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How to cycle: The Hebridean Way

Written by Fiona

June 12 2018

The Hebridean Way is a cycling route of 185 miles (297km) in the Outer Hebrides. The waymarked on-road route crosses 10 islands and six causeways and includes two ferries.

It takes between two and six days to complete the route, or more if you want to detour to various attractions.

Tell me more: The far-flung island chain of the Outer Hebrides – also called the Western Isles – has long been popular with cyclists.

Quiet roads meander through fabulous scenery and alongside some of the UK’s best beaches.

The Hebridean Way, which has been officially adopted as National Cycle Network Route (NCR) 780, starts at the Isle of Vatersay at the southern tip of the Outer Hebrides.

It travels the length of the island chain to finish at the Butt of Lewis in the far north on the Isle of Lewis.

See amazing beaches. such as Luskentyre Sands, Isle of Harris. Credit: Visit Scotland/Kenny Lam.

Why cycle the Hebrides?

As one of Europe’s last untouched natural habitats, the Outer Hebrides offer cyclists an amazing experience.

The roads are often very quiet and there are many great views and places to visit. Each of the islands in the chain has its own unique character and landscape.

Starting in the south, Vatersay is a beautiful small island dominated by flower-covered machair and shell-sand beaches.

The next island heading north is Barra, which is often referred to as the jewel of the Outer Hebrides and combines hills, rocky coves and machair.

South Uist is a long narrow island with rugged hills to the east and almost continuous machair and beach on the west.

In contrast, the next island of Benbecula is a very flat island and boasts a wealth of birdlife.

Seen from the air, North Uist appears to be more water than land, but a journey around the north and west of the island reveals a mix of machair, sands and active crofting.

The east coast of North Uist is more rugged with sea lochs and sheltered natural harbours.

Harris is famed for its magnificent beaches, including Lukenstyre, which have given it the name the Hawaii of Scotland. The island is surprisingly mountainous to the east side.

Lewis is the most northerly of the islands and has plenty of historical and archaeological interest including the famous 5000-year-old Callanish Stones.

Stunning views and often very quiet roads. Credit: Iain Todd.

How do I get there?

The islands of the Outer Hebrides are served by Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) ferries from the mainland. See www.CalMac.co.uk

To reach the start point of the Hebridean Way at Vatersay catch a ferry from Oban to Castlebay on Barra.

Bikes travel free with foot passengers on CalMac ferries.

You could take a train from Glasgow to Oban rather than driving. Booking is often essential at the height of the season.

To reach the start of the route, cycle south from the ferry terminal on to the island of Vatersay.

It is around five miles over the causeway to Vatersay to the start of the Hebridean Way. The start is opposite the Vatersay Hall.

To return to the mainland at the end of the cycle, there is a ferry terminal at Stornoway on Lewis, which travels to Ullapool.

Then cycle from Ullapool to Inverness or Garve and join the train service back south.

Again, remember to reserve a place on the trains for your bike.

Alternatively, especially if you are a group of cyclists, you could book a cycle transport company such as SLM Cycle transport (see slmcycletransport.co.uk) to take you and your bikes from Ullapool back home.

I wrote about the Hebridean Way in my Sunday Mail column. See the pdf.

The cycle route

You could cycle the full 185 miles of the Hebridean Way in one go if you have the legs for it, but why not take your time and enjoy the Outer Hebrides?

Most people cycle south to north to take advantage of the (generally) prevailing south-westerly winds.

Here are a couple of suggested schedules:

Six days on Hebridean Way

Day 1: Vatersay to Daliburgh

26 miles (41km)

Ferry crossing: 40 minutes

Day 2: Daliburgh to Clachan

37 miles (59km)

Day 3: Clachan to Berneray

27 miles (44km)

Day 4: Berneray to Tarbert

21 miles (34km)

Ferry crossing: 60 minutes

Day 5: Tarbert to Callanish

38 miles (61km)

Day 6: Callanish to the Butt of Lewis

36 miles (58km)

Vatersay Bay. Pic credit: Barbara Carr

Four days on Hebridean Way

Day 1: Vatersay to Howmore

40 miles (64km)

Ferry: 40 minutes

Day 2: Howmore to Berneray

51 miles (82km)

Day 3: Berneray to Balallan

40 miles (64k)

Ferry: 60 minutes

Day 4: Balallan to Butt of Lewis

54 miles (87km)

Bike hire and support

If you prefer to hire a bike rather than take your own, there are several companies on the Hebrides that offer bike hire.

Berneray Bikes, Barra Bike Hire and Bespoke Bicycles Hebrides also work together to offer cyclists support and repairs along the route.

Further contacts

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