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Any advice on touring the Outer Hebrides

AndyNextTAndyNextT Posts: 7
edited August 2008 in Tour & expedition
My better half and I are hoping to cycle up the Outer Hebrides next summer - Barra to Lewis, and am keen to pick the brains of anyone who has done this trip.

Currently our main headache is a logistics one - we are limited in time due to work constraints. The ferry to Barra departs from Oban whereas the return ferry is from Stornaway to Ullapool. We do not have time to cycle the 150 miles between them as well as exploring the Outer Hebrides.

Does anyone have any bright suggestions to solve this problem or know of any companies offering transfer facilities?

Thanks

Andy

Posts

  • Whoops, forgot to ask....one option which someone may be able to help with is whether the local buses (on the mainland) are bike friendly. We will have two bikes and trailers.

    I guess we would probably need to bus - Inverness-Oban & Ullapool-Inverness.

    Thanks.
  • andymillerandymiller Posts: 2,856
    I don't know whether it helps, but these guys were recently lauded by the CTC:

    http://www.timdearmancoaches.co.uk/cyclebus.htm
  • Thanks, could be a useful contact as they certainly cover part of the return journey.
  • pneumaticpneumatic Posts: 1,989
    We did it this summer (Vattersay to the Butt of Lewis). STRONGLY recommended. The weather was tempestuous but that just added to the fun (and grounded all the midges!).

    We did a mixture of wild camping and black house hostels. The latter are a really good experience (but very basic). You can't book but they never turn anyone away (and I can vouch for that!)

    We sailed from Oban to Barra (Castlebay) and returned from Lochboisdale to Oban and only had a week so we had the same problem as you.

    The plan was to cycle up and back but my mate damaged a tendon on Lewis and couldn't ride. Consequently we found ourselves at the mercy of the buses. Basically, the service from Stornoway to the south end of Harris will take bikes on a first come first served basis. From Berneray to Lochmaddy, it is minibuses and they don't (but you could plan to ride that bit). Some (!) of the buses South from Lochmaddy will take bikes.

    There is no point in trying to find out precisely in advance and you can't book, (this is the Outer Hebrides and things don't work like that). However, the people we met were incredibly helpful and it seems that most rules are there to be bent. So, although they weren't officially supposed to take us, we got our two fully laden touring bikes onto 4 out of the 5 minibuses we asked (albeit on the grounds that one of us was injured) and we got back without any problem.

    It was a great trip. Don't miss Callanish, the Broch and Garenin village (all on the West side of Lewis).


    Fast and Bulbous
    Peregrinations
    Eddingtons: 80 (Metric); 60 (Imperial)

  • aya604aya604 Posts: 67
    AndyNextT wrote:
    My better half and I are hoping to cycle up the Outer Hebrides next summer - Barra to Lewis, and am keen to pick the brains of anyone who has done this trip.

    Currently our main headache is a logistics one - we are limited in time due to work constraints. The ferry to Barra departs from Oban whereas the return ferry is from Stornaway to Ullapool. We do not have time to cycle the 150 miles between them as well as exploring the Outer Hebrides.

    Does anyone have any bright suggestions to solve this problem or know of any companies offering transfer facilities?

    Thanks

    Andy

    There is only one road from Barra to Stornaway. The buses that ply that route will take you and your bikes (for an extra charge) if you wish. Tarbert to Stornaway arguably the least interesting part of the route has quite a frequent service meaning several a day.

    Cheers
  • marcusjbmarcusjb Posts: 2,412
    Hello there

    I hope this might help you a little - I have just got back from a great couple of weeks up there and I am busy writing up my trip here - http://marcusjb.wordpress.com/

    There are also photos coming online slowly but surely here - http://flickr.com/photos/marcusjb/

    Now - I did see the bike bus in Ullapool - I think it is the one run by the previously mentioned Tim Dearman coaches. Basically it's a minibus with a purpose built trailer behind it that looked like it could carry about a dozen bikes. I believe they run between Ullapool and Inverness for this exact purpose.

    The cycling was fantastic - so much to do and see. Spend as much time as you can up there and, trust me it is worth it, book a trip to St Kilda whilst you are there - it is possibly the most amazing place on earth.

    Hope it helps!

    Marcus
  • marcusjbmarcusjb Posts: 2,412
    Oh - and I met a german chap several times on the trip who was taking his bike on the buses no problem. He covered most of the islands that way and would stop for a couple of days at each hostel, ride around and then get the bus to his next destination.
  • pneumaticpneumatic Posts: 1,989
    aya604 wrote:
    Tarbert to Stornaway arguably the least interesting part of the route has quite a frequent service meaning several a day.

    I have to disagree with that. We thought the road out of Tarbet and over North Harris was one of the best we have done. Ok, you have to like climbing but I thought it was breathtaking (in every way!).


    Fast and Bulbous
    Peregrinations
    Eddingtons: 80 (Metric); 60 (Imperial)

  • marcusjbmarcusjb Posts: 2,412
    pneumatic wrote:
    aya604 wrote:
    Tarbert to Stornaway arguably the least interesting part of the route has quite a frequent service meaning several a day.

    I have to disagree with that. We thought the road out of Tarbet and over North Harris was one of the best we have done. Ok, you have to like climbing but I thought it was breathtaking (in every way!).

    I am with you on that one! I did it the other way though - and that really is one heck of a descent into Tarbert!

    The climb (bear in mind I was going South) from Scaladale was fantastic, I was also staying at the Reinigeadal hostel - now to get there, you REALLY have to like climbing. That was pretty tough stuff at the end of a long day. Worth it though - the isolation out there is something else. Worst midges of the trip sadly though.....

    The whaling station at Bun Abhainn Eadrra was very interesting - just off the Tarbert-Stornoway road - a reminder of a (thankfully) abandoned industry.

    Tarbert itself was not that interesting. It was notable for having a cash machine (they're fairly rare on Lewis and Harris) and what turned out to be the only decent coffee I had on the whole trip (other than espresso made with my own fair hand!) - The First Fruits Tea Room. Expensive coffee, but pretty damned good.
  • pneumaticpneumatic Posts: 1,989
    +1 for the first fruits team room in Tarbet. Friendly people, excellent coffee and two rounds of black pudding rolls.

    Also I have to mention Rothan cycles at Howmore on South Uist. The guy that runs it (Tommy MacDonald) is an utter hero. Not only was he standing there by the road on the Sunday night when my spoke snapped and had it fixed by the next morning while we stayed in the hostel run by his wife, he also picked up my mate and his bike in the pouring rain after his third p*ncture of the day, AND he sent a new tyre up to us by bus to the remote hostel on Berneray with an invoice attached. Also, he delivers rental bikes to just about any port on the islands.

    More on this saintly man at:

    http://www.rothan.com/


    Fast and Bulbous
    Peregrinations
    Eddingtons: 80 (Metric); 60 (Imperial)

  • I did this last year and only had a week.
    Took train to Helensburgh (just outside Glasgow) and overnighted at Inveraray.
    Rode over to Oban (go via Glen Lonan). Ferry to Barra and stayed overnight.
    Loop round Barra, then ferry to South Uist and rode length of Uists to stay at hostel at Berneray. Long day this, a bit too long and I would break it up if doing it again.
    Ferry to Leverburgh, rode to Rodel then a bit on the east road and back to Leverburgh then west road to hostel at Rhenigidale. This is a tough ride at the end to get to the hostel, but worth it.
    Then rode over Harris and across Lewis to hostel at Garenin. Well worth staying here it is a lovely setting and the hostel is a blackhouse.
    Then to Stornoway, ferry to Ullapool, overnight at hostel and then to Inverness and train home.
    The hostels I used on the islands are run by the Gatliff Trust (they have a web site). They cannot be booked in advance, but there were no problems in getting in. They are basic but seem to suit the atmosphere of the area. Garenin in particular is beautiful.
    The best parts were the islands of Harris and Lewis, the Uists are very flat and the wind does seem to come from the SW all the time.
    Overall it was a great combination of travel, bike and ferry make it an adventure and superb scenery. I hope to go back next year or so.
  • aya604aya604 Posts: 67
    marcusjb wrote:
    pneumatic wrote:
    aya604 wrote:
    Tarbert to Stornaway arguably the least interesting part of the route has quite a frequent service meaning several a day.

    I have to disagree with that. We thought the road out of Tarbet and over North Harris was one of the best we have done. Ok, you have to like climbing but I thought it was breathtaking (in every way!).

    I am with you on that one! I did it the other way though - and that really is one heck of a descent into Tarbert!

    The climb (bear in mind I was going South) from Scaladale was fantastic, I was also staying at the Reinigeadal hostel - now to get there, you REALLY have to like climbing. That was pretty tough stuff at the end of a long day. Worth it though - the isolation out there is something else. Worst midges of the trip sadly though.....

    The whaling station at Bun Abhainn Eadrra was very interesting - just off the Tarbert-Stornoway road - a reminder of a (thankfully) abandoned industry.

    Tarbert itself was not that interesting. It was notable for having a cash machine (they're fairly rare on Lewis and Harris) and what turned out to be the only decent coffee I had on the whole trip (other than espresso made with my own fair hand!) - The First Fruits Tea Room. Expensive coffee, but pretty damned good.

    Totally agree the climb north out of Tarbert was superb but stick to my guns that after that the road is quite average. As the thread starter says they will not have time for the whole route which part would you guys suggest they missed?

    cheers
  • pneumaticpneumatic Posts: 1,989
    aya604 wrote:
    Totally agree the climb north out of Tarbert was superb but stick to my guns that after that the road is quite average. As the thread starter says they will not have time for the whole route which part would you guys suggest they missed?

    cheers

    Personally, I would have skipped riding most of South Uist and Benbecula (but then I wouldn't have met Tommy MacDonald.)

    Also, although arriving at the Butt of Lewis was a fantastic experience, getting there by bike from Stornoway was a long hard unrewarding slog.

    Maybe I liked the Southern part of Lewis more than you because I had a 30mph wind up my 8rse at the time!!


    Fast and Bulbous
    Peregrinations
    Eddingtons: 80 (Metric); 60 (Imperial)

  • Last time I did it I needed to be able to get home quickly so I drove to Oban, stayed overnight in the hostel . The next day I left my bike in the hostel bike shed and drove on up to Ullapool and left the car in the long stay car park. Then got buses back to Oban via Inverness and fort William. Luckily it all worked out ok and I made it back in time to pick up my bike and catch the Barra ferry.
    It is vitually impossible to get accommodation in Stornoway in the middle of July when the music festival is on. Having said that, it is one of the best festivals in Scotland and a good end to a cycling holiday. There is a campsite at Laxdale about a mile out of Stornoway which can accommodate any number of campers even at festival time. There is also an outdoor shop in Stornoway which does a roaring trade in camping equipment at festival time when loads of people turn up with nowhere to stay.
    If you are cycling over a weekend you will need to make sure you have stocked up with everything you need on Saturday as you will struggle to find any shops whch open on a Sunday.
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