Author Topic: The One Week Off Work Western Isle Womble  (Read 6258 times)

PerkyGirl

  • A big fan of Peanut Butter Clif Bars
The One Week Off Work Western Isle Womble
« on: June 28, 2009, 09:05:08 pm »
nb. this trip is compatible with most slow cycling partners/girlfriends

For our first attempt at touring GlasgowDave and I decided on a nine day womble around the Outer Hebrides and Skye.  GlasgowDave is a keen cyclist and regular audaxer.  He has too many bicycles and freakishly large calf muscles.  I am his reluctantly pedalling girlfriend, bribed with promises of good food and nice scenery.  Fairly new to cycling, I only completed my first 50km audax a couple of weeks before our trip.  

The Outer Hebrides promised flat quiet roads within fairly easy reach of Glasgow.  We picked May as it generally gets good weather in Scotland, any later and you run the risk of being eaten alive by midges.  I booked nearly all our accommodation in advance.  The Hebrides have limited places to stay in some areas and the B&Bs and hostels fill up fast.  This did make the route inflexible, but I elected for this over risking finding ourselves with nowhere comfortable to sleep, (having explained clearly, firmly and with hand gestures that sleeping under hedges is never an acceptable option).  

Our trusty bikes were an Airborne Valkyrie and a lovely shiny new Condor Fratello   with one bar bag and one saddlebag* each.  We planned the route, came up with a packing list that would have made an invading army look under resourced and set off…..
   
*Tip: try loading up and riding the bikes in advance (I hadn’t). Whilst riding was surprisingly OK, I really struggled to get on and off with the carradice on the back.  Those not wishing to look like they are auditioning for the Folly Bergere every time they mount up may wish to consider panniers instead.

Day One

Train Glasgow Queen Street to Oban, Ferry Oban to Castlebay
Accommodation: Dunard Lodge Hostel, Castlebay Dunard Lodge
Total Cycling Distance: 4.11km
Big Hills: none
Notes: Scotrail will take the bikes for free, but it is best to prebook the spaces.  Pick up breakfast in Oban if you are starting on a Saturday as there is nothing open in Castlebay until after lunch on Sunday.


Saturday morning, through the Glasgow traffic and into Queen Street Station, dodging the footie fans.  We were off!  My humble assistant Sherpa Dave loaded up the bikes while I stood around trying to be helpful getting in the way.  Both train and ferry ride were great; we watched Oban vanish into the distance, waved as Tobermory passed and then decamped to the canteen for CalMac cuisine of pie and chips.  Back up on deck we watched Kisimul castle appear and were off the ferry.  We smiled as a bloke with a 1960s Lambretta which appeared to be carrying enough camping gear to last several years, including fishing rods, chugged past us. He had a better audience than the people on modern superbikes  The hostel was warm and comfy if a little chaotic, we chatted a while with our fellow bunk persons, Dick and Harriet from Poole, and fell asleep.



Day Two

Cycle Castlebay to Northbay via Vatersay and Eoligarry
Accommodation: Heathbank Hotel  Isle of Barra :: Heathbank Hotel, accommodation lodging  in Hebrides, Western Isles
Total Cycling Distance: 43.69km
Big Hills: one up out of Castlebay on way to Vatersay*

After a breakfast of oatcakes and jam we are on our way.  

*I should point out to the cyclist undertaking this trip with a girlfriend that starting the first day by vanishing up the big hill leaving her pushing her bike from the bottom may make you unpopular.  
proof:


We decided to see as much as we could of Barra; it is my favourite island.  We cycled down to Vatersay, visiting the wreck of the Catalina flying boat and the lovely twin beaches, before turning north and riding along Barra’s west coast.  

The Isle of Barra Hotel provided giant bowls of pasta for £5 each and we cycled on, stopping occasionally for photographs.  We dumped our carradices at the Heathbank Hotel (where we meet the Porridge Appreciation Society for the first time) and head up to the north of the island, visiting the Cille Bharra chapel.  A corncrake (very rare, dumpy looking brown bird) shot in front of my front wheel and stopped to pose for photographs.

 A good dinner is had at Heathbank, the owner is chatty and we are able to safely stow our bikes round the side of the hotel.  Room is great; we collapsed into comfortable beds and sleep.

Note for the novice cycler: if you are wearing ¾ lengths remember to apply suntan cream to the remaining ¼!

Day Three

Ferry Barra to Eriskay, cycle Eriskay to Howmore (South Uist)
Accommodation: Howmore Hostel gatliff.org.uk
Total Cycling Distance:38.95km
Big Hills: one straight after ferry, but the view is so lovely you nearly won’t notice

We watch the Flybe flight from Glasgow land on the beach (Barra airport flights land on the sand and the airport has a bus shelter as baggage reclaim), then head for the ferry.  


We chatted to a collection of cyclists at the jetty, including Mr and Mrs Woolley Hat, a couple on mountain bikes (she had a great striped chapeaux) who we bumped into on and off over the next few days.  

Over the hill after the Eriskay ferry

and we were heading up South Uist.

I was starting to struggle a bit by 2pm, so we stopped for lunch and the chocolate fudge cake proved to be an excellent restorative, (if you have a novice cyclist in tow they will need regular feeding).  Kildonan Museum is well worth a nosey and has a tea room and toilets.  We picked up supplies at the CO-OP* and cycled onto Howmore.  


We nearly watched the sunset on the beach, being too sleepy to see it go down completely then spent some time chatting with our fellow hostel folks, including a couple of tandemistas from Cornwall and a passionate Sunderland supporter, (I don’t remember the details of the conversation due to intake of red wine, but attacking cows played a prominent role).  

*toilet facilities are a big problem...there are none and there is very little cover on the  islands – going behind a bush is only an option if you can find one large enough!  However, all the CO-Ops on the islands will let you use their loos, just ask at the checkout.

Day Four
Cycle from Howmore to B&B on North Uist
Accommodation: B&B 19 Knockline (see Visit Scotland website)
Total Cycling Distance: 54.12km
Big Hills: none

Dave was rudely awoken at 7am by me standing in our (thankfully private) bunkroom waving the t-shirt I had been sleeping in around my head...there was a spider and it was large, honest.  
the scene of the crime:


I refused to get back into my bunk, so we got up and made breakfast in the company of the 5 blokes we had met on Barra.  They were having quite possibly the most detailed conversation conceivable on the subject of porridge and thus were nicknamed the Porridge Appreciation Society.  On our way again, we made very good time with a following wind, detouring to see a stone circle and then stopping at the excellent Claddach Kirkibost Centre coffee shop where Dave amused the staff by eating nearly the entire menu.  

We rolled onto our B&B, a hidden gem of a place run by a lovely lady called Catherine.  Dinner that night was the Westford Inn ‘pub in the middle of nowhere’ where we caught up with the owners who we had met on a previous visit...the menu is a choice of 4 things, but the portion sizes are huge and they have Isle of Skye Brewery beer on tap.  Over dinner Dave befriended  an incredibly jolly radio ham from Augsburg, who was travelling around trying to broadcast from as many islands as possible and who told great jokes.  He gave us his call sign and judging from GoogleEarth he has managed to broadcast from everything but the very smallest rock on the west coast. It's the only pub where I've watched a short eared owl hunting from the bar window.

Day Five
Cycle from B&B to Berneray jetty, Ferry from North Uist to Leverburgh on Harris
Accommodation: Ambothan Hostel
   Am Bothan - The Bunk House

Total Cycling Distance:39.55km
Big Hills: none

Super eggy breakfast (courtesy of the B&B’s chickens) and we are not quite off again as we spend an hour gossiping with Catherine before we leave.  

Cycling is easy and flat, although with intermittent loose chipping road surface and we drift along to the Berneray ferry.  Dave gets somewhat excited by the Rohloff hubs on the bike in front and  we strike up conversation with ‘49-days-from-Dover’, a big German who explains he is doing a tour of the UK.  We are still following his progress on his website, as I type he is in Birmingham.  His tour diary is here:http://gb-tour.blogspot.com/ but its in German.

We arrive in Leverburgh.  At Ambothan we find Rauri who runs the hostel is out, but his lovely Mum and Dad appear with a pot of tea and cheese scones!  We loaf about for the afternoon, Dave spends a lot of time swearing at the Valkyrie's gear cables.  Dinner is the Anchorage restaurant for quite possibly the biggest fish and chips ever seen.  

Back at Ambothan (a very very comfortable hostel) we find a group just back from a day trip to St Kilda and hear their stories while Dave helps them light the wood burning stove.

Day Six

Cycle Leverburgh to Tarbert, Ferry Tarbert to Uig on Skye
Accommodation: Uig Youth Hostel (SYHA)
Total Cycling Distance:34.06km
Big Hills: one, long and large!

Not a great start to the day; we are trying to make the only ferry which leaves from Tarbert at lunchtime and due to fish and chip induced indigestion neither of us slept too well.  However, my legs rise to the challenge and I put in an effort to be proud of on the big hill outside Tarbert.  Fortunately we reached the top (as opposed to where Dave said the top was, which turned out to be quite a bit short of being the top) before the rain started.  The ‘weeeeee’ we should have had into Tarbert was a little scary as wet hands grasped wet brakes.  In the tea shop in Tarbert we joined the Porridge Appreciation Society for the usual cyclists-on-the-road discussion of routes and bits that ache.  

Across in Uig we made a very sensible decision to stand outside the Post Office and empty everything we could live without from our saddlebags into 3 jiffy bags.  These  we mailed back to Glasgow.

Uig Youth Hostel doesn’t open until about 4.30pm...we used up the time in the bar of the Uig Hotel, where we returned later for an absolutely excellent dinner.

Day Seven
Cycle Uig to Luib
Accommodation: Luib House B&B Welcome to Luib House - Bed & Breakfast.
Total Cycling Distance: 58.03km
Big Hills: bit of a climb out of Uig

More or less great day, only one very small tantrum from me (on the basis of there being absolutely nowhere for a lass to have a pee between Uig and Portree).   We picked up new gear cables for the Valkyrie in the bike shop in Portree along with some lunch then headed on down towards Luib.  We took the Moll Road (coast road)  





on a lovely lovely sunny afternoon and sat in the sunshine for a while before completing our journey to Luib House, a comfortable B&B which has a sitting room and kitchen for the use of guests.  Dave lay in bed with the binoculars on his chest watching for otters.
  
Day Eight
Cycle Luib to Armadale, Ferry from Skye to Mallaig, Cycle Mallaig to Arisaig
Accommodation: Cnoc Na Faire The Cnoc na Faire, Arisaig on the Road to the Isles
Total Cycling Distance: 48.85km
Big Hills: loooong but not steep climb after Broadford

Day 8 and the weather changed, we awake to grey heavy drizzle.  After breakfast with a couple of delightful Canadians who do a very good job of selling us the idea of holidaying in Canada we can delay no longer...the rainlegs are on and we are off.

Note: Rainlegs are the best thing ever, they keep your legs lovely and warm and dry and pack to nearly nothing Rainlegs.   The rain is heavy.  I notice after about 200 yards that the spray off the back of Dave’s bike has filled my left shoe with water to the point where my I can feel squelching around my toes.  The road is busy and a little scary as the tourist traffic tries to overtake.  My gears are slipping badly, all Dave can hear is a torrent of colourful swear words.  We thump on through Broadford and up a long unsheltered climb.  

Stopping at Isle Ornsay briefly so Dave can fix my gears I mutter a few unmentionables about cycle touring.  However, we make good progress and roll into Armadale where we drip on the floor at the wee cafe at terminal.  We are as wet as it is physically possible to be.  We also dripped on the floor of this nice pottery – she has some lovely things... Bay Pottery - Stoneware Pottery from the Isle of Skye

Calmac see how wet we are and kindly let us board first, we sit on plastic bags.  The plan is to jump on the train from Mallaig down to Arisaig, but we find there isn’t one for 4 hours, so it is another 11k in quite simply atrocious weather.  I have to point out that I do deserve girlfriend points here – I peddled on in good humour, as wet as I could possibly get, keeping up a reasonable pace as the water dripped off my nose.  

Cnoc Na Faire is a very nice small hotel.  They welcomed us and all our wet gear, offering drying facilities, but were not able to give us anywhere dry to store the bikes...Dave's beloved Brookes saddle was by now thoroughly soaked.  Everything in the carradices was also wet (Note: you need to put dry bags inside these).  We went down to dinner in the clothes we had managed to dry on the radiator and our socks.  
 
There are no photos of this day

Day Nine
Train from Arisaig to Glasgow

Staying up watching DVD had not been the right decision, we awoke the next morning in drizzle, somewhat tired.  The weather forecast was bad for the next few days and after a long discussion we decided it was better to get the train from Arisaig back to Glasgow rather than carrying on our planned route down the Ardnamurchan peninsula.  This decision was reinforced when I got back on my bike, found my cold and exhausted legs simply didn’t want to go and that my gears were out of alignment again...I threw a girlfriend tantrum for which I shall be apologising for several months and we just made it to Arisaig station in time for the 10:26 back to Glasgow.  The train journey was great, happily restored with tea we sped over the Glenfinnan (Harry Potter) viaduct and were joined in Fort William by a group of chatty walkers who had just finished the West Highland Way.  We were back in Glasgow in time for dinner  :)
 
I think I probably managed well enough for this to be our first, but not our last attempt at cycle touring  ;D

This is a great route for a novice; if you are taking one with you remember regular feeding and encouragement work wonders.  A light bike and light packing make a big difference and a non-cycling rest day is essential if you are touring more than a week.

Reference Material:
Hebridean Island Hopping: A Guide for the Independent Traveller - Martin Coventry
The Isles and Highlands of Western Scotland, Island Hopping Bike Adventures - Phil Horsley
Whisky Galore - Compton MacKenzie

Packing List
Shorts, Tops, Glasses, Shoes, Socks, Gloves, Waterproof, Helmet, Underwear, Shirts, Trousers, Fleece, Base layers, Sports bra, Cap, Jacket, Warm hat, Rainlegs
Saddlebag / Barbag / Lights      
First aid / Midge repellent / Chamois crème   
Tools / Inner tubes / Pump / Spares / Oil   
Towel / Travel wash / Anti-histamine / Earplugs / Sleep mask / Sunscreen / Wash kit / Hairbrush / Hair Ties / Razor / Shampoo / Moisturiser
Ferry Timetable / GPS / Map / Guide book/Novel / Phone / Camera / Binoculars / I-pod / Bike locks / SYHA membership card

Re: The One Week Off Work Western Isle Womble
« Reply #1 on: June 28, 2009, 10:04:10 pm »
GlasgowDave,

This girl is worth keeping hold of  :thumbsup:

Get yourself down on one knee as soon as possible so no other determined cycletourist steals her away  :o ;) ;D ;D

PS this is our holiday route in September - can't possible wait now  :'(

Paul

PS Great write up  :thumbsup:

Re: The One Week Off Work Western Isle Womble
« Reply #2 on: June 28, 2009, 10:08:24 pm »
Love love LOVE your report - I want to go and replicate it  :thumbsup:
And you have good taste in bikes (though my own Fratello was decidedly twitchy under a load, but I suspect I was trying to carry twice what you did...)

eck

  • Gonna ride my bike until I get home...
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Re: The One Week Off Work Western Isle Womble
« Reply #3 on: June 28, 2009, 10:11:06 pm »
GlasgowDave,
This girl is worth keeping hold of  :thumbsup:
Get yourself down on one knee as soon as possible so no other determined cycletourist steals her away  :o ;) ;D ;D
You mean you've not proposed yet.  ::-)
We told you weeks ago at Forfar, get a move on man.  :demon:

Superb report, PG  :-*
It's a bit weird, but actually quite wonderful.

Re: The One Week Off Work Western Isle Womble
« Reply #4 on: June 28, 2009, 10:18:29 pm »
GlasgowDave,
This girl is worth keeping hold of  :thumbsup:
Get yourself down on one knee as soon as possible so no other determined cycletourist steals her away  :o ;) ;D ;D
You mean you've not proposed yet.  ::-)
We told you weeks ago at Forfar, get a move on man.  :demon:

Superb report, PG  :-*

Eck,  YHPM

Paul

Re: The One Week Off Work Western Isle Womble
« Reply #5 on: June 28, 2009, 11:18:50 pm »
Brilliant write up - thanks.

GlasgowDave - that girl is a keeper.  Look after her.

Oscar's dad

  • aka Septimus Fitzwilliam Beauregard Partridge
Re: The One Week Off Work Western Isle Womble
« Reply #6 on: June 29, 2009, 10:50:07 am »
Brilliant report! 

I have suggested that The Current Mrs R reads it, she is a cycle tourist very much in the Perky Girl mould (which is a very good thing!)

GlasgowDave

  • Inside I'm smiling
    • Flickr Audax Group
Re: The One Week Off Work Western Isle Womble
« Reply #7 on: June 29, 2009, 12:02:38 pm »
We've accommodation lists too, and there are more photos on Flickr for those that are interested.

I should follow up PG's post with a things to see report. I'll sort that when I get home.

As for marriage, don't we need a tandem first?

Dave
it takes a special talent to miss out on the Midnight Madness by sleeping in...

Re: The One Week Off Work Western Isle Womble
« Reply #8 on: June 29, 2009, 12:22:01 pm »

As for marriage, don't we need a tandem first?


Just make sure its the tandem first then the tag-a-long  ;) :o

toekneep

  • Its got my name on it.
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Re: The One Week Off Work Western Isle Womble
« Reply #9 on: June 29, 2009, 12:37:32 pm »
Brilliant report PG and what a great choice of tour. That one will definitely have to go on the list. Well done on putting up with the weather as well, sounds like you were born to tour.  ;D

Re: The One Week Off Work Western Isle Womble
« Reply #10 on: June 29, 2009, 01:03:52 pm »
It's pretty obvious that the next report is likely to be of the LEJOG tour over, say, three weeks.  That's only 80Km per day - a mere bagatelle now. :thumbsup:

Wowbagger

  • Sylph
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Re: The One Week Off Work Western Isle Womble
« Reply #11 on: June 30, 2009, 02:38:18 pm »
Mrs. Wow and I have plans for this trip. It was considered as part of our LEJoG, but rejected in the end because it would have added too much time.

But... next year possibly. Late May Bank Holiday beckons...

And, indeed, a wonderful ride report makes me think we ought to get on the first train on 11/7/09 (I finish teaching on 10/7/09).
Bach without a doubt.

PerkyGirl

  • A big fan of Peanut Butter Clif Bars
Re: The One Week Off Work Western Isle Womble
« Reply #12 on: July 01, 2009, 10:10:43 pm »
Thank you for all the lovely comments.  Really glad a few other folks are considering a trip out to the Hebrides.  It is very beautiful and has some great easy cycling, (so long as you are a bit lucky with the weather).  If anyone needs more info, accommodation lists, etc...just shout.

On the subject of matrimony GlasgowDave has announced he has no intention of proposing until I complete 200km inside the audax time limit...so I suggest no-one should rush out and buy a hat for quite a while!

PerkyGirl

GlasgowDave

  • Inside I'm smiling
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Re: The One Week Off Work Western Isle Womble
« Reply #13 on: July 02, 2009, 09:33:56 am »
I did commit to the tandem and a trip to Amsterdam to watch the start of the Giro though!

Dave
it takes a special talent to miss out on the Midnight Madness by sleeping in...

alan

Re: The One Week Off Work Western Isle Womble
« Reply #14 on: July 02, 2009, 10:31:02 am »
On the subject of matrimony GlasgowDave has announced he has no intention of proposing until I complete 200km inside the audax time limit
PerkyGirl

I did commit to the tandem and a trip to Amsterdam to watch the start of the Giro though!

Dave

You are a big softie romantic devil aint'ya ;) ;D

Re: The One Week Off Work Western Isle Womble
« Reply #15 on: July 02, 2009, 10:47:28 am »
On the subject of matrimony GlasgowDave has announced he has no intention of proposing until I complete 200km inside the audax time limit...

PerkyGirl

And then there's the quiz on Audax UK results and records from the last 10 years  ;D

(has anyone else seen Diner?)

Mrs Pingu

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Re: The One Week Off Work Western Isle Womble
« Reply #16 on: July 02, 2009, 11:27:10 am »
Reminds me of our first cycle tour, we stopped going north at North Uist though and headed for Skye.
:D
Do not clench. It only makes it worse.

valkyrie

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Re: The One Week Off Work Western Isle Womble
« Reply #17 on: July 05, 2009, 09:57:09 pm »
GlasgowDave has announced he has no intention of proposing until I complete 200km inside the audax time limit...

...something he tends to struggle with himself  ::-)
World Class Excuses for Piss-Poor Performances

GlasgowDave

  • Inside I'm smiling
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Re: The One Week Off Work Western Isle Womble
« Reply #18 on: July 08, 2009, 12:07:21 pm »
GlasgowDave has announced he has no intention of proposing until I complete 200km inside the audax time limit...

...something he tends to struggle with himself  ::-)

I don't struggle finishing, it's the turning up that's the problem.

Dave
it takes a special talent to miss out on the Midnight Madness by sleeping in...

Re: The One Week Off Work Western Isle Womble
« Reply #19 on: June 18, 2011, 02:08:50 pm »
Excellent report,  you have the gift.
Get a bicycle. You will never regret it, if you live- Mark Twain

jogler

  • mojo operandi
Re: The One Week Off Work Western Isle Womble
« Reply #20 on: June 18, 2011, 03:24:11 pm »
I want to know if GlasgowDave has yet become Mr. PerkyGirl :)