Roll out the Barra
Thursday night’s accommodation had been certainly interesting, what with the rather eccentric decoration style which was stuck in an early 70s early B&Q time-warp and the presence of a loquacious Scally called Colin. Our hostess did however produce a marvellous three course dinner that we weren’t expecting and we had the company of a nice Belgian couple. (Quote Scally Colin: “I’ve heard of Belgium. Where actually is it?”) and that set us up for our Day Four trek. The day’s route was through South Uist, over to scenic Eriskay and onwards on the wee ferry to Barra where we would catch the 7pm BIG ferry back to the mainland. The wind had dropped considerably when we set off but there was a slight drizzle. Thankfully this cleared quickly and by the time we got to the southernmost tip of South Uist the sun was back out and it was actually quite pleasantly warm as we paused to look over the causeway to Eriskay and to Barra beyond it.
Now the map showed the ferry terminal on Eriskay to be just round in the next bay, so what we hadn’t expected was that to get to it we had to endure, no, not a nice shoreside road, but a massive 15% climb to the Barra ferry. Ah well. At least there was a toilet at the terminal. We arrived on Barra just in time to make it round the bay to see the famous aircraft beach landing which is so quirky that we found ourselves two of several dozen spectators, some of whom had come to the island specifically to see the plane come in.
Although it was still a bit blowy, the sun was now quite warm as we made our way happily round the very picturesque island. Or at least we were happy right up to the point where we encountered the hill from hell. With both of us already tired from the week’s activity, this was something of a nightmare climb. The younger and fitter legs of Laura made it to the top but I decided to err on the side of caution and opted to push up the worst of the 18% incline, which was a major task in itself. The rush down the other side into Castlebay was good though and we made the ferry to Oban with plenty of time to spare – certainly enough to buy an ice cream from the ice cream van that was a converted post office van. It was good to hear the cheery chimes as they belted out “I do like to be beside the seaside” but a large part of me was disappointed that it hadn’t been the more appropriate “Postman Pat”.
The ferry crossing back to Oban took four hours (four hours of hell for poor Laura) but it passed soon enough and we finally found our way to our rooms at the Royal Hotel at 12.30am.
We had planned on a gentle recovery ride on Day Five and had decided to cycle on the flat main road up to Taynuilt and then return to Oban on a back road. Unfortunately, it became clear that the chap who told us about the back road hadn’t actually used it; first it was about 8 miles longer than billed, second it was far from “flattish” as he’d described it, and third, it was hardly a smooth surface. We ended up doing a 27 mile marathon of which a good 12 miles were ridden on a surface more suited to mountain bikes than to road bikes. I fared better on the Surly but poor Laura felt every stone and rut the whole 12 miles. However, we finally got ourselves to Oban where we enjoyed a coffee and cake (not to mention a spot of unexpected “mountaineering” – see pic for details) before getting the train back to Glasgow.
And so we completed our two hundred miles weary of limb but pleased with our efforts during the week. The ride was made memorable by some stunning scenery. I am not sure that I’d ever want to live in the Outer Hebrides as they contain some pretty bleak places as well as the stunning ones. I also felt that there was just too little to keep one occupied other than walking or cycling, and the lack of any sort of shops made Islay look like a heaving metropolis. Would I do it again? Maybe. I’m not sure about touring with luggage as it did require a lot more effort and at times, in particular on those much larger inclines, I was defeated. I hope it will make a difference to my overall cycling ability though. As the saying goes: it didn’t kill me so it must have made me stronger.