Hebridean Holiday - Omnibus Edition

Day 1 - Aberdeen to Skye

Sunday 20th July

Left Aberdeen in the pouring rain. The car was definitely over packed, but I needed to head off. (It's a Ka and there was a bike in the back!)

Stopped off at Buckie with a few things I wouldn't need. Kilt, parasol base... Had lunch with Granny. Made good time to Inverness and was shocked by the warm sun when I stopped there!

The roads got noticeably quiet past Inverness on the route to Skye. Dad phoned while I was in the middle of nowhere to make sure I hadn't forgotten it was his birthday. I hadn't, but it wasn't a good time to call! It's a pretty nice road if you don't mind some single track, and follows the railway most of the time. There's a really neat tunnel section with a single road and the single rail just on the edge of Loch Carron.


Loch Carron

I reached Broadford around teatime and checked into the local hostel. Tea was an excellent pizza at a place called Cafe Sia just over the road.

Day 2 - Skye to Stornoway

Monday 21st July

I headed straight for Portree in the morning. Lots of low hanging clouds and I suspect I missed some good views of the mountains on the way. It was dry though, and I had a wee wander around the town. There was a cruise ship offshore, the Adonia, and lots of silver haired people being ferried ashore!

There was a young lad busking with his pipes. He was fine, maybe a bit fast for his own good though. Also found a music shop where I couldn't resist buying something. In this case Diversions by Diamh.




The cruise ship Adonia


A very pink house!


That's the Old Man of Storr in the distance north of Portree


I'm sure that's supposed to be a pretty impressive mountain range. Oh well, I'm sure I'll see it later.


I've no idea what caused this strange banding in the sky.

Headed on the main road to Uig, but it wasn't far and the ferry was a couple hours away. So I carried on the road north and found the Skye Museum of Island Life. A cute little museum of life in the past in Skye.


Looking over the Minch to the Outer Hebrides

It's also near the gravesite of Flora MacDonald, who famously ferried Bonny Prince Charlie over from the Outer Hebrides in 1746 after the fateful rising of 1745.


Headed back to Uig to catch the ferry. An even younger lad busking here, good site for some cash!
The ferry crossing was very smooth sailing. Until they decided it was a good time to test their emergency turns! Gah! I kept my lunch down though. Saw some whales during the crossing, and looking back toward Skye I saw some impressive looking mountains which I missed earlier.


MV Hebrides.


I'm not quite sure what this is exactly. It's just past Uig as you head out into the Minch.



That's some impressive looking mountains, how did I miss that earlier?


Heading "straight" across the sea!


Some sort of large sea creature.


Arriving at Tarbert

When we got off the ferry I didn't really have a chance to stop before I was already out of Tarbert. I just headed north towards Stornoway. I had a quick drive around town, much bigger than I expected, then found the Laxdale campsite I had looked up. It had obviously just been busy with the HebCelt festival which I'd missed. I pitched my tent and cooked a tin of soup on my new camping stove.

I got my bike out and headed off to see the town. However I started heading out along the "Point" road so decided to follow it all 12 miles to the lighthouse at the end! I was a bit tired after that.


And just to prove I'd cycled there!

Day 3 - Sightseeing Lewis

Tuesday 22nd July

The first night in the tent wasn't the best. It was on a slight incline, and I couldn't get comfy. I headed out in the morning over the bleak Barvas moor. First stop was the Arnol black house. Had a chat about Independence with the wifie in the shop and a couple of German tourists (?!) and spotted a coachload of tourists arriving. I got round the house before they swamped it!





The main room had a very smokey peat fire. No chimney, so the peat reek was everywhere, and my clothes kept the smell till the evening. Personally I love the smell, reminds me of my Great Great Granada's house at Gossaburgh in Yell. The German couple didn't seem to like it as much though! Also, it turned out that the coach party was from the same cruise I saw yesterday in Portree.

The next brown tourist sign led me to a Norse kiln.


I'm forever crouching to get into these places.


There are lochs everywhere!

Further down the road I visited the Gearrannan black house village. Another peat fire in here, but the interior was a lot more modern, it was lived in till 1974. There was also a working loom for making Harris tweed.


A stack of peat at Gearrannan

There was a hostel in one of the done up black houses and had a bed free for Wednesday night so I booked it. At least that will be one night not tenting.
The next brown sign led to Carloway Dun, and old broch with one side still standing. An impressive structure with very narrow passages.


Carloway Dun



It's a tight squeeze!

Carrying on down the road I came to the Callanish stoners. This is what you always see advertised about Lewis. There are actually quite a lot of standing stones around the isles, and being so exposed they are easy to spot! There's three main circles at Callanish which I looked at. The first one was crawling with one of the cruise tours so it took patience to photograph when people walked behind them. There's a visitor centre and art exhibition too. The artist, Ivor McKay had a lot of nice paintings, my favourite was of a CalMac ferry in a storm! I'll try and forget about that before next week though.




Stones, stones and more stones!


Stones and cloud patterns!

Stone circles 2 and 3 were just a little bit away and practically deserted. Hence why I played around with my 10 second delay on my camera.




I got this right first time of course...

I took the road back to Stornoway from there for a quick look round the shops before closing. Took the bike back into town later and had some fish and chips at the An Lantair ??? centre.

I spotted the same three books in every shop today. The "Lewis Trilogy" by Peter May. They looked like Rankin/MacBride style crime stories so I went onto the kindle and grabbed them. The first has quite a few depictions of things I'd seen already, such as Barvas moor. Most of it is set up north towards Port of Ness, tomorrow's journey...

Day 4 - Sightseeing More of Lewis

Wednesday 23rd July

Night 2 in the tent was better. I was prepared for the slope. It was glorious sunshine when I woke. I packed the tent and headed north to Barvas again. Today I took the right road there and followed it to Port of Ness. I had considered cycling, but it was just too warm and you're exposed wherever you go.


If that's not glorious then I don't know what is!

Port of Ness had a lovely looking beach, and the harbour wall must've been partially destroyed in a storm. I had a walk along the cliffs to an old Dun (Dun Eistein) Someone built a small bridge over to it in recent years, but signs warned that birds shouldn't be disturbed. In fact one did seem a bit annoyed by my presence so I didn't stay long. I could see the lighthouse at the Butt a little bit away, but returned to Port of Ness to get the car instead. (And get some ice cream on the way!)


A slightly damaged harbour wall


There's a nice beach here. I can imagine it was very busy later that day.


Fishies in the harbour


Dun Eistein


The lighthouse at the Butt of Lewis in the distance

The lighthouse itself is another of the Stevenson ones and unpainted. Did a spot of bird watching with the zoom lens, but I'm not sure what I saw. I spoke to a couple of cyclists as they completed their Barra to Lewis cycle. Rather them than me though. It's been so warm.


I think it's pretty clear what this is






Just a wee cave


These are the furthest out rocks at the very North of Lewis


This is a whalebone arch at Bragar


The Blackhouse Village at Gearrannan. The hostel is the building on the right.

It was a bit of a lazy day having touristed out yesterday, so I reached Gearrannan quite early. I checked into the hostel and went for a wander down to the rocky beach. I made myself some mince and tatties for tea (I got the mince I'm a Stornoway butcher in the morning). Normally my mince isn't great but for some reason it was very tasty tonight. I cheated on the tatties though and it was some Smash! Still tasted good though.


Mmm, this is making me hungry!

After tea I wandered back down the brae with my pipes for a few tunes. The worlds are a few weeks away so I need a bit of practice. The midges were getting up though so it didn't last too long. A bemused Belgian family came past to see what the commotion was.


I'm probably ten seconds into the MSR at this point

Back at the hostel, another guest had produced a mandolin and another had as whistle. So I got out the flute and we had a wee session in the kitchen. Oddly they were Spanish, but played Irish and Scottish tunes. They were delighted to finally meet someone else who could join in, having had no luck so far on their journey from the south of the isles.


It's no Blue Lamp, but it'll do nicely!


You can't stay outside for long at this hour, lest the midges eat you alive!

Day 5 - Oh I do like to be beside the seaside

Thurday 24th July

That was a reasonable night's sleep in the Blackhouse, though quite warm. Took my time getting ready and set off south. Stopped at Callanish again to buy a nice print of the Gearrannan village which I'd seen before.

From there I headed further south towards Uig (not the same one). I contemplated getting the bike out and cycling it, but in hindsight I'm glad I didn't. There's a fabulous beach at Uig. I decided to grab the picnic blanket and my dookers and head down. I was there for quite a while as the beach was lovely and the water was fine and warm. Gave me a chance to try out the cheap waterproof camera I randomly bought a while back too.


It's quite a hike to the waterfront!


It's warm in here


And the water is so clear


A good job I didn't take the SLR in with me!


This is actually the Carribean...


Suncream and sunhats are mandatory

You too can join in the watery fun!

This is also the beach where they found the Lewis Chessmen a good few years back. I saw them when they came to Aberdeen and they're pretty cool. There was a large wooden king replica here.


Hello there


Quite a scenic passing place!

I was there for quite a while then headed even further south. The narrow road goes on for quite a bit, eventually reaching a dead end before you get as far as Harris.


Another stone circle, this was a modern one however which showed distances to far off places, such as St Kilda.



Does anyone know what kind of birds these are?




The road to Uig goes through this cool valley. Look there's even a forest here!


The sign said "Join the Band", so I did!

I decided to stop back in Stornoway the night at the Laxdale again, as I knew it, and needed to get some washing done, but in the bunkhouse as it had been a long drive. After tea I realised I was missing my food bag and more importantly, my flute! It was still in the kitchen at Gearrannan!

I wasn't as tired after some food so jumped in the car for an evening drive back to collect it and fortunately it was still there.


I really like this one. It's the loch by that Norse Kiln I'd passed before.

As the sun was just setting, I stopped in by Callanish again for some photos, but had just missed the sunset by five minutes. Doh!



Five minutes earlier and it might've been more spectacular

Day 6 - I could get used to this beach life

Friday 25th July

That wasn't a pleasant night. Someone was snoring in the bunk house, fortunately the left at 4am. It was like a sauna inside though. Ended up leaving a lot later than I planned, even returning when I forgot my key!

Drove south towards Harris. There was a much better view of the hills this time. If I come back, I'll definitely be going up Clisham (799 metres).


I'm pretty sure I'm looking at Clisham here


A narrow road winds up over the hill

Stopped in Tarbert for a nosey as I just drove straight out from the ferry last time. Not a lot except a couple of shops, a ferry terminal and a Harris Tweed shop. There were a few folks in kilts about. Apparently there was a wedding and the reception in the Tarbert community hall. In fact I saw congratulation banners on every cattle grid gate between Tarbert and Rodel at the very south where I guess the wedding must've been held.

I headed south along the west Harris road. A little less mountainous here, but down to single track in places. Crossed a causeway with sand on either side but couldn't see the sea. Eventually found it a mile or so later. I stopped here and lay on the beach sunbathing for a while. No dooking today though. Interestingly I'd reached the chapter I'm my book where they reached the same beach I was on, while searching for a character's birthplace!


This is a VERY common image of Harris. It's Luskentyre beach, which looks across to Taransay.


A bit further down the Harris coast at Northton

I drove south again, past Leverburgh where I'd be catching the ferry tomorrow, then onto Rodeo at the very south point. There's a quaint old church here, though there's not a lot to see in it.

Needing somewhere to stay I headed north a bit on the windy single track road but turned back to Leverburgh. I didn't fancy the bunkhouse after the previous night so headed for the campsite at Horgabost, near the beach I was at earlier. I spotted a B&B with a vacancy (actually it was completely empty!) just before the campsite so decide to treat myself and stay there instead.


This little chap flew around my room for a while

There were no restaurants nearby so had some corned beef and tatties overlooking the beach and sat and watched a film in the car until sunset.


Taransay in the evening

Day 7 - Sailing

Saturday 26th July

A fine night's sleep at the B&B then an equally fine cooked breakfast. It was cloudy outside. Took the road north again, past the Luskentyre beach again. The tide was still in and the causeway over the sands from the previous day now had water on either side.

Turned off for the single track east coast road heading south just as the rain started. It was as I'd expected, hilly and bleak but a very interesting drive. Saw some nice photo opportunities though.


The windy roads down the east coast of Harris


Gandering at the geese


Lots of quiet sleepy little hamlets all down this coast


I'm sure you can see Skye on a nicer day

Stopped at the Harris Community Co-Op again in Leverburgh, a few hours early for the ferry. Petrol was surprisingly only 6p more than when I left Aberdeen so I topped up again.

My novel (actually the second book, I'm on the third on already) had mentioned a place just along the road called "SEALLAM!" So I went for a look. They had a few interesting exhibits about Harris, St Kilda and local emigrants.

The rain was pouring at the ferry terminal, and for most of the crossing so I didn't see much. It was a very calm crossing though, in and out all of the small isles and rocks between Harris and North Uist.


The ferry is in sight!

I didn't hang around Berneray when we docked as it was to cloudy and rainy to see anything of interest and instead headed south over the causeway to North Uist. Got some cash in Lochmaddy, and phoned my sister to wire some cash into my account (oops!). Headed south again, still raining, looking for somewhere to stay. I found a campsite called Moorecroft which had good reviews online. The rain stopped, but I checked into the bunkhouse anyway. It's small but very nicely done up inside.


The bunkhouse, the blue sky is just beginning to peak through again

Day 8 - Biking Round Barra

Sunday 27th July


North Uist, the view from the bunkhouse

It's the Sabbath. And that means the whole western isles shut down. Actually, that's not that true anymore and lots of things are open, including the ferry to Barra. I headed off by car from the bunkhouse quite sharp to make the 1015 ferry. Got the bike out of the boot, put on the gear and boarded the ferry at Eriskay. Interesting fact, the ferry "Loch Alainn" was made at Buckie Shipyards in 1997.

It was a quite uneventful crossing. Lots of low lying crowds around Uist and Barra. I did however see quite a few diving birds. They'd circle around for a bit and then swoosh, into the water they'd go. Don't think I captured that on camera though. The sun did appear for the crossing so maybe the waterproofs won't be required. There was another couple on the ferry with bikes. When we reached he crossroads they went left, and so I went right.


More birdies


South Uist in the dull distance

The west coast road was quite easy, but a huge dollop of rain dampened me for the rest of the day. I turned off for Vatersay which has a reasonable 12.5% climb. I had a slight tumble on the climb as the cattle grid was very slippery and I didn't have enough momentum, so sideways down I went. No injuries, but my right arm might feel it tomorrow a bit.


Me crossing the causeway to Vatersay

Vatersay is connected by a small causeway, but there's not a lot of note there. There was a memorial, and wreckage, of a plane crash there in 1944. Aside from that, just sheep and cows. The couple from the ferry caught me up here and warned of the hill at Castlebay.


There's a lot of passing places!


Another bonny beach on Vatersay, and another day of not going for a swim!


Cows on the road. The couple I met on the boat are in front. I only figured out a couple weeks later that his sister is married to my mum's cousin. Small world!

Carrying on round, Castlebay, strangely enough, is a wee town with a castle, in the bay. There were boat trips available out to it, but I didn't want to hang around as I was damp. There was also signs of the local pipe band mustering for the lifeboat gala, but I wanted to press on and get up the hill.


Ah, that explains it!

As expected, the hill was not pleasant. Foot power required near the top I'm afraid. The other side was much more pleasant however and made it back to ferry junction in good time. I went past and had a nosey at Barra airport. Took a cheeky photo of the "waiting room" ie a bench, but went round as far as the actual terminal. No planes anytime soon though. The rain came on again, but not as heavy, so I was back at the ferry very early. There was a lot more cyclists on this crossing. South to North is definitely the more popular route. I counted 15 in total. I reloaded the car in Eriskay and decided to head back to the same bunkhouse as last night, and booked it for tomorrow night too.


The Barra Airport Waiting Room!

I headed pretty much straight back to the bunkhouse, only stopping at a Co-Op for something for tea. As I knew I'd have a good kitchen, I picked out the thickest looking rump steak, and it was really tasty.

Day 9 - South Uist

Monday 28th July

As I'd just driven straight through south yesterday, today I planned to take a slower and more varied route. I turned off towards the Airport at Benbecula. A bit bigger than Barra, and next to an MOD base. There's actually a bigger town here, but not much of interest. The beach there was very smelly.


Black sheep were quite an uncommon sight

Carrying on into South Uist, the first stop was a huge statue on a hill called "Our Lady of the Isles". I walked up the path to it but the information panel had been blown away! I found out later at the museum that it was the largest religious statue in Britain, a local Catholic priest had it made.


Our Lady of the Isles

I came off the main road for a bit and passed the same cycling group from the ferry yesterday, and then not far behind that I came across the same couple again! You tend to pass the same people over and over again on a small place like this.


Just missed this owl as he sped past me

I found a beach where people had put up lots of little stone cairns. I've seen this in quite a lot of places, but not as numerous as this.


I wonder how often they need rebuilt here

Next stop was the Kildonan museum. It had lots of little curious artefacts of life past in Uist. The most interesting ones to me though were two piping trophies from the Glasgow Barra and Uist piping society. Previous winners included a whole host of famous pipers from last century including Donald McLeod, Duncan Johnstone, John D Burges, Iain MacFadyen and Tom Speirs. I also had some tasty lentil broth from their cafe.

After that I stopped at Flora MacDonald's birthplace. A wee monument here, smaller than the gravesite in Skye.


Back to the beginning of the Flora MacDonald trail

I headed into Lochboisdale to see what it was like. It was a lot smaller than I'd expected, hardly worth visiting. Even the butchers had no meat?!

I went back down to Eriskay to see what I'd missed there. There's yet another lovely sandy beach just before the ferry port. Apparently this is know as Charlie's Beach, as this is where Bonnie Prince Charlie first landed in 1745.


Looking from South Uist over to Eriskay


Some more birdies. I really need to start identifying these...


Eriskay, again from South Uist


Something I didn't see at all :(


This is on Charlie's beach


That must be Lingay in the distance, from Eriskay


And this would be Lingay, with Barra in the distance, from South Uist

I came north again, stopping at the bunkhouse for some tea, and then went for an evening drive around North Uist. Spotted a couple of Birds of Prey, but didn't get close enough for decent photos. I followed on road to its end at a loch below a hill (Eaval). I'll go up there if I return on a nice day.


Eaval (brought to you by Ford!)


There are quite a few causeways here


Eaval again, it's quite recognisable


Caw Caw!

I finished the Peter May books before bed. They were entertaining, though I don't feel like the Hebrides ever has quite that level of murder and mayhem. A good holiday read.

Day 10 - Crossing the Minch

Tuesday 29th July

A very blustery day. I headed north from the bunkhouse and followed the North West road round the island. There wasn't a lot of interest here, perhaps a few more huge beaches, but it must've been high tide. There was an odd small tower I passed.



I later found out that this is Scolpaig Tower


This is a bonny cottage in North Uist

I had a drive up to Berneray again where I'd arrived from Harris. The sun came out as I was looking across to Harris, I could make out the ferry coming back across.


A beach in Berneray looking over to Harris

Back in Lochmaddy, I had a look around the museum. It was another exhibit about St Kilda. I had some soup again there. I also spotted a postcard in the shop of a pipe band. Turns out it was the AUOTC and I could make out Mysie and Gordon in it! I sent that back to the band.

I was quite a bit early for the ferry, but the rain came on again so I just waited at the front of the queue. The ferry was over an hour late due to a road accident on Skye. I was a bit apprehensive about the crossing due to the weather but it turned out to still be rather calm.


There's Eaval again on the left. Farewell Uist!

Due to the delay I was a bit late getting back to Portree, and the rain was pretty heavy. The hostels were full, the B&Bs were full and I couldn't find the Campsite. Fortunately I found it just before they put up the "full" sign, and the rain stopped for just long enough for me to get the tent up. I had a fish supper from down at the harbour and then an early night.

Day 10 - Skye, the low parts...

Wednesday 30th July

It was raining and there wasn't the best forecast. I headed north on the road to Staffin to see what was up there.

The Old Man of Storr was the first place I passed. It looks pretty cool, but it was swarming with tourists, a lot more than I ever saw in the Outer Hebrides. I decided not to go for a climb, as it wasn't the best day for it anyhow.


The Old Man himself

Further up the coast there some waterfalls, and then the Kilt Rock cliffs. I could see over to Raasay, where the famous "Calum's Road" is. I had planned to take the bike over there if it was fine, but alas.


Looking over to Raasay and Rona


It's some water falling


This was actually the worst sheep traffic jam of the whole trip


It apparently looks like a kilt


That's a better waterfall




These birds were swooping from the cliff directly below the Kilt Rock viewpoint.

I made it up to Staffin. Just a wee place, but I knew I wanted to see the hut...


"The Hut on Staffin Island"

After that I took the road south again, back through Portree and ontowards Dunvegan. I had a look round the castle here, though it wasn't the most photogenic castle ever. I did see a very old set of two drone pipes there though.




Can you spot the castle here?




This guy was hunting for something

I took the south road from Dunvegan, as it should in theory give some pretty good views on the way back to Sligachan. I passed another old Dun on the way. Not quite as complete as the one in Carloway on Lewis, but surprisingly similar in design.


Burnt heather below the Dun


I think this was the brightest the weather got


The design is very familiar after being at the one in Lewis


Again with the low entrances!

I carried on the road but there were no fantastic mountains to be seen, and I reached Sligachan much sooner than I expected. This was the view I had of the Cullins:


There are mountains there, somewhere, or so I'm told

The forcast by this point was basically the same for the next two days. I had the option of heading straight for home (Buckie was only 3 and half hours away) and family were visiting the next day. I decided to head off, the Cullins can wait for another time.


One final sight, the slightest break in the clouds shines light on this waterfall just south of Sligachan