The west coast of Harris is perhaps more famous than the east; it’s the site of picture-postcard golden beaches stretching as far as the eye can see and melting into a turquoise-blue horizon. It’s more accessible to tourists, with bed and breakfast and gourmet island dining offered at ¼-mile intervals. It’s got roads wide enough to accommodate a motorhome overtaking a Range Rover (but NOT a motorhome overtaking a Range Rover overtaking a cyclist, eager drivers take heed …). West Harris greets you with the warm and wide sunbeams only befitting of the gorgeously windswept, fabulously well-travelled and nonchalantly auspicious beach bod that you are. (Or will be, if you spend enough time here).
We were still on the east coast though, that savagely rugged wildscape of Harris sheep on perched jutting rocks, their hair matted into dreadlocks where it had grown too long, bleating to tweenage lambs almost out of sight in depths of springy heather. In books they talk about the way that Hebridean islanders are intimately tied to the land in ways us city folk couldn’t possibly understand. Well the land was definitely doing something funky with the occupants of east Harris that we met this morning. A man had an entire conversation with us asking exactly the same questions as we’d just been asked and answered by the campsite owner’s friend, but with a five second delay. A lady struggled out loud to understand why we’d asked her how her day was going, another refused to acknowledge us traipsing through her garden as we tried to find the entrance to the chocolate shop in her porch (the chocolate was worth taking a shunning). A Dutch couple did not return our “good morning” but preceded to talk about us over breakfast cereal at the other end of the table, and the man watched me struggle up a hill with my packhorse bike before remarking “it’s very hilly here, isn’t it” without offering help. A funny start to the day.
Made all the more lovely, then, by the welcome we received at the Temple Café in Northton, back on the Hebridean Way approaching salt flats at the gateway to the west coast. A lithe Liverpudlian with a giveaway “you’ll never walk alone” tattoo on her arm opened with a compliment on my earrings. Then we talked about her recent trip to see Bon Jovi at Anfield. Normal conversation was resumed.
We had seen the photos of the beaches and bays of Harris, sure, but to be there, taking it all in, is something quite different altogether. A little like the difference between hearing your favourite song on a desktop speaker versus playing it through your headphones and humming along and really feeling the harmonies reverberate in your throat and get absorbed in your chest, radiating out those same warm and wide sunbeams as it does so.
We dropped into Tarbert and cycled through to the Eilean Glas lighthouse at Scalpay. An enthusiastic cycle gave way to a pleasant walk amongst old couples holding hands to the candy-striped beacon. We could have stayed there for hours but had the closing time of the next shop that sold vegan Magnums in mind, so we continued on north and west to Huisinis point, a virtually deserted beach at the end of a long and dramatic coastal road. By the time we arrived the sun was at full intensity in a cloudless sky – but the start of a heatwave was not strong enough to take the sting out of the tail of a freshen-up dip in the sea when we arrived. Nor was it fierce enough to drive away the midges while I cooked. If the locals were bothered about our tent spoiling their view across the bay, then they didn’t dare approach the loon wrapped up in pyjamas, sunglasses and headscarf to say so.
🚲 Cycle mileage: 64
🥃 Tipple: Downpour gin and tonic
27 June, 2019
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