25 May 2013

Outer Hebrides Tour Part IV: The Isle of Harris

We had caught the last ferry of the day over to Leverburgh, on Harris, and hadn't stocked up on food or water before we left. We hoped to find a shop in town and then a spot to wild camp, all in the few hours before the sun went down.

Upon arrival in Leverburgh at about 7pm we learned that the shop was closed. We had some backup food, so that was not too much of an issue, but we needed water. We decided to circle back to the harbor where there was a restaurant and ask them for water. When we got there, we took a peek at the menu and decided it looked good! Another restaurant patron told us that the fish was so fresh, they were missing some of the items on the menu because the boat hadn't arrived yet. So we decided to treat ourselves.

We enjoyed some delicious local cuisine--seafood for Alberto and an island venison pie for me. It was delicious and made a nice change from our camp dinners. We filled up on water as well and headed off around the west side of Harris to find a spot to camp. We had heard there was a good spot in North Bay but as we passed by the town in the fading light, we didn't see anything (we later figured out you need to take the turnoff into the town itself, and go through to the other side of it to the beach).

West side of Harris (near Northbay) in the fading light
We kept pedalling, past the town of Borve, and the only spot that seemed remotely suitable was a picnic area next to the road, where two campervans were already parked, seemingly settling down for the night. We pressed on a bit longer but when nothing else presented itself we turned back to the picnic area. It was really getting dark by that point and we put on our headtorches to pitch our tent. The ground was pretty slanted and we were a bit too close to the road for our liking, but beggars can't be choosers.

As we were finishing up getting everything set up a guy came out of one of the campervans to offer us a drink. He was from Oban, living in Newcastle, and taking his parents-in-law around the Outer Hebrides for the very first time. He was very friendly and generously made me a cup of tea and gave Alberto a beer -- really can't ask for anything more than that!

Roadside camp spot the following morning
We slept well despite the less-than-ideal camping spot and woke up to another glorious sunny day. We chatted with the campervan people over breakfast and compared notes. They gave us a tourist map of the islands which was useful in that it showed cafes, and told us about Huisinis, a beach in North Harris where they were planning on heading for the night. It sounded great so we set our sights on that as well, though we weren't sure how far it would be for us as first we were planning to do a complete circle of south Harris, as we couldn't decide between the east and west sides, both of which were supposed to be spectacular.

We set off northwards along the west side. After about half an hour we passed a campsite in Seilebost. We could have made it if we'd known to head for it, but it didn't appear on our map. Oh well, it really wasn't too bad where we were. The west side of Harris did not disappoint, as we followed the coast with it's many beautiful beaches, and then had a long climb in the north of the island, before turning off to head south down the east coast and back to Leverburgh.

East coast of Harris
The east side of Harris was equally stunning, but completely different in feel. Although at times we were only a few meters above sea level, it felt like we were very high up because of the rugged landscape. We stopped for a snack at the Skoon art cafe near the town of Geocrab. It was so sunny that we sat outside as we had our tea and cakes. We really never pictured ourselves doing that in Scotland in April!

Eating outside at the Skoon Art Cafe
We arrived back in Leverburgh after stopping briefly to check out St Clement's Church in Rodel. We stopped in at the shop to stock up. We got some good items for dinner and snacks, but a lack of bread made lunch hard. We had some crackers, cheese, and fruit and in the parking lot of the shop, where we met another couple of cycle tourists who had just come off the ferry. They were doing roughly the same route as us but had a few more days to do it in. We headed off up the A859 together-ish but we were quite different paces. Alberto and I took the turn into North Bay and found the beach where we could have camped the night before, and also saw a fish shop where apparently they operated an honor box system -- we didn't get anything though.

This is the beach in North Bay that we were trying to find the night before
We got back on the A859 and surprised the other couple by passing them from behind again. They couldn't understand how they had gotten past us! The road was just as beautiful as it had been the first time, and soon we were passing our previous turnoff spot and headed for Tarbert. It took a bit longer than anticipated and we reached Tarbert just before 6, so we quickly hit up the shops for food and water. There was a local butcher so we picked out some sausages in addition to the usual dried foods and grains.

It was starting to get late, but it didn't seem like there was anywhere nearby to camp so we decided to head to Huisinis as we had originally wanted to. I don't know why we were convinved that the road to Huisinis would be relatively flat, perhaps because it went along the coast. But it was not flat. It was actually some of the worst hills we had encountered on the trip. I do believe I began cursing them at some point, but it didn't change things. We wanted to get to camp before dark so we just kept pushing, and after what seemed like hours we finally reached the beach. The beach was absolutely stunning, well worth all the effort. It felt like paradise (if paradise exists at 5 degrees C).

The road to Huisinis
Our campervan friends from the previous night were there already, and they were incredulous that we had made it there on our bikes. We had a good laugh about that and they let us use their disposable BBQs which were already hot to make our sausages. By the time we were eating it was dark again but we were content with our ride and drifted off to sleep planning a relaxed day to make up for two tough ones in a row. The other good thing about Huisinis beach was that it had public restrooms, which made washing up easier and made everything a bit more civilised.

We woke up on the early side due to the bright sunshine coming in to the tent. We decided to go for a walk around the fields before breakfast to take in the views from other angles. There were tons of rabbits out in the fields, though we seemed to scare them away whenever we got near. We packed the tent and headed back down to the beach to make breakfast. There was another young couple on bikes there who had spent two nights there but were getting ready to head off. They were on really cheap bikes and carrrying backpacks, and were mainly using the bikes because it seemed easier than bringing a car, rather than purposefully setting off on a bike tour.

We set off with a bit of dread to retrace our steps from the previous night. Actually, the road didn't seem so bad in reverse, we weren't sure whether it was because of a difference in gradient or because we knew what to expect this time around.

About two thirds of the way back to the main road we stopped to check out the North Harris Eagle Observatory. We asked some walkers who were headed back to their cars about the condition of the trail and they said it was passable by bike so we left our panniers at the entrance and set off on our bikes. It was a good test of their off-road capabilities. We reached the eagle observatory and hung out for a while waiting to see what we could see. We did spot the eagle after a time, though sadly we didn't have binoculars so we couldn't really see any great detail. Still, it was cool.

We headed back out to the road and then onto the main road which links Harris and Lewis. We knew there was a hill to climb but were not prepared for just how long it would be. This stretch between Harris and Lewis was the longest of the whole ride where we would not encounter any services, towns, or restaurants...

(to be continued!)


  1. Hi Alberto

    Just a quick hello. I know you and Lucy will be getting ready for your Icelandic trip very soon and I just wanted to wish you both bon voyage. Hope you will blog that adventure. I also wanted to recommend that whilst in Iceland, however tempted you were to push the gastronomic envelope, that you both gave that buried shark meat "delicacy" a real bodyswerve. I mean, what's that all about?!?



  2. Hi Keith! Good to hear from you, thanks for checking in on us. Unfortunately we have had to cancel our Iceland trip -- It's a long (and sad!) story! We are hoping to console ourselves with another trip to Scotland, checking out the Highlands and hopefully taking in the Orkneys -- starting next weekend. We may even pass through Inverness, not 100% sure on the route yet.

    Hope you're well. We are following Sarah's blog - hope she is having a great time!

  3. Hi Keith,

    As Lucy said, Iceland won't happend this year but hopefully in 2014. The alternative isn't bad though, and we are now looking forward to our third trip in a row to Scotland. As we recall you guys lived in the Orkneys, would be great if you could gave us a few tips and places to check out once there. Would also be great to catch up in Kirkhill or Inverness. Perhaps we could meet up somewhere enroute if you are free? - our route back involves a train from Inverness on the Monday 17th, so will aim to be back in Inverness on Sunday afternoon/evening.

    I will send you my details via warmshowers