An alternative Hebridean cycle route
When a friend and fellow Glasgow Tri Club member Iain Todd read my recent blog about how to cycle The Hebridean Way he contacted me to say the 185-mile waymarked route misses out some great attractions. So, this is Iain’s Alternative Hebridean Cycle Route. (There are additional notes at the end form another Facebook friend.)
Start: Isle of Barra
Day 1: Cycle Barra
Mileage: Approx 18 miles. It will depend on how far you explore. If you cycle a lap of the island and go out and back to the airport it’s about 18 miles.
The ferry from Oban arrives early evening into Castlebay on Barra. Stay overnight and then spend the full day exploring Barra.
There is an obvious road loop on the island. Ride this and also head north to the Airport. get there for lunchtime because they have a great on-site cafe. Check the plane timetable so you can watch the plane take off and land from the beach.
On the way to the airport, it’s worth stopping at Barra golf club so you can see how a sheep field has been converted into a sports venue.
There’s only one hill of note on Barra and it is towards the end of the route heading back to Castlebay. At the top of the hill, leave your bike to walk to the statue overlooking Castlebay. Finish off the day with a fast downhill ride into the village.
Overnight again on the island.
Day 2: Vatersay to Barra
13 miles (as well as getting from Barra to the start of the route.)
Head to the official start of The Hebridean Way on Vetersay. You will see an obelisk to the south of he Island. Make sure you have walking shoes with you because there’s a nice beach to explore.
The route heads north and cross as causeway to Barra. Take the route that follows the north part of the road loop on Barra and head north-easterly. You are aiming for Aird Mhor ferry terminal.
Ferry to Eriskay: The ferry takes 40 minutes and leaves from Aird Mhor Barra Ferry Terminal on Barra to reach Eriskay Island. Use the journey planner on CalMac website to see times. You will want to know the time of the last ferry or the first one the following day.
Day 3: Cycle Eriskay, South Uist, Benbecula and Grimsay
You could split this cycle section into to days or cover the full distance of 45 miles in one day. All theses islands are joined by a causeway and you can follow The Hebridean Way signposts.
Day 4: North Uist and Berneray
You’ll need to check the CalMac website again for the ferry times from Berneray to Harris at the end of your day’s bike ride.
Day 5: East coast of Harris
Around 30 miles
The day starts at Leverburgh. This is where Iain suggests that cyclists should detour from the Hebridean Way. Instead of taking the west coast route, go along the eastern side of the island. This is known as the Golden Road.
First, head south to visit Rodel church. The route is 2.5 miles south-east. This is ancient church has one of earliest known representations of a man in kilt. It’s apparently a very popular place to get married.
Next to the church is small pier, which is the southernmost point you can cycle to on the Harris.
The west coast has some great beaches but the landscape of the east coast is unique to the island. Follow a quiet single track road that undulates along the eastern side of Harris. It is around 16.5 miles to Tarbert.
It’s a barren landscape of ancient rock and heather but a great route to ride.
If you want to visit the famous Luskentyre beach on the west side of the island, head off on a five or so mile detour along the A859.
Taransay Island, seen across the sea from the beach, is where the BBC filmed Castaway.
Finish the day by heading to Tarbert. There’s a long climb from the beach towards Tarbert but once you get to the top it’s all downhill into the town.
Hotel Hebrides does great food.
Day 6: Harris, southerly detour
Again, Iain suggest a day of detouring to see some great places in the south-east of Harris.
The start point Tarbert is at sea level and at the base of a hill so you need to cycle uphill. First, there’s Amhuinnsuidhe Castle on Harris some 12miles north-west of Tarbert on the B887.
It’s rumoured that Madonna was going to purchase the landmark building, until she discovered the public are allowed to walk right by the windows. Robert Plant from Led Zepplin was also said to be interested.
The road out to the castle packs in a lot of interesting sights. There’s the ruins of an old whaling station, stunning views of the Harris hills and the the world’s most useless tennis court! It’s exposed to the wind and wild weather of the Atlantic.
From the castle you can walk up to one of the UK’s biggest cliff faces. The 600ft Sron Ulladale. There is a walk here.
Next, Iain suggests cycling to Rèinigeadal. Head east on the B859 to retrace your route and then on the B859. Total 18 miles.
Rèinigeadal had no road access until 1990 and the only route in was along a hill path, or by boat. There’s a postman’s marked path from the village back to Tarbert. . It’s worth walking a bit of it for the spectacular views.
Afterwards head as far north as you can but there’s a convenient stop at Loch Erisort Inn. Stop for an overnight or continue north if you fancy a longer day.
Day 6 or Day 7: North of Lewis (plus days in Stornoway)
The next part of the Outer Hebrides cycle our sticks fairly closely to The Hebridean Way.
The main difference is that Iain is not a fan of the final section to Ness. he says: “In my opinion, the road to Ness is one of the most boring roads on the island. There is vast empty moor as far as the eye can see. Instead head to Stornoway as there’s much better routes that you can do from there.”
If you do want to know what the end of the route looks like then check this out. I was there on a very stormy day.
Give yourself at least a couple of days in Stornoway.
Great bike routes from Stornoway
Tour De Point – See Strava
A flat out and back route to a lighthouse. From here you can watch whales pass by (if you’re lucky). On the way back a small detour will take you to a 15% hill climb! It’s short but hard.
Castle Grounds Mountain Bike trails – See Strava
If you tire of road biking there are mountain bike trails in the Castle Grounds, an area of forestry next to Stornoway. There are no major hills but lots of undulating tracks. It was a great way to pass a few hours.
Tour De Tolsta
Stornoway to North Tolsta return is 26 miles.
You’ll ride past some of the best beaches on the island. One of them even has its own waterfall.
Originally the road to Tolsta was supposed to go all the way to Ness but it was never completed. Supposedly, a local sightseer had predicted that if the road was complete then the “day will come when the Isle of Lewis will sink beneath the waves”.
There’s some great swimming spots along the route, too. Coll beach is very popular with the Hebrides open water swimmers.
Alternative route 2: 9-day island cycle
And Finbar MacGregor has been in contact to suggest this:
Ferry from Oban to arrive at Castlebay on Barra in the evening. Cycled to a beachside hotel on the west coast of the island.
First lunch the following day was at the airport cafe on Barra.
Day two’s picnic was carried to the beach at Vatersay, where Finbar “ate seafood, salad and crusty bread in the sunshine while listening to corncrakes in the machair grass just behind”.
The return journey was via the ferry from Tarbert on Harris to Uig on Skye. He adds: “Curry in Portree before stopping at Claire MacDonald’s wee hostelry, then the boat to Mallaig, an overnight in Arisaig and the last night at Salen, Ardnamurchan.”
Final day was to cycle west to Kilchoan, ferry to Tobermory on Mull and then to a wee cycle before catching another ferry back to Oban.