09 May 2013

Touring the Outer Hebrides Part III: The Uists and Benbecula

The ferry docked at Eriskay
The ferry ride from Barra over to Eriskay was less than an hour long but we mainly spent it inside due to the cloudy and windy weather which made it uncomfortable to be outside when we weren't generating body heat by riding. We arrived on Eriskay and climbed a big hill almost immeadiately. Soon after, we realised that the wind was actually an incredibly tailwind for us -- we were in for a fast day's riding.

Eriskay is quite small and in no time we were pedalling across the causeway which links Eriskay to South Uist. We enjoyed the tailwind all the way to Daliburgh where we found a Coop to restock on food and have some lunch. We made ourselves sandwhiches in the Coop parking lot, using the building as a wind-block.

 A little further up the road we diverted off the main road as we were curious about a beach we saw on the map. It only took a few kilometers (with crosswind of course) to reach the western coast of the island, and we then realised there was a short path to take us to the village of Howmore, which we had intended to divert to as well. We did the path on the bikes without a problem with the exception of one section where sand had built up making riding impossible. Howmore has a Gatliff Trust hostel which we would have loved to have used had it coincided with a sensible sleeping point for us, but we took a look around nonetheless as it is based in a traditional Hebridean Blackhouse. There were also some ruins in the village of former churches and the like.

The path - Howmore in the distance
As it was still too early to stop we headed back to the main road and then decided to divert again, this time to the East on the B890 which was intriguing in that it was a relatively major road which seemingly went to nowhere. This was an incredibly rewarding ride despite the headwind on the outgoing leg, with a rugged landscape, plenty of wild ponies by the side of the road, and several adorable baby lambs.

Wild pony, wild landscape on the B890
We retraced our steps and let the wind carry us across the causeway onto Benbecula. We decided to take the long way around the island by diverting off of the main road, which was convenient as we passed another Coop (where we had to stop to buy a beer, as it must be bad luck to pass a Coop without stopping on this kind of tour!) and a campsite. The campsite really didn't look like anything special so we decided to press on looking for a wild camping spot - but it was nice to know that we could head back to it if we became desperate.

Fortunately we found a lovely wild camping spot on some machair overlooking the beach just a few km down the road. We set up camp and were preparing to cook dinner when the owner of the land pulled up in his car. He said there was no problem with us camping there but wanted to warn us not to go near the electrified fence on the other side of his property! Although we knew we were legally allowed to camp there it was still a bit of an awkward coversation - though he was nice enough and he soon left us to finish cooking dinner.

Wild camp spot on Benbecula
Dinner with a view (the fire looks weird because of the camera exposure, it was not acutally that big!)
The following morning we again took our time getting going, and once we did get on the road at about 10:30am we realised that we now had a pretty significant headwind as although we were generally heading north, the layout of the roads actually meant that we were heading eastwards, into the wind, for much of the time.

It was hard going cycling into the wind and the sighting of a hotel with cafe in Carinish was a welcome sight. We stopped in and had some of the best vegetable soup we've had in the UK. At this point we assessed our ferry options and realised we could take it very easy in the afternoon to make the evening ferry to Harris, so we decided to take the long way around the west of North Uist as well.

Excellent food at the Temple View Hotel
We stopped in at a smokehouse and Alberto bought some local salmon, and again explored some beaches off the main road. We ran into one of the cyclists from the ferry to Barra, he had already been up to Harris and was on his way back down, after his boat trip to St Kilda was cancelled due to low demand. We thought how sad it would be to go all that way and not be able to get to St Kilda, which he had always wanted to go to!

Later in the afternoon the wind had changed and we had a bit of a headwind again as we headed for the ferry to Harris. We were a bit worried about timings so didn't stop to pick up any food or water. We hoped we'd be able to find something on the other side and find a wild camp spot before sunset.

Heading for the ferry

(to be continued!)

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