On being rained on in the Outer Hebrides

For those of you in need of a geographical orientation, please refer to the chain of islands off the NW coast of Scotland, that include Lewis, the Uists and Barra, as can be seen in the map on this site. Also known as the Western Isles or Na h-Eileanan Siar in Scots Gallic. Wikipedia entry on Outer Hebrides

After a couple of days in Dundee, we began by taking a ferry from Oban for 5 hours to Lochboisdale. Caught Brazil’s opening World Cup match in the bar of the ferry which helped the crossing seem faster.

The next day we hired bikes (with racks and panniers) dropped off to us by a certain Mr T Macdonald of Cycles Rothan (link) of Howmore, the Isle of South Uist and began our journey northwards. That day we were fortunate to have fantastic weather as we explored the very southern tip of South Uist and the nearby isle of Eriskay. On the map, Eriskay is the little blob south of Lochboisdale which is actually connected to South Uist by a causeway. It was there that we spotted our first “Otters Crossing” sign. Sadly, no otters in sight.

We then headed north about 30km to Howmore where we ticked the first Gatliff Trust hostel (link) off our list.

These are 4 “rustic” hostels spread through the Outer Hebrides that are run by the aforementioned Gatliff Trust and affiliated to the SYHA (Scottish Youth hostel Association). No reservations, you just rock up, grab a bunk and pay the warden £8 when he or she shows up in the early evening. The hostels were all equipped with heating, showers, fridges etc. So IMO, they weren’t really that rustic.

The great advantage of staying in the hostel was the variety of people that stay there. Off the top of my head we met, Canadians, Australians, English, Welsh, Scots, Americans, French, Germans, Estonians, New Zealanders and Swedes.

The second day we headed north, assisted by a nice tailwind that meant that we made short work of North Uist and Benbecula, but it also blew in the first of the rain that was to dampen us for the next 6 straight days. However once we’d dried off at the Gatliff Hostel at Berneray, we admired the beach front location that the hostel has.

We continued to work our way north, diverting into strong headwinds and 12% gradient hills to take in the 3rd hostel at Rhenigadale where we were greeted warmly by another Mr Macdonald, the Warden there.

I had a quite painful 0km an hour bike crash on some gravel at one point but at least that was after we the headwinds and the stinging rain that had accompanied it.

One other night (Ghana vs someone), we had an interesting Friday night in a local pub in Tarbert on Harris, described as “the last bastion of fundamentalist Calvinism (link) in Britain” on Wikipedia.

The fourth and last hostel we stayed in was at Garenin, which is quite close to the Callanish Stones (link), which date from 2000BC. Think Stonehenge, except a bit smaller and older. I did a few improptu dances around various standing stones during the holiday.

The hostel at Garenin was part of a village of restored “blackhouses” (link) and we spent 2 nights there. There was a fantastic sunset on one of the rare evenings that the rain clouds cleared and we were able to stay out on the cliffs watching the setting sun until about 11pm (being so far north).

Stornoway (link) is the largest population centre in the Outer Hebrides and also the name of a rather good Oxford band (link). Stornoway was also the port from which the ferry back to Ullapool on the mainland left from. From Ullapool we took a bus to Glasgow, where there was enough time to watch Australia vs Croatia before getting the sleeper to London Euston and then home to Oxford…where it started to rain on us again!

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