Outer Hebridean Bikepacking Tour :: Day 5 (West Harris to West Lewis)

Close your eyes and imagine you’re just waking up to the sound of braying gulls ahead and the tin-whistle shrieks of oystercatchers below. You can feel a soft, fresh breeze just managing to find it’s way in, carrying with it the smell of sun-warmed grass. You’re warm in your sleeping bag. Now open your eyes to your canvas roof gently rippling, unzip the door and take in the bright meadow, giving way to rocks bejewelled with seaweed, giving way to gentle waves lapping on white sand, giving way to an expanse of clear, calm water, finally giving way to a bright blue morning sky.

Today was the first day of proper sunny weather and it was HOT.

After a bit of beachcombing for treasures we left the seaside in the manner of snails packing up our home and carrying it with us, and very much matching the snail’s pace as the sun batted down and our water bottles emptied quicker than we could find places to fill them up. The next bit of the route is punishing; it drags you stubbornly up a long and boring road through the hills, the dust from a nearby quarry cloying at your throat as you breathe it in. We passed some Spanish cycle tourists and envied their tolerance to the heat. We crossed the border into Lewis, a border seemingly distinguished only by it’s proximity to the ‘Taste ‘n Sea’ food van. We imagined the ancient tartan armies of Harris and Lewis battling tooth-and-nail over generations for leadership of this great land, losing many clansmen in bloody feuds before finally conceding futility and settling on a border that meant both clans could enjoy a burger and chips in this small oasis on an otherwise barren road. (It might sound like I’m being scathing of the food van, but I’m not, it was lovely). At the table along from us as we tucked into soup and a roll, a war of an inter-generational nature was being waged, between an older local who waxed about the way things used to be on Harris, and his daughter trying to explain to him the benefits she saw of the wave of tourism that the island was riding on.

In Balallan we stopped for toast at the community café and sparked up a conversation with the enthusiastic new head chef who had hated growing up in a small village in the middle of nowhere and headed for Glasgow in his late teens but in the end came back to his hometown because he hated looking up at the city sky and seeing so few stars.

The route became quieter, less varied, and the vegan Magnum supply dried up. The final ten miles to our restaurant for the evening was a character-builder of such intense sun that it even sucked out the excitement of seeing a golden eagle soaring overhead and replaced it with a prickly fear that it might just be waiting until we’re on the verge of exhaustion so it can swoop and pick us off. We took an extended break at Loch Croistean café until the heat of the day had passed and picked up from the hostess the location of a converted bothy in the coastal village of Uigean, ran by a Scot known only as ‘Murdo Mac’.

And so we arrived in Uigean, which I have been pronouncing ‘Wigan’ in a move which surely downplays how lovely Uigean is. Uigean has atop a small hillock an immaculately-kept stone monument to the crofters that protected their patch from the land raids in the area, and it was from there with a tumbler of whisky that the two of us watched the sun set over the hills of Kneep and Bhaltos and the islands of Vacsay and Pabaigh Mor. The night was perfectly still and warm and the sun took on a neon pink-orange glow. We walked to our bothy in our flip flops in the dusk light and slept under a proper duvet on a real mattress and listened to rain land on the tin roof. Even on a day like today, the West of Scotland can still manage to squeeze out a bit of rain.

🚲 Cycle mileage: 64

🥃 Whisky: more Té Bheag, stocks running dry

28 June, 2019

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