Outer Hebrides - 2007

Vatersay, Barra, Eriskay, South Uist (34 miles) - Sunday, 29 July

All my clothes smelled of wood smoke. I made tea and ate breakfast consisting of Jordan's Muesli bar and chocolate which reminded me that I needed to buy more imaginative breakfast ingredients. I strolled up the dunes with the sun reflecting on the sea across the bay, stunning. Whilst packing up I found my digital camera, it was such a relief that I started snapping away immediately. Having put my £4 camping fee in the little box, I cycled off towards Barra and began my journey northwards.

I soon came across a memorial to the crew of a Catalina Flying Boat JX273 that crashed on 12th May 1944. The wreckage is still there and I stopped to have a look. After continuing, I passed another cyclist packing up his tent.

Back at the main road I turned left with excellent views of Castlebay, Kismuil Castle and the island of Maol Domhnaich offshore. I rode past the Music Festival marquee and tent village on Tangasdale Machair where everything was quiet, presumably a good night being slept off. Further north were picturesque dunes with beaches lapped by the Atlantic Ocean. I eventually turned inland at Allathasdal and stopped by Loch an Duin for a drink and a snack before taking a left turn towards the air strip on Traigh Mhor.

In brilliant sunshine I cycled out onto the beach and watched cockle pickers in the bay. I could see a dark cloud and rain approaching and in a sudden downpour I cycled back to the road and round to the Aird Mhor ferry terminal. I had a mug of hot chocolate and carrot cake in the cafe and dried off a bit.

The ferry made its approach across the Sound of Barra but I was far too early for the next crossing. I really should have got up earlier to meet the 11.10 am boat but the Berserker Export Pale Ale had put paid to that. I hung around, walked down the coast a little looking for otters, read some of my book 'Life of Pi', took photos of the otter statue and walked along the harbour wall.

photograph - otter statue

A cyclist dressed in orange arrived and was clearly the guy I'd seen packing up his tent earlier. He was cycling to Ness or perhaps Skye, he wasn't sure. We boarded the Loch Alainn at 3.45 pm for the 40 minute crossing on a calm sea in very sunny weather to Eriskay.

There was a major hill after the ferry landing which was hard going. Eriskay is where the SS Politician foundered in 1941 with 264,000 bottles of whisky on board. The incident inspired Compton Mackenzie's 'Whisky Galore' and the Ealing comedy. I crossed the causeway to South Uist riding against a strong headwind blowing from the north. Gorgeous scenery made up for the effort, perfect white beaches with crystal clear water. Further north I passed the turning to Lochboisdale and soon after stopped at Flora Macdonald's birthplace to see the monument and the house now just a tumble of stones.

Time was getting on and thoughts turned to finding a place to camp sheltered from the strong north wind. Turning off the road also seemed a good idea to get away from the cars, which although infrequent travelled at a fair old rate. At a crossroads I turned left towards Ormacleit then north again towards the sea. I spotted a small estuary on the map near a youth hostel, with dunes on the north side so this was a possibility. Where the road turned right, a sandy track led straight on to a little bridge then a path branched off to the left into the dunes. 200 metres further on was camping spot number two (NF753363).

A beautiful white beach extended around the estuary and I watched the sun go down whilst making supper of sweet Thai noodles and 'Look What We've Found beef in porter with potatoes'. Wild camping at its very best.

The map highlighted a danger area and I heard gun fire in the distance. I noticed several people walking on the beach wearing high visibility jackets so I draped my luminous cycling top over the bike just in case! The first full day of cycling had been really enjoyable but tiring, I climbed into my sleeping bag at 10.30 pm.

Next day