South Uist: 16 miles
Eriskay return: 7 miles
South Uist, Eriskay, Barra: 18 miles
Barra, return to Oban: 5 miles
Total miles: 197 miles
On Day 8, we finally woke earlier, with the promise of an early start on the road. However, by the time we’d finished breakfast, chatted some more, swapped contact details with our new friends and packed everything onto our bikes, it was another 11am-ish start.
We’d planned an easy day after the back to back 30+ mile days. It was an estimated 20 miles to the bottom of South Uist and we decided to follow the main road rather than the Hebridean Way to get a different view of the island. It meant pedalling a little higher up on the moors into a headwind, but we figured it was worth the effort.
Our planned stop was at the Kildonan Museum where we enjoyed an early lunch before wandering around the museum itself. It’s a fabulous little place, full of information about the cultural history of the island.
As we were leaving the museum, we bumped into the the legendary James from Howmore Hostel (see the links below for previous posts in this series to get the full story). James had decided to head south for his daily cycle ride, so joined us for a few miles on the road.
Cycling up front with Jason, the pair of them chatting away like old friends, they gave me a welcome windbreak from the strong headwind. We finally waved goodbye for the last time at a split in the road.
We’d decided to stay for a couple of nights at Kilbride Campsite on South Uist, to give ourselves a break from the daily packing of our kit and have a rest before the end of our trip. We’d abstained from alcohol for a week (no pubs, no campsite shops selling wine and no desire, or capability, to add a bottle into our pannier bags), and figured it was worth a little effort to enjoy a bottle of red wine that evening.
Merrily polishing off the bottle while cooking our evening meal on the decking that evening, we got chatting to a lady returning from a dip in the sea. Having finished our wine, we were unable to offer her a glass but she gamely brought over her own bottle to share with us.
Denise was a bundle of energy and I laughed so hard that evening. The 3 of us chatted until midnight, thankfully set away from the other tents. As we turned in for the night, the sky was only just turning dusk. The lighter nights this far north had already caught me out earlier that evening when I’d tipsily rung my sister for a chat after 10pm on a work night….oops!
With a full-on rest day planned the next day, we had a lazy morning and leisurely breakfast in the cafe. Catching up on some writing, Jason headed over to the beach to find a quiet spot to read before we grabbed the bikes to cycle over to Eriskay for lunch.
The tiny shop on the island had everything – from my favourite type of pen which I struggle to find in shops back home (yep, I know, but remember I’m a writer), to a wooden fish slice and some baggy slipper socks for my Mum (both of which I’d struggled to replace back home). Ok, maybe not the most exciting products you could imagine, but I was happy!
I also got a great Father’s Day present there, a book about ‘Whiskey Galore’. I’d watched the film a few times with my Dad over the years and knew that the quirky film set in a small Scottish village was based on a true story. What I hadn’t realised is that it actually happened right there on Eriskay.
The story goes that in 1941, the S.S Politician foundered and the local community salvaged the precious cargo of whiskey, which they subsequently hid from the Customs and Excise people in various places on the island.
We’d heard that the local pub, the AM Politician, had a couple of the original bottles on display….
Ordering our drinks and lunch in the pub, we asked to see the bottles and were rewarded with them being placed on the bar for a closer look. It was a little bit of history which warmed my heart and reminded me of growing up watching the film.
Catching the final rays of sun that evening, we had another catch up with Denise before swapping contact details and saying goodbye.
Our last morning on South Uist was another beautiful day and we left on the lunchtime ferry to Barra.
We’d treated ourselves to a night in a yurt for our final evening on the islands, so checked in and left our bags there to cycle into Castlebay, working out how long it would take us to cycle there for our early ferry the next morning. Having found Barra to be peaceful a week ago, the pace of life and traffic now seemed to be much faster after the Uists.
I’m always amazed at how my perceptions can change so quickly when travelling.
More than one person had told me that the Uists (particularly South Uist) were a little bland and boring. Having now visited there myself, I personally think they were wrong. When I consider words to describe the Uists and the people we met there, my list includes: quiet, unassuming, friendly, kind, gentle, wild, remote, moorland, beautiful and unappreciated.
Our last morning on Barra started at 5am to give us plenty of time to cycle into Castlebay. It was a still morning and the midges were out in force. Having avoided that time of day throughout our trip, we’d never encountered the savageness of the little buggers! In hindsight, I can thank them because they gave me no time to mourn our last morning on the island – we just grabbed the bikes and got the hell out of there.
The 5 hour crossing back to Oban was incredible. The calmest sea I’ve ever known and seals, dolphins and minke whales aplenty.
Our final tally of miles on the trip was 197, more miles than the full length of the Hebridean Way. It was self-supported and further than these two novice bikepackers had ever expected to achieve. We now have a real thirst for more of the same.
The Outer Hebrides is an evocative place. People hear that you’re visiting and want to know more, or to tell you their own memories of the islands.
The scenery really is amazing and we were blessed with incredible weather during our visit. For me though, the real beauty of the place is found through the people you meet, residents or tourists. I reckon that’s what travelling is all about really, experiencing somewhere new through a connection with people and the place you’re in at the time.
I’ve been asked a few times about my kit list for the trip, so I’ll be putting something together for my final post in this series. Suffice to say, asking a few questions prior to the trip and having the right kind of kit meant that it ended up being pretty much spot on.
As a final note, our drive back home included a visit to Argyll Backpackers on Loch Fyne following a random comment they made to one of my Twitter posts while travelling. Go check them out, they’re worth a visit.