Miles cycled: North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist: 32 miles
Total miles: 151 miles
Our overnight wild camp on a headland in Lochmaddy had been a fun location. It was right next to the ferry terminal, with access to the amazing (and spotless) toilet facilities of the marina near by. In hindsight, I wonder whether that can really be classed as a wild camp 😉
Unfortunately, despite the great location, I’d slept really badly due to a strong wind blowing on my side of the tent which made me too cold to sleep deeply. At 5am, I persuaded Jason to swap places and grabbed a thankful couple of hours rest.
Despite my lack of sleep, I soon rallied when we arrived at the Lochmaddy Museum and Arts Centre Cafe for breakfast. After a shaky start (I ordered an egg sandwich on gluten free bread rather than a breakfast egg roll…don’t ask) all was forgiven, our breakfast arrived and we lingered over our drinks until a coach party arrived.
Browsing the shop, I was surprised to see a big selection of Runrig CD’s. Knowing their Skye heritage and love of the islands, I could understand one or two but this seemed strangely high. I saw them live in Scotland a few times in my 20’s (they were superb) and though they’re not played so often on the radio, I still love hearing their music.
Turning the corner, I soon understood why they were so well represented in the shop. The community museum had a Runrig exhibition (complete with gold disk) as 2 members of the band originally came from Lochmaddy/North Uist. Obviously I am far from a true fan!
Back on the road again, we climbed out of Lochmaddy and began to make our way back south. Cycling in this part of North Uist really made my heart sing and I think it will go down as my favourite from the whole trip. If you’ve ever been to the Outer Hebrides, you’ll understand the significance of this – there are just so many incredible places to choose from.
The scenery was wonderful and invited us to take our time.
During our travels, we’d been passing lots of places where peat had been cut and left drying out in the sun but so far seen nobody working on it. Spying an elderly gentleman, we interrupted his day for a chat. I’d been interested in knowing a bit more about cutting peat, including how long it took to dry out (apparently around 6 weeks with the warm dry conditions we were having).
Now on a double track road, we were still getting cheery full-on waves of hello from passing vehicles, including a farmer driving his tractor who came across us again a few hours later with an equally cheery greeting. Seriously, we found this place so welcoming it was untrue!
Being from Malhamdale in the Yorkshire Dales, I am used to the ‘Malhamdale Wave’ (a single finger lifted from the steering wheel as car drives pass each other). This single finger wave means more than you might imagine and firmly separates the locals from the visitors. In the Uists however, drivers lift their full hand from the steering wheel and wave an enthusiastic and smiley hello. Fantastic 🙂
Noticing a big lump of stones on a hill top, we pulled in to find out more. They turned out to be Barpa Langass, a 5,000 year old burial chamber thought to be the oldest structure in northern Europe. It was well worth the wander up the hill and the views from here were amazing.
Not long afterwards, we were back on the moorland which I’d found so desolate only 2 days before. With a new found appreciation for the wildness of North Uist, a little more sun and a lack of headwind, I now loved the scenery and openness of the area. I no longer concurred with our CalMac friend’s sentiments about passing through the Uists quickly – this place deserves to be savoured and enjoyed.
Somewhere around here, we crossed paths with the legendary James from Howmore Hostel again. He was out on his daily cycle ride so we stopped for a quick chat, leaving with promises to catch up properly later that evening at the hostel.
Not long after, I realised something about my mental attitude to distance and endurance. When I can picture the distance, progress and effort in my mind, I’m good to go. My next goal at this point was a hotel serving hot drinks (and hopefully cake) before deciding whether to follow advice from our friends on the tandem to go for a wander up to the summit of Ruabhal (124m) on Benbecula.
So when Jason stopped at a turning on a track leading away from the road before I’d had chance for a rest and lunch, I was slightly put out to say the least. We cycled along the bumpy track – nothing too dramatic for my mountain bike under normal circumstances, but pretty uncomfortable when loaded down – before reaching the path to the summit. My grump had increased tenfold by now, so a quick stop for a snack was in order.
I reluctantly started walking uphill and quickly realised that the last 4 days of cycling had fatigued my body. The path was easy and it felt bizarre to be yawning constantly and feeling like I could fall asleep on my feet. Too stubborn to turn round, we eventually made it onto the summit and were treated to magnificent 360 degree views, all the way over to Skye (2-ish hours away by boat).
Caffeine was beckoning, so we didn’t linger long and soon found ourselves at the hotel with a pot of tea, leaving the residents of this fine establishment looking rather unimpressed with two dishevelled cyclists in their midst.
Arriving back at Howmore Hostel that evening was like coming home. Our fellow travellers included Tom (travelling solo from the south to cycle the Hebridean Way), Mike (walking the Hebridean Way), Peter (who was basing himself at Howmore for a few days of walking and cycling) and naturally, Famous James who was absolutely full of knowledge about the local area (and, as it turned out, is a damn fine artist from Ireland).
We had a fun evening getting to know everyone. Tom had some fascinating stories about visiting the far north of Norway in spring and we discovered that Peter helped to run the Mountain Bothies Association plus had a mutual connection with us through the well-known outdoor writer, Ronald Turnbull.
I’ve always said that the best part of travelling is the experiences you find along the way. Spending time in Howmore that evening really proved the point.
For the final post in the series, tune in the same time tomorrow…..
Posts in the series:
1. Getting started
2. Barra and Vatersay
3. Barra, Eriskay and South Uist
4. North Uist and Berneray
5. North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist
6. South Uist, Eriskay and Barra
7. Bike packing kit list