Cycling the Hebrides: Day 2 – Hebridean Odyssey – Barra to S.Uist

Day 2 Barra to South Uist
The hostel doesn’t do breakfast so we munched on pancakes and Nutella spread we’d bought from the Co-op the night before. This wasn’t exactly the bike fuel I needed but it would be a start. Exiting the hostel the day was sunny and bright. The castle in the bay which gave the place it’s name quite logically Castlebay was standing proud tho dwarfed by the MV Clansman which was still docked in the harbour.

Photographs taken we started to pedal west toward the west coast. Here the road rose as it cleared a hill, the passing places allowing cars to overtake our slow moving bits of metal and rubber. At the top we found the view to be spectacular, an angry sea in the distance being buffeted by the southerly wind with clear white waves cresting and crashing on pure white beaches. The beaches are what draws tourists here and they were magical.

At the bottom of the hill we started to travel northward with the wind behind us. It was a good feeling being pushed along. We stopped frequently to take photos of beaches, lochs and beaches. Every twist of the road brought new bays and secluded beaches into view. If more time was allowed it would have been perfect to stop and paddle.

Alas we had cycling to do and we were making good progress toward the north end where a ferry would carry us over to Eriskay.

In fact we made so much ground that we ended up being an hour and a half early for the ‘early’ ferry. The wind is clearly doing us good. We decided to head passed the ferry turn off and toward the airport. Barra airports’ runway was on the beach which currently is under a few feet of water. The only things highlighting this fact were the signs warning you that when the windsock was flying keep off the beach.

No windsock could be seen and the water coving the runway I jumped off the bike and before you knew it I was paddling with my socks and shoes off in the chilly water. The small beach that was jutting out was made mainly of crushed shell which were all stabbing me in the soles of my feet. I didn’t mind as it was quite soothing. Though in the back of my mind I was thinking if I’d cut myself that would be a bit of a pain for the next two weeks!

Andy was writing a postcard on the bench above the beach, not bothered about paddling probably to much effort.

Checking the time we went toward the Airport building in hope the cafe would be open. Our bellies were gurning as if we’d never eaten, clearly Nutella isn’t that nutritious.

Cycling passed the airport building in a sort of flyby to check the place out instead of being nosey and actually stopping we noticed the smallest baggage reclaim ever, basically a bus stop with a table inside whose top was just rollers. No automation here and practical so as to keep the weather out.

Signs everywhere reminded us that this was indeed an airport and that touching anything could kill or stopping anytime is prohibited. The car park was filled with cars, 5 of them. I remarked that this was the long stay car park and the two outside the door were short stay / drop off only.

The cafe had closed signs in the window yet the sign on the road said open 10-4 on a Sunday. So we decided to be more nosey and ride back and go in as life was inside and they could have just forgotten to close it!

I’m glad we did, a sign announcing ‘breakfast rolls served before 12’ was above the counter. We munched on a bacon and sausage roll with coffee and making use of the WiFi which was pleasantly free for it being an airport.

The check in desk was empty and that’s because the run way was flooded and that was because the tide was in. The one and only flight today would bee from Glasgow landing at 12:50. We’d miss it as the ferry was at 11:50. Or so we’d thought as I re checked the timetable on the app and it corrected me that the ferry was at 11:10. With it being 10:30 we thought it best to go and I estimated it would be 10-15 min cycling.

It was indeed only 10-15min after a brief stop at the park bench above the beech to collect Andys gloves. The ferry was just offshore coming in fast as the tour bus people contents hovered nosily around the terminus which was basically a shed with toilets. Next to this though was a piece of art, two otters in mid suspension as if swimming trying to catch a fish.

We jumped on the ferry, or rather pushed our bikes and we were directed where to put them by a man with a red hard hat and fluorescent jacket totally unbuttoned wafting in the wind exposing a dirty t shirt and half his belly. I loosely tied the bike frame to the ladders with a very sticky rope. My soft hands not liking this I made a half arsed attempt and upon stepping back and facing the man it had untied itself and fell to the floor. “Gave up tying it, did you?” In a tone to wipe out any manliness I seemed to think I had. I went back with a new found vigour knowing I was being watched (judged) at how well I’d tie it this time. I made sure it was tight and to be sure I leaned my heavily laden bike at an even deeper angle to make sure it wouldn’t fall back if the seas were choppy.

Returning back to the bike I can report my knot tying skills held up and my bike was still there. Man points surely made back up!

Eriskay treated us with more sun but a bleeding great hill to start! At the top a fantastic view of Barra in the distance and a white sandy beach below with azul sea. Photo taken we free wheeled all the way to South Uist crossing what was to be our first of many causeways.

Eriskay was done in a jot but it was pretty. South uist was flatter but a road going in a west direction meant the wind would be slowing us down a bit. I’d seem on google map street view that a road turns into a track which follows the Machair northward and I’d pitted this as our route. The track was not Tarmaced but it would do. This took us right close to the beach following a tracker track which kept on going from rocky to sandy. It wasn’t easy going though the wind at ur backs made going a little easier to bare. At a picknic spot we stopped for lunch. The wind forever threatening to blow our food and wrappings away. We decided to get back on the road and then make it to our B&B for the night.

We took detours where the Hebridean Cycle Route pointed and soon we were a km from the B&B which so happened to be where there’s a hotel / bar. We stopped for refreshment and to rest the legs. We’d made excellent progress so decided this would also kill time too .

A coffee and a read later we headed to the B & B. The sun that was on us all morning had turned to Dark clouds and had just started raining. We made the B &B and we were ‘welcomed’ by a bloke with not that many teeth. “Are ya coming in then” he remarked in either a command or a question. We smiled politely and walked in. He told us where our room was after looking puzzled when he asked if it was a twin or double. We opt for twins when cycling about and staying in B&Bs. It’s easier, less questions, and less likely to offend. You never know what peoples beliefs are and so we find this to be more respectful and moral that way.

He explained his wife wouldn’t be long and was looking awkward / nervous. Clearly his wife took care of this side of things- small talk was not his strong point.

We took our panniers in and got settled into the room when the wife appeared, offering us tea and biscuits. Being polite we accepted and were marched to the living room. Tea was served and they retreated to the kitchen, which was fine as we both just wanted to snooze and in no mood to small talk.

We took our leave to our rooms and did exactly what we wanted to do. Snooze.

We ended up walking in the rain to get our dinner in the hotel down the road. A 10min hike into the wind and rain and we were dripping. Two pints and food ordered we were ready for a feed.

The hotel was dead and it looked like it was nice in its hay day tho now it was tired and in need of modernising though I don’t suppose there is much demand or competition to require a whole refitting.

A party was happening in an adjoining room which looked like locals and definitely no one else was welcomed. We finished our pints and made our leave, the guy telling the Swedish guy all about his dinner, piece by piece was becoming annoying.

It was time for bed. A good day cycling and a good day eating.
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