The Outer Hebrides cycle - 2019
Updated: Feb 8, 2022
The Hebridean Way
My first cycle tour.
So – a group of my lady friends and I decided to take on the challenge of cycling the full Outer Hebrides! My legs are still recovering … but feeling alive! I hope the below inspires you / gives you a wee laugh and encourages you to get out there if you haven’t before.
Let me introduce you to the crew for the trip - Jenny on the left comedian extraordinaire/ nurse - me in the middle - the active Ali on the right. Couldn't have asked for a more energetic, fun and equally as positively mad pair to cycle alongside. The lovely Amanda, Lauren and Amy were to join us later on - but we were doing the full whack!
Day 1 (travel day)
Firstly we had to get out to the Outer Heb’s, so we hopped on the train to Oban from Glasgow (with the lovely trolley man Ross throwing us a couple of free bottles of water – wow Scotrail!). A few wee midges flew around the train carriage BUT we had our citronella bands on our ankles, which actually made us look like convicts out on parole. We were well behaved of course.
Just in time – with a snappy 10 mins to spare, we boarded the lovely Calmac ferry from Oban to Castlebay, Barra – and what a beautiful sunny day it was. The staff were so friendly! We stuffed our faces with some Cullen Skink pie as well as other delights then headed out on the deck to take in the views. We even spotted some dolphins jumping about too. Trying to figure out which species they were was interesting....and we still haven't the answer. Sailing past the familiar sight of Mull - we then headed down for a wee nap.
We arrived in Castlebay refreshed and looking forward to some more food (always munching). We had booked a wee spot in advance at a place called Café Kismol, which I highly recommend. This place you need to book about a month in advance due to it's amazing rep and the tiny wee space that serves up insanely good Indian food - using the local lamb, prawns etc. The place was rammed. The food was delicious.
Parked up the bikes and ready for a pint!
Then up to the Castlebay Bar! It did not disappoint. We walked into the bar which was blasting 90’s club anthems and full of a great bunch of locals. We took a wee seat with a couple of pints and then got chatting with the local crew - who we just had to ask for a tune (we noticed they had what looked like the instruments of a full folk band). Gary and his mate Andy (who turns out is Andy from the Vatersay boys!!) played to us late into the night – Andy was downing long vodkas quicker than I’ve ever witnessed - all under the watchful eye of 'Sneaks' - the guy with the cleanest pair of white trainers you've ever seen. Andy kindly offered us a ride on his speedboat the next day – and sadly, due to our trip we had to scoot off . But we saw him speeding around the bay anyway which was a laugh in itself - and his mate was the local lobster catcher who offered us a few off his boat – sadly we had nowhere to keep them. It was a great start to our trip and we felt like locals ourselves - what a welcome.
We ended up staying in a hostel in Castlebay that evening, due to having a wee look at the overnight forecast for TORRENTIAL rain... A wee bit of a sore head in the morning after for all of us!
The cycling begins! We set off after having a yummy breakfast at the Toffee Factory (aka Heart of Hebrides) for a big bowl of porridge to fuel us for the day ahead.
Off to Vatersay we went! The sun was shining and the roads were amazing – we flew down the hills. But of course flying down means climbing up on the way back! We made it to the beautiful Vatersay beach - with a few cows for company.
What a treat. We then headed up the West Coast to hop on our first ferry from around Ardmhor to Eriskay – passing some angry Shepard – shouting words I wont repeat here, at the cheeky lambs trying to dodge him and his herding skills! A lovely wee coffee and cake later at the ferry terminal and we were on our way - passing some round wee seals taking in the sun on the rocks.
The ferry trip was short but beautiful. I also thought my bird knowledge was alright when I announced to my mates “there’s a Shag on the sea!” …. to which a well-seasoned binocular wearing lady turned round and told me it was a Cormorant. I stood corrected.
And on we went! Off to Lochboisdale to pick up our mate Amanda to join the troupe. Munching some yummy dinner at the Lochboisdale hotel, chatting again with the locals and other travellers - I love this. We then cycled on with the wind pushing behind us – we were flying! Off to Howmore to our next hostel.
A cosy sleep and a few snacks later – we set off for the lovely Baleshare beach! The sun was out again and stayed out too. Heading to the beach the wind was against us a wee bit so it was a bit tougher to get there. This only meant more snacks! But when we got there is was well worth it.
We then pushed on to get up to Lochmaddy for dinner where we had a delicious meal at Hamersay house. When we turned up though there was no pricing available… and a casual wee Michelin sticker so we double checked there was a normal ish menu. Which there was - haha! We munched on some local prawns, fish and more lamb. We refrained from too much wine...
Onward we went all the way up to Berneray where we stayed in the beautiful thatched cottage Gatliff Hostel! (Below) The clouds started to form so we gathered around the fire inside where we met a woman who had walked all the way from Switzerland to here! WOW!
A dance was needed!
An early start to catch the 7am ferry over to Leverburgh on Harris. It was nice to see familiar faces on these ferries – wee catch up’s and laughs about each other’s trip up the Hebrides. Our rumbling tummies were saved by the Butty Bus! Just on the left when you come off the ferry – massively recommend. Big breakfast rolls and coffee later we started on our cycle up the West coast where the breath-taking views began.
This Butty Bus was a hunger saver
We all couldn't stop smiling! I wonder why ..... Look at Harris! Even a small rainbow going into the sea.
Onward we went! All the way up to Tarbert and the important HARRIS GIN DISTILLERY. The hills in Harris – I must warn you are a wee bit cheeky and steep BUT we got up them without stopping – helped by a bit of Riverdance music. You can only imagine me dancing on a bike while cycling. It’s a skill in itself.
WE GOT UP THE HILLS and flew down to Tarbert and the beautiful Harris Gin Distillery!!
Lauren joined us just before Tarbert - just in time for a gin.
A trip to Luskintyre was a must do too while on Harris - we were driven there by the kind Lauren who met up with our group in Tarbert. Jenny even swam in the sea … would have been keen but there was a wee bit of a breeze.........
Scroll the pics below!
Another yummy dinner (more lamb for me) in Tarbert where unfortunately the fellowship fell apart – the rest of the ladies, bar Jenny and I decided to go no further on the trip. So it was up to us two to show the islands what we got! A good sleep was needed that night – helped by a Harris gin or 2. Yum.
Jenny and I set off out of Tarbert to be greeted by the biggest ol’ hill we had seen. But. We. Did. It. AND to our right we saw not one … but two eagles!!! Swooping down the hillside towards – most likely – a rather unfortunate rabbit. A wee treat when getting up that MOUNTAIN.
Happy faces after that beast!
Somehow we managed to avoid the rain!
Wind behind us we rallied on meeting a few nice groups of cyclists. We all puffed about the hills on Harris over a coffee and the Taste and Sea mobile café before moving on. The soup and cakes were amazing - absolutely amazing.
The group we chatted with were doing the trip in 20 mile chunks - and when we told them of our goal to reach the Callanish stones on that day to which they laughed – laugh no more .. WE MADE IT! There is also an AMAZING café there with the best munch and coffee. Go go go. We even had a wee (and respectful) dance around the stones.
We had lost the plot by now ..
A bit soggy.. but look at those stones!
The rest of the crew wanted a wee tipple that eve – so instead of pushing on to the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse, we were picked up and brought back by luxury of a car and the lovely Amy to Stornoway to our Airbnb, where we had a lovely dinner made by our own Ali including local scallops!
The last chunk of our adventure followed the next day .....
Day 6 (Final day and travel day back)
What. A. Good. Sleep.
We wolfed some oaty bars and were kindly brought back to the Callanish Stones by Amy for the last leg.
A wee dance and hop onto our bikes and we were off! Lovely straights and winding roads (and dodging of sheep) welcomed us - in the blazing sunshine!
We pushed on to the Butt of Lewis lighthouse– through the glorious sunshine again to the very end of the Hebridean Way. To be honest I cried when I saw the lighthouse. It was a big ol cycle trip and felt very proud we had made it! It was emotional. I don’t remember the ferry back – I was out like a light. All I know is that it was very comfy - good ol Calmac!
See the video of us finishing the Hebs below!
I highly recommend doing this trip if you have the time (make time) – we did it in 4 days and 3 hours on the 5th – with 2 travel days (inc 5th). Of course this can be done by car but by cycling you can push yourself to achieve something you may never (and I never) thought I could do! So good for physical health and mental health. And you get to meet all the locals and cyclists along the way. And most importantly - it was a total laugh!
Side note on the people – there wasn’t a car or lorry that went past that didn’t wave back and sometimes even the odd toot or lorry honk! (You can imagine me waving like a looney) but it made such a difference to our trip and kept the smiles going. Everyone made such an effort in the places we visited – to make us feel welcome and start up some good chat. Even while heaving up a huge hill – a wee lady popped out of her cottage to offer us a cup of tea. We sadly had to decline as we had miles to cycle!
Our group of ladies were a total laugh and equally as mad as me – so weird dancing on the beaches etc happened. A lot.
All in all we covered over 200 miles due to quite a few detours. The standard is 185 miles bottom to top. Always go South to North because of the wind!
I hope you have enjoyed my ramblings and maybe it’s sparked a thought for you to want to get out there yourself - it is a total treat!
Til next time,
All photos/videos are my own and captured by GOPRO and Huawei P30 Lite