Cycling in the Hebrides – a bit of an epic *warning – long blog*

I thought I’d spend a bit of time copying and pasting, to recount my week touring in the Inner and Outer Hebrides at the start of June 2017, and the nights are still dark, so, if you’re bored, or a just interested in reading a bit of a story (I say a bit, this is a long, picture rich blog!!), then get a brew, sit comfortably, and I’ll begin..

I spend a bit of time in Scotland, mainly on the Isle of Mull, and find that it is one of the best places to cycle that I have ever encountered. Beautiful landscapes, uncrowded single track but well maintained roads. Perfect and inspiring.

After thinking about about an island hopping trip for a while and speaking with Derek over the past couple of years,  the main issue with anything like this is in finding the time to do it(!), but if you never commit, then you’ll never make the time, so I decided early in 2017 that I’d take a week off and do that very thing.

I’d already cycled on Mull many times, including a superb round island DIY Audax that I did in 2016 (warning – I may write about this too!). I’d cycled on Skye also, but I had never visited the Inner Hebridean islands of Coll and Tiree, nor the Outer Hebrides.

Not all Hebridean islands have roads, so after spending time looking over various OS maps (love doing this and planning routes), I decided upon a week to visit Coll, Tiree, and then cycle the length of the Outer Hebrides, starting on Barra and ending up in Stornoway on Lewis, using CalMac ferries to hop from island to island, and finally jumping back to Ullapool on the mainland for the very last leg of the journey, to cycle some of the way towards Inverness.

The map, the ferry routes available, and a plan hatching.

The idea was that of a solo, unsupported trip, being entirely self-sufficient, not having to rely (too much) on shops along the way, and to wild camp as much as possible along the journey (note: the idea of wild camping is argued widely, but my definition of it differs from the idea of pulling up next to the road in a large motorhome, equipped with satellite, showers and stuff like that, but camping considerately, out of view, not using motorised transport, ‘leaving nothing but footprints, and taking nothing but photographs’.)

In fact, in planning, I only planned to stay on a camp site for one night, the first, before starting the journey proper.

So, I had an idea, and starting planning in more detail. Weather was the first consideration, and I opted to embark at the start of June, and travelling south the north to take advantage of the prevailing tail winds. (You’ll see that the prevailing winds are often south to north and many touring cyclists recommend doing it this way round. You’ll read more of this below!)

I checked ferry and train times, and settled on a week’s worth of cycling that would taper up to a couple of big days towards the end of the week. Plans could always change, but I wanted an outline itinerary to work to, given my ‘window’ of opportunity.

DateTrainFerryTimeStaying onBike miles min (total 254.13)
Sat 03/06/2017Runcorn-Crewe (London Midland)07:01 - 07:192
Crewe - Glasgow Central (Virgin Trains)07:55 - 10:590.4
Glasgow Queen Street - Oban (Scotrail)12:21 - 15:28
Sun 04/06/2017Oban - Coll07:15 - 09:55Coll27
Mon 05/06/2017Coll - Tiree10:10 - 11:05Tiree27
Tue 06/06/2017Tiree20
Wed 07/06/2017Tiree - Barra11:30 - 14:15Barra29
Thu 08/06/2017Barra - Eriskay09:25 - 10:05North Uist57.6
Fri 09/06/2017Berneray - Leverburgh10:25 - 11:25Lewis53.3
Sat 10/06/2017Stornoway - Ullapool07:00 - 09:3035.83
Lochluichart - Inverness (Scotrail)13:36 - 14:42
Inverness - Glasgow Queen Street (Scotrail)14:47 - 18:10
Glasgow Central - Crewe (Virgin Trains)18:40 - 21:41
Crewe - Runcorn (Virgin Trains)22:06 - 22:242

It all seemed feasible, so all I needed to do was to book trains. Both Virgin trains and Scotrail extol the virtues of cycle touring by train. Virgin trains have a page dedicated to enthusing the two wheeled traveller – https://www.virgintrains.co.uk/experience/bikes    and Scotrail – https://www.scotrail.co.uk/plan-your-journey/travel-connections/cycling with lots of options on offer.

The reality is a slightly more confusing picture(!), but isn’t insurmountable, you just have to be organised. This is where our own train booking guru – Derek Heine – came in with sound advice both about booking and pricing.

To get the best prices, you have to be on the ball, and be hovering online or at your local train station 8 weeks before your journey. This is in order to get discount tickets, and get a bike space booked. I was a bit too eager with Virgin trains and booked online with an offer about 12 weeks prior to my journey, which meant I had to then go through a bit of an online rigmarole to make sure that I got my bike booked on. Even then, cyclist be warned – some trains don’t have much space to fit your bike in – especially if you have a fully loaded touring machine. Also, there are limited bike spaces that you can book, and my advice would be – make sure that you have your tickets for your bike booked and in the right format (Virgin trains staff don’t always seem to have their training regarding bike booking, and I had to explain that my ‘printout’ with my valid booking reference, was real, each time that I got onto a Virgin train – which was only a few times. The other issue with Virgin, is that the storage is minimal, and potentially, if the space is full – even counting fewer bikes than can be booked onto a train, you may not be able to continue your journey. Get to the train station early!) The good news, is that it can be really cheap to get a ticket, with a total ticket cost as low as £14 to get you and your bike (which travels free) from Runcorn, all the way up to Oban. Result.

Calmac ferry booking is even easier, as you don’t need to. Just turn up at the ticket office on the day (nice and early – especially on smaller boats, just in case there is a group of cyclists before you – as some ferries may limit the amount of bikes on board – I had no such problems. You can also book earlier if you wish). In fact, CalMac are brilliant, and again, really low cost, as you are only charged as a foot passenger, so my most expensive ticket for a crossing was £10.30! Bargain.

You can check all CalMac prices and timetables here: Caledonian MacBrayne.

The journey, as mentioned earlier, was a self supported, carry all my gear, and enough food to keep me going. Only things like fresh milk and fresh water were to purchased on the way (and powdered milk and a TravelTap bottle if shops were not near, and fresh water not available). This would give the flexibility to adapt the schedule (for reasons of weather, ferry cancellation etc), without being concerned for your next meal. As an insulin dependent diabetic, and a bit of a control freak, these things tend to come naturally to me!

I’m also no stranger to lightweight camping, and for those interested, outside of any gear that I will mention, by all means email me, and I’ll be glad to pour out the good and bad of gear that I have used, and the current kit that I do use and has served me well these past years.

I also carried camera gear with me, just in case there would be a photo opportunity or two along the way, and batteries, an iPad, and a solar charger, (the solar charger was superb, and I didn’t have to drop back to other back-up batteries at all), and some good old paper OS maps, a compass, and my Garmin GPS. The GPS more to record the miles rather than navigate, as you aren’t going to get lost on this trip! I had my phone with me, and planned to check in when I could at home, dependent on signal of course.

Of course, the most important piece of kit was the bike. I was using my touring bike that I’d recently completely rebuilt (a Dawes Ultra Galaxy), with a sturdy set of wheels that I’d also built over winter, to get me from A – B and any point in between.

It’s a fully tooled up and loaded 30 gear Dawes Ultra Galaxy, with a well broken in Brooks saddle, sat at Crewe station. The perfect touring machine.

Day 1

A bright and sunny start to the day woke me up early. Partly excited about the week ahead, and part trepidation after seeing a brutal weather forecast for Monday, I was out of the door at 6:30 with my beast of burden (and it was well burdened at somewhere under 50kg) and soon at the train station ready for the 7:01 train to Crewe.

Waiting for a train. Reminds me of Flash and the Pan. 1983. Classic.

Okay, a bit random, but the song stuck in my head as I was writing this.

Lugging the bike up the step into the storage compartment was fun (not), and after a bit of faffing about, I wandered along to my seat for 5 minutes before the train arrived at Crewe(!)

..and we wait at the designated place for cycles in preparation for the train to Glasgow.

At Crewe I had to change platforms, and was glad of the use of the cargo lifts at the station rather than lugging the heavily loaded beast up and down stairs.

A 35 minute wait and I loaded the bike into zero spare space in the storage area, which was already crammed with 3 other loaded bikes.

Strictly speaking, my bike shouldn’t be there. Other bikes are poorly arranged with luggage attached in the very limited space that in theory, can hold six bikes!

Glad to be booked onto a seat in carriage B, (although seat B52 planted an ear worm for the journey), as carriage A clearly had a problem with the on board toilets, as a distinctly unpleasant cabbage-like smell was present in that carriage.

Fair enough.

I’ve not been on a Pendolino train on a long journey before, so a nice experience to start with. Smooth as silk, and a reasonably pleasant way to travel (punctuated by an unhappy teething baby in the same carriage, who vocally protested at intervals by bouts of crying) to get miles out of the way. Having decide to bring my iPad, I tried out the Virgin Beam wi-fi service, which is quite a good idea, allowing you to stream films, magazines, games etc to your device via the Beam app.

The time whizzes by, and the train hit Glasgow Central bang on time.

Glasgow Central. The bike has a rest before and arduous 1/2 mile ride.

A quick pedal across 1/2 mile of Glasgow then brought me to Glasgow Queen Street station, ready for my next connection.

Tea, Crayfish and rocket butties, and a muffin. Didn’t get anything for the bike. It’s trying to lose weight.

The Scotrail attendant was just that, attendant and very helpful as soon as he saw me with my fully loaded steed, directing me to the right platform at the right time. I thus had a leisurely bite to eat, chatted to another couple from London, who were travelling to Mallaig and then Skye, with their bikes and pet Jack Russell dog Kyra, in a bike basket.

Jack Russell’s do enjoy cycle touring, apparently.

For the Glasgow to Oban leg, after completely unloading my bike of the luggage, I put my bike on the train under the direction of attendant John. “Back wheel first” he abruptly said. I took this to mean putting my bike on the train in this way, then in completely ignoring the general instruction, went to hang my bike from it’s front wheel. “Did ye no listen? Back wheel first” barked the efficient attendant with a wry look. A minute later after two trips off and on to retrieve my luggage, I was seated and ready.

The train moved away at 12:21 and proceeded to Dalmuir, then Dumbarton, through grey housing estates and into the country proper. I always like exiting Glasgow when driving north, as there is a distinct ‘opening up’ of the environment into far more pleasant surroundings as soon as you’ve driven though Dumbarton. This is no different on a train, and countryside swept by, albeit from a slightly different view than normal for the first couple of miles as we almost immediately hugged the coast and shot towards Helensburgh. Normally, the road hugs Loch Lomond until Tarbet, but the train takes a different scenic route until this point, as the Trossachs unfold before you.

A cup of tea was ordered from John, as the young bespectacled girl opposite ordered a can of Tennents lager.

“Milk and sugar?”

“Just milk please”

“£1.70”

“There you go” (exact change given)

“Thanks”

The girl sipped her Tennents.

12:30. Got to be time for Tennents.

Garelochhead. View from a train window. Better than many views from train windows. Big sky. Big hills starting. Showers had started, stopped, started, stopped, and would no doubt start again as forecasted, roughly at the time of forecasting probably. But it is Scotland, and multiple visits before have taught me one main thing. Weather changes. Frequently. Far more frequently than Thomas Schafernaker has opportunity to predict via the BBC.

Garelochhead. View from a train window.

Scots pine and smatterings of rhodedendron appeared to the left and right. The views of the hills opened up as we approached the Tarbet turning.

The track follows the road pretty much all the way to Crianlarich, where the train splits into two and one pops up north to Mallaig, our bit west to Oban, again following the road for most of the way, but with nice views through drizzle spattered windows of the castle at the head of Lock Awe.

Dalmally station. Odd.

At this point the train seems to go into trundle mode and slows down considerably until you get to Oban. At Cruachan Ferry, the rain hammered down in a typical short burst. “Welcome to Oban” I said out loud. The bespectacled girl from Oban (who I’d briefly conversed with) gave me a funny look. About 10 minutes later, the rain stopped and the sun appeared. “Welcome to Oban” said the young bespectacled girl from Oban with a wry smirk that wouldn’t have looked out of place on attendant John’s visage.

Arrival. Oban. After a long day doing nowt. Straight to CalMac. Ticket to Coll. Then burst my lungs for two miles actually cycling to the one and only campsite for this trip. A great site with really nice views of Kerrara and the sound of cuckoos in the air.

Link: Oban Caravan and Camping Park

Oban Caravan and Caping site. Recommended.

Also met an Australian bloke who was also doing an outer Hebridean south to north route as I was, but he was off straight to Barra tomorrow, and didn’t have a timetable to run to so was taking his time. He suggested that I might actually catch him up (doubt it), on his Santos Rohloff belt drive 29er and flip-flops.

Nice. Tent, bike, tree, sea, Kerrera

Nice again. Looking south with the little island of Kerrara across the water.

After a good pasta bolognese meal in a bag, apart from a short walk along the road, I was ready to crash, as I needed to get up early enough to get breakfast, a brew, pack up and get to the ferry terminal before 06:30. Unusually therefore, I got into my sack at about 21:00.

I got some sleep reasonably quickly, but it was light sleep. Then the rain. Wow, it rained well! This ensured a dream filled and fitful sleep.

Day 2

At about 04:15, even though I’d happily have slept in, I got up (it was light already).

Breakfasted and packed, I trundled to the familiar ferry terminal at Oban at about 06:11. I needn’t have rushed. No-one was there and I didn’t board till about 06:50.

That’s my bike, and that’s the MV Clansman behind the fence. Ready to take me to Coll.

The ferry left as scheduled and I spotted an otter at some distance, floating happily in Oban bay. Cleverly, I’d left my long lens on my bike, so have no evidence to back this up, nor the small pod of porpoises of the south of Lismore. As with the train journey yesterday, it was interesting to take a different view of the landscape than I would normally get, as we inched north west along the Sound of Mull. We rounded the north of Mull, then broke away from the Mull coast shortly after Croig, and headed straight for Coll.

I’d checked the updated weather forecast, and the wind did not look favourable at all for the coming week! Despite the usual prevailing winds from the south, they were now coming from the north, with a warning of strong winds and the potential for disrupted ferry crossings. Mmmm. I tried to ignore this, after all, I was now committed, but also had options and was flexible enough to return to the mainland at any point should I need to. The almost 3 hour journey passed quite nicely, and we docked at Coll. Also, part of me did relish the challenge!

It did feel colder on the island. This I’m sure was just the wind bringing down the perceived temperature, as the sun (when it appeared occasionally) felt quite strong. I rode past the whalebone arch at the dock, and the rusting harpoon gun which served as  a reminder of an industry long gone from these parts.

The whalebone arch, overlooking the ferry terminal and ticket office.

Call me Ishmael. ‘Thar she blows’

The (head) wind didn’t relent, and would be with me for the 6 mile ride to a place that I thought might be a nice discrete place to wild camp in the north of the island. I stopped in Arinagour to get water from a tap at the public toilets. As it was Sunday, the few shops in the main village were closed, so (as planned) would wait till Monday to top up supplies if needed on Tiree.

Arinagour. The capital of Coll. A row of traditional tigh gael (cottages).

Is that telling the kittens to slow down, being over-friendly and calling the road users ‘kittens’, or are there some kittens wandering around? I dodn’t see any.

After a mile heading north west out of Arinagour, the rain was with me. Horizontal, angry, forceful, both soaking and chilling me in equal amounts. This had curiously started ten seconds after I’d stopped to take off my rain cape due to the fact that I was getting warm pushing into the wind.

The place I had envisioned on the OS map did not disappoint, and I quickly setup the tent and unloaded, not knowing when the next rain shower may occur. A lovely view to rocks and skerries in a beautiful bay.

Now, that is a nice place to make camp.

It was only around 11:30 when I’d pitched the tent, and I was soon sat down and the water was on the stove for dinner and a brew. As well as this, I spent some time not crying over spilt milk, which it had done, in one of my panniers. A re-think of the packing plan would be necessary for tomorrow!

A friendly old bloke parked up by the tent, with his 6 year old Lakeland Terrier, Robbie. Turned out that he was an islander, living within (far) sight of where I was camping, and chatted about the white holiday cottages (not built in keeping with traditional construction he mentioned disapprovingly), and large amounts or rabbits dropping dramatically in numbers due to an outbreak of mixamatosis (I had seen quite a few carcasses at the side of the road on the ride to my camping spot). Robbie liked rabbits and was keen to be off after them, but wasn’t allowed off his lead whilst the outbreak of the disease was on the island. Wanting to make sure that I wasn’t encroaching on the environment, I made sure that I wasn’t spoiling his view. “No, it’s the motor homes that are the problem” (not surprisingly) telling a story of four large motor homes that had chosen to camp where I now was, who had kindly all emptied their chemical toilet waste into the burn before leaving, causing a clean up operation by volunteering locals, who had to dig a large whole to get rid of said waste, in order that it did not continue to pollute the burn. Nice. He left to walk Robbie for a while, but not before offering the use of the water at his house if I needed it. A really generous and friendly gesture. Proper nice. Little things like this make you feel good about your journey.

After stuffing my face with noodles, the rain came, with biblical anger again, so I retreated into the tent and zipped up. The sun then came out but it still rained(!?) Rain, sun, rain, sun. I had planned on a ride round Coll this afternoon.

I had brought with me, an excellent little guide, called, unsurprisingly, ‘Cycling in the Hebrides’. It is an excellent guide from Cicerone, and if you aren’t familiar with Cicerone titles, I highly recommend them. I have a few Cicerone books, mainly walking books, and they offer insight and useful information for anyone travelling by foot or bike, and point out things that you may otherwise miss. I spent an hour reading said book, looking at options today and the following days.

A link to the book is here: Cycling in the Hebrides.

One o’clock came and I was thinking that I might not be able to do a Coll circuit after all if this kept up. Just before 2, the rain went off again and I committed to getting out and getting just a few miles in (there aren’t that many miles to get in on Coll on the few roads!) I was glad I did. Showers weren’t heavy and pretty much desisted apart from the odd spot within half an hour of my leaving, so despite the headwind out – wind had changed direction for now – and also wasn’t as strong, it was a pleasant afternoon ride. This was especially the case, as I had shed all but my bar bag and rack pack to lighten the load. One of the highlights was a couple of miles heading down to the RSPB reserve, where there were Corncrakes calling constantly all over the place. Didn’t see a single one, but met a couple who had, literally a few minutes before I arrived. Surely, the centre of the Corncrake world.

Looking across the moor top over the sea to Mull, with the Trshnish Isles just visible. Fladda, Lunga and Bac More (Dutchman’s Cap) to the left.

Coll does have an airport, and that is it.

Loch Breachacha.

The two privately owned castles at Breachacha, the older castle on the right dates from the 15th century and was a stronghold of the MacLean clan. The other dates from around 1750.

RSPB Coll. Tricky to see the elusive Corncrake though!

This is what they look like when they’re not hiding (not my picture unfortunately, copied from the Coll Bunkhouse web site).

Nice road.

Retracing my route back to Arinagour was equally pleasant, as a tail wind also now assisted. As a bonus, the cafe/pub was actually open, so as it was nearing nosebag time, I grabbed some food there. Expensive, but it was basically the only tiny restaurant/pub on the island, and I’m sure that costs of anything imported are also expensive. Pigged out on fantastic fresh fish and chips and a pot of tea. It did the job.

Plenty of…

 

..these fellas.. or lassies. I didn’t ask.

Coll also has a bunkhouse. Click on the picture for the web site to open up in a separate tab.

Hey, that’s another nice road.

Back at camp, the walk to the beach (well more of a few footsteps really) was brilliant. A lovely little white sandy bay strewn with rocky outcrops leading out to the Atlantic.

Skerries and rocky outcrops.

Typical clear water and white sand of the Inner Hebrides.

Looking out from the campsite, I could see that the weather was getting, err, intersting, judging by the swell that was starting to form.

By 9pm, the rain had returned, and as yesterday, I was ready for a kip. I’d intended not to rush too much on day 3, but set my alarm to at least wake me, so I could breakfast leisurely, before the short trip to the ferry terminal. And so I retired once again after having had an hour solar charging my phone and gps with the last of the day’s sun.

Day 3

Awake by the time that i’d intended, fortunately, as my alarm clock on my phone hadn’t bothered until I switched it on, so I woke it up…

It was still raining, and I wasn’t feeling too good. Stomach was a bit ‘funny’ in wholly the wrong way. Not sure why. Either way, after a wild visit to the self made and responsibly chosen convenience, I got all the wet stuff packed (tent was soaking), put on all of my wet weather gear, my damp shoes and overshoes, and set off for Arinagour. I was there in good time, as I had a tailwind now. That did not bode well. One thing I really wanted for this trip was the help of the prevailing southerly winds that normally batter the islands. This had turned, and it was a bit colder too (or I was just a bit colder). I’d again had a comfortable (Thermarest Neo-Air mats are fantastic to sleep on), yet fitful, night’s sleep. More than likely again, the howling wind and rain had proved disruptive to my slumber I think. Nevertheless, I felt reasonably rested, and the smiling gent at the small CalMac ticket office started to brighten the day. The rain had also stopped within 5 minutes of me leaving my camp, so when I reached the ticket office, I was wet inside my clothing. I got some more clothes out, and layered up in the gents to make sure I kept warm.

The small ferry terminal and ticket office at Coll, with rain covers on luggage.

Whilst waiting for the ferry, I watched over the sea with binoculars, and suddenly saw a large bird plummet into the water. Must be a Gannet. It was. This was fantastic. Something I’d not seen before. They were quite a way away, but could easily be seen, flying along, gaining a bit of height, then dropping at high speed to catch their quarry.

Here comes the ferry, leaning a bit from the wind!

The ferry arrived and left on time, so I went on deck. This time, I brought a longer lens, and was glad i did. Although I didn’t see any more gannets diving until I saw a huge commotion. There must have been 30 Gannets and about 10 porpoises, all in the same area. Must have been a sizeable school of fish. The porpoises were immensely fast, as were the Gannets, swirling this way and that before dropping into the water where the porpoise were. I grabbed a few (poor) shots but mainly gawked at the spectacle. A couple of the porpoises were quite close to the ferry, jumping across the various wakes as we proceeded to Tiree. What a start to the day. As well as this, the sun was out, but the wind had not changed and was still blowing roughly from the north.

A Gannet flies awy from the boat, on it’s way to another catch.

Two others follow the boat for a bit.

Closer to Tiree, more Gannets. Here one bobbing along happily close to a Kittiwake.

We docked at Tiree, and it immediately felt different. Cycling into the main town of Scarinish, they even have a Co-op! Coll only had one tiny shop in Arinagour. I stopped there for a supply run, as I didn’t quite know quite what to expect from Barra onwards. Some milk, a few fresh buns, cake, and some All-purpose cloths (as I hadn’t packed any, and they are pretty useful for all sorts of stuff).

Advice for cyclists at Scarinish!

Tiree was also less hilly than Coll. I was actually glad of this! I wanted to have a couple of ‘relatively’ easy days before the main Outer Hebridean event. I cycled again to a place that I though might be a good spot, and eventually (after a quick recce) pushed my bike along a track and up a hill to a sheltered spot where sheep grazed. The view over the sea was ace, and the day was clear enough to see Skye, and some of the Outer Hebridean archipelago.

Not a bad spot, and not a bad view.

A spot which gave some shelter from the wind. Some.

Not Masterchef.

Tent pitched, it was time for food and then leave the tent and other stuff to dry whilst I went for a ride. The first half of the ride, down to east Tiree, was nice. Lots of sandy beaches, and rocky shoreline. Then, breaking slightly inland, there were Lapwings everywhere. Surely centre of the Lapwing world. I stopped to look, but Lapwings being nervous ground nesting types, generally flew off before I could turn a lens their way. As they were more than likely still rearing young on the nest, I didn’t approach any closer, and with good reason, as there were also Arctic Terns nesting in the area, and they were swooping really close with aggressive calling. I moved on, to leave them in some sort of peace.

Large sandy expanse at Vaul Bay.

Ah. Forgot to bring my golf clubs.

Rocky bays.

Centre of the Lapwing world..

Lapwings fly away, but Terns attack. Stopping at the side of the road, they sense danger, take flight and swoop repeatedly around your head, as this one did. Occasionally they will make contact with sharp beaks to the top of your head, calling aggressively to get you on your way.

Threat dealt with, and back off to the nest.

I headed onward down the bottom of the island, past the radar station at the top of Carnan Mor to Hynish, which was a village built in order to build the Skerryvore lighthouse.

Carnan Mor (the summit of Ben Hynish) and the radar station.

The road to Hynish.

The wierd looking housing for those masons etc who built sections of the lighthouse.

The pier and dock where the lighthouse was built ‘flat pack’ fashion, one layer at a time.

After a brief visit to Hynish, I turned. Into the wind. This must have played on me subconsciously, as I started to get fed-up with the incessant battle into it. It was getting stronger, and I was getting tired of it. It started to get to me.

The ride was okay apart from this, and I headed back through Moss and onto Balevullin, noting on the way that as well as being the centre of the Lapwing world, that Tiree also seemed to be where all of the buttercups in the world also went for summer.

Cows and Buttercups. Loads of ’em.

Balevullin and Buttercups. Loads of ’em. Buttercups that is, not Balevullins.

The appropriately named Millhouse Hostel, close to Loch Bhasapoll.

As I passed Balephetrish Bay, the wind seemed even stronger, buffeting me sideways as well as cross-headwind, and slowing progress (not that I was in a rush). I stopped for a bit of a breather, and hard my phone go off with a text message. I’d not had a phone signal on Coll, but did have one on most of Tiree. It was a short message from Derek, who had clearly been looking at the weather forecast. It said:

I didn’t reply.

Now that shouldn’t have botherd me at all, and I almost replied with a terse comment like ‘No sh*t Sherlock!’, but I restrained and carried on!

When I returned to my tent, I was more than a little down. Daft really. In this idyllic setting, you shouldn’t be unhappy. This undertone of thinking about headwinds (all cyclists hate them obviously) and then finding that a pin had worked loose on my pedal, made me even more fed-up! I fixed the pin at Scarinish, but would have to keep an eye on it as I continued to cycle on variable road surface, some quite bumpy. I didn’t want to be in a position where the pin popped out, and I wouldn’t be able to clip in on one side for the rest of the journey!

The offending pin, working out slowly as I pedalled.

A good hot meal lifted me from my gloom, and by eight thirty, I was writing this, and ready to chill for the evening and night. The plan for tomorrow – a bit of Tiree exploring before a second night. The ferry to Barra only leaves on a Wednesday from Tiree, so I couldn’t accelerate plans at all.

Have a brew and something to eat in the comfort of your tent..

Grin or grimace?

Day 4

And what of Tuesday? Well, I awoke to a strengthening wind. Simple. Also from the north. Bad. Again, this never left me all day, as I explored the east and north of the island. Every southbound road was nice. Each return leg was a hideous slog, into wind that was getting stronger and blustery and didn’t show any signs of dropping nor changing direction. If I have this on Barra and the Uists, the next 2 days are going to be hellish. No doubt about it. On a half laden bike today, I was barely making 9mph into the wind. I thus started thinking of alternatives to break up the grind that I might be about to face. I didn’t want the next 120 miles of my life to be into a headwind!

Didn’t see much in the way of wildlife either, but in the morning watched some young EIder-ducklings, then, as I was already done of my tour of the island at dinner time, and the rain had started, I had to the confines of the tent and cooked something to eat and had a brew. I hadn’t intended to go out on the bike again, so caught a quick kip with a full belly, and when the rain subsided, went for a very windy walk along the coast, where I found a ‘broch’. Pretty cool.

Eider ducks and ducklings, sheltering amongst the rocks.

A traditionally built cottage, a few can be found scattered around Coll and Tiree.

A walk along the coast and a nice bothy.

More Eider ducks, happily sat on a small skerry, splashed by waves breaking.

The sign describing a ‘broch’ that I stumbled across at Dun Mor.

The remains of the broch itself.

Back at the tent at about four, I tidied up and rearranged panniers and food. All organised to feed me for the next three days of effort. Then went out for a short ride to see if I could gain a mobile signal (you can gain a signal as previously mentioned on Tiree, but you are best heading towards the capital to find it, which is about a six mile round trip). No joy in getting anyone at home, I left a message just to check in, dumped some rubbish in a bin next to the bus stop, and went back to the tent for tea.

Tea cooked and eaten, the rain came back. Just light, wind blown drops off the Atlantic, but that wind!

Anyway, I hoped for a rest and some sleep before the start of the main challenge tomorrow. I’m here now, I thought, no going back. I’ve got a train to catch in Lochluichart on Saturday at 13:36, and I intend to make it, the long way round, with, or against the wind!

I therefore thought of getting the later ferry from Barra on the same day as landing there – 17:30, to get me to Eriskay. With the ferry landing on Barra at 14:15, this ‘might’ even give me chance to go to Vatersay as well, but dependent upon wind, this one was very much to wait till I get there.

I’m not sure at what point I fell asleep, but if felt like minutes later that I awoke. 4:15. I hadn’t planned getting up till 7, packing up and leaving at around 9. The rain still lashed, and I wasn’t looking forward to dropping the inner tent out and packing a wet fly sheet separately again as I had done on Coll. Just another job then for the next camp. Dry out fly and footprint, re-attach inner. Actually not a big job with a Hilleberg Akto, so don’t know really why I was moaning quietly to myself about it!

Day 5

Wednesday. Of course it is. That was a very disturbed Tuesday night. The wind just got stronger in the early hours, meaning that there was virtually no way of sleeping for the violent gusts that were battering the tent. The thing that I was quite happy about was my trusty tent. It has been a bombproof companion, and still is. So, I just hunkered down into my bag and waited, and waited, and then the rain came, short, sharp, heavy bursts of rain, lashing at the tent and made even louder by the wind.

I didn’t get much more than a few snatches of sleep till I decided to get up at around 6:30. I made a brew, and the usual Frosties – in a bag. Easiest way, less washing up(!) I’d done this all week.

The wind had not changed at all in direction and was still a fierce cold northerly. The cloud was lifting though, and the sun was breaking through, which made a difference to my mood. I recorded on video the start of the day, but with the wind noise, and no baffle on the mike, it is hard to even hear my voice!

The rain had at least stopped, so despite the wind, it looked quite nice!

Packed, waterproof, and solar charging as I rode.

I packed up to the sound of a Corncrake somewhere up the hill, and had left camp sometime around 8:40. I headed back towards Scarinish and put my litter in the bin near the Co-op.

The view across the huge Gott Bay towards Scarinish

More traditionally built housing in Scarinish.

Another pair of tickets.

Another ferry terminal.

Then off to the ferry port. Another little CalMac ticket office with the usual friendly CalMac people. They really do make getting around easy. I handed in my ticket for Barra, which I’d bought on Monday, and as the ferry sailing was due to be on time, got a ticket for Ard Mhor (Barra) to Eriskay, and a further ticket for Thursday for Berneray to Leverburgh on Harris. I’d only have one ticket left to get from Stornaway to Ullapool, but I’d leave this till later, as plans may change again.

The sun was out, so I plugged in the iPad and phone to charge into the solar charger, and starting scribbling this. Resigned now to a headwind, I was just going to ‘see how it goes’, and might still be able to get to Vatersay and just have time to then get back up to Ard Mhor for the ferry. This week was changing gradually into focus on the challenge, rather than the somewhat easier time that I may have had with different wind direction!

At the terminal I met another guy who was between jobs so was taking a few weeks to travel around and was now taking a similar route on his bike. He, as other cyclists that I would speak to, was basically taking his time to do his route, so wasn’t beholden to any timetable!

On to the ferry bang on time and I grabbed some food that I had made yesterday with a brew from the cafe on the MV Clansman (again).

On our way into the open sea to the Outer Hebrides!

A view as we approached Barra, with Vatersay, and the more southerly islands that don’t have roads, Sandray, Pabbay, Mingulay and Berneray.

Then I decided that I didn’t smell too clever so took advantage of the showers on board. Then a kip, and soon enough we were at Castlebay.

Showers this way, stinky boy.

The appropriately named port of Castlebay, Barra.

I’d already decided as we landed on Eriskay that I was going to go to Vatersay, and after the 12.5% gradient of the first hill, almost regretted it. Standing at the top with my lungs bursting, I decided that I wasn’t going to lug my panniers to the burial grounds and back up the gradient, so, I ditched them, appropriately, in a ditch, so that I could pick them up when I came back up the gradient!

The burial grounds on Vatersay mark the start of the Hebridean Way – National Cycle Route (NCR) 780.

The top of the hill that hugs the side of Beinn Tangabhal, on the way south to Vatersay, with a view of the more southerly islands.

My first causeway! This one links Barra to the island of Vatersay, and these causeways link islands of the Outer Hebrides along the way for the most part.

I thus time-trialled to the end of the road on Vatersay (as much as you can on a Dawes Ultra Galaxy with a bar bag, took a quick photo for proof, as did my new found friend from Tiree, and similarly dug in on the way back. There is actually a great little cafe overlooking a beach on Vatersay, but my head was now in clock watch mode, so I chose not to stop, gasped up the incline, and stopped to retrieve and refit luggage.

And that is me, at he burial grounds on Vatersay, about to start some of the hardest cycling I’ve ever done!

From then, Barra was okay. Lumpy, but okay. All hills are monster hard with a bike loaded. There were many ups and downs in terms of the roads (I hadn’t expected anything less). The sun was out, and the wind did not relent. It was noticeable that I was now taking fewer photographs, and concentrating on the task in hand. Soon enough, very soon, just under an hour and a half, I was at the ferry terminal at Ard Mhor, and met again with the gent I had met earlier.

The ferry terminal was tiny, with no ticket office, but there were toilets and a drinks machine, so I took the opportunity to buy a brew rather than get the stove out, and just chill out for half an hour.

A nice carved staue of otters at the Ard Mhor ferry terminal, with a view in the distance towards Eriskay, and South Uist. The isle of Fuday in view closer.

This view is pointing towards the large beach at Traigh Mhor (which you can’t really see, but it’s there, honest), which is Barra’s airfield. My original plan was to stop overnight there, mainly to see the planes land! Twas not to be.

And another ferry to whisk me to Eriskay.

Eriskay was very picturesque coming out of the port, and also very short.

The guy that I kept meeting, leapfrogging, and meeting again!

Lovely Eriskay, and South Uist.

The view back south to Barra.

The fantastic causeway linking Eriskay to South Uist.

You just have to take pictures of them!

I was very soon on South Uist over the ace causeway.

A really odd looking Church of Our Lady of the Sorrows sat on the moor at Trosaraidh. Totally wierd architecture that just didn’t seem to fit in with the landscape at all!

A closer view of the oddity.

My on-off cycle companion, battling into the wind. Catching me up.

And another odd-shaped building, a house this time.

I met the guy that I had chatted to at irregular intervals from then on, leapfrogging each other along the road. I met him for the last time at a Co-op, where he had grabbed some ‘whoops’ food, and I chose to grab a couple of bottles of water. Didn’t see him after that. Completely forgot to introduce myself or ask his name. How rude.

I had intended to stop and cook some food as soon as I landed on Eriskay, but as the wind was at least a bit lighter (it’s all relative) and the sun was out, it seemed daft not to just pedal. I snacked and drank, but by 8pm, I was done. I committed to top at least 40 miles, and shortly after stopped at a place that looked feasible to set up a camp. A bit near a road, but discrete enough not to bother anyone near Loch Drudibeg. I cooked first as the wind dropped, and my little veracious friends the midges duly swarmed, as they do. I only got a few in my brew, and with a liberal dosing of Skin So Soft and head net, all was well. This was the first time that they had appeared, as the little beasts disappear with the slightest bit of a breeze, and I’d had plenty of that, so, small mercies I guess!

Not a bad site..

The tent was put up, and the midges duly peppered it. The inside though, was midge free.

..and quite a nice evening, pitched in a sheltered place below a radar station.

I reviewed my maps and plans in the tent before settling down for the night.

So, tomorrow, another big one, and the hope that it will be almost as good a day as today, which, despite the winds, hadn’t turned out to be unpleasant. I felt pretty positive. Another ferry awaits on Berneray (not the Outer Hebridean island to the south(!)), but before that, it was to be Benbecula and North Uist.

Day 6

Thursday. Hardest cycling day of my life. Up at a reasonable hour, I was on the road at around 7:40, Benbecula by 8:10.

A snapshot of the Statue of Our Lady of the Isles, just 1/4 mile northfrom where I was camping.

A short causeway over Loch Bi.

The causeway to Benbecula. Didn’t see any otters crossing.

On to Benbecula.

Then, the next causeway to start the causeway hop to North Uist. Knocking off islands just for fun.

Causeway.

Causeway!

North Uist. Welcome.

As the morning wore on though, the wind got stronger and stronger from the north-east. Most of the time I was doing 8.5 mph or less. It was horrendous.

I hit North Uist and dug in to a slow, rhythmic pedal. The bike working perfectly, the legs not as well!

Ploughing on, I had the choice to either take the west side road along the A865, or hang a right and take the A867 to Lochmaddy. The slightly shorter rout along the A865 would take me over the peat bog moors, and it was just a case of deciding and then going for it. I though I may get more shelter (hah!), if I turned right and over the moor. I don’t think it would have made any difference. Hard long hills, and the brutal wind was sapping me.

A brief break at a signpost to prop my bike up, re-fix my pedal pin, and stuff a snack into my belly before moving on. The bike is pointing in the wrong direction. I was off t’other way.

Piles of peat to the north.

More moor to to the south.

..and a long road ahead before my turn off to head to Berneray!

At last the sign to Berneray.

Berneray.

The causeway to Berneray. The last causeway of the trip!

The Berneray ferry terminal, 35 miles in, seemed to offer no comfort, as the wind coming across the Sound of Harris felt even stronger. I sheltered here waiting for the ferry, and met up with some other cyclists also heading north. One guy was taking 2 weeks to do the trip (now that is slow progress). I also met with the Australian bloke that I’d met in Oban. Well he was right, I had caught up to him. I got the stove out, made a brew, had a snack and waited for the ferry. Discouragingly, the ferry emptied some cyclists when it arrived, who were travelling south to take advantage of the winds!!

The Harris ferry, docking, unsurprisingly, on Harris.

The second to last leg then.

On Harris, yep, hard again. The roads twisted this way and that through the beautiful scenery, but the effort required to make some mileage was ridiculous. I couldn’t help admire this scenery though. Again, at least there was no rain, and the beuty before me was a distraction from the tiredness that I was now feeling.

Harris was very pretty.

Expanses of sand…

..and more

..and more..

..views of what must be the windiest gold club in the world..

..and views towards the Harris hills.

I was now determined to make it to Tarbert, but between me and Tarbert was a monster climb. Mainly pedalling on the granny gear, this took everything I had, and wanting to go on, but not having the physical energy to do so effectively was depressing.

If you can imagine (if you are a Weaver Valley Cycling Club member) doing our annual Llanberis ride, day 1, into a headwind, with a fully luggaged up bike. Well, I’d say this was much, much harder!

Tarbert, 8 miles. That doesn’t sound too bad.

Is that a hill?

The hill was a gradual steep gradient, brutal. Down to speeds of around 4mph, I ploughed on up the hill, then down the next, then up and down a few more before I reached Tarbert, totally knackered. It was getting late-ish ( by that I mean about 6:30 pm!), and at this point I thought a cafe would be a good idea. Too late though at this hour. The cafe just outside of Tarbert was long shut.

Yes, it’s a bloody big hill, and here, have a block headwind. Sounds ike I’m moaning now. I am.

I got through Tarbert, and stopped about a mile out of town to pitch camp near the main road. Ahead of me tomorrow, the Harris hills before I could even think of getting to Stornaway to catch my 14:00 ferry that Idecided I was going to catch, rather than waiting ofr the last day, Saturday, to sprint across the mainland (I really needed to aim to get there for 12, so I’d have to get up at the crack of dawn to complete this, otherwise, no leeway for rest or mechanicals).

To boot, the weather forecast was rain overnight and Friday morning. An immense sense of foreboding sat over me as I lay there shattered but awake, not wanting to eat, just wanting to rest, but knowing that I probably wouldn’t get the rest that I needed , due to what was to come. The wind did not abate nor change direction.

The pitch near Tarbert. Just before the ramp to the Harris hills.

Nevertheless, I cooked, got a brew, sorted myself out for bed, and sparked out after about half and hour or so lying there.

Day 7

Friday. Last day of island cycling. I looked out of the tent at about 4:30. The clouds hung low over the hills. The wind whipped towards the tent from the north east. My legs were heavy from Thursday, but I knew I had a job to do, so I ate breakfast and drank a brew, then routinely packed up. I was quite literally camped at the foot of one of the steepest parts of the hills to come, and therefore had no warm-up. I took no photographs, and decided to go at it. I had wanted a challenge at the start of this trip, and my word had I got one. This was hard. I pedalled straight at it in my lowest gear, but immediately felt out of breath and exhausted. My speed dropped to around 3mph against the incline and that bloody wind! 1/10th of a mile up the ramp, and I was maxed out. My speed dropped to less than 3mph, and the bike was difficult to control at this speed. I stopped at 0.18 miles, got off the bike and started to push. The wind did not relent. It’s difficult for me to get off a bike and push. I have to be at my absolute physical limit to do it. I didn’t care about this today. I ended up pushing the bike faster than pedalling it(!) One way or the other, I had to get to Stornaway to get my ferry. For the next 10 miles, a series of slightly less steep inclines quickly sapped me of energy. I’d ride one, stop for a breather for a few minutes, before dropping down ready for the next one. Apart from one descent that briefly turned and went with the wind, there wasn’t a lot to be gained from them! My bulky tourer acting as the perfect stopper to the wind. Streamlined, I wasn’t.

Another lung busting incline a couple or so miles later and I’d had to stop again. I was now concerned that it would take me so long to get to Stornaway, that I would miss the 14:00 ferry, and have to get the 7:30 ferry on Saturday, which in turn may not give me enough time to get to my first train, 35 miles away at Lochluichart, especially if the weather turned and I had a headwind on the mainland.

I was truly knackered, and wondered about just packing in for the day, camping and getting up early, or plodding on really slowly, not bothering at this point whether I would miss today’s ferry or not.

I stopped, ate a Mars bar (other high sugar snacks are available) and dropped the bike so that I could bend over and rest my hands on my knees. Breathing deeply to prep for the next part of the actually short ride to Stornoway.

A black Vauxhall Merida shot past and immediately stopped a few yards past where i was resting.

A young bloke got out and asked “Are you alright? Did you crash?”

“No mate, just knackered and trying to get a few minutes rest before the next bloody big hill!” I duly replied.

“Where you heading?” (He wouldn’t have known as I’d dropped my bike facing the other way) “Stornoway”

“Hop in, I’ll give you a lift”

At this point, it took me nanoseconds to decide that this was what I wanted to do, just to get there. I was done. Physically tired of the constant grind and the lack of real progress.

“There won’t be enough room in your car” I weakly protested.

“Course there will, we’ll make it fit. Just have to move this old telly that I’m taking to the dump.”

Relief doesn’t come close. The blokes name was Sam, and he lived on Scalpay with his young family, and had lived there for 9 months. He explained that he was really pleased that he could help someone out since he’d had an accident where he’d rolled his car, and received loads of support from locals immediately after the incident.

Even nicer, was that he dropped me off at a fuel station with a Spar, and nipped in and bought me a brew while I unloaded my bike and put the planners back on. Humbled doesn’t come close. I offered to buy the brews but he wasn’t having any of it. Nor would he take money for the lift. He then shot off to work while I sorted my stuff out (he worked as a heating engineer). A flood of emotion was welling up in me from this, and I was grateful to be in Stornoway. I’d stopped about 20 miles from my destination when picked up. I didn’t care. This had been an epic enough trip so far. I’d done enough!!

Final departure ferry terminal.

In Stornoway, the ferry terminal wasn’t yet open for me to buy my ticket, so I wandered into town and stopped at a cafe. I treated myself to a full cooked breakfast, a pot of tea and ate slowly and relaxed in ‘The Tearoom’. A great little cafe in town. I felt miles better after this, and pedalled slowly back to the now open ferry terminal and bought my ticket back to the mainland. Then the rest of the morning in the ferry terminal, leaching off the free wi-fi to catch up on the full inbox of email.

Stornoway. My final island destination.

So, my last island cycling day was done, albeit prematurely from my original plans. It had been unbelievably tough. Other cyclists I spoke to had all the same stories of expecting the prevailing winds and having to batter through headwinds. Fortunately for them, they had sensibly opted to take a longer time to do it. Some were only covering 20 miles a day maximum.

An impressivley modern CalMac ferry arrived, with a clever pully stage system to store cars above others on the car deck. The rest of the ferry was pretty luxurious too, with comfortable seats, and again, showers, which I took advantage of again.

The ferry arrived with the usual CalMac perfect timing, and a full complement was loaded on. Soon we were away, and arrived in Ullapool 2.5 hours later on the state of the art ferry. Very smart.. Off loaded by 16:45, I set off in the afternoon sun. What a difference. The wind was behind me, and apart from a 12% incline that I unashamedly pushed the bike up part of, it was massively easier than the preceding days.

Back on the mainland. Ullapool.

As it was approaching time to take on more calories, I stopped by Loch Broom for my tea. More noodles, tea, and cakes went down well, and I was soon ready to make a move

Stopping for food at the side of the road next to Loch Broom to eat my tea and have a brew.

A beautiful view, made more so by the fact that the wind was behind me.

The hills that I had to get over in the distance.

The only downside to this part of the ride was that of the roughness of some of the roads. Passing through quite a bit of overhanging greenery and even on some of the roads up through the hills, the surface was rough and knee-shatteringly juddery. I had intended to drop a wild camp 20 miles into the 35 odd miles, but romped past 20, then 25, then 30 miles.  Soon I was at my turning for the station, and know that I was going to push on to finish this and as there weren’t very many places to camp, it wasn’t worth stopping.

Dark clouds, but only the odd bit of light rain in very small doses, handing in the hills beyond Loch Glascanoch.

Late afternoon looking ahead.

Loch Glascanoch..

..and the hefty dam at the end of it.

Dam.

The station at Lochluichart is a tiny station with no ticket office, but had a 4 seater shelter that I could squeeze my bike in should it rain, and squeeze myself into in my sleeping bag and bivvy. Well, if it’s good enough for Audaxers in bus-stops, this was the equivalent.  It may be an uncomfortable night with not a lot of sleep I thought, but I had a full day of train journeying tomorrow to get enough kip! I used the ‘Help point’ to speak to a ScotRail operative to see if I could hop onto an earlier train. There were only two on a Saturday. Mine was at 13:36, the other at 07:42. The operative affirmed that I could get on the train. Better than a 6 hour wait at Lochluichart would be a 5-6 hour wait in Inverness, or, if I could wangle it, a change of ticket to get an earlier one to Glasgow and only have the afternoon to wait for my 18:40 to Crewe.

Five star accomodation at the train station.

Yep. Not much in the way of facilities then.

The line in that direction can take you all the way to the Kyle of Lochalsh. Should you be so inclined.

Day 8

Saturday. It was a bit uncomfortable! But with a midge net on, and tucked into bag in bivvy with mat, I did manage to grab a couple of hours. I was up at the crack of dawn (well a bit later – about 4:30ish). Breakfasted and with a brew inside me I just played the waiting game. Not much to do at a station like Lochluichart, so was keen to get the earlier train. It arrived as the rain started as spots, then got heavier. The pleasant ticket lady then informed me after I boarded and it got underway that I couldn’t use this ticket on the earlier train, but she didn’t seem bothered and said “Ach, I’ll turn a blind eye, but ye may no get an earlier train at Inverness”. Didn’t care, just glad to be moving!

Another nice cross country ride took me to Inverness. The day, dull and flat, still gave way to plenty of nice scenery to look at. The rain continued (as I’d seen forecast on the TV on the ferry from Stornaway).

The train was warm though, unlike Lochluichart train station!

Inverness. Only passed through it once before on the way to John O’Groats, so, as I had a load of hours to kill before the train (I couldn’t get an earlier one, and was told that bike reservations were basically like gold dust and I’d be mugged if anyone knew I had one!), I drank coffee at the train station (‘cos no coffee company can make a decent brew – tea), read a load more emails, replied to a few, then when the rain stopped, took my bike for a walk/ride down through town and along the river, which was at full bore by the looks of the water line.

It had clearly been raining in Inverness. The river was flowing at a fair rate..

..but wasn’t stopping fly fishing

 

It was quite a nice ride along the river.

Then, back into the town centre and grabbed a Subway thing, which I ate outside, watched by a crow, which flew down and sat in front of me, observing my dinner like a dog would for 15 minutes. There were signs up around town advising not to feed the (sea)gulls, with the usual good reason as I observed on the way back to the station as a large herring gull shot down as a girl opened her sandwich pack, and picked out one of the triangle delights – much to the amazement of the girl in question. The gull landed avec sandwich, swallowed it whole and waited for her to pick the other one out. She didn’t. Well, if you ain’t gonna feed us anymore, we’re gonna take yer butties!

Then a wait in the train station for the longest part to get me home in three stages….

The train arrived, but wasn’t the train that it should have been. i.e. a different kind of carriage. I as first in the queue with my bike, so got on and duly strapped my bike to the place where you were supposed to, noting that it said ‘Maximum 2 cycles’. The carriage should have the hang-up style storage for 6.

Max 2 bikes?

Three other cyclist, also with validly booked bike spaces then tried to get on. The lady attendant was not happy about this. She argued for a while with the gents, who pretty much insisted that they were getting on. I assisted with getting four bikes into the space of two, which actually worked well with all luggage unbolted.

Now it was just a matter of sitting down and relaxing for a while until Glasgow. I had a brew.

We’ll see about that!

We made a few stops on the way to Glasgow, and unluckily, 2 cyclists who also had valid bookings at one station, were summarily refused when they protested about getting on. ‘Ye’ll have te wait till the next train’ insisted the attendant, and the train was off. I hope they didn’t have onward trains booked. Stage 1 was due to get into Glasgow Queen Street at 18:10, giving me a leisurely half an hour to ride to Glasgow Central station. 18:10 came and went, and we only arrived at 18:16. The problem then was that the train was absolutely packed, and not only did it take ages to get everyone off, I still had to unstrap my bike from underneath the others to get out. I really didn’t want to miss my train home. Then a whole host of people jostled to get off on front of me with a bike fully panniered up, and with the manoeuvrability of a large oil tanker. I had till 18:40 to get the 1/4 of a mile to Central Station, but it was now nearly 18:30! Not a big task, but I could either negotiate the one way system riding, with associated traffic lights, or leg it against the flow, through early Saturday evening crowds. I legged it. Launching off pavements, and ploughing past early Saturday night drinkers in the crowded city.

Sweating and breathless I made it with a minute or two of the train leaving. Hauled the Leviathan aboard, and jammed it in with the other bikes in the tiny space allocated near to the driver’s cabin, then sat down sweating!

The train was busy, but comfortable for the return journey, and I dozed, read, wrote emails, had a brew, and gazed out of the window at the speeding landscape.

The train trundled into an almost deserted Crewe station. Having to change platforms, I hoped the lifts were working. They were. Thus didn’t have to haul the bike up and down stairs!

My last train was a bit late, but only by a few minutes, and only due to a number of train passengers “kicking off in coach D” according to the train attendants and British Transport Police!

I boarded the train, although due to the packed bike area, only just squeezed the beast in, under the disapproving eye of the driver.

After a 15 minute trip, I was at Runcorn, off the train, and pedalled the few minutes home to end my ‘epic’ Inner and Outer Hebridean tour at about 11pm. Bike intact (pedal intact), not a single puncture on the whole trip. Approximately(!) 251.93 miles cycled. That’ll do.

It was truly epic, mainly in good ways, but also in challenging ways.

It was actually well worth it looking back, I’ll not forget that in a hurry, and maybe I’ll return to the Outer Hebrides one day, perhaps taking a more ‘leisurely’ route over a week. I enjoyed the scenery, the diverse wildlife of the Inner Hebrides, the people that I met (especially Sam, he heating engineer from Scalpay, to whom I am eternally grateful), and the freedom of wild camping for a week, not to mention my excellent bombproof bike, with only a slightly (and now repaired) pedal!

Thus ends this mega-blog, probably the longest one on the web site!

We are proud to announce that WVCC will be the organising club of the 2018 J-B @TLI_Cycling national RR Championship , to be held at Siddington on 12th August 2018

It's giveaway time again only this time for any up and coming superstar.
On the left of the picture is an Altura rain jacket, long sleeve top and padded leggings (age 7 - 9)
On the right is a Sportful short sleeve cycling shirt and shorts (age 10 yrs)
The Shimano cycling shoes are size 37 (UK 4 I think) with Look cleats.
If you have an up and coming cyclist in your family who wants to look the part then let me know as it is all going in the charity bag.
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It would be nice to see a few more faces at the club dinner. Where else could you get good food good company and light entertainment for £23 . Please support your club dinner and award winners.
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1
Thu
2018
20:00 Track Night – Manchester Velodro...
Track Night – Manchester Velodro...
Feb 1 @ 20:00 – 22:00
Track cycling. The perfect opportunity to get some excellent training and experience with the club. We have a British Cycling coach that will train you and give you probably the best 2 hour workout you’ve[...]
Feb
3
Sat
2018
19:00 Club Dinner 2018
Club Dinner 2018
Feb 3 @ 19:00 – 22:00
Club Dinner 2018 @ Winnington Park Recreation Club | England | United Kingdom
Time flies, and here we are organising a Club Dinner again! Now it is in the calendar for Saturday 3rd February 2018 at 19:00. This year we’re at the Winnington Park Recreation Club, and it’ll be[...]

Club meeting times

Sunday runs:

10:00 - Winnington Park Rugby Football Club - see calendar for updated start times (Most runs 09:30 during the summer months)

Tuesday evening (informal - usually a small gathering!)

20:00 onwards - Winnington Park Rugby Football Club

Wednesday runs:

10:00 - Hatchmere

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