The Hebridean Way (Guest page)

The list of web-sites friendly to Ramblingfatman grows, so much so; we feel we have an obligation to publicise some of their adventures (with permission). This one was a family ride in 2017 along 'The Hebridean Way' along the western Scottish islands. The group started their long journey from London to Scotland departing on the sleeper train, then using ferries and causeways they hopped between the Hebridean isles. This popular on-road route begins on the Island of Vatersay at the southern tip of the archipelago, eight days later (with 160 miles in the saddle) the 'Hudd family' ended their Hebridean Way ride at Stornoway on the Island of Lewis, but their adventure didn't end there- they had to get home.


Reproduced with kind permission from Nick Hudd, all narratives and images © Nick Hudd, 2017, https://www.thecraftyrider.com

We begin our excerpt of the article on day three and rejoin the ride a week later, click the map icon to see the route on Google Maps, and you can read the full blog by clicking the link at the bottom of this page.


Day 3- May 2017, ​Oban to Castlebay and Vatersay  (10.6 miles)


Cycle path We bought our tickets from the Oban booking office down at the harbour for the first sailing of the day at 7:00am and hid in the foyer out of the brisk cold morning wind blowing off the Atlantic. This sailing would stop at the Isle of Coll and Tiree before finally landing us at Barra seven hours later. It didn't take long before we were ushered aboard and were ordered to prop our bikes against some scaffolding and secured them with some frayed bits of rope, hoping they would still be standing at the end of the crossing.

  The Trip surprisingly went fast and started to feel more like a cruise around the Scottish Islands as we enjoyed a cooked breakfast followed by a cooked lunch from the on-board restaurant, with service that equalled that of some hotels.

We arrived on the Isle of Barra and went straight to the Craigard Hotel which would be our first nights accommodation on the islands.

After putting our bags in our room, it was a quick cup of tea before heading back off on the bikes again minus our panniers. The CalMac ferry had dropped us at Castlebay ferry Terminal, but we couldn’t come all this way without going to the start point of the Hebridean Way at Vatersay. Turning left out of Castlebay you are immediately confronted with a short sharp climb of about 200 feet to a memorial to the two great wars which stood proudly at the summit.

 

After paying our respects at the memorial and admiring the view of Castlebay and 'Caisteal Chiosmuil' in the evening sun, we sped down the other side and across the causeway linking Vatersay and Barra whilst a seal looked on in bemusement.

 

As the road hugged the island and swept around to the next headland, there was another memorial and clearly the wreck of an old aircraft – a Catalina flying boat which had crashed in 1942. Remarkably 6 out of the 9 crew survived which is hard to believe with what was left of the aircraft. It was nice to see so much of it remaining and had not fallen into the hands of souvenir hunters.

The start of the Hebridean Way was only a few hundred yards beyond the crash site and nowhere could have been a more stunning or inspiring place in the world to start a cycle ride!

 

A near deserted beach with pure white sands was the back drop to a weathered metal sculpture which blended into an embankment next to the road. This markied the start of 185 miles of what would be stunning cycling, friendly people and amazing food.

We enjoyed a tea, brewed on the Kelly Kettle that we had brought with us, whilst a scattering of people were taking photos and a couple were setting up their camper for what must be the best campsite in the world. There is even a new toilet block opposite the beach where you can have a shower for a one pound donation. Perfect if wild camping. ​

We reluctantly headed back to the hotel. Locked our bikes in the store room and headed up for a shower before dinner. The rooms were very newly decorated and over-looked the church and far reaching hills at the rear and views over the harbour to the front. A great location for our first night.

  We headed down to the bar where two locals sat drinking and chatting. Photos and posters of the 1949 film Whiskey Galore adorned every bit of wall space. Unbeknown to me, the filming of Whiskey Galore had actually been done on Barra and not on Eriskay near where the SS Politician had ran aground.

  The views across the harbour soon came to an abrupt end when more locals came rushing in - ordered their drinks and then quickly shut the blinds, as if they had been ordered to by warden Hodges. A large projector screen came down from the ceiling and the football was on! Luckily we were called through to the restaurant for our dinner where we could enjoy the view once again. We sat eating our Haddock and Scallops wondering if you could ever get bored with a view like that? For some you obviously could.

Day 10- Loch Eireosort to Bristol (via Stornoway, Ullapool, Inverness, London) - 16 miles


Cycle path We knew we were in for a busy twenty four hours of traveling, but all the same it sounded a perfect end to an adventure. We had our breakfast which seemed to be as much as you wanted of just about anything you wanted before mounting up and heading back along the A859.

Cycle path As we trundled along the road there was a sombre feel as we knew the journey was nearing its end. The road got busier and modernity became more and more apparent as Tesco vans and Buildbase lorries passed by and people seemed to stop waving at each other now.

imageWe stopped in a café and garage about 10 mile up the road, just passed the junction A858. It was a perfect halfway house between the inn and Stornoway, and other cyclists also had the same idea. In the space of ten minutes eight others joined us and we all shared stories of where we had been and where we were going. I was now very jealous of a couple completing the route up to the Butt of Lewis.

There was a driveway to Lews Castle on the right a few miles outside of Stornoway which we decided to try, if only to get off the busy main road. Although there were no entry signs halfway down displaying no motor traffic - we decided to carry on. Presumably preventing cars from doing the short cut that we were now achieving.

Heading all the way to the water’s edge - a path lead over a small bridge before the main road takes you to the ticket office. A Tesco is conveniently situated opposite for any last minute essentials for the crossing.

Once docked in Ullapool, we had an hour wait for the taxi that we had arranged to get us and the bikes back to Inverness, so we had a coffee in the Frigate café on the front whilst watching the sun set on the island mountains one last time. Right on time at 6pm, a large mini bus arrived which made a perfect viewing platform for the one and half hours back to Inverness rail station.

We were chauffeured to the door of the train station and each of us took it in turns to have a shower in the station. Although £3.50 they were better than some I had in hotels and you are even supplied with a towel.

image image We put our bikes in the guards van along with umpteen boxes of lobster obviously destined for London restaurants. It had just gone 8:15pm when we boarded the sleeper, after settling our bags down, we headed straight to the dining car. We had learned from previous trips that if you want food on the sleeper, to secure your seat in the dining car early. Many people use it as a viewing area, preventing people wanting to eat in there. We ate and drank while the light slowly faded on the rolling hills, mountains and rivers. We knew that when we would see light again in the morning, it would be a very different view!

As the train pulled in to London Euston. You could sense the busyness even before you heard or saw it. It was a very different world than the one we got on. Commuters vigorously trying to get to work, heads down and earphones in.

We needed to get to London Paddington for our 11:00am train to back to Bristol and once again the Bike Hub app guided us the short distance across London once more. Although busy with commuter traffic, we were able to hang off the back of a peloton of work commuters to arrive at Paddington, before the inevitable of having to do the final leap home!


I found the question from Nick intriguing- when does beautiful scenery become boring (when the locals closed the blinds in the Vartersay beach Inn and watched football)? So much so I looked it up; "Boredom is similar to mental fatigue and is caused by repetition", so they've seen the view so much, they're bored with it. But if you look closer, the views are always changing and are never the same from day to day, there’s always something different, I hope I never get inattentive with it. Nicks acount of the trip was enough to make me dream of the views seen through his eyes. Maybe one day I will see them through mine.

If you want to read about the whole trip, click here, or copy and paste the following into your address bar

https://www.thecraftyrider.com/the-hebridean-way---may-2017.html


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