The Outer Hebrides are a formation of islands off the North West coast of Scotland which are joined by causeways and ferries. Since Bruce (Coastkid) put the idea in my head to go there on the fat bikes, I bought the maps which meant I was going! Unfortunately, Bruce couldn’t make it in the end which meant this was a solo tour. I’ve solo toured in the Highlands of Scotland before so I wasn’t put off with spending a week with my own company. However what made this a bit easier when it came to logistics was that my father would be travelling up with me and we’d go our separate ways for 6 days before meeting at our rendezvous point.
The car journey north from Wales was nearly 8 hours and then a 3½ hour scenic ferry from Mallaig to South Uist. The ferry journey sent out good vibes for the week ahead as the early evening sun was in a cloudless sky, dolphins were following the boats wake and views to the Isle of sky, Eigg, Rum and Canna were majestic. Upon arriving at South Uist we drove a couple of miles where I was to start the ride. After some minor faffing I was riding for 9:30 and set off the short distance to the coast.
The sun was just setting as I found a camp spot on the sand dunes. The birds were sending their last calls out for the day and I settled down knowing I was going to have some fine riding in the days ahead.
As I broke camp in the morning the clouds dispersed for a sunny day in the saddle. I was keen to get going as I knew I had a long day taking in some of the beaches and roads which were going to be character building as I was on Nates! The beaches were bliss as the white sand was just the right texture for riding on. With the sun on my right and the clear water lapping on my left, I was a very happy fat biker. I passed a few other cycle tourers coming the other way as they made they made their way south. A few double takes from them as they rode their slick tourers down the lanes. With it being a Sunday the very few amenities had shorter opening times which meant I had a 45 minute wait outside one. And as I lay on the car park with my head resting on my jacket I must have nodded off! Upon awaking I stocked up on some supplies as I knew this was the last shop for the rest of the day. By this point the wind made an appearance, not a lot but enough to feel it especially when my trusty Salsa Mukluk and kit weighed in at 73lbs!! The energy levels were lowering when I saw a sign for the Lochmaddy Hotel, well why not I thought. So a 1 mile detour into the village for a steak pie & chips and very nice it was too. After finding a lovely camp spot overlooking a sea loch not far from the mornings ferry I set up camp.
Whilst eating my Scottish mussels (that I bought in the shop earlier) I spotted two eagles above me. And as I was washing the mussels down with a bottle of red, I was feeling really good. Another fine sunset set me off for another night’s sleep in my Alpkit Ordos tent.
Up early on Monday as I wanted to catch the ferry from North Uist to the Isle of Harris at 7:15am. I was the only cyclist who boarded along with several locals in their cars as they made their way to work. Another scenic route through the Sound of Harris which took me to Leverburgh. Another shop meant it was time to take advantage of the chance of resupplying. Then as I made the descent to Northton the vast sands opened up before my eyes. This was one of the highlights of the trip as I rode along white sand heading towards the clear sea water with mountains not too far across the loch under the ever present burning sun. I must have passed what looked to be the oldest phone box in the UK (which still worked!) as I made my way along the quiet roads. I dropped into Tarbet and again bought some treats for the afternoon ahead as I knew I had a tough section to come shortly. The old Postmans path to Rhenigidale was a track that the local posty would take twice a week. The reason being is that up until 1991 there was no tarmac road leading to the small village. Rhenigidale was the last Scottish settlement to have a tarmac road. Again eagles circled overhead as I made the 850ft climb to the top. The descent was something else though, an 850ft drop in just a mile. The singletrack zigzagged its way down to the seals swimming in the sea loch at the bottom. More sweet singletrack took me past another abandoned village as I made my way to the hostel for an eagerly needed shower!
Feeling fresh in the morning, just like the weather, I had a day of road riding ahead of me. This was the toughest day of the trip as again I was on Nates, which are no Jumbo Jim on the road. The wind made an appearance again as it blew from the north which meant it was in my face for the first 30 miles. The average speed picked up as I turned west along a long barren stretch of road with a few stag deer grazing not far from the road. Energy was no getting sapped and it was starting to get uncomfortable sitting on the saddle, if you know what I mean. Moral was dropping slightly, unlike the wind when I came across a shop with just minutes to spare before it closed I stocked up on a few treats.
Now the place I stayed the night is one of them ‘secretive’ bothies, which meant I had to knock on the door of a certain croft (farm house) and ask if it was available. Now I would have been gutted if someone else was staying there as this was one of the main reason for making the trip. And I was pretty chuffed to find out it was available for me.
As you can see from the pictures it is perched at the top of a 200ft cliff and built within the cliff face. An absolute gem of a place to spend the night. There was even chopped firewood waiting there too.
I didn’t catch the sunset as the cloud set in but watching sea birds nesting on the cliff and dolphins down in the water will be with me for a very long time. Despite it being quite breezy outside I was toasty warm due to the fire and had a great night’s sleep.
After thanking the owners of the stone hut I had 45 miles on the road to tuck into. It went fairly easy compared to the previous day’s ride (65miles), no wind and plenty of sunshine was again the recipe for the day. A good feed at the Callandish Stones visitor café was enough to keep me going. Then as I was getting picked up there in the morning I went in search of somewhere to wild camp for the night. After spotting a hotel (with a bar) I knew it’ll be a good idea to camp within ½ mile of it so I could sink a few evening beers knowing that I’ve had an awesome 6 days fat biking on the ever faithful Salsa Mukluk.
Now where’s that map……….