The next day was a complete contrast. As I had my breakfast looking out across the empty beach, the sky cleared and the sun dried the dew on my tent. A man walking his dog told me that he had seen otters in the sea there a short while before. By the time I had packed my gear and headed back to the main road the day was set fair.
The journey across the north end of South Uist, Benbecula and North Uist was not particularly remarkable except for the peacefulness of the surroundings. I crossed the causeway into Benbecula and found myself in a slightly more populated area, the hub of the southern Islands with a school, airport and other amenities and even some roads that were wide enough for two vehicles.
I paused at a small hotel where the waiters were setting out the dining room for lunch later on, but happy to serve me in the small garden by the roadside. The coffee came in a beautiful heavy silver pot with the hotel’s name engraved, battered and probably more than 50 years old, an echo of an earlier time, long forgotten in the transient interior design explosions of the 80’s and 90’s that have obliterated almost any trace of older styles in shops and restaurants on the mainland.
Then off the main road and onto the side route which followed the west coast of Benbecula but didn’t give me many glimpses of the sea. In Balivanich I stopped for lunch at a restaurant that features in most guide books, probably because it is the only one. The time warp this time was around the seventies so gammon steak and chips was an obvious choice from the menu. A couple of cyclists came in and, as I left, I noticed that one had a half-full bottle of malt whisky in his water bottle holder. With luck he only had it there for show, the day was scorching and I didn’t hold much hope for his chances if he intended to swig from the bottle as he rode.
The causeway to North Uist was long and there was a headwind that took much of the pleasure out of the task. After that the road climbed over slightly higher ground towards the northwest, my diary tells me that I found it hard going, lots of short up and down hills that tire you out and prevent you from getting into a rhythm. I stopped at a small shop hoping for an ice cream in the hot afternoon, but they were sold out due to the very hot weather (not usual conditions at all for that part of the world). However the cavalry was even then galloping over the horizon and, as I was about to ride away, a van pulled up with fresh supplies.
As I was enjoying my ice I chatted to two women who were cycling on a much more leisurely schedule than me, exploring all the side roads and interesting features of the island. I wondered if I was foolish to set myself such an arduous target but came to the conclusion that I was here for the challenge of making the journey as well as to see what the outer isles were about.
In the late afternoon I came to Lochmaddy and had excellent tea and cakes at the Arts Centre there. I was very tired after the hot day’s ride (about 40 miles) but, after a long stupefied tea drinking sit, I summoned the energy to wander over a rickety old suspension bridge, past the gloomy ruins of a hospital and out along a small promontory to the Hut of the Shadows, a sculpture by Chris Drury. It is a small stone hut, igloo-like, entered by a twisting passage that excludes outside light. Once inside you sit on a stone seat against one wall and wait for your eyes to adjust to the darkness. What emerges on the opposite wall is a projected image of the seascape outside, captured by a lens set in the wall – the whole building is a camera. You can find more information about the hut of the shadows and other sculptures in Lochmaddy here.
I cast about for a place to camp but there was really nowhere where I could feel undisturbed. Eventually I fetched up at the Uist Outdoor Centre which provided very comfortable hostel accomodation. After two day’s cycling a shower was very welcome.