Day Two was scheduled as a bus trip up to Stornoway (with the bikes in the boot of course) and a cycle right up to the top of the island and a return via the Standing Stones of Calanais. The total mileage for the day would have been in the region of 110. I say “would have been” as the whole plan hinged on that crucial bus link. Unfortunately Hebrides Transport saw otherwise and had put a minivan on the route instead of the coach and the driver sailed somewhat arrogantly past us. We decided to start cycling with a view to catching the next bus at whatever point it passed us. And yes, “passed us” it indeed did, although I managed to get it to stop a few yards on. The driver was less than helpful and omitted to tell us that if we got as far as Tarbert, the coach would take us up to Stornoway – a fact we only discovered over a coffee in the splendid and extremely well cake-endowed First Fruits café at the pier in Tarbert. Faced with a wait of an hour, we revised our plans and decided that Calanais was a must see and we’d just have to cut short the day’s ride. This turned out to be a good choice as we were able to spend slightly longer at the stones than we might have otherwise, and it cut out the Cleisham hill. It also allowed us to spend quarter of an hour oohing and ahhhing at some cute little piglets which were about the only type of wildlife on the islands that didn’t attack Laura. More of that later.
We returned to Tarbert at about 6pm and for a bit of variety we decided to return to Leverburgh via the east coast route on Harris which we had been warned was fairly hilly. Sadly on this occasion the person who had related that fact to us had not been lying and the route did indeed involve a fair amount of roller-coastering, including one whopping 18% gradient. It also included a black house that had been restored tastefully if somewhat historically inaccurately as a campsite toilet and we were able to make use of the facility while pretending to indulge in some investigation into the islands’ past.
We eventually came to a junction with a choice of two seemingly ridiculously gradiented slopes to follow. A passing car informed us that the way they had just come down was “bloody steep” while the other was merely “a bit steep”. That technical information, combined with the mass re-emergence of the vampire midges from the previous evening, saw us head up the merely a bit steep option. This involved riding right into the sun, and at this point I was mightily glad that I have taken to wearing a cap under my cycling helmet as I don’t think I would have been able to see properly otherwise. As owner of the sun bonnet, it fell to me to inform Laura of the whereabouts of the kamikaze sheep that seemed to be taking a perverse delight in sauntering out in front of us at every opportunity. In fact we are sure that these were the same sheep as kept appearing all across our trip. If not, then Hebridean sheep are a breed with a distinct attitude. The road levelled off after a while from merely steep to merely undulating and our ride back became less arduous. This was probably just as well as tiredness was setting in a bit and the road surface was not the best. In fairness, I will point out here that in general the roads of the Hebrides are in far better nick than those of Ayrshire and this section was unusual in being a bit lumpy.
We got back to Leverburgh before sunset having managed a creditable 55 miles. And, rather splendidly, another batch of shortbread was waiting for us which made a good evening snack. All in all a good day despite the early frustration and I’m glad we prioritised Calanais. The trip was not just about cycling – it was about seeing a new area, and one which possibly neither of us will go back to.
And all in sunshine too.