They say that every day’s a school day.
Well, at the RSPB Nature Reserve at Balranald on North Uist last Thursday, it was swimming lessons. The sea was teeming with quacky families, each unit with its cocky sibling (swimming ahead then trying to style out it’s panic when it realised the others were so far away); the goofy one (kept swimming into the other ones); and the scaredy one (looked like it was thinking about joining the others in the water and just as it was about to get in the water a wave came and sent it running across the sand). Starlings murmurated elliptically round the dunes like a thug of hall-monitors while me and Hubs walked hand in hand in the sand like prom king and queen, resplendent in Pertex.
We ambled through North Uist taking the scenic routes and stopping at a community café offering haircuts with June or Julie on alternate Tuesdays as well as the anticipated coffee and cake. In Berneray we fêted finding vegan Magnums (the ice cream, not the gun) in the freezer of a small grocer near the ferry terminal. On the ferry to Harris we chatted to Donald, a member of staff with the air of the eternally youthful trapped in a weather-beaten exterior, and he counselled us on where to sit to get the best eagle viewings on the crossing. (We didn’t see any. CalMac I want my money back).
When we docked in Leverburgh we took a detour from the Hebridean Way to explore the eastern coast (Donald’s suggestion again, but this one delivered so CalMac, we forgive you). The stretch of road from St. Clement’s Church to Liceasto was some of the most breathtaking scenery I’ve ever known – punchy, staccato inclines and descents which followed the craggy coastline and weaved through villages of alpine houses all built at different heights in the rock; think of the setting of a commercial for a car built for PROWESS and PERFORMANCE and GETTING AWAY FROM IT ALL then remove the Cardigans song you used to love but now you hate because the ad totally killed it. Replace it with the sounds of sea crashing against cliffs not so far across but a long way below, and the smells of dried yellow seaweed and rain on dry earth, the quiet hum of road tyres on tarmac. Finally add that feeling of when the wind catches you at just the right speed and at just the right angle on just the right bend, that feeling that probably feels as close as a human could every feel to being in flight. That was what the east coast of Harris is like on a bike.
Our campsite for the night was a veritable paradise of secluded nooks and crannies surrounded by intense greenery and run by a born-again Woodstocker in boot cut stonewash jeans and flip flops “the only rule here is, there are no rules, man!”. We have started to find a simple comfort in the rhythm of our evening routine: find a pitch, pitch the tent, unload the bikes, have a wash, apply midge precautions liberally, cook a meal, light a campfire, write our postcards, do some stretching, attempt to read a book in the sleeping bag but succumb to the deepest and most invigorating sleep before we’ve reached page two.
As it turns out, a sleeping mat doubles up as a great yoga mat and our two-person tent is just about the right size for a downward-facing dog.
Every day’s a school day.
🚲 Cycle mileage: 60
🥃 Whisky: Té Bheag
26 June, 2019