Cycling on the chain of islands that make up the Outer Hebrides is unlike any other kind of biking. The islands are wild and remote with a healthy dash of windswept thrown in for good measure, but the experience will stay with you forever.
My wife loves the islands – North Uist in particular, so we regularly visit the far north-west, despite the long journey. We always joke it would be quicker to fly across the Atlantic than drive to its edge. It is an arduous trip, but a journey that lets you know you have reached the very fringes of Europe.
Once there, the landscape always leaves an indelible impression on the soul – from the endless deserted and pristine beaches to the primordial monuments and settlements that scatter the barren hillsides.
The whole archipelago evokes a sense that you have reached the edge of the world and emits an oppressive atmosphere that feels like the sodden peat and raw, rock landscape is in a constant battle with the ocean for survival.
You could view this Wagnerian landscape from the comfort of your car, watching the quickly changing landscape pass you by as you drive over causeways battered by a never-ending barrage of salty waves – but where is the fun in that? Much better to breathe in that briny sea air and feel a part of the environment. Just as the terroir affects a fine wine, the context of the terrain you are riding through lends a flavour to the ride you are cycling.
The prevailing winds in these parts are predominantly from the west, meaning that a bike ride from Barra in the south, heading north towards Lewis, is the preferred option for many riders.
Occasionally that changes and once I received a gift of gale-force winds coming in from the Norwegian Sea. Fortunately that day I was heading south from Berneray to Eriskay and my wind-enhanced ride of 60 miles took me only two hours and six minutes. On the way, I had battled to keep the bike upright at times against the winds. I had crossed tidal causeways that were being battered with waves, covering me with ice-cold salt water.
I continued down through South Uist, shadowed on my left by the ominous, dark presence of Hecla and Beinn Mhor. My destination was getting closer. My legs and body were starting to complain at what I was asking of them, but my mind was elated by the experience. I reached the Parliament Bar on Eriskay (of Whisky Galore fame) sodden and shivering, but with a grin that reached from ear to ear.
I arrived on Eriskay jsut after 11am and eased off on the short climb to the end of the road above Coilleag. From there I could look over the dark and stormy sound of Barra. My epic ride ended rather ingloriously as I stood in the Gents trying to warm myself up and dry some of my kit off under the electric hand-dryer until my wife arrived with dry clothes.
A ride in the Outer Hebrides is not for the faint hearted, but for those who do venture into this untamed landscape, the rewards are glorious.
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Where to Ride? The Outer Hebrides – The Hebridean Way Cycle Route
Route: For a full route description with detailed maps visit:
Distance 185 miles / 297km
Description: Now an “official” route, launched by Mark Beaumont in 2016 for Visit Scotland. The Hebridean Way takes in ten islands on this Scottish outpost in the Atlantic including Vatersay, Barra, Eriskay, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist, Harris, Lewis.