Things were not ideal last night as it was a late night, only pitching the tent after 20:00, the MIDGE SWARM and not having a shower/swim. Anyhow, we slept like logs and then woke to negotiate the bugs this morning. We did not get bitten due to experience and luck but they were quite off-putting. The good news is that the repellant cream (from our Canadian trip) we use on hands and faces (eveything else is covered) works like a charm. At least one positive aspect of midges is that being on the bike is far more appealing than hanging around your campsite! We set off at 08:30 for the ferry from Claonaig to Lochranza - Isle of Arran. Wow, the little coastal road up from Campbelltown had one brutal climb after another. In between there was a nice interlude with a single lane road that mozeyed on up a river valley (still uphill) but afterwards we were back on crazy road. Warning signs grew progressivley worse - 12% incline, 14%, 16%. The weather was great and the views beautiful. We reached Claonaig in time for the 11:20 crossing and got off at Lochranza. What a gorgeous place with it's lovely castle ruin. There was a long climb and then a descent into a lovely Scottish river valley and we stopped to refill all our bottles with ice cold water from the clear stream. After this it was flat riding around to Corrie and then Brodick, the main settlement. Arran is really worth a visit. Everything is quaint and pretty and there are benches overlooking the coast everywhere. It's a lovely place.
We stopped in Brodick for a delicious pizza lunch and then did some food shopping for later. We also went to the outdoor store and got more bug repellent (Smidge is the local brand, we''ll let you know how it goes), some new gloves for me (all my wool ones have holes in the fingers) and some Kendal Mint Cake (yum). We relaxed in the sun a bit and then back on the bikes for the last climb of the day, first out of Brodick to Lamlash and then the major climb which was an unsealed forestry road that would see us climb over 250m over it's length. It was a solid climb and the surface was reasonable but after the climbing we had done today already I found it difficult in parts. We thought we would camp at a river overlooking the falls but forestry activity there prevented it. A large tract of forest had been harvested and they were relocating the logs. We had a swim in the river anyway and then climbed another 2 or 3 km until we found a suitable bushcamp. We like it as it is in the open and does not seem to have any bugs. All in all we climbed over 1400m over the day many of which were at grades greater than 10%, which is a difficult day. It was after 18:00 when we pitched the tent, so that was a long day. We love Arran though, but will only spend one night here.
It was dead quiet on the forest road; there was no sound at all. Then suddenly we were both awake at 01:00. The sound of footsteps as someone was walking along the stony road surface meters from our tent. At these times you forget where you are and just hold your breath and look at each other. The person passed us and kept walking and the crunch, crunch of the footsteps faded into the distance. Bearing in mind that we were in the middle of nowhere, the only human activity within 10km of us in either direction was the forestry company clearing logs and they had their own transport. The Arran Coastal Walking Route does take in routes around here, but what would possess someone to be out walking on this road at 01:00? It was a bit difficult to sleep after that. The night sky was very bright with stars though, and it was possible that the person had not seen us at all, but our tent was about 8m from the road so they must have seen us. Anyway, one of life's mysteries. We were tired in the morning and left a little later than usual. About 200m down the road we came across a river and a flat area for camping with a picnic bench. It is always a wrench when you discover a better campsite so closeby. We were happy with ours, but a bench would have been great!
We had a 7km rough descent back to the island ring road and then some ups and downs. We were now on the west coast of the island, which seems much less touristy and more rural; cow and sheep farming. We stopped at an amazing bakery at Blackwaterfoot where we bought a baguette which we ate on a bench outside with cream cheese. It was so good that we went back and bought two more. The baker told us that they allow the dough to ferment for 24 hours before baking. Slow food! After this the riding got flatter as we followed the coast back to Lochranza. The views were beautiful across the sea towards Kintyre. The sun was out with a gentle head-on breeze. Quite a few people out on their bikes; Arran seems popular with cyclists. We caught the 13:15 ferry back to Claonaig and then cycled a few km's up the hill to a good camp spot we found above a river. Just some thorny bramble shoots needed trimming back to clear around the tent. We aim to be asleep early to catch the 07:45 ferry from Kennycraig to Port Askaig (Islay). We were not able to catch it this afternoon as there is no service to Port Askaig on a Wednesday afternoon, hence the sorter day.
We decided to wake up super early in order to cycle over the hill and get ourselves organized for the ferry, so we were up at 05:00 to find our campsite under a midge seige. We modified or plans and decided to get completely packed up in the tent and then get the stove out to boil water for breakfast and tea, etc. at the ferry terminal. The midges were an absolute plague, so strange as there had been none last night. We've tweeked our defences further in that I put on liner gloves before leaving the tent and wear my balaclava. Mike wears a neck warmer that comes up to join his beanie at his ears. This is in addition to repellant on any exposed skin. They still go bananas. We packed the bikes by the roadside and dashed off at 05:45. As I said, nothing inspires a quick get away like these horrible things. It was a climb for a few kms and then downhill to the terminal where we bought tickets. Calmac Ferries is a huge company and covers all the ferry travel throughout the islands we are visiting. Their rates are very cheap - this 2 hour crossing from Kennycraig to Islay costing under GPB 7 each. We got changed at the terminal and had breakfast and tea, also making flasks for a coffee break later. The ferry trip was comfortable in the lounge we sat in. There was a another cycle tourist from Bath. He was coming across to do the Fell Run on Jura on Saturday. This is a gruelling cross country run across three of the Paps of Jura (mountain peaks). Turns out he had decided to come by bike and not having a bike had purchased one second hand and brought a light weight tent and clothing etc. with him. He was enjoying the freedom of two wheels! We disembarked at 10:00 at Port Askaig and immediately caught the small ferry across a tiny distance to Jura.
Jura is a small and remote island with one village, Craighouse which has a hotel and pub, a campsite, and community shop. It is only 13km to Craighouse from the ferry and we rode there and back to experience a bit of the island. As previously mentioned, the steep outline of the Paps dominates the skyline and all around is heather and grasses. No farming here. There are many wild deer that roam the mountains here. We bought lunch at the shop and could see many people setting up at the campsite for the run on Saturday. Craighouse is a pretty spot on the sea and the campsite is right at water's edge. Apparently they have 250 runners for the race which seems a lot of people for such a tiny place to absorb. After lunch we headed back to Islay. Although it was an out and back route the scenery was different coming back so you wouldn't know it was the same road. The weather was good again, blue skies and very clear across the bay. Only a slight headwind now coming back.
We got a ferry quickly back across the channel to Islay and stopped at the community store for some food for dinner. I was keeping 'em peeled for Avon Skin so Soft, widely rumoured to be the answer to midges. Amazingly they did have it! We bought 2 bottles for a song. Midges do your best - we now have a three pronged repellent approach! We had a climb out of the harbour and then it was easy riding through farmland all the way to the coast on the other side of the island. Islay must be a whiskey-lover's paradise. There are 8 distilleries and we cycled past a lot of them. I wanted to stop at the Islay Wool Mills and it came along quickly. They weave all the cloth on site and we had an explanatory tour of the workshop. They have been weaving cloth on the site since 1550 and the manaufacturing process came to a halt in 1960's. It was subsequently restarted and it is amazing to see all the equipment and looms manufactured in 1900 still in use today. Weaving is a complicated process and the number of patterns they produce is staggering. They produced all the cloth for the movie Braveheart which was about 1km of cloth. After that we stopped at a marmalade shop where all the marmalade has whisky in it. We managed to buy a bottle without any whisky!
The ride swept down to the coast and the views were wonderful. Everything is so perfectly kept here, fences all in straight lines, sheep trimming the grass to the right length. At one point the sheep were even on the beach! Passing through a couple of villages with many benches facing the sun and the clear views across the bay. We then had an uphill stretch towards our campsite which is after a forest. We are camped on a field of sheep but they seem to have accepted us. The weather was been perfect all day and should be the same tomorrow.
We had a great night's sleep on the sheep field and woke a little earlier. We had a 53 km ride to Port Ellen and the ferry back to Kennycraig. We are due a rest day and also expecting rain tomorrow so decided to have a rest day at the campsite we reach tonight. This would be sometime after arriving at Kennycraig and as there would be no shops after Port Ellen we had to stock up there for the rest day. We got going just after 07:00. With the weather today you could not believe it would be raining tomorrow! We first did a loop towards and around Portnavan. Islay is very beautiful and the scenery was stunnig this morning. The road just twisted on towards the coast. At one point far ahead we could see many cows and their young slowly wandering unaccompanied in the road up the hill. We slowed down behind them and crawled along. They were not unhappy about us being there. Later on one cow would not budge out of our way and gave us the hairy eyeball as we passed, hurrumphing for good measure. One has to be careful with cows, they can be unpredictalbe, especially with calves about. We see alot of dark silvery grey coloured cows here and they are very atttractive! Portnavan is a lovely cluster of houses. The bus passed us there. As with Arran, Islay has a fabulous bus service. It is certainly possible to travel without a car on the islands, just with a backpack and using the local buses. We passed a farm of hairy cows - Hebridean Cattle. They were both the tawny orange colour that you are familiar with and also dark brown.
Our loop ended back on the road we turned off last night and we were really pleased we did it, about 10km of riding. We then stopped for a snack and a flask of coffee and decided to join up to the main road as this would be a quicker route to Port Ellen. It was almost completely flat and with a tailwind we whizzed along. We passed a large golfing estate. Of course now that we are in Scotland you do see a lot of golf courses, we even passed one on Arran which reminded players to place green fees in the honesty box! We thought honesty boxes were mainly for free range eggs etc. at roadside stalls! We reached Port Ellen two hours prior to the ferry's departure, but the time passed quickly with shopping, both at Coop and Spar and also going to the Post Office which was busy. As I was waiting in the post office, a busload of tourists waddled in. A lady came up to me and quite demandingly asked, "Our tour bus leaves in 5 min, can my husband come in front of you to buy FOUR STAMPS?" with the emphasis on shouting FOUR and STAMPS. I said OK (but I was thinking, "don't make your problems mine lady"). He seemed embarrassed and meekly asked the man at the counter for 4 stamps to post postcards to Denmark. They'll probably be back in Denmark before the postcards arrive. Port Ellen was buying up for the weekend, the Whisky Festival kicked off today and the schools were closed from today for the Bank Holiday Weekend. It has been interesting to smell the whiskey distilleries as we pass. They do all smell quite different. The one on Jura smelt strongly of bananas. I've never had a whiskey, but it seems there is a lot going into making it!
The ferry trip was 2 hours again as it was to get to Islay yesterday (Port Askaig). We sat on the same seats in the coffee lounge to charge things. There was a group of German blokes who seemed to be on a whiskey tour of the islands and were quite jovial. Our ferry arrived at 15:00 and we had 36km to ride along the peninsula. The ride was lovely with a few small climbs along a single track road. Very pretty farms and woodland gardens about. you see a lot of rhododendron bushes all over, as you do in Ireland. Very brightly coloured. We slowed down for a family of geese with four little ones to cross the road. Mum and Dad flapped their wings wildly as we tried some gentle encouragement, leaving the goslings just to run screaming with their teeny feathers flapping.
Getting higher up at Kilberry we had great views across the bay to the Paps of Jura and could really appreciate the difficulty of this Fell Run tomorrow, in the wet too! In the hot and sunny afternoon weather we still could not believe it would be raining tomorrow! We filled up our water bag about 8km from the end at a clear running water burn near someone's house and then reached our camp spot. It is a great spot just off the road on the beach with the waves lapping. It is a windy day today so we have no bugs, or maybe they don't live here? That would be nice! So once again a long day, leaving our campsite at 07:00 this morning and sitting down to eat dinner at 19:00! A good day though and worth carrying all the extra food for a rest day here tomorrow!
It was a good decision to have a rest day as it rained heavily for much of the day. We were a little disappointed to wake up to find the dreaded midges had moved into our tent (well, under the tent outer) but once the rain came they shuffled off. Otherwise a relaxing day. The rain lifted a bit for us to have breakfast and then returned, mainly squally showers and then drizzle. It was interesting that the dry stream bed that ran alongside our camp was running this morning. As we were getting ready we heard a greeting from the road and there was a man walking with a big pack on. Turns out he is from Bristol and is walking around the coast of UK. Not all at once, in sections. At the moment he is walking from Tarbert to Oban and will then take the ferry to Mull, same as us. We waved him on his way with a promise to see him on the way. It was actually a bit of a novelty, riding in the rain. We have not had proper rain in about three weeks! The scenery is very different with cloud and drizzle. We had a very reasonable and enjoyable climb along single track road and then a descent into Lochgilpean. Just before we reached the village, we hit the Tow Path which is a Canal Path running to Crinan, with 17 locks to pass. We love a good canal path, so thank you Scottish Canals! At the start of the path I posed for a picture with the actual scultpures maquettes (1:10) of the Kelpies which we will see in Falkirk (near Stirling) way in the future. It was pretty cool, see pic. We shopped in Lochgilpean and then continued on the tow path for about 10km. We could sit and eat at a bench in the fine drizzle.
The next interesting thing about the route today were the number of ancient burial cairns around the place. We stopped at three and could have stopped at more. They are all sort of 5000 years old and right on the road so you can just have a look as you ride past, or get off your bike and go in to have a look. After these points of interest came the big climb of the day which was more difficult than the first. The road was very quiet and very narrow single track but very good condition, and passed though so amazing old forest scenery. Ancient trees covered in lichen and moss. Mist rising up ahead and rivers in full torrent. All in the driving drizzle and rain. We felt this was a true Scottish experience! The climb continued longer than we would have liked and at the top we put our rain jackets back on. We don't wear them for long climbs as the amount of sweating you do in a waterproof jacket as you climb off-sets the rain being kept off. As we did so we were surprised to see a family come by on bikes. We had seen them earlier at the stone cairns. Dad had two kiddies in a cart behind and Mum had a couple of panniers and a tent. It just shows you that people who want to cycle tour will find a way. They looked as wet as we were. Just as the descent to Loch Awe ended we spotted a path off towards the Loch which provided good access for our bikes and the pick of camp spots. The rain had just stopped by then for our first loch swim of the tour! Wow, it was cold! The afternoon was pleasantly dry (sort of).
We were so impressed with our bush camp at Loch Awe that we called it Loch Awe(some). It had been windy when we arrived and rained very heavily overnight but the morning dawned absolutely still. The Loch was a mirror. The midges were in midge heaven. As we woke up we saw that they had absolutely covered the underside of the tent cap. We decided to get up as usual (with full midge protection of course). As we exited the tent we understood the situation better. We have never seen clouds of midges like this. They grew very excited to see us and swarmed us, so that when you looked at the other, their clothing was completely covered up with midges. It was highly unpleasant. Nevertheless we thought there was wind forecast and now and then a breeze came off the lake which sort of got some of them to leave, but they returned with a vengance. We realized since after discussing matters that we should just have got dressed into our cycling gear in the tent and left and then had breakfast along the way somewhere. Anyway, we managed to pack up. Everything was covered in midges. As an example see the pot lid in the pic below. They flew and crawled into everything, the paper towels were encrusted, they flew into your tea as you drunk it. What a debacle.
We managed to escape what we now termed Loch Awe(ful) and took off on our bikes. The first half of the day's ride was very uppy downy and not at all enjoyable really. This was partly due to the difficult climbs and partly due to the stress over the midges. We stopped for our flask coffee at a small village after about 25km and then things started looking up. The road became much prettier, narrow single track following a gushing river through rolling pastures where sheep grazed freely without fences and we passed a herd of Hebridean cattle, some with little hairy baby cows which was sweet. We then descended into Oban. There were a few ferries we could catch to Mull and we were keen to have a good meal in Oban. Oban is a pretty ferry port but man, was it humming today! Packed with people on this Bank Holiday Monday. We looked around the harbourfront to see what to get for lunch and saw a door with the sign "SHOWERS" above it. This was interesting, particularly since we have been swimming or cold-showering for the last week. It was unlocked and contained two lovely showers, like you would find in an ablution block. They had some sort of pay meters for them but it wasn't clear how much. I went to the info centre nearby to enquire and the lady told us they were just there for anyone to use at no cost. I was incredulous so I confirned "Warm showers?". Yip! Pretty brilliant. We got organised and each had one there and then! Oban's best kept secret if you ask us! A local chatted to Mike about the influx of people to the town and said that they all get the train here for the day as somewhere to come. Anyway, we had a great lunch at the local fish and chip shop (which charged you an extra pound if you wanted to sit there and eat it - smacks a bit of extortion). We decided to catch the 15:50 ferry but when we went over to the terminal to buy tickets we were told it had been brought forward so the next ferry was 17:10. Didn't really matter to us, we sat in the terminal and relaxed. The ferry trip was 50 min long and seemed full. We disembarked in beautiful Mull and cycled about 10km 'til we found a suitable camp spot. We pitched the tent, got out or stuff and got in, with a million midge corpses. We do not plan on getting out the tent 'til morning. Let's hope the midges stay away!
Zero midges = great bush camp! Slightly windy day, but the wind would be more of a help than anything else. We had a climb first up over the high country (>200m) and then a lovely, gentle descent to Pennyghael. The roads on Mull are single track, like most Scottish Islands and even a lot of the rural mainland. Mulls is also a tourist hotspot thanks to the ferry to Iona (just a hop over Iona Sound) and the jump off point of tours to Staffa and Fingal Cave etc. These have been popularised through BBC TV shows such as Coast, etc. Today we were to cycle the road to catch the ferry to Iona (about 50km) and then cycle back the same way for about 30km. This meant that we had the perfect opportunity to suss at the best campspot on the way out! Everything was perfect, the weather, the scenery, the road, even the climb. The issue is the number of cars and buses coming in either direction that you have to stop for, or if the road is wide enough, hope that the driver gives you a few inches (they don't always!) and keep riding. It's a bit tricky on a climb as it's not always easy (or possible) to get going again if you stop. But thankfully this main climb was quite easy so all the stop start just slowed it down and made it more restful! Mull has BIG scenery, rolling grassy hills, lochs high up and Hebridean cattle of every shade. The sea around the coast is azure and turquoise. We were lucky with the weather I guess as that intensifies the colour. We stopped at the Pennyghael store and sat on the bench outside to admire the view and enjoy our coffee with lemon drizzle cake we bought there.
It was on the section of road to Fionnphort, the ferry point to Iona, that the passing issue became more irritating. There are many passing bays, but as a cyclist you are often caught in between two and instead of seeing this and waiting for us, in most cases the oncoming car just kept going, sometimes without much thought for what we were going to do. Of course the same applies to campervans and on one occassion even a truck who determined just to keep going until we stopped opposite each other in the narrow road in a stalemate. As I was making the split decision whether to get off my bike and push it off the roaad around him or whether to squeeze passed, I glanced up at him from my vantage point right in front of his wheels. He looked at me and revved his engine as if he weas just going to drive. A bit unnecessary! Anyhow, we got there safely and the ferry port was packed. There were a few buses and many cars. People cannot take vehicles onto Ioana unless they are residents, etc. It is a very pretty place and quite interesting. Very busy with daytrippers. There is the original Abbey and the remains of the Nunnery. The entry fee for the Abbey was GBP9.90 which is a lot to charge for entry to a church. Iona also has it's own tartan which is very pretty and I was interested in, but ludicrously expensive. The whole place is marketed to daytrippers or tourists. It is culturally significant, but that is very much down played. Even so, it was certainly a worthwhile experience to go there.
The cycle back went quickly as the riding was quite flat and easy in both directions, and the road was strangely quiet after the first buses and cars had passed us. Then an ambulance passed us going towards Iona, later a police car (no sirens for either). "Some old fogey has carked it," was Mike's offering. Then a tow truck passed us. It then became clear thaat there must have been an accident somewhere between where we were now and the Fionnphort, and the road had been temporarily closed. Bonus! It had re-opened by the time we reached our campspot and again, we were happy to be off the road as there was some pretty impatient drivers racing back to Craignure for the Oban ferry, we guessed. Our bush camp is amazing; stunning views of the sea and mountains.
Although our campsite was pleasantly midge-free last night, we woke to a bit of a midge problem this morning. I found that my new midge net worked well though. The weather was a little overcast and we expected rain tonight, but it was quite still most of the day with a slight tailwind if anything. The views were beautiful as we began a long but gentle climb away from Pennyghael. We were hoping that the road would be quieter as we worked our way up the west coast and it certainly seemed to be true for the first few hours. The main traffic was a herd of cows walking slowly up the road. We had a great descent and then the road continued along a flat section of coastline for quite a way. Huge selection of wild campsites, sheep grazing along the road. There are no towns or shops at all along the west coast of Mull, but a few settlements.
The road became hillier as we continued and there were some very steep climbs around bends in the roads, two in particular. One of these I could not negotiate sticking to the lefthand side and ended up getting off as there was oncoming traffic and the road was of course single track. Mike just managed to hang on to the top, the gradient was 16%, so well done Mike! We spotted a tap on the outside of a primary school at the ferry corssing point to Ulva and I stopped to ask if we could fill up up water bottles. The lady was so friendly and said she'd be out in a minute. She brought us a 1.5L bottle of Highland Spring water, explaining that their spring was dry so they were on bottled water. She was so happy to help! We carried on some steep climbs before descending into Calgary Bay. We had planned to camp there as there is an approved wild camp area with toilets and benches, etc. It was a lovely spot right on the beach, but it was also early; only 12:30. We checked the map annd saw that we had only 18km to ride to Tobermory but there would be another stiff climb, all we could miss out Tobermory and continue to Salen on a road with far gentler hills. We chose the latter option and after Salen camped at Pennygown. This campsite was only 6 weeks old and the man who met us at reception was the owner of Pennygown farm where he had farmed Hebridean Cattle for 60 years. The family had just opened the campsite six weeks ago. It had fabulous brand new facilities, down to a brand new kettle and toaster! Most importantly for us we could do laundry, which we last did 2 weeks ago. 2 weeks being about our stinkiness limit! Camping here also placed us 15km from Craignure and the ferry back to Oban tomorrow. The rain appeared as forecast at about 19:00 and we were relieved with our decision not to stay at Calgary Bay. Mull is a very diverse island. You could not believe that the two days riding we had had were not on different islands altogether and we are happy we went, but the riding itself is not very enjoyable as you have to concentrate so hard on the cars and what they are doing and whether you need to wait or go, or whatever. For that reason we probably would not recommend it for cycle tourists.
We were up early as we considered whether we couldmake the 07:40 ferry to Oban. We thought it would be a rush. The 15km still passed quickly and we drew in to Craignure with 5min to spare. There wasn't actually a 07:40 ferry to Oban on a Thursday, but there was an 08:40 one which was perfect. We got changed, bought tickets and then the ferry was there. It had been a dry cycle so that was good. Another cycle tourist chatted to us. He had camped at the holiday park at Craignure and was headed back via train from Oban to Edinburgh today. He had done a bit of touring in Morocco and it sounds like a brillant place to tour for us, something to consider. We arrived in Oban and immediately purchased our ferry tickets for 13:30 to the Outer Hebrides, which gave as three hours. We set off for Tesco and had a cooked breakfast in the cafe and stocked up with supplies. We then went back to the free shower and used that, which was brilliant. Then back to wait for the ferry. There were lots of cycle tourists waiting to board as well. There was misty rain which became quite heavy as we waited so we had wet weather gear on.
The ferry crossing took 5 hours which seems longer than you would expect! Suprisingly the ferry stopped at Craignure after an hour and passengers disembarked but none could get on which explains why we had to get the ferry to Oban and then come back to Craignure! The rest of the journey passed pleasantly. It was a big ferry annd most of the passengers seemed to get off at Craignure. We arrived to rain in Barra at 18:45. There were many cycle tourists getting off the boat - a group of 5 men, a pair of blokes, a father and son, two girls and a guy and also Iris, on her own from Cologne, Germany who we chatted to. We went to the local public toilets to get changed into cycling gear again and then had a 8km ride to our campsite. We took our time and followed the rear lights of the line of cyclists going up the hill. The climb out of Barra is steep but short and the road winds along very prettily after that. We crossed the causeway to Vatersay pretty quickly. The Outer Hebrides have a wild feel which has been matched only by Jura on this trip. Given the right conditions you could see that the coastal scenery would be stunning. We remembered the white sand and turquoise water from our last trip to the Outer Hebrides (Isle of Lewis). We rounded the bend to the community centre and saw that the group of 5 men and the pair of blokes had put up their tents already on the camping field opposite. The two girls and a guy were just in front of us and heading further on across another field. Here the dune grass is called Machair. It lies flat on sand and is quite sensitive. It has been damaged on the islands by vehicles like campervans parking on it. There was a herd of cows also grazing on the camping field, between the tents. The facilities at the hall were fabulous. A very new and clean shower and toilet block and a kitchen sink as well. At first we were a bit concerned that we would have to wait long for a shower (there are two showers and you pay GBP 1 for a shower), but the guys did not seem to be showering. We were in bed by 22:00. We fell asleep to the sound of a cow noisily chomping grass meters away.
It rained most of the night and the forecast for today was grim. We had a good night's sleep but woke quite tired from the travel yesterday. As always with island hopping, first thought is, "When's the ferry? How much time do we need to get there?". There aren't as many ferry crossings on the Outer Hebrides as there used to be years ago, due to the causeways which link smaller islands, but we did have one to catch to Eriskay today after about 25km. We thought we would get the 09:25 ferry but there was also one at 11:10. We seem to be consistently pulling ahead on this trip and the habit of rushing on is not the best one to develop. So we decided to relax and enjoy the facilties and take our time. We went over to the amenity building where there were benches undercover for breakfast. The 5 men were almost on their weay and we wished them luck. Then the 2 blokes came to pack and we chatted to them. All the people we have met here are doing a week long ride through these islands, it is a very popular trip for cycle tourists. We were on our way by 08:30 is the drizzle and first had to climb back up the steep hill from yesterday back towards Castlebay. From there it was quite an easy ride, just one other short climb. The roads here are also single track but very good roads and also the drivers are mainly locals so there is less stress about. As we were clearly going to be in plenty of time for the ferry, we took a detour to the Barra Airfield which is an official airport that has flights scheduled from Glasgow and other places, the difference being that that planes land on the beach when the tide is right. It was a cute place (see pic). We had hoped to see a plan arrive but none obliged (probably due to it being high tide by the looks of it). The guy we met on the ferry to Oban from Mull said that once when touring Barra they camped on the beach and next morning an official came to ask them to move their tent so an airplane could land! The rain came in heavily while we were at the airport but it was only a few kms ride to the ferry port. There was a great little terminal, heated and with a cafe. We got chatting to a group of about 5 ladies from London who were also here to ride the Outer Hebrides. They had flown in to Barra and hired bikes. There was also an elderley couple who were cycle touring. The 2 blokes were there too and the father and son arrived. It is quite nice not to be the only cycle tourists around! The crossing took under an hour and then another climb uphill took us off Eriskay almost immediately and over the causeway to South Uist.
The riding on South Uist is very easy and we had a raging tailwind all day. There was not much to see but the route was very pretty, although the views were mainly shrouded in clouds. The Outer Hebrides is a really nice place to be though, it has a great feel to it. Every so often we would see one of the other groups of cyclists and say high. We came across a flat section of coastal plain with a large rock "polder" and it seemes such a great place to camp so we chose to stop early. It had been a very wet day and we have time to spare. Not much in the way of fresh water around here, we had our first sea swim! Eek! Pretty cold.
Not much to report today. The riding was flat and easy and we still had that tailwind which is such a help, especially in the rain. We crossed a few causeways today as the islands of South Uist, Benbecula and North Uist are all linked by road. It rained quite a lot and so there was not much of a view over the coast. We stopped for flask coffee on Benbecula and started thinking that we would be able to make the 13:00 ferry to Harris, as opposed to the 16:00 which we had been planning to take. With the raging tailwind we could do it. Our average speed today was over 21km/h which is a very rare thing on a cycle tour, so that proves the ease of riding. We did push hard though and did not take breaks. We were hampered in our progress by the single track roads and a tractor rally, of all things. You would see a string of 6 to 10 tractors coming towards you and then you would have to wait in a passing bay, losing all momentum. We got a bit cross about this. Anyway, we arrived at the ferry terminal with an hour to spare as the ferry actually left at 13:30. We had a sandwich in the waiting room. It is really nice that they do supply great waiting rooms at all the ferry terminals here, makes a big difference! The ferry trip across the Sound of Harris was 50 min and then we went to the grocery store for a spot of shopping. Shops are closed on Sundays here and that's tomorrow so we had to pick up some supplies. There are two routes to Tarbert which is where we leave the Outer Hebrides (we visited Lewis which is the the last Isle when we were here 4 years ago) the western road and the eastern one. We have decided to ride the eastern road which is more picturesque and hopefully quieter, we are trying to avoid traffic on the single track roads. We found a campsot on the Loch shores. It was still raining lightly when we had our swim but there is heavy rain forecast tonight and tomorrow morning. We still only have 25 km or so to ride to Tarbert from where we will get the ferry to Skye.
Wow, it did rain hard and for hours. There was a little stream which ran to the loch from a small culvert under the road just near our tent and that became a raging river which overflowed it's banks a bit at one point. We enjoyed lying in though as we only had 25km to the Tarbert and the ferry port, and kept an eye on it. We thought we would leave at around 13:00 and as the rain started to lessen before then we packed up and left. It was a beautiful ride through, spectacular scenery with one main climb which was well-graded. The road was quiet and any motorists were considerate and pulled over for us. The road was narrow single-track but there were two lanes in parts. We would highly recommend this route for cycle tourists, although the cycle route goes to Tarbert via the west coast road. We dropped into Uig a couple of hours before the ferry was due to depart (16:25) and got changed. Some people we had met walking the Hebridean Way had told us that there was a free shower available at the busport, but when I went to look for it the toilet facilities at the busport were closed. Everything is closed in Tarbert (and most of Harris) on Sundays.
We had a meal on the ferry and arrived in SUNNY Skye after 18:00. Wow - beautiful! We did some washing hoping the sun would be around long enough to dry it, but the rain came through at 21:00 and we whipped the washing back inside. We decided next morning to spend the day here as the weather was forecast to be very rainy and windy all day. We have time to spare as we have not had many days off so why not? Uig is a small place with only really the ferry terminal and a few shops so that suited us.