I’ve cycled a lot for much of my life but a favourite cycle memory I decided to share is a cycling touring holiday with my Mum; we cycled the length of the Outer Hebrides in September 2010. The story is particularly important as my Mum died 17 months later and this was our last holiday together.
The trip was all Mum’s idea, I just went a long for the ride as it were. It was a celebration of her retirement, and a wee bit of a challenge, neither of us had been to the outer Hebrides before, I’ve not been since but hope to return. The islands are amazing, a real escape from the mainland and urban space. Apparently the clearest air in Europe and certainly the most amazing light I’ve known. I’m not sure my photos do the place justice.
Anyway on to the trip we started in Edinburgh (where I was then living) we travelled by train to Oban the trees were just starting to turn in the early autumn which whetted are appetites for some lovely natural sights. We took the ferry to Castlebay on Barra to start the cycling, beginning with a acclimatizing day we went around Barra and on to Vatersay, returning to Castlebay. Day 2 was the start of our journey north, taking account of the prevailing wind we were heading north to south. Unfortunately for the entire trip there was a northerly wind!
Having crossed Barra, we took the ferry to Eriskay and then the causeway on to South Uist, we spent the night after day to in a hostel in a traditional Black House. Although we weren’t in the right season for the machair spring flowers the scenery was stunning and constantly changing as we crossed the causeways onto Benbecula, North Uist and Berneray. The weather changed almost as much as the scenery, but the northerly wind was constantly with us.
From Berneray we took the ferry to South Harris, this was probably the biggest dramatic change in landscape from the fairly flat southerly islands to the mountains and moon-like-scape of Harris. Harris is most certainly my favourite of the islands (OK I cheat by combining North and South Harris).
Mum had already been suffering with cancer for 4 years before this holiday so we weren’t exactly racing along the quite (main) roads of the islands, I generally followed and let her set the pace. She rarely had the opportunity to take off her bright pink waterproof (if it wasn’t keeping out the rain it was keeping out the wind). So I followed this beacon up and down the rolling hills and chased after it when I lagged behind having stopped to take photos. There were defiantly some good down hills a well as a few up hills!
After a day exploring in South Harris we travelled on to Tarbert in North Harris, over the biggest hill we’d encountered so far. Mum had always intended only to cycle as far a North Harris and take her bike on the bus over the hill to Stornoway, Lewis. I felt a bit more intrepid so decided to cycle the 38 miles, I can certainly way it was the worst bit of the trip, maybe be cause Mum wasn’t there but mostly be cause it was by far the wettest day and the climb out of Tarbert is tough. By the time I reach Stornoway I was truly soaked to the skin but glad I’d made it. For the rest of the trip we stayed in Stornoway but for completeness sake felt we should cycle to the Butt of Lewis to get to both tips. Mum’s inspired idea was to get the bus to the Butt of Lewis and cycle back to Stornoway for once having the northerly behind us … or often across us.
A truly memorable trip, a memory I hold dear as I miss Mum terribly but am comforted by memories of our Hebridian adventure and the amazing achievement it was for her.