As a boy in the 1950s I loved the great fleet of pleasure steamers that sailed down the Firth of Clyde from Glasgow and the railway piers at Craigendoran and Gourock, where I lived. It’s still possible to enjoy a steamer cruise and it can be a great way to extend your reach when cycle touring. I’ve compiled some information that will help you do that.
Archive for the ‘Hebrides’ Category
On my seventh and last day the weather turned. I managed to get my tent packed away reasonably dry and set off towards a western sky that showed successive waves of rain cloud and brightness rolling in from the Atlantic.
Camas Nan Geall to Loch na Keal
On the morning of the sixth day I heaved my loaded bike up the steep track onto the main road and headed towards Kilchoan and the ferry for Mull. The road looped inland to avoid the precipitous coastline of Ben Hiant and, although it looked like a challenge on the map, it proved to be a comfortable steady climb followed by a long downhill. I stopped briefly to fish out my wraparound sunglasses for the descent (the wind under my normal glasses makes my eyes water) and found myself talking to a man who used to be the telephone repairman for that district but was now retired and on his way to do some maintenance at a holiday cottage.
The fifth day was as fine and sunny as the fourth. I had been attacked by two small but very aggressive dogs in the lane the night before, and sure enough they were waiting for my return. Chasing bikes was obviously their main interest and, having experienced before how aggressive and undeterred a group of dogs can become when they have their attacking spirits roused, I was a little worried that I could get a bad bite on the ankle and ruin my trip.
Broadford – Back of Keppoch
On the fourth day we were aiming to reach the ferry at Armadale in time for Norah to catch the afternoon train from Mallaig back to Edinburgh.
As the main road leaves Broadford it divides – straight ahead for the bridge at Kyle of Lochalsh and right for the south of the Island and Armadale. The contrast between the two routes was immediately obvious and the rest of the journey to Armadale was in ideal conditions, the heavy metal keeping straight on for the Kyle bridge and leaving the southern route to us and the sunshine.
Lochmaddy – Broadford
The third day was a Saturday and my intention had been to take the ferry from Uist to Harris and cycle to Tarbert for the ferry to Uig on the isle of Skye. However I was still uncertain about whether I could manage the whole route I had set myself and the ferry from Lochmaddy to Uig was waiting overnight for a 9am departure so I decided on a shortcut. I was also influenced by the fact that there were no ferries on a Sunday from Calvinist Harris so if I were delayed on the Saturday I would be set back by 24 hours.
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.
Sheffield – Oban – Drimsdale
Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea books for children and adults describe a magical archipelago inhabited by wizards, dragons, pirates, princes and sturdy seafarers. In the far west of Earthsea lie the West Reaches, a remote string of Islands where the rules of magic change and people’s lives are untouched by the business of city life.
Other parts of LeGuin’s fantasy may be modelled on the islands of the Adriatic or coasts of Scandinavia but, for me, the West Reaches can only be the Outer Hebrides. Barra, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist, Harris and Lewis and a host of smaller isles stretch for nearly 200 miles, south to north, out in the Atlantic off the west coast of Scotland. For years I had pored over the maps, imagining myself and my bike hopping from island to island, and this trip to the outer isles became a promise to myself, finally kept in August 2003.