Outer Hebrides - 2008

Luskentyre to Vatersay (42 miles) - Thursday, 5 June

The sun was shining brightly at 6.00 am when I woke feeling the warmth of its rays through the side of the tent. It was still damp and the tent was soaked but worst of all the midges were out in force. I made coffee and hunted round for breakfast, supplies were low so I made do with fruit biscuits and chocolate. I planned to leave no later than 7.30 am but hadn't counted on the midges which hindered progress to a ridiculous extent.

photograph - Luskentyre

Just after reaching the main road junction a sign proclaimed proudly that Leverburgh was thirteen miles away. Even on a good day this would have taken an hour but into a headwind it soon became obvious that there was now no need to hurry, I'd missed the boat. The coastal beach scenery was breathtaking with shimmering white sand against an azure blue sea. Several climbs of 30 metres plus didn't help much either and it took over 90 minutes before I bowled into a very sunny Leverburgh.

I stopped for water at the store / cafe which was undergoing some renovations. The cafe didn't open until 10.00 am so I cycled on round to the ferry terminal. There wasn't too much going on with the next ferry due at 1.30 pm. I should have got up earlier!

Back at the cafe I had egg mayonnaise roll, a lovely piece of carrot cake and a pot of tea. I browsed around the store and studied a large scale road map of the islands pinned to the wall. Adding up the little road side mileage figures I reckoned that my computer had probably been about right for the 62 miles between Barra and Berneray.

Back at the ferry terminal I searched for somewhere to sunbathe out of the wind. An American couple on a BMW motor bike asked me the ferry times and to confirm that the ferry did in fact go to Berneray. The man kept his helmet on and so couldn't hear any of my replies, his unhelmeted female companion had to shout at him for me. Funny really. I watched them drive off towards Tarbert, stopping at length to study a road sign.

The ferry was in view long before it approached the slipway due to its tortuous route across the Sound. A man I'd seen at the Stornoway Arts Centre restaurant as well as the next day when I'd spoken to him at the tourist information office came up and asked me about the journey since we'd last met. I explained the bus ride and choice of beach camp site and that my computer now said seventeen miles cycled that morning.

The ferry left on time, the zig zag effect seemed more pronounced on the return leg. I considered my choices, it was by no means certain that the buses on Uist carried bikes:

bus southwards if possible
cycle for the rest of the day the 60+ miles
option of reaching Barra depended on availability of Eriskay ferry
otherwise head for Lochboisdale for the Oban ferry

On arrival at Berneray the bus was of the coach variety and the sign on the front said Eriskay, brilliant. The bike and bags were once more stowed in the hold of a bus and we set off to Lochmaddy. Strangely, we turned north at Clachan-a-Luib back up the coast road instead of south towards Eriskay. With only two passengers left on board, the driver stopped outside a cafe and explained that we could take a 25 minute break whilst he went to fetch some school children.

I ordered ham & pineapple baguette which came with salad and a pot of tea and scoffed it down at lightening speed, due to hunger and the need to be ready for the bus. The salad seemed endless as I contemplated the fact that I'd just let a total stranger drive off with not only £2,000's worth of bike & gear but also my primary means of getting home.

25 minutes later, the bus was back full of kids. We then proceeded to stop at every conceivable place to drop off children, including remote houses, Benbecula Airport, short tour of Grimsay, and at meeting points with other 'feeder' buses. The drivers had a unique way of transferring the children by effectively blocking the road to other traffic and allowing the children to walk between. Clever really.

Then the driver told me that he was only going as far as Howmore where there would be another bus for the onward leg to Lochboisdale, not Eriskay! Once again the travel dilemma returned, it was uncertain whether the next bus would be able to carry bikes.

If bikes were carried:

Lochboisdale for the 9.00 pm ferry to Castlebay or
Leave the bus at Daliburgh and cycle to Eriskay for the 6.55 pm ferry to Barra

If bikes not carried:

Cycle to Lochboisdale and camp or
Cycle to Eriskay and camp or
Camp at Howmore, cycle south tomorrow

With a great sense of relief, the onward bus also turned out to be a coach. Having transferred buses and set off south, I had a sudden compulsion to camp on Vatersay in order to complete the full Island tour, top to bottom. The driver told me it would mean a ride of about eight miles, so at 6.00 pm as Daliburgh came into view, I decided to get off the bus and take a chance on reaching Eriskay in time for the ferry. I reasoned that I could always cycle back round to Lochboisdale for the 9.00 pm ferry if all else failed.

With the bags fitted in a desperate hurry, I roared down the road with less than 50 minutes to do the estimated eight miles, all against a slight headwind. I crossed the causeway followed by a final agonising climb before the brake block burning descent down the steep hillside to the slipway. I made it with only a few minutes to spare, the ramp went up behind me.

I watched rain spots splashing on the surface of the water as we made the short crossing to Barra under a darkening sky. I cycled round the island anti-clockwise and turned right onto the Vatersay road. Half an hour later the road ran out at the south end of the Outer Hebridean Island chain.

With the tent up on the dunes (NL632952) I walked over to the west beach where the Atlantic was rolling in on a fresh wind. After supper of meatballs & pasta and hot chocolate I crawled into my sleeping bag at 10.30 pm with the alarm set for 5.00 am. This time I'd built in a 30 minute contingency for the 7.00 am ferry.

Final day