderator

    Great reading Fiona!
    CC Ecosse did day one and two of your tour, with a few changes, 3 years ago.
    We stayed in Islay for two days - there is a report from me on here - the Port Askit mega hill was ridden in a mini tsunami, this was in June!
    This year we are riding to Mull, from Greenock.
    Looking forward to read the rest of your tour blog.
    Cranky Knee Girl likes this.
  8. OP
    Cranky Knee Girl

    Cranky Knee Girl Über Member

    N Somerset
    That flipping hill! Coming up another 12 mainly wet and windy days, Mull was one of the few nice half days. We didn't do anywhere justice exploring. The pull out of Tobermory is nasty too.

    The end of our tour is probably a reverse of your plan, don't bother with Bute!

    The whole tour was fabulous!
    Last edited: 27 Feb 2017
    Pat "5mph" likes this.
  9. OP
    Cranky Knee Girl

    Cranky Knee Girl Über Member

    N Somerset
    Tour d'Ecosse Day 4 Oban to Outer Hebrides Barra and Vatersay Tuesday 5th July 2016

    Day 4 Oban to Outer Hebrides Vatersay 19km 200m ascent
    Cumulative 241km 2978m ascent Ferries 6 Islands 5
    Seafood Sharing Platter for 2 just £14.95

    Today is officially our one and only total rest day. Put another way, we don't have to cycle if we don't want to. We could walk down to the ferry terminal, but it's quicker and easier to ride.

    Breakfast at Greystones was excellent, and given this was our smartest (and most expensive night at £120) I was pleased with my planning that we didn't have to rush off this morning as the one and only ferry to the Outer Hebrides was not until 2pm. I managed not to plan the weather very well. We opted to wear civvies today so we didn't have to spend 6 hours on a ferry in lycra. Our one set of dry evening clothes. The heavens opened as we left at 10. We padlocked our bikes up on the pier, one of only two occasions where the heavy padlock I lugged about was used, but both times essential.

    We walked up to Tescos for boat snacks and dinner for the hostel later.Pork pies, grapes and cous cous salad, that type of thing! I went in a yarn shop but it was as dull as could be but the fabric selection was quite good. you don't buy much on holiday when you're lugging it about! Then we retired to 'Spoons on the pier to steam with a coffee and dry out a bit.

    The plan was an early lunch at the Oban Seafood Hut on the pier. The number one place to eat in Oban, bar none. Oban is the wettest place, this place is always heaving. There are two bench tables under two umbrellas..oops, I mean parasols. There is also a tap for washing hands. The Hut is famous for winning a court case "Court victory for Oban seafood stall owner who saw red over competitor's green shack" The Hut is famous all over the world for it's colour via Trip Advisor reviews, so the competitor had to repaint his hut red again! Colour is a part of your business signature.

    A large Seafood Platter for two was £14.95. There were deluxe platters and also simpler dishes for one, like scallops. No chips, no booze, no salad, just a slice of brown bread and a can of chilled coke and dipping sauce/mayo. So fresh you could not smell any fishy smells around the hut. Service is outstanding, our order arrived as we wiped a bench dry and sat down, the rain had abated. It was all delicious. The only improvement would be a tin bucket to sling the shells in. If you love shellfish eat here, not advised if you don't. That "pipe thing" bottom right is squid, one friend said he would pay £14.95 to not eat that when I posted the pic on Facebook.

    Oban Seafood Hut

    After our delicious and very healthy lunch we took our place in the ferry queue in plenty of time. The big ferries need you to be queuing, even as a foot passenger, an hour before as they stack up all the bikes and canoes and then load the cars and freight. A few more than a dozen cars on Ferry#6 Oban to Castlebay, which takes 5 hours. We purchased our second CalMac Hopscotch ticket, it was Hopscotch 8 Barra Uist Harris and Lewis and covered the four ferries we would be using to and from and between the Outer Hebrides in the next 4 days. £29.90 each including bikes. Bargain.
    CalMac's MV Isle of Lewis tied up in Oban
    Waiting for the ferry in Oban
    Adieu (or more appropriately Tioraidh) Oban - We will be back!
    Ferry Knitting
    Southern Outer Hebrides
    Coming in to Castlebay on Barra
    Castlebay looked very Norwegian in style to us
    Castlebay Harbour
    Our ferry snugly tied up for the night, view from Dunard hostel

    The sky cleared during the afternoon and the sun was unashamedly shining, we rocked into Castlebay, the harbour, scattering of houses and the church reminded us of Norwegian villages. Our bed for the night was at Dunard Hostel and Lodge, an energetic (not!) 400m peddle from the ferry. We had a twin bedroom in the lodge, bedding and towels included. Hostels are quite smart these days, you don't have to bunk down with strangers, it's only £5 more a night to have your own room, if travelling as a couple, at most hostels. £42 not including breakfast. We were very glad we had a reservation as hoards were being turned away at the door. It must be quite nice to know exactly when the majority of your guests are going to arrive as there is only one ferry a day.

    We docked around 6.30 and by 7.30 we had dumped our panniers, pulled on lycra to go and explore Vartersay, the start of the Hebridean Way , shamelessly adding another island tick to our journey. Unfortunately there isn't a road all the way round, just out and back on our roadies. A heck of a steep pull up and descended to the causeway.

    Day 4 route

    I admit I just cycled with my mouth open, jaw droppingly gorgeous and exactly why we have come here for our holiday.
    Barra and Vatersay's modern war memorial to honour the fallen in WWI and II

    The war memorial is a three-sided pillar at Nask/Nasg overlooking Castlebay/Bagh a Chaisteal commemorating those from Barra/Barraigh and Vatersay/Bhatarsaigh who did not return from WW1 [71 total] and WW2 [44 total]. The English and Gaelic names, their service, and their township are listed, Poignant reading the names of those you don't know but imagining yourself in their boots so far away from such a quiet and tranquil homeland. The monument was designed by Dugald Cameron and dedicated on 11 November 1993.
    Pretty much tourist brochure weather on Vatersay
    Long shadows at 8.30pm but a long way off dusk!
    This is the life

    We returned to the hostel, propped our bikes up round the back and had a shower. Dinner was pork pies, cheese, grapes and fruit cake! We spent a pleasant couple of hours chatting with 3 others in the lovely kitchen/living area with stunning view, all of them doing different and interesting things, interestingly all about our age, no young things to be spotted! Tomorrow is due to be a long day.

    Touring Tips in Scotland

    1 Utilise every sunny minute you get, even if it is a rest day, they may not last until tomorrow!

    2 Plan carefully for accommodation and food when arriving in remote places at the same time as everyone else.

    3 Chat to fellow travellers.
    User32269, sotkayak, Donger and 7 others like this.
  10. OP
    Cranky Knee Girl

    Cranky Knee Girl Über Member

    N Somerset
    Tour d'Ecosse Day 5 Isles of Barra Eriskay South Uist Benbecula Grimsay North Uist Beneray and Harris Wednesday 6th July 2016

    Tour d'Ecosse Day 5 Isle of Barra to Isle of Harris 132km 550m ascent
    Cumulative: 373km 3528m ascent Ferries 8 Islands 12

    Iain Brady's superb otter statue at Ardmhor Ferry Terminal on Barra

    Day 5 route

    Cycling the Hebridean Way is one of the main highlights of our holiday. From our research it seems most people allow a week. We're attempting it in 2 1/2 days including getting back to Stornoway from Butt of Ness for the ferry on Friday afternoon. Are we mad? We would have loved 4-5 days to explore but then we could not attempt Bealach na Ba next week. If only time wasn't so limited. However, we did get the prevailing wind right by cycling south to north. Mark Beaumont officially launched the route (that has been here forever) earlier this year, and you can get a taste of the scenery from his You Tube video here. I have just realised that he did it over two days like us, not counting the return trip to Stornoway.

    We left the comfy and warm Dunard Hostel in Castlebay at 8am. An early start after sampling one of those instant oat pots that you make with boiling water. If starving and that is all that is available they are OK, otherwise they are disgusting, even the posh Stoats one. Like watery cement. On that gastronomic low point we set off on our 100km+ day, and it's not raining. A very pleasant 15km circuit of Hebridean Way Island #2 aka Isle of Barra (Vatersay was #1 yesterday) was completed in the dry to hit the Calmac Ferry terminal in Ardmhor for the Barra to Eriskay Ferry #7 in time for the 9.25 sailing that takes half an hour. We already have our CalMac Hopscotch 8 tickets. I missed this gorgeous Otter statue, pic courtesy of Steve.
    Isle of Barra

    The weather is closing in on the Sound of Eriskay.
    Once over the causeway from Eriskay (Island #3) to South Uist (Island #4) we were searching for a morning coffee and cake stop and spied the Borrodale Hotel where the road forks to Lochboisdale. To say it was slugging it down would be an understatement. We were wet to the bones after less than 20km from the ferry. We needed a second breakfast and hot coffee. It was a doomed café. One other family were already sitting down, (we then kept bumping into them during the day) and were having a hard time finding anyone to serve them. Eventually, after a joint search party, we dragged someone out from behind the bar area. The concept of scones and coffee at 11am on a Wednesday in high season seemed a bit beyond them. The sign did say Café Open! In the end we had a choice of yesterday's scones or the end of a Victoria Sponge. Goodness only knows how old that was. The coffee and scones finally came, I swear they were old Co Op ones, not home made. Do not go here!
    Looking at the weather from the cafe with no cake or service

    The weather didn't let up all day, wet to the core but fortunately a very strong (near gale) tailwind so we lopped off the kilometres, whilst seeing very little. The temperature topped out at 12 degrees.
    A causeway connects South Uist to Benbecula (Island #5). Quite a large Co Op loomed so we stopped and bought supplies in case there were no cafés or pubs, including a half bottle of medicinal whisky for the hostel tonight. We came across the friendly family from the hotel who were very admiring of what we were doing and sympathetic to our plight!
    An "Island Deli" sign distracted us, lunch! It was amazing, bright, sparkly, cheerful café and small deli serving great panini and home made soup combo that made/saved our day. We warmed up a bit, totally steaming we were! Very highly recomended. The staff were so nice and no hint of distaste at our dripping forms. Refuelled we headed back out and continued north. Another causeway to Grimsay (Island #6) and on to North Uist (Island #7). We followed the west coast up North Uist, but could hardly see anything, and turned north through Sollas. The weather is consistent.
    North Uist I think!
    Still smiling
    A white blissful better weather anyway
    The road keeps going to Berneray

    Another causeway across to wild Berneray (Island #8). We were heading for the lovely looking independent Gatliff Hostel on Berneray, no bookings are taken at any of the three Gatliff hostels on the Outer Hebrides, just turn up and pay £14 a night Gatliff claim they have never turned anyone away. Look at the lovely photos on their site of what our scenery should have been like! However, a couple of cars had passed us, and as we went past the ferry terminal a boat was in. The last ferry of the day to Harris was at 17.20. It was after 5, it had never occurred to us we could catch the last boat, totally fortuitous. We made a very hasty decision to jump on it, Ferry #8 as we were contemplating a very early start for the 7.15am ferry in the morning and we were not going to see anything in this weather. We saw our friendly family again in the car queue who were really impressed with our progress. The chug from Beneray across the Sound of Harris to Leverburgh on Harris (Island #9) took an hour, covered by our Hopscotch 8 ticket again. I stood under the hand drier for ages, we feasted on mutton pie and grapes and this ferry even had a coffee machine, fabulous!

    There is a very lovely looking Am Bothan Bunkhouse in Leverburgh whom I rang from the ferry, but unfortunately the very apologetic owner was completely full with the whole hostel booking by a scout party. We cycled off the ferry a little despondent. The plan to keep stopping at any BnB signs we saw, it was 7pm and still slugging it down.

    We only saw one sign and that was for Ben View B and B in Leverburgh. Siane answered the door beaming, totally unfazed by our bedraggled appearance, she told us the nightly rate and apologised that only a twin was available, which we gladly accepted at £90 and ushered us inside after opening the garage for our bikes. Ben View is an excellent B&B with fabulous owners and great service and breakfast and not only because we would have accepted a stone floor out of the rain at that point, we would certainly choose to come back too. Siane and Mike dried our clothes and shoes, there was proper home made shortbread (big tick from me) fresh milk, and they invited us to bring our picnic into the dining room and provided plates etc as there was no way we were cycling back up to the port for the one and only pub in this weather. Hypothermia was setting in. The room was lovely with a view of the Ben...supposedly. We were conned, no 'Ben' in view at all tonight. Oh well, sometimes you have to compromise ha ha.
    No view of a Ben at Ben View!

    An epic day to say the least....the wettest day doing anything ever, but the near gale was mostly a tailwind. It was brilliant going to sleep knowing that we just had to have breakfast and leave in reasonable time in the morning and not be out on a 7am ferry. The leap of faith going "off piste" was now worth it.

    Fortunately the phone app version of Strava is clever and cuts out ferry distance if stopped and started, Garmin doesn't. I erased the separate Garmin tracks and took claiming July's 130km Gran Fondo. I am aiming to complete the Strava Gran Fondo every month this year, Strava state the distance, July and August are the longest at 130km, 7 months down 5 to go. My next chance will be 31st July for Ride London but if I didn't make that for any reason my year goal would be up the creek. 8 Islands in one day. Practically no ascent but still a very memorable day. We will just have to return. I would not even swap a day like today for a day on a boring beach in too-hot-sun in Spain. This tour is just amazing. Steve says he'll take the Spanish beach at the moment.

    PS I did manage the full 12 month collection of Gran Fondo's for 2016

    Touring Tips in Scotland

    1 Sometimes it rains a lot for days, not a disaster if prepared for winter conditions. arm warmers, leg warmers, substantial rain jacket. Changes of cycle kit for following day as with the best will in the world it doesn't dry out overnight in these conditions even with radiators on full blast.

    2 Sometimes you just have to wing it.
    3 Cycle south to north in the Outer Isles, mostly the prevailing wind is south westerly which makes life easier.
    User32269, sotkayak, Donger and 6 others like this.
  11. OP
    Cranky Knee Girl

    Cranky Knee Girl Über Member

    N Somerset
    Tour d'Ecosse Day 6 Isles of Harris and Lewis to Callanish Stones Thursday 7th July 2016

    Tour d'Ecosse Day 6 Isles of Harris and Lewis 113km 1187m ascent
    Cumulative: 486km 4715m ascent Ferries 8 Islands 13
    Callanish Stones
    Ben View on Harris does have a view of the Ben!

    It was so good not having to be up before 6 to catch an early ferry. Even better it was dry and we had a view of the Ben from Ben View B&B in Leverburgh on Harris this morning. Breakfast was lovely, one of the days I had a lovely home made compote and yogurt. We retrieved our bikes from the cosy shed across the road and took bets on when the forecast rain would start. We took the west coast route round Harris

    Day 6 route

    We cycled past Seilebost Beach which is just stunning. Over to the west was Taransay where Castaway 2000 was located and filmed. Even in murk, the sea round Harris is turquoise, with perfect white sand. I remembered the beaches and sea colour from our honeymoon 28 years ago, but we haven't been back since. We passed a nice looking Arts Café but it was far too early for coffee and cake after a big breakfast.
    Seilebost Beach, Isle of Harris

    As we pulled up towards Lewis we diverted into the natural harbour of Tarbert (the Harris one not the Loch Fyne one) and a ferry was in port, that we were not actually utilising, to Uig on Skye, which was the route we had used 28 years ago. The First Fruits Tearoom was great tea shop but the cake slices were a bit small for cyclists. It was buzzing, and a welcome respite from the now very steady rain. Back up the steep pull from the harbour to tackle the big mountains.
    Tarbert, Isle of Harris
    Rugged Beauty of Isle of Lewis.

    There is only one choice of road heading towards Liurbost, and it got wild very quickly, as was the weather which was approaching gale force with solid slabs of horizontal rain, fortunately more of a tailwind than a headwind again. A stiff climb into the Harris Hills, over 15% for 500m or so, and we were in remote mountains now, more reminiscent of winter mountaineering trips than a balmy bike ride. The descent was scary, being blown all over the road and leaning into the wind we inched our way down. There was no traffic so at least that was of no concern but we did pass a few cyclists heading in the opposite direction, on foot. They were having to walk up into the teeth of the gale, we had the far more preferable option.
    Scary descending into Lewis buffeted by gale force winds
    Moody Lewis

    At Luirbost, down out of the weather somewhat and quite relieved that neither of us came off, we hunted in vain for the pub for a late lunch and didn't find it. We pushed on to Callanish, knowing there was a visitor centre and the storm clouds were lightening, the rain had stopped and we rolled along drying out. We made the pile of old stones...! A bit smaller than Stonehenge. I tried some arty photos. There is no charge to look round.
    Callanish Stones Isle of Lewis
    I'm still standing...yeah yeah yeah!
    "Calanais" in Gaelic

    Peter McRabbit at the Callanish Café

    We devoured very visitor centre-y standard fish and chips as a late lunch come early dinner, not wonderful but very well received given how hungry we were. We watched Peter McRabbit outside snuffling about.

    Suitably refreshed we climbed aboard the bikes for the last push up to Carloway and our pre-booked independent hostel. We did see a group of cyclists at the only garage/shop at the turn to Callanish, turned out they were heading the same way as us via Callanish to the The Gearrannan Blackhouse Village and Hostel. We arrived first and the very efficient village manager appeared, showed us about, asked if we wanted breakfast in the morning (£8 extra) and told us one other group of 7 (6 in one dorm and one in with us in the other dorm) were due, and were we OK to show them the ropes. We just knew the other 6 would send the inevitable snorer to the luxury of their own dorm, so we decided to upgrade to the family bunk room, £47 for the night (for up to 3) as opposed to £15 for a bunk. We had an early start in the morning and we didn't want to be waking others either.
    Gearrannan Hostel Kitchen

    This place was even more stunning than I dared hope. Two of the cob houses were a museum open in the day, we were too late to see round which was a huge pity. There is a cafe as well, again office hours, not evening.
    Canada is the next stop westwards...

    A superbly run enterprise, top notch conversions, squeaky clean and very reasonably priced. Remote, there is no nightlife but you make your own. Lashings of hot water, very modern shower rooms and you can stay just one night here or for a few nights/week in a self catering cottage.
    Gearrannan Hostel
    Gearrannan Self Catering Blackhouses
    Wonderful coastal walks down to the beach

    Our fellow hostelers were a mountaineering club group older than us! The leader was a keen cyclist and had persuaded everyone to go on a cycling tour for a change, they were doing the Hebriddean Way over a week, not 2/12 days like us, and scaling the highest peak on each island, on foot.. They were enjoying their eating and drinking along the way. We were right, one was a snorer, mercilessly teased by the rest of the party. It was a sociable evening chatting about adventures and sharing a wee dram.

    Mark Beaumont's You tube account of his two day traverse of the Hebridean Way is here. Looks like it got wetter for him on Harris and Lewis too!

    Another big and challenging day conquered, both in miles, terrain and weather conditions, and another big day tomorrow. We have another ferry to catch from Stornoway early afternoon, but a lot of miles to tick off first.

    Touring Tips in Scotland
    1 Use independent hostels, they are a world away from the hostels of our youth. Heating, full kitchens and copious hot water

    2 Conditions can get seriously dangerous even in summer, risk of hypothermia or being blown off your bike. Don't push it.

    3 Stock up/eat when you see a shop/pub/cafe. They are still very few and far between. I know I have already said this tip but it's very true.
    User32269, sotkayak, Scoosh and 6 others like this.
  12. OP
    Cranky Knee Girl

    Cranky Knee Girl Über Member

    N Somerset
    Tour d'Ecosse Day 7 Butt of Ness to Stornoway and Ullapool Friday 8th July 2016

    Tour d'Ecosse Day 7 Butt of Ness to Stornoway and Ullapool 96km 1100m ascent
    Cumulative: 582km 5815m ascent Ferries 9 Islands 13

    Butt of Ness Lighthouse

    An early start again today to the northernmost tip of the Isle of Lewis, well early for us as we are not good at early starts. We had to be in Stornoway for 1pm for the only ferry at 2 so we started riding at 7.30am after tip toeing out of the lovely Gearrannan Blackhouse Village and Hostel. Just regular Oats So Simple instant oat pots and bananas for breakfast, still nowhere near as good as the package instant porridge but we were not carrying milk.

    Day 7 route

    Today is surprisingly lumpy but rolling, so cheating lumps if you whizz down fast enough you can get up the other side without too much effort! Wild moorland out to Butt of Ness, again no cafés. We were trying to find a coffee and second breakfast stop, but never mind there will be one in Ness.

    Stiff westerly and gentle showers so the weather is so much better than last two days too.
    The long and not windy (referring to bends not wind!) road to Borvas and Ness

    Borvas Church, I think!
    Fabulous model building outside a house on the verge in Ness - long winters!

    We made it to Ness around 10am.

    Typically Scottish, no entry fee, no facilities, no café just great views and wonderful that it wasn't raining.

    We couldn't stay long as we have that 2pm ferry to catch and quite a long ride to Stornoway.

    So a few pics including the ubiquitous selfie above! Lots of wildlife and crashing waves.



    Butt of Ness lighthouse



    Departing view
    Mark Beaumont launched the Hebriddean Way in March with 12 hours saddle time over two days. Our moving time was about 14 hours counting Vatersay on Tuesday night over 2 and a half days, in horrendous weather carrying panniers. It was too cold and wet to hang about! I don't think we did too badly.

    Now we turn south and start our return journey to Ardrossan. first things first we have only 2 1/2 hours to get to Stornoway for the once a day ferry. Retracing our route back to Banvas before turning eastbound towards Stornoway. Nice to have the stiff westerly behind, and just the occasional shower. No café and probably just as well as it would have been impossible not to stop. We may not have made the ferry!
    Peat Moors towards Stornoway
    and on they go
    and on and on!

    With a lot of swooping we came into Stornoway. There were traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and a supermarket and a big boat tied up in harbour. To be honest I hope we didn't see the best bit of Stornoway as it seemed a bit sad.....but we didn't stop and explore so not a good judgement. We arrived exactly an hour before sailing, again a bigger boat so check in is earlier for sailings here. Ferry # 9!
    Cal Mac Stornoway - Ullapool Ferry
    A french lady's "rig" We had long convos about Brexit in this queue with several nationalities :sad:

    Breakfast and lunch demolished on the ferry. An uneventful 2 1/2 hour crossing brought us to delightful Ullapool. We used the last section of our Cal Mac Hopscotch #8 tickets

    Waterside B&B is 100m from the ferry ramp, I took this photo from the front door! We cannot recommend it highly enough. Superb location, delightful, modern yet characterful rooms overlooking the harbour and fabulous hosts, Fiona and Donnie. We were so lucky to snag a single night gap in high season. Stay here. Preferably for several days.
    Our room at Waterside overlooking Ullapool harbour

    Boat watching, again!

    We went out for a walk around the town, I managed to dart into a gift shop and buy an anniversary card for tomorrow without Steve made me giggle. It was a stunning photo of Steilbost beach on Harris in sunshine, the opposite to how we had seen it! we would have loved to have done some sea kayaking.

    We fancied curry and had a perfectly OK curry except mine was pretty cold and there was a long wait. We did talk to a party of bikers from Durham sat next to us who were doing the North Coast 500 in a 3 day weekend, they all obviously had prized "pass outs" They had engines on their bikes...and were lovely friendly guys. We were doing a smallish section of the route by coincidence.
    11pm at night Ullapool in July Spot our bikes chained to the railings for the night.

    Home to our lovely room and we had this view from our cosy bed.

    Touring Tips in Scotland
    1 Check ferry timetables carefully, especially for how long before a sailing you need to be there. Usually 10 minutes but big car ferries load bikes first and an hour may be required.

    2 Phone B&Bs (don't just enquire online) and see if the best ones (who usually do a 2 night minimum stay because they are still solidly booked) have a 1 night gap when cycle touring.

    3 Follow @CalMac_Updates on twitter and check religiously where possible. The ferry timetable/schedule and interruptions are frequent due to weather and mechanicals and really impact a time critical tour. we were so lucky to not have any problems.
    User32269, sotkayak, Ajax Bay and 5 others like this.
  13. That day totally captures what I love about the remote isles. Yearning to go back!
    Cranky Knee Girl likes this.
  14. Dave 123

    Dave 123 Guru

    This is a great write up, thanks!
    Cranky Knee Girl likes this.
  15. OP
    Cranky Knee Girl

    Cranky Knee Girl Über Member

    N Somerset
    Thank you for saying so. It is all written up, took over 6 months!

    I feel like I'm spamming if it all goes up at once, so I'm posting 2-3 days at once in logical geographical order. Back to the mainland tomorrow and a seriously lumpy week ahead :ohmy:
  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice