Outer Hebrides - 2008
Harris to Lewis (58 miles) - Tuesday, 3 June
A windy night with heavy showers gave way to an overcast morning with drizzle and wall to wall cloud, such a shocking change from the glorious sunshine of the day before. It was 9.30 am before the rain eased so by 10.00 am I was dressed and making breakfast. A few blue gaps appeared in the cloud and the rain finally stopped, giving a window of opportunity to pack up, stuff a very wet tent into its bag and ride off out of Roghadal.
The coastal scenery of South East Harris was stunning, a rocky landscape interspersed with small villages. This time the wind was from the south and provided assistance along the tarmac ribbon that threaded north east on its roller-coaster route through Precambrian Lewisian gneisses.
photograph - Golden Road
Further along I overtook another cyclist and continued until the village of Geocrab where a sign pointed the way to the Skoon Art Cafe. I had precious little water left so decided to stop for refreshments and view some art. After ordering a large fruit smoothy and Dundee ginger cake, the other cyclist arrived. She was on a two day circular tour of Harris from Leverburgh east to Tarbert then back round. She'd come across from Uig on the ferry, leaving her camping gear on Skye. There were indeed some very nice landscape pictures decorating the walls and before leaving, the nice lady in the cafe filled my water bottles.
I headed on up the winding hairpins to meet the main Leverburgh to Tarbert road. Climbing a little further I reached the summit and cruised down the long run into Tarbert, blown along by the wind. The sun was out as I stopped by the ferry terminal and bought pop, juice and an Eccles cake from the shop. I sat on a bench, ate and contemplated the next part of the journey that would take me up and over the formidable An Cliseam!
The road ran along the northern shore of West Loch Tarbert and round to the spot where last year I'd relented and accepted a lift from the joiners. This time I was in much better shape, it was earlier in the day, the weather much kinder and I was mentally prepared. The first part of the ascent up and left was a bit much so it was slow going up to the quarry but the gradient eased off a bit as I carried on, reaching the top after only a few stops to taken in the ever improving views.
Wind assisted along the top, wild scenery, lochans and long distance views, there was only light traffic and I felt fine. A second climb around a hill was the last obstacle before the descent began, then around a large hairpin and a long sweep down round to the right. There were fine views down Loch Seaforth to the sea. Towards the bottom, for some reason the wind was blowing against me acting as a brake which was no bad thing. A growing sense of achievement came over me, the realisation that the worst bit was over and it hadn't taken a month of Sundays after all.
The road seemed to be in permanent shadow on an otherwise sunny day. Looking up I realised that a narrow 'jet stream' of cloud probably funnelled by the mountains behind, was being blown due north into the distance on a conveyor belt right above my path.
The Acha Mor turn soon arrived which was the spot where the joiners had dropped me off last year, this time I would head straight for Stornoway. I stopped at the garage shop at the top of the hill for croissants, fruit smoothy and water. I drank the smoothy outside, feeling very pleased with myself, the woman in the shop had told me it was just six miles to Stornoway.
With an overwhelming sense of deja vu, I locked the bike to a stand in the car park and walked round the corner to the Stornoway tourist information office. The nice Visit Scotland lady soon found a vacancy for the night at the Caladh Hotel on James Street and gave me a map showing the way. It was a short ride round to the hotel, the receptionist was patiently distributing room keys to a loud group of people crowding the foyer. Eventually I was able to leave the bike in the hotel cellar, I checked in, found the room and physically flopped onto the bed. After a long shower I felt more human and fragrant so dressed in an odd assortment of non-cycling clothes and hit town.
It was a very pleasant evening spent strolling around in search of sustenance. There was a SFPA boat in the harbour. The Digby Chick restaurant was full but they redirected me to the Arts Centre where upstairs was a very attractive bar and restaurant with excellent views over the harbour. I made my selection from the menu and had bruschetta, burger, water, juice, beer and coffee. The Ullapool ferry 'Isle of Lewis' arrived in port and I watched through the window as the ferry disgorged its load. The foot passengers were last off resembling the alien abductees emerging from the space ship at the end of Close Encounters. Downstairs were some very attractive artworks and I mooched around whilst wondering if the Ullapool ferry route offered a possible way home.
Back at the hotel I was asleep by 10.00 pm.