May 2010 The Outer Hebrides (Mike)

It all started when Mike issued out an email on November 1st asking for ideas for the annual ride and proposing that we meet on November 5th. Within no time suggestions were flooding in: Alec detected a groundswell of opinion about not going abroad and going to Scotland (this turned out to be Pam), and he sent through 4 suggestions of which two involved the Outer Hebrides; Jeff proposed Mull on Pam’s behalf; John proposed Wales but just for a long weekend as he hoped to walk across Scotland; Grumpy proposed one in this country, to which PaulH replied to ask if this excluded Scotland and Wales – Grumpy omitted to state that his daughter was marrying so could not make a lengthy trip; Mike proposed Bratislava, Prague or Budapest; and finally Fixed Wheely came up with driving to Dover, cycling to Newhaven, ferry to Dieppe, cycling to Boulogne, and ferry back to Dover.
November 5th arrived and GASBAGS minds were thinking of cold days and good hot bonfires, probably colouring their view on hot and cold destinations – if only it had not rained when we went to Spain! The GASBAGS gathered: Jeff & Pam; Ray & Bridget; Mike & Naoko; Alec (Ann was making cakes); Grumpy; Fixed Wheely. Mike’s idea of romantic cycling along the Danube was kicked out as the Euro was too strong and the need to hire bikes. Pam pushed Mull but we had been there so the Outer Hebrides got the Scottish vote. Mike latched onto Fixed Wheely’s trip as it is 600 miles south of the Outer Hebrides. It became clear that Grumpy had just come for the beer and a chat. Bushy came up with a new proposal: drive down to Portsmouth and catch the ferry to St Malo – he had not yet thought about the return route. This proposal was quickly rejected.
Finally the vote came between the two options: Outer Hebrides or Dover/France. The two Mikes, in tandem, voted for France but the rest voted for the “OH”. Later Bushy admitted that he knew nothing about the “OH” – not being informed that it rained two days in three! We had 8 definites: Jeff & Pam; Ray & Bridget; Mike & Naoko; Alec & Ann. Fixed Wheely and Julie weren’t sure and fairly rapidly this became a definite “No” from Julie. However FW was coming one week, not the next, then coming again and even bought a tent…but after watching Monty Hall strut around the OH he gave up the idea.
Within a week Neil & Margaret were onboard and very enthusiastic. Alec was appointed to lead the small team of Jeff, Pam, Mike, Bushy and Margaret. The roles were given out for deciding upon the route (as always Jeff enjoyed checking out the route), and booking the accommodation. By mid January everything was booked and agreed, and Mike issued out a 2 page schedule with most of the second page allocated to midge repellent cream. In early March Margaret (and thus Neil) had to back out as she was to have a replacement knee with the operation due in early May. Margaret was very disappointed as besides missing the wind, rain and midges of the OH she would also miss the enjoyable company of GASBAGS.
Two weeks to go and Mike checked the long-range weather forecast. The website selected showed that the temperature would not rise above 5 DegC with this feeling like 3 DegC. The trip sounded tortuous with the rain and high winds also forecast. Mike phoned Alec – should we cancel? Mike soon realised that the website forecast was incorrect and that other websites were showing temperatures above 10 DegC. He also realised that the forecasts were different on all the websites that he checked and changed daily – the forecasts could not be trusted!

The Trip – Saturday May 29th to Friday June 4th 2010

Ann & Alec drove up on the Friday as Alec wanted to call in at his mother’s house. Naoko & Mike had hoped to go on the Wednesday to give time to climb Ben Nevis but heavy rain was forecast so they drove up to Falkirk on the Friday to see the renowned Falkirk Wheel that links two canals. Bushy’s retirement left him without a car so he and Bridget crammed into two-thirds of Jeff’s back seat like sardines – the car also had to take Pam, 4 bikes and all their luggage.

Saturday 29th – Barra - 3 miles

Naoko & Mike arrived first in Oban to find the only long-term car park full. Mike phoned Alec who was confident that there would be spaces – don’t worry! Mike texted Jeff about his concerns with Pam texting back that they would park at the non-existent ferry car park. After checking with the Tourist Information the only solution seemed to be to park on the street. Finally Mike determined that the car-park at McCain’s Tower had no restrictions so we all parked there – would the cars get towed away?
The 5 hour boat trip was uneventful with the sea being calm and no-one being sick –nothing to watch or pass the time! We arrived at 8:30pm and cycled 3 miles to the B&B’s. Naoko & Mike and Pam & Jeff were accommodated in 108, Upper Borve – a house built 5 years before with oak floors, doors and door surrounds throughout. Angela MacNeill gave us coffee and cakes, then Alec appeared just as her husband asked if we would like to join him in drinking a whisky. Well we all said “Yes” except for Pam, so don’t believe the photograph of her drinking whisky –it was Mike’s. Alec stayed on happily chatting away as if he was staying the night then realised that he should return to his own B&B or his life would not be worth living.
The other guests, an elderly (though not as elderly as Bushy) German couple from Cologne, joined us and proceeded to tell us about all their holidays to the Outer Hebrides, other Scottish areas and the Lake District – they just loved the UK. Mike shifted the conversation onto GPS devices – they both had one – which didn’t please Jeff as he is a “Map” person. Everyone disappeared except Naoko & Mike who were kept pinned to the settee listening to more travel tales but finally escaped. Just after this Jeff sneaked downstairs to talk about the Outer Hebrides confident that there would be no more GPS discussion.

Sunday 30th – Barra to Benbecula - 45 miles

Mike was up first and thought he would search out the other B&B on this nice dry day. He had walked almost half a mile when the sky opened and he had to run home – slowly with all the devices in his pockets – iPhone, camera etc. From now on he determined to be close to a raincoat at all times.
We cycled off in full rainwear as we assumed that we would get more rain. After just 100 yards Bridget skidded on rough stones and came off her bike. She had nasty cuts to her left elbow and knee – one of the knees that she cut badly in the past (she cut both knees on her last nasty accident). Mike came to the rescue with large plasters from his first-aid kit, though gave them to “Nurse” Pam to stick on as he didn’t like the sight of so much blood. There was a brief discussion about whose fault it was: Bridget said Bushy went off too fast; Bushy said Bridget should take more care. At least this discussion kept Bridget’s mind off the pain (very thoughtful of Bushy). However Bridget is a tough “old-bird” and was back on her bike after a short time. We decided to head for the early 11:10 ferry. Fortunately the rain held off and we had time to cycle to Barra Airport first – the planes land on the sandy beach.
Cycling up South Uist we detoured to see Flora MacDonald’s birthplace – she sheltered Bonnie Prince Charlie (perhaps one day I will have a shrine for making so many YOUTUBES). Someone shouted let’s eat lunch here but was quickly overruled and we cycled 5 more miles to the beach.
We were cycling against the wind so it was slow progress but the rain held off, and we finally arrived at the Benbecula B&B’s after 45 miles. Ann was shattered and stated, “I can’t cycle 50 miles tomorrow”.
We ate in the Dark Island Hotel and a discussion ensued about whether the B&B that Ann & Alec and Naoko & Mike were staying in was a house or a bungalow. The 4 who were staying there were confident it was a bungalow but Jeff stated that it was a house. Unfortunately Jeff was right showing how tired the group had been – not able to raise their heads!
Bushy had spent hours working out what each of us should pay at Tarbert, where there had been deposits – he is now a retired Quantity Surveyor - he probably forgot that he wouldn’t get paid more by making work last for more time. Jeff asked him to explain but Bushy said it would take too long. Voices were raised and we all had to leave the pub fast.

Monday 31st – Benbecula to Tarbert - 55 miles

The weather was perfect for cycling north – it was warm with blue skies and the wind was from the south-east. Alec was concerned about us cycling 30 miles to catch the 1:30 ferry so we arranged to meet at the Coop at 9am, buy lunch and to start cycling by 9:10. For once GASBAGS stuck to this plan and with the strong wind cycled along fast. We arrived at Berneray well in time and caught the ferry to South Harris. Now we were cycling along next to super beaches with crystal-clear azure-blue water – very enticing so much so that Pam stripped off her socks fast and was soon joined by others paddling in the sea. We were overlooked by the mountains of North Uist and the whole scenery was magnificent.
Unfortunately we had to cycle on from this paradise and met enormous hills before Tarbert. Mike walked a small distance but Ann kept on her bike as she slowly crept up the hill. Bridget & Bushy, now used to being like sardines, kept tightly together at the back of the group.
Naoko & Mike raced ahead of the group as Tarbert approached and arrived at the Avalon Guest House before Pam & Jeff. The B&B owner’s young son Matthew straight away asked Mike politely if he could help fix the puncture on his mountain bike. Mike fixed the puncture whilst Jeff provided the right pump – GASBAGS triumphed again.
Bushy, who was responsible for the Tarbert bookings, had checked out the eating establishments. He had found that the only reasonably priced one was a fish & chip shop. Mike & Alec had just bought fish & chips when Bushy phoned to say that the pub provided bar meals – too late!
Bridget & Bushy were getting more and more concerned about Bridget’s injuries. They had used up all Mike’s large bandages and had not found any more in the shops – the Outer Hebrides seemed to be a “large-bandage” free zone. They were concerned about the cuts turning septic – very hard to cycle without an arm and a leg. They decided to visit the Health Centre in the morning.

Tuesday 1st – Tarbert to Callanish - 39 miles

Bushy phoned the Health Centre and obtained an appointment for 10:50. GASBAGS rallied round and said “One for all, All for one – we will wait!” The nurse cleaned up the wounds with never a cry of pain from the formidable Bridget, and gave them an endless supply of bandages.
By just after 11am we were ready to cycle. It was raining initially but it soon stopped leaving a bright but windy day. Within a short distance we met a very steep hill that reduced our speed and reduced Bridget & Bushy’s cycling speed to walking pace. We past one middle-aged man on a bike towing a trailer – he cycled a few yards stopped then tried again. His pace was so slow he might still be there.
Bike panniers have not been mentioned up to now, but Bushy’s were enormous (and now much more full with all the bandages) and they were attached to a very weak back rack. They were swaying about so much that Mike thought that Bushy’s bike could break into two pieces leaving Bushy cycling on a one-wheel bike. However it was Jeff who took action to check them out. He found that one connection had broken and the other side looked weak. He very cleverly made splints for both sides of allen keys and strong black tape. The rack survived to the end of the trip – Bushy must be thinking what to buy Jeff in recompense.
The last 9 miles to Callanish was straight into the wind, Naoko & Mike raced ahead but were finally caught by Pam & Jeff. We caught a glimpse of the famous Callanish Stones, then arrived at the Leumadir Guest House. We were met by the owner Donald, a remarkable man who had been born in the Outer Hebrides, had moved away for many years, and 5 years ago had moved back. His homestead consisted of two houses (one being used by his son), 4 pigs, several dogs, fighting birds, a cat, sheep, many hens, and a few cows. He explained that we would get smoked bacon the following day made from his own pigs.
Naoko & Mike had an excellent large twin room whilst Pam & Jeff, Bridget & Bushy were to share a family room. This meant that Pam & Jeff had an large double bed whilst Bridget & Ray were in small bunk beds, with Bushy on the top bunk due to Bridget’s injuries. Can you imagine a man of retirement age climbing into a bunk bed? They all paid the same so perhaps recompense enough for Jeff’s help with Bushy’s panniers.
Jeff had booked us to eat at the Loch Roag Guest House where Ann & Alec were to stay. Alec had phoned up to request that eight of us wanted just one course and a price of £9 was agreed. At the time we joked that this might mean that all got the same food – it turned out that it did except for Pam as she is vegetarian. Although the food was well cooked and very tasty there was insufficient for hungry cyclists. Loch Roag also did not have an alcohol license so we enjoyed drinking lovely water.
Mike was keen to cycle to the Callanish Stones as the night was still young. At first most were keen but then changed their minds, and just Mike & Jeff had the chance to see the Stones people-free and with the sun setting.
Back at the Leumadir Mike, prompted by Jeff, asked Donald if we could buy some alcoholic drinks. He stated that he did not have a license so couldn’t but he could provide is with whisky or brandy free of charge as he had given up alcoholic drinks 12 years ago. Just Mike & Jeff sat back and enjoyed the warm sensation of whisky trickling into their stomachs. Fixed Wheely would have loved this as there was plenty in the decanter.

Wednesday 2nd – Callanish to Stornoway – 35 miles

The breakfast was magnificent with all sorts of fresh fruit: strawberries; cherries; grapes; blueberries. The smoked bacon even came with the animal’s name so we could chat to it.
We cycled north-west with the southerly wind helping us. Jeff had heard about a café where we could stop but instead we found the Dun Carloway Broch, built sometime in the last century BC. We agreed that we would cycle about 8 miles to the Black House Museum where we assumed there would be a café – more important in our minds that the Museum. We arrived to find a long narrow building with no windows built in 1875 with definitely no café! After half an hour Bridget & Bushy had not arrived and we were getting worried. Had Bushy’s rack collapsed? Were they too exhausted to go on? Finally a phone call came through – they had missed the turn and were at the junction to turn right to Stornoway about 3 miles in front. Naoko & Mike set off to leave the other four to have their lunches. Astonishingly they arrived at the garage just past the junction to find Bridget & Bushy there – they had just cycled 200 yards!
After a coffee the four of them set off to cycle the 12 miles to Stornoway, almost due east with a southerly cross wind. Naoko & Mike were cycling fast and soon left Bridget & Bushy trailing – a mere dot in the distance. Naoko was almost blown off her bike, and felt justly proud when we arrived at the Hal O The Wynd Guest House. Graham, the B&B owner, asked how long the other pair would be with Mike stating, “A good half an hour”. Astonishingly they arrived 16 minutes later!
Mike phoned Jeff to arrange a meeting time. Pam came on the phone, “Our B&B has told us of lots of good restaurants”. Mike, not to outdone, replied, “My B&B has told me about a fantastic one”. As it turned out Mike’s turned out to be more like a canteen, and we adopted Bushy’s suggestion to try a Thai restaurant. Again this restaurant did not have an alcohol license but the four men strode quickly to a supermarket to buy alcohol to bring back to the restaurant. The food was excellent and we left a tip – they seemed very happy with the tip not surprisingly as Mike left an extra £10 by mistake!
We strolled around Stornoway Castle and at last found a few midges but of the non-biting type.

Thursday 3rd – Stornoway to Lochboisdale – 27 miles

The minibus & van from the “Third Sector Lewis” collected us from the two B&B’s just after 9am and we were underway to catch the 11:25 ferry at Leverburgh. We seemed to have plenty of time and the lady driver was going along well. We then hit road-works and were delayed for 15 minutes. It increasingly looked like we would arrive late. Jeff checked the previous year’s ferry timetable to find that the ferry time was 11:35. Alec tried to phone the ferry company but there was no phone signal. We asked the driver to go faster but then had to stop because of a refuse van. Fortunately everyone knows everyone in the Outer Hebrides and our lady driver politely asked the refuse van to move in Gaelic, probably “Move that bloody van”. We were now racing along then Alec finally contacted the ferry company – the ferry was 11:35 and Mike’s sheet was wrong! We told our lady driver that she could slow down and we arrived at 11:27. We unpacked the van fast and attached on the panniers. We were safely on the ferry and our fears of cycling the full 50 miles to Lochboisdale disappeared. The ferry did not depart for a further 10 minutes.
On the ferry there were about 50 Army Cadet Force recruits of which one turned out to be the young lad Matthew from the Avalon B&B. Naoko posed next to Matthew for a photograph whilst poor Matthew looked very embarrassed in front of all his friends.
We were collected by Alastair Ferguson of Aldas Taxis out of Lochmaddy. Seven bikes fitted in the trailer with the last bike fitting in the minibus. Mike joined Alastair in the front seat and enjoyed listening to the tales of this 76-year old Lochmaddian, though the journey time was probably expended.
We were dropped off in south Benbecula with just 21 miles to cycle. The wind picked up as we cycled but it was not too strong. Naoko & Mike were cycling fast and arrived first. The previous evening Jeff had been phoned up by Brae Lea House to inform him that the Lochside Cottage was now not available and that 3 of us were booked in the Milestone B&B. However Naoko & Mike came upon Lochside Cottage first and knocked – no answer. Pam & Jeff arrived next and knocked – no answer. The four then met up and arrived at the Milestone B&B. Jeff knocked and agreed that Naoko & Mike would stop there. The rest stopped at Brae Lea House with Alec sleeping on the floor.
We all met up at the Lochboisdale Hotel to find that there had been a minor dispute about room charges between Jeff & Ray. We asked about meals in the hotel and were told that there was no food available as they were preparing for a wedding. Jeff told them that his B&B had said we could eat there, and they finally agreed – Jeff became our hero. We almost had a food-free evening.

Friday 4th – Lochboisdale to Oban – 2 miles

The 5 hour ferry journey to Oban went without incident, and we cycled up the hill to McCain’s Tower car park to find our cars still there.


We cycled over 200 miles in the main 5 days. There was not one midge bite and we only saw midges near Stornoway Castle. The weather was much better than expected, with hardly any rain with the temperature reaching 23 DegC on the final day. There was almost always a wind, very pleasant when cycling with the wind but difficult when cycling into the wind or with a cross-wind.
The scenery reminded me of other parts of Scotland but with much more water around. We cycled through South Harris on a perfect day and enjoyed magnificent scenery.
Everyone we met was very friendly and helpful when required. The GASBAGS team provided great company. Poor Fixed Wheely missed out on a very enjoyable trip all because of Monty Hall.


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