Days: 1 – 2
Miles cycled: 5 miles
Total miles: 5 miles
Our preparation for a 10 day cycling adventure in the Outer Hebrides recently was pretty minimal to say the least.
Ever a girl, I’d been keen to know how I could avoid packing everything but the kitchen sink and still feel clean, so had spoken to a couple of female adventurers to get their recommendations. I’ll be publishing my kit list in the final post in this series (along with links to their sites) to help others plan their own trips.
Matt at 18 Bikes had lent us his map of the Outer Hebrides with campsites, shops and post offices marked on. We copied this onto our own map, along with other recommendations from my sister, so at least had a rough idea of where to aim for.
We knew that we wanted to begin our adventure at the start of the Hebridean Way on Vatersay. That meant a 5 hour ferry crossing from Oban on the mainland to the island of Barra, followed by a 4-ish mile cycle onto Vatersay.
As a foot passenger, the cost was significantly lower and importantly (as even our departure date was fluid) CalMac assured us that we could just turn up with our bikes, no advance booking required. Jason had researched where the van could be left for a couple of weeks in Oban…and that’s pretty much where the preparation ended.
Our journey north was smooth going and by evening we were pitched up near the shore on a cracking little campsite near Oban, enjoying a beer with our fellow campers as the sun went down.
The next morning, it’s fair to say that there was some extended car park faff taking place. We were new to loading up our bikes with so much kit. Leaving the van felt like cutting the umbilical cord to security and the bikes felt heavy and unbalanced.
However, before long we were at the ferry terminal with tickets in our hands. The adventure had begun.
Sitting with our bikes in a shady spot away from the heat of the day, we relaxed over a late breakfast from a fabulous little cafe attached to the ferry terminal building which has locally sourced produce and where the guy serving makes it his mission to get the customers smiling and happy. Seriously, go visit if you’re in the town.
We were soon surrounded by other bikepackers waiting for the Barra ferry and at that point realised that we were now part of a whole new community of people.
Everyone gravitated towards each other, comparing bikes, how to load the bike, styles of travel (fast and light, slow and steady, wild camping, hotels, etc) and the best yet, a bottle of wine being carried in a water bottle holder. More surprisingly, we were entrusted with keeping an eye on a couple of bikes fully loaded with kit while the family ventured off for some food.
We’d never taken just our bikes on a ferry before, so everything was a new experience – boarding before all the cars, pushing the bikes onto the ferry rather than riding on, tying the bikes to hand rails for the crossing. The next 5 hours were spent out on the deck in the sun, enjoying a surprisingly calm crossing and viewing other islands and dolphins playing in the wake of the ferry.
From all the stories I’d heard about the Outer Hebrides, I was expecting strong winds and overcast skies to greet us in Barra, but the evening temperature was hot and oppressive.
Feeling pretty disorientated as the other cyclists rode off with purpose and a little unbalanced with the weight, we called into the local Co-op before striking out for Vatersay in the hope that we’d find somewhere decent to wild camp.
Our first causeway crossing went by without note. I’d expected to be taking pictures of all the causeways and signs welcoming us to new islands, but feeling travel weary we just continued on through the deserted countryside marvelling at how remote it all felt.
Eventually, we rounded a corner to see a beautiful beach and noticed lots of tents pitched in the dunes – it no longer felt remote! Cycling to the end of the road, we looked for our own pitch for the night and spied a path on the opposite side which looked to be above another beach.
Nobody had pitched on this side, so we pushed our bikes that way until we were standing above a magnificent beach. Checking the map, we realised that this one had been described by my sister as “probably the best beach in the world”.
I spent 11 days telling everyone that my sister had rated this particular beach so highly – and have since found out that it was not her own personal opinion (amazing as she thinks the beach is) driving her to write that that specific phrase in her list of recommendations for us, but a quote from a Carlsberg advert set on the beach. I felt a little cheated when I uncovered the misunderstanding 😂
Another crazy fact from my sister about Vatersay is that the Queen once played football on the beach here!!!!
Anyway, back to our camp for the night! The sea at this beach was wilder than the one opposite, more exposed, and more dramatic as a result.
It would have been rude not to set up camp!
Watching the sun go down, it was still warm at 10pm. We slept with the tent door open, meaning we caught the beautiful sunrise in the early hours.
The next morning started out lazy. We were enjoying another warm sunny day and felt reluctant to be on our way. The crazy pace of the weeks leading up to our trip had caught up and we both wanted to stop, rest a while and take in the beauty for a little longer.
Then it registered – our trip, our rules!
Travel for us has always been about the adventure and the experience along the way rather than the final destination. We’d purposely kept all the options open, so it was no problem to change our minds and stay another night.
We ambled over to the cafe down the road for lunch before exploring the island a little more, walking around the headland and discovering new beaches, all equally beautiful.
As the sun went down on another stunning day, we felt ready to move and to find our cycle touring legs.