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The Heb Way Day 6

The wind has blown continuously since I landed on Barra. Last night it excelled itself. Woken at 2:30 by sounds of flapping tents and it was blowing a hoolie. I popped my head out of the door and satisfied it wasn’t mine blowing away went back to sleep. Have you seen how they build a shelter here?

My neighbours were leaving today having done the butt of Lewis yesterday. Age brings wisdom and they’d left their tents here and gone there and back without the load. Scott G was doing the same thing. I on the other hand was going fully laden up there and back to Stornaway. Ah well.

Not long on the road and I came across a sheiling. Something which has always fascinated me having shepherded a Thornshiels for many years.

I should have stayed here last night.

After that interest the road went on and on with little variation to either side of the road. Often evidence of structures supporting large sheep numbers now falling into disrepair and very few sheep to be seen. I caught up with a couple of young girls. One from Norfolk the other from Australia. Chatting to them broke the boredom until I spied a shop coming up on the right. I’d learnt to stop at shops as you never know when you’ll see one again. Inside of this shop was grim. Shelves sparsely stocked and an overweight young man who could have starred in a USA road trip movie. Literally all I could find to buy which I could enjoy was a packet of crisps. Back on the road, and I think the highlight of the day, I spotted a plastic box at the end of a driveway. Brilliant, home baking and a honesty box. Chocolate brownies and flapjack. What a lifesaver that was.

I trudged on further North Took a left turn and passed a football field. I remembered this from Larry Lamb’s Britain by Bike. Not as busy as when TV cameras were there. 😉 Not far to go now and quickly reached the end of the Hebridean Way.

just as well the girls were there or there would have been no one to take this photo.

So that was it what do you do next?

My plan was to get to Stornaway and make up a plan from there. Catching up with the girls again we rode together over a seemingly endless hill. The only indication we were getting closer was wider roads and more traffic. We broke the tedium discussing hitting the bright lights of Stornaway. Pubs, beer and food topping the agenda and they had some Harris Tweed shopping to do.

Three miles to go and the rain started. That cemented my decision to see if there was a bed at the hostel. The girls were going to wild camp as, they said, “They don’t play golf on a Sunday”

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The Heb Way Day 5

Waking up at Horgabost this morning on the sand dunes and another stunning view out into the Atlantic Ocean. The road this morning A859 was resembling an A road. Gone are the single track roads this was two way. Not a lot of traffic but the first real hills of the trip providing a fast descent into Tarbert. So much so I nearly missed the turn off to do the touristy things. First port of call the Harris Tweed shop and the advantage of cycle touring is there no space for anything large. Tarbert also boasts two shops I went to Morrison’s.

Sandwiched between the two shops an opportunity for second breakfast appeared with Stornaway black pudding and egg to fill a wee hole. The fuel was needed as the road is now really hilly and the sun was beating down. Without realising I’d crossed onto Lewis and had views of Loch Seaforth on my right. A cone shaped cairn appears on the right I pull in to take a look and find Scott G having lunch. The cairn overlooks the Loch where Bonnie Prince Charlie landed 18 days after Culloden.

Further along the road another opportunity to stop came into view. Already occupied with a cyclist.

A memorial to the Heroes of the Lochs an important time in the History of crofting in Scotland.

Just as I’m thinking this road is going on forever my turn off for Callanish comes into sight along with a cyclist sitting in some shade. Mark had shelved all his plans and now had a new set. Cancelling his original accommodation he’d got to Tarbert last night. Trying all the obvious places to stay he discovered everywhere was full. He ended up sitting in a shop door way eating fish and chips and watching the rain. Then during his gloom someone told him there was a hostel. He got the last bed there and is now a fully hostel convert. So much so he’s on his way to Stornaway hostel and booked in for two nights there. Planning on riding to the Butt of Lewis without luggage tomorrow.

The road to Callanish and the scenery changes back into more of an island view. Ancient history abounds wherever you look and the landscape reinforces a feeling of what an important area this once was. It has none of the vulgarity surrounding Stonehenge it is sympathetic to the environment.

Before viewing the stones I needed cake before the cafe closes. I’ve always wanted to eat cake here since Kerry is Kirsty stopped for cake.

I’d decided earlier in the day after a discussion with Scott G to reach a campsite further on at Siabost. With hindsight I wish I’d halted here as there was so much to see and a distillery along the road but that would have added another day to the trip. So I slogged on to Siabost. Reaching the campsite it really was far enough for me that day with full camping load. I was tired in need of a shower and food as I knocked on the door. A lady came to the door and informed me she was full and not permitted to take any more. Scott G had told her I was coming and had kept a place for me but then a couple on a tandem came and thinking they were me they got the space. It wasn’t difficult to apply that weariness into helpless and patheticness. Finally pity was taken and a walk around the site found a space amongst a group of cyclists average age around 70 having their annual jaunt together.

Later that evening a Swiss gentleman from a camper van stood with his binoculars looking towards the hills. Very excited and happy he had watched a sea eagle the previous evening. He was hoping for a repeat this evening. Remember the sea eagle was the bane of a crofters life on Uist is now a money making attraction on Lewis. One man’s meat is certainly another man’s poison.

Kitchen facilities were fairly poor here compared to earlier but everyone was happy. A group of walkers doubled up as a singing group on the evening. Remarkably in tune and singing songs I suspect they’ve sang on many camping trips away.

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The Heb Way day 4

With hindsight last nights campsite was the best of the whole trip. Lovely facilities for cycle tourists and backpackers. Everything you could possibly need. http://www.moorcroftholidays.co.uk/ Apart from I discovered that cuckoos cuckoo all through the night here in the Hebs. Assume it’s the lack of darkness but there’s certainly no lack of cuckoos.

Riding through the Uists is akin to cycling through a living museum of island architecture and farming/ fishing history. It appears they have never been one for home improvements. When their house is no longer habitable it looks like they throw a stone and build a new one where it lands. When that’s no longer fit to live in they repeat and build a newer model. Each effort gets slightly bigger probably due to the timbers they can get for the roof. The old shells stand minus the roof. It probably went on the fire. Similarly a history of agricultural machinery stand forlorn in random places. Once pride and joys returning to the ground minus anything salvaged.

Religion and places of worship are in abundance. In South Uist

Our Lady of the Isles

South Uist leads on to Benbecula boasting an airport and more houses than I’d seen in a long while. Then onto North Uist where along the coast was some flat ground by the side of the road. Cultivation being attempted in a predominantly sandy soil. A small patch having been ridged presumably for some potatoes.

Shortly after the sandy fields I passed a new build house with a shiny new flue and woodstove fitted. A bit daft I thought I’ve not seen a tree for a couple of days surely you’d build a windmill with every new home here? Five miles further on I rounded a corner and lo and behold a forestry plantation around twenty years of growth. Enjoy these lovely low friction roads while you can when the lorries start shifting this timber the roads will be ruined.

All too soon I arrived at Berneray for my next ferry. The previous ferry hadn’t sailed because of tides so when I arrived the lanes for vehicles were looking quite packed. The beauty of cycling is I rode down to the front and joined the other cyclists there. No facilities here other than a shelter and some toilets. I got out my Trangia and made a coffee much to the envy of some motorists who were struggling to fill in their time.

The ferry came in and as usual the cyclists got on first. I went up on deck and watched them load the vehicles. It’s an absolute art form in packing that car deck to full advantage. First lanes to load from are pre booked and then they take in turn the ‘chance it’ arrivals. The deck was filling quickly and at one point I’d guessed the last three weren’t going to get on. I was wrong they shoehorned them all on and closed the door.

Landing in Leverburgh I was now on Harris. Leaving the ferry within yards I came across the Butty Bus.

Highly rated in Tripadvisor it seemed foolish not to stop. Fish and chips are made fresh so while waiting I got talking to Scott. Yes another Scott this one is from Glasgow. He’d much the same plans as myself and our wheels crossed many times in the next few days. The fish was out of this world and surely best I’ll ever have. I couldn’t believe it was haddock and said to the guy I’ve never tasted haddock like that before. His reply, “you’ve never had fish as fresh as that before”.

As I was finishing a car pulled up and a lady came in and put her order in. That’s a Cumbrian accent I said to her. Quite right she was from Brampton but has lived on Harris for 20 years. She had brought her lifetime collection of garden plants with her and nothing survived, “even buddleia doesn’t grow here” she said. All the gardens I’d seen so far were a very plain affair. The small world we live in it transpired her best friend was the wife of someone I used to sell breeding sheep to.

Leverburgh is large enough to have a community shop selling essential items along with locally made crafts. I stopped to fill up my pantry and buy a hand knitted woolly hat. Everyone wears a woolly hat on the islands. Leaving there and it’s not long before you get your first sight of the famous breathtaking beaches on the island. Pictures can barely do them justice but I’ll try.

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The Heb Way Day 3

Vatersay is a very affluent beach. Remember last year that 5p piece hitching a ride. Well I was stopped on the beach by a £1 coin this morning. Please take me to the mainland, it said, I’ve heard there’s all kinds of excitement there. Well you’ve heard wrong. The mainland is divided over Brexit and if you go over very soon you could be a 50p. Stay here and support your community.

All too soon Barra was over and I just scraped onto the 9:30 ferry to Eriskay.

A few familiar faces from Oban on this sailing. Scott was there, probably sober, maybe hungover.

A jovial crew and lots of fun about the exchange rate for those with English money. I entered into conversation with an interesting face and his red border collie. I’d nodded to him on the Oban ferry as they sat in the doggie area. A crofter born on South Uist lived on the same Croft and fished. He’d tried the mainland back in the seventies for a couple of years but with digs and other expenses he returned to the Croft. I didn’t get his name but let’s name him McLeod, as most people on Sth Uist seem to have that name, will be 65 in a couple of weeks with a face and body suggesting five years more.

His wife a WASPI ( as the Holmfirth lady ) gave up work over a year ago unable to carry on. He is also severely winding down but no pension for a while yet.

I learnt how sheep numbers have dwindled on Uist due in part to ticks. How the Sea Eagle can take 8 week old lambs and small terriers. His biggest fear though is Brexit recalling how a dieing island got a new lease of life when European funding put in a causeway as the ferry often couldn’t sail. Westminster it seems was quite happy to let it depopulate. The new money now on the Uists looks to be Grand Designs. He suggests their owners add nothing to the Islands other than telling folk what to do. Siting these dream homes built from city money invariably seem to be placed in a very commanding place

Five miles after the ferry I spotted a second breakfast opportunity. Propping my steed against a wall a lady from Sheffield was keen to talk. In her fifties and a lifetime of foreign holidays she had come to Scotland. Overjoyed with the whole experience , the scenery, and because for the first time in her life she’d drove on roads outside of her home. Sunderland being her most farthest travelled.

Joining me with my all day breakfast was Mark.

Mark is a Geordie who’s wife has gone to Ibiza on holiday. Like me he had difficulty planning how far he’d cycle in a day here. He’d booked his accommodation only another 6 mls on. Scott rode on passed the window. Of course I’d not hid my bike.

The cycling today was good with a tail wind an smooth tarmac. A head wind on this ride will be hard as there is no shelter. I made hay while the wind blew and after 65 miles camped after Benbecula.

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The Heb Way day 2

A leisurely morning as the ferry for Barra doesn’t sail til 1:30. Walking through the town I met Scott. He’d wild camped last night and was now homing in on Weatherspoons. I couldn’t resist the sea food stall outside the terminal and had a wonderful crab sandwich for second breakfast.

The sail to Barra takes nearly 5 hours and affords luxurious surroundings to while away the time. Strangely there wasn’t a single point when you couldn’t see land.

Arriving in Castlebay with plenty of time to cycle to Vatersay, the start of the Heb Way, and set up camp on the beach. The village hall is open for showers a toilet and water. The location is wonderful.

Scott has been fast asleep on the ferry. A drunken stupor maybe. The crew must have raised him and he arrived at Vatersay. It’s a big beach 😀

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The Heb Way Day 1

The best part of last years LEJOG was without doubt in Scotland. So for 2019 let’s stay in Scotland.

We begin this journey cycling to Queen St station Glasgow to catch the train to Oban. My route created with cycle.travel differed with simply following NCN route 74. A combination of the two saw me arrive with ample time to catch the 4:30pm train. Shared a pleasant 10ml of this cycling with a Geordie on his LEJOG. He had lightened his load at Carlisle handing a lot of unused things to his wife.

The station platform was busy and extensive work being done to the building. Standing in the concourse and holding up a very heavily laden Halfords special was one of those guys who’s had a drink and you steer clear of. I needed a coffee and my only means of achieving this was to leave my bike in the care of Scott. Station staff go on high alert if you abandon a bike. It must be a known terrorist threat using a bike. Scott has left home in Manchester at 4am and had troubles with trains all day. Or maybe the trains had trouble with Scott. Scott’s wife was in Ibiza that was no place for Scott. Managing to break free we put our bikes on the train and thankfully my reserved forward facing seat was far away from Scott.

In my next door seat was a lady from Holmfirth. Managing to hold the conversation away from “Last of the Summer Wine” for a remarkable time but inevitably it did crop up. A retired librarian caught in the WASPI trap but no longer prepared to put up with the change in colleagues. Going to spend a week with her sister in Dalmally. An annual event but sadly without her husband now. The long and scenic journey to Oban passed very quickly with good conversation and thankfully a remainder so a good moan too.

Alighting at Oban was marred slightly with some down sarf accents being a little ungracious to there host country this evening. Very loudly stating they weren’t going to mention Brexit ‘up here’.

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Cycling, LEJOG

2018 LEJOG

I’m seeing out the year sharing a bottle of GAVI and watching a Jethro Tull concert from 2003. Tomorrow I start in earnest training for something I’ve often contemplated.

Committed now to riding LEJOG, for wimps, 2018. This commitment was done while sober and not something hatched in a drunken stupor. I’ve lost count of the number of books and blogs I’ve read of various accounts. Dreaming up various ways to attack it I was always beaten by the LEJOGistics of achieving it. Working and family holidays always took precedent.

The dream has been rescued by an unlikely group  of people. That’s the internet for you. A bunch of usernames on the CUK (formerly CTC) forum. Hatched a plan for a LEJOG. for wimps I liked the idea and I joined.

A recipe for disaster or success time will tell. If I thought it a disaster I wouldn’t have joined. It’s going to be interesting, fun, hard times and pleasurable times rolled into everyday.

Cycling with a pal I announced my intention to ride LEJOG. His first response was, “you’ve found someone to spend all those days with?” He’s rode a number of PBPs and knows the trials of companioning up on long events. Ive done a number of Audax rides but only one 600k and can still recall the mutual support of a wee group we put together for the last 200.

Christmas brought some camping related gifts and an old tent hanging in the shed still looks good. Excitement now mounts with a lot of preparation to fill the next 24 weeks. Which bike to use is going to be a hard descision. Two in the forefront each have  their advantage but thankfully I won’t need to make that decision until the off. One thought is I might change half way as I pass home .

So tomorrow’s a new day ( it was a new day yesterday but it’s an old day now JT ) and a new year and I will certainly be waking with a clear head. Reached an age now realising there aren’t enough days left to waste. For younger readers it does take a while to sink in .

A healthy and peaceful new year to all.

 

 

 

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