This was our first cycle tour since 2005 – in 2006, we rented a cottage in Lochcarron, and used that as a base for bike rides – in 2007, we didn’t have a cycling holiday, for family reasons. This year, we were keen to revisit the Outer Hebrides, and decided to ride North to South, which is against the prevailing wind. The general plan was to leave the car in Ullapool, and travel through Lewis, Harris, North Uist, Skye, then back up the west coast to Ullapool.

The bike

We used the trusty (and now a bit rusty) Dawes Super Galaxy tandem. The bike’s been through the wars since we bought it secondhand in about 1994 – it’s had two tubes replaced and respray. Also, almost all of the original components have been replaced over the years. Now it’s running a 27 gear setup, with a bottom gear of about 24″, which we need for hauling our kit about. We carry front panniers, handlebar bag, saddlebag, rear panniers and a big canoe bag with the tent, sleeping mats and Trangia.

Monday 2/6/08

We set out from home on Saturday, visiting our parents on Saturday (in Yeadon) and Sunday (in Edinburgh) en route.  Monday morning’s 5 day weather forecast on the TV looked bad for Tuesday, but pretty good for the rest of the week! It was grey and wet when we left Edinburgh for Ullapool – …but it got brighter as we went further north. We arrived at Ullapool at about 2pm, and quickly located a B&B – a STB 4 star called Westlea. The afternoon and evening were very sunny and warm.

Above: Above: View out to sea along Loch Broom, from Ullapool

Below: from the B&B window – cherry tree lined streets in Ullapool

During the afternoon, we visited the CalMac office and collected a timetable.  After looking at the various fares, we chose one of the Island Hopscotch tickets.

In the evening, we went out to find some food – ideally seafood, which is plentiful in this area.  Unfortunately the restaurant situation in Ullapool isn’t as good as it used to to be: very little seafood available, and interestingly, all the pubs appear to be staffed by eastern europeans (used to be Australians and South Africans – wonder where they go now?)!

Dinner was a venison cottage pie, and a glass of Leffe.

Day 1 – Tuesday 3/6/08

This morning’s forecast looked fine for today and bad for tomorrow.  Breakfast was excellent – porridge, followed by scrambled egg, bacon, mushrooms, venison sausage, black pudding and toast.

Then we trundled down to the ferry terminal in grey cloudy conditions. We bought Island Hopscotch Route 11 tickets for the Ullapool-Stornoway; Leverburgh-Berneray; Lochmaddy-Uig; Armadale-Mallaig route.  One of the advantages of Island Hopscotch tickets is that the tickets are all pre-booked, and there ‘s no charge for bicycles.  Despite not planning to use the last stage, this still worked out cheaper than three sets of single tickets.  As we boarded the ferry, there was a slight drizzle beginning.  We appeared to be the only cyclists on board, though there were many motorcyclists, some of whom seemed rather amused by the amount of luggage we were carrying!  As is often the case, we boarded before the motor traffic (this also means we were to be last off, but usually that’s a good thing, as we don’t roll off the ferry with a huge queue of traffic behind us).  The crossing to Stornoway takes a little under 3 hours, on this occasion it was very calm, though we did sail through some pretty heavy showers.

Rolliing off the ferry, conditions were cloudy but brightening, with a stiff tail wind as we proceeded over the peat moor to Barvas (Barabhas) where we turned right towards the Butt of Lewis, 15 miles further on. In those 15 miles, we saw only two B&Bs, though Cross has shops, pub/inn/restaurant etc…eventually, we turned and backtracked.  We stopped for Stagg chili and cheese sandwiches at 4.30pm (just in time to forestall the onset of hunger knock!), then set off again to one of the B&Bs – the Galson Farm Guest House and Hostel, which we reached at about 5.40pm.

Above: Carol tucking in to one of our “exciting” tour dinners!

We took the bunk room.  The Galson Farm Guest House has a magnificnet courtyard, and we were able to bung the tandem under cover.  After unpacking and changing, we went for a walk on the beach (warned off some areas where oyster catchers and ringed plovers were nesting), then back to the bunk room to plan tomorrow’s ride, which promised to be a rather long day’s cycling. TV forecast indicated we would get rain late afternoon, which was disappointing given the fine weather since leaving home (apart from Sunday). We walked southward on the shingle beach, towards and past the graveyard.  If we’d turned north instead, we’d have walked past the site of an excavation of an iron age burial – unfortunately, I didn’t know about this until I wrote this report!

Above: The Galson Guest House and Bunkhouse, viewed from the road to the beach

Above: Robert on the rocky beach at Galson

Above: the shingle beach at Galson – oystercatchers and small ringed plovers had nested and laid eggs among the pebbles

34.17 miles, 3:07:54.

Day 2 – Wednesday 4/6/08

An excellent night’s sleep saw us wake to brilliant sunshine and the wind appeared to have moderated (a bit). As usual, we began the day checking the TV weather forecast – it seemed as though the next belt of rain might not reach us until late today, hopefully after we had reached the safe haven of a Tarbert B&B. This destination seemed practical given the overnight change in wind direction – we expected that we’d have a decent tailwind for the first and last thirds of the day’s ride. However, the best-laid plans of Robert and Carol often go belly-up…

Above: Robert standing with the tandem, southbound along the coast of Lewis

After another wonderful breakfast, we set off a little later than we might have hoped, at around 9.40. The ride back to Barvas (Barabhas) was pretty easy, and for the next section to Carloway (Càrlabhaigh) we had a nice tailwind.  Most of the habitations on Lewis seem to be coastal – next to most of the houses can be seen ruined or disused black houses – often these are used as barns, sheds or for other agricultural purposes.  Most of the farming activity appears to be connected with sheep.  Along the coastal ground, you can often see the evidence of field systems, with ridges where crops have been grown in the past.

En route, we decided not to stop at the blackhouse at Arnol or the Carloway broch (Dùn Càrlabhaigh) as we’d visited them before. This leg was a lovely seaside route, and was really very beautiful bathed in brilliant sunshine.

Near Carloway, we visited the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village – this has restored several blackhouses, several used as holiday cottages and a hostel, one as a (very welcome) tearoom, one restored to the state it was in by the 1950s, and one acts as a visitor centre. The last blackhouse to be occupied at Gearrannen was finally vacated in 1974. The restored blackhouse is very small, but cosy! The Hebridean blackhouse was originally constructed from a double drystone wall filled with turf, and with a chimney-less thatch roof held in place by netting weighted down by planks of wood or stones. Peat smoke from the fire would percolate through the thatch, which would be removed every so often to be used as fertiliser on the fields. Inside, beds were frequently “box beds” to reduce draughts. In the past, animals would be housed in one half, and humans in the other. The Gearrannan blackhouses appeared to have had chimneys added at some time. In the fireplace, I spotted a Hercules crank and chainring being used as a cooking ring!

Above and below:  Restored blackhouses at the Gearrannan blackhouse museum in Lewis, near Carloway

After a spectacularly good piece of cake at the Gearrannan tearoom, we moved on to our next port of call – a few miles further on lie the spectacular Callanish (Calanais) standing stones. On our last visit, we stopped at a delightful tearoom after looking at the stones – now there is a spanking new visitor centre with a presentation room explaining the history of the Callanish stones. We didn’t have time to visit the centre, as we still entertained hopes of reaching Tarbert that evening.

Above and below: two views of the main set of standing stones at Callanish.  Carol’s enterprising photography has avoided all the people that were visiting them!

Above: There are several sets of standing stones at Callanish – this is a second set standing on the horizon, photographed from the road.

From the road, we could see the other two stone circles near Callanish, though we decided not to look at them up close. Trundling down the road towards Garrynahine (Gerraidh na b-Aibhne) and over the peat and heather hillside to Liurbost, it became very clear the wind had turned and strengthened – reaching Tarbert was becoming more unlikely, and we bagan entertaining the backup plan of stopping at a B&B, probably in Balallan (Baile Allein). Battling against the strengthening headwind, we weren’t suffering so badly we couldn’t notice the lochans with waterlilies in bloom.

After stopping to heat up a slightly disappointing canned chicken korma (sheltering in a small roadside quarry), we made a firm decision to aim for a B&B in Balallan. We did pass a B&B in Laxay (Lacasaidh) but passed it by, finally stopping at the first B&B in Balallan.  I forget the name of this B&B, but it was 5, Balallan.

Nature points – huge numbers of skylarks, heard cuckoos, saw a family of goslings, hillsides apparently dusted with snow that on closer inspection proved to be cotton grass.

46.76 miles, estimated 5:00:00

Day 3 – Thursday 5/6/08

When we woke around 6.00am, I looked out of the window – the skies were grey (but with breaks in the cloud), it had obviously been raining (but had pretty well stopped), and the wind was gentler, and had swung round slightly. We also seem to have caught the sun, and look pretty weather-blasted.

Another (excellent) fried breakfast. Other guests were a couple cycling, and a German couple on a pair of huge Kawasaki motorbikes – his had got a nail in the back tyre and they were off to Stornoway on a trailer to try and get a replacement. Thinking ahead to the terrain we’d be riding through , I made sure the drag brake was functioning properly.

Setting off, the skies were filled with blue sky and broken clouds – as the day went on, the skies cleared completely (I got burnt badly on the backs of my upper arms – must have missed there with the sun block). The headwind had definitely softened overnight – in fact later on when we reached North Uist, it had completely dropped. We rolled happily along until the climb up to Clisham (An Cliseam), the big mountain at the base of North Harris. We’d only cycled this road before in a northerly direction, which features a brutal climb (for a fully loaded tandem). Heading south, however, one is faced with a longer, but more gentle gradient, climbing from (Ard a Mhulaidh) by Loch Seaforth. As you enter North Harris from Lewis, the landscape becomes far more rugged and mountainous – the change is really very dramatic.

Above: en route to Tarbert – view over towards Loch Seaforth.  Below: the climb of Clisham appears in front of us!

After hurtling down Clisham (using the drag brake), we gently rode three more miles to Tarbert (Tairbeart). Tarbert seems rather more compact than many of the places we cycled through, an is a rather likeable little place. We dashed for the Tearoom for a snack lunch and teas. After that, we popped into the tourist office to arrange accommodation in North Uist – we got a room at a B&B in Lochmaddy. Then we visited the shop for supplies, mostly fruit. On leaving we saw a sign informing us that the 1600 Leverburgh-Berneray ferry had been cancelled due to a very low tide. This didn’t worry us too much, as we had planned to take the 18:40 sailing anyway.

Leaving Tarbert heading into South Harris starts a significant climb initially up a very steep section for which we required our absolute bottom gear, but then keeps on going in a much more moderate gradient. The road takes you through increasingly barren terrain with much exposed rock, enlivened by numerous lochans populated with waterlilies in bllom, and fringed with yellow flag irises.

We zoomed down the hill to be greeted by a vast expanse of golden sand in a bay – looking beyond, we had views of Taransay (Tarasaigh), the island used by the BBC for their “reality” TV show Castaway. Continuing along, we saw many beautiful empty beaches, with golden sand and clear blue water. About here, the bike started changing gear on its own, which was sufficiently annoying that we stopped so that I could deal with it – it turned to be the pannier banging on the gear cable.

Above: as the road begins the descent, the island of Taransay can be seen.  Low tide reveals the expanses of golden sands. Below: Taransay a little closer.

Above:  Some of the beaches look positively caribbean in the brilliant sunshine.  We saw very few people on the beaches.

Further on, we turned to head south-east, towards Leverburgh.   Remembering how lacking in facilities Leverburgh is, we stopped a few miles short (once more in one of the roadside quarry) to cook up a plate of spaghetti. From there we trundled onwards to the Leverburgh jetty. We were amazed to see not only a smart new waiting room, but a spanking new restaurant/bar called The Anchorage. We had something to drink, then retired to the waiting room to await the ferry.

The crossing takes about an hour, and zig-zags madly across the Sound of Harris, to avoid the numerous islands islets and rocks. After rolling off the ferry, we rode across the Berneray causeway, onto dry land under steadily thickening grey clouds, and onwards to the road to Lochmaddy. We rolled along easily, having had a welcome break from pedalling while travelling on the ferry.  Just as we passed the Lochmaddy sign (quite a long way from Lochmaddy proper, we felt spots of rain, which got a bit heavier by the time we reached the B&B (Rushlee House) where we had a warm welcome.  The Rushlee has a metal shed for bike storage, which was good as the rain became quite persistent overnight.

In Lochmaddy, the limited amenities seem to be in turmoil – the Lochmaddy Hotel continues to change hands, and the Tigh Dearg Hotel, which rose from the ashes (literally) of the Stag Inn only three years ago is also likely to change hands. We popped over to the Tigh Dearg for a beer once we’d cleaned up and changed. The bar is very nice, and it looks to have a good restaurant.

Back to the B&B for well-earned sleep. The sunburn on the back of my arms was a little uncomfortable!

Nature points: heard cuckoos everywhere; waterlilies and flag irises and cotton grass; loads of birdlife – cormorants, eider ducks, redshanks, plovers, gillemots, gannets; seals just out from Leverburgh.

54.24 miles (cumulative distance 135.17 miles); estimated time 5:00:00

Day 4 – Friday 6/6/08

Having gone to bed after the rain came on (not particularly heavy, but steady) we were pleased to wake to light cloud cover that gently broke. Yesterday’s exertions drained us slightly so we planned to take it easy after the crossing to Uig on Skye. Two possibilities were open – to stop in Portree or in Broadford. In the end, we decided on the Portree option, mostly because we didn’t roll off the ferry until after 2pm.

Another excellent breakfast, added to which we were given some Avon body lotion that we were assured would repel midgies. Though I was (as a trained entomologist) rather doubtful, I did try it when bothered by the wee devils while loading up the tandem, and it did seem quite effective (we needed a bit of help a few days later when we camped).

Down by Lochmaddy harbour, the water was glassy smooth, disturbed only by a tern circling the bay and occasionally diving. The tearoom and arts centre has been substantially extended since our last visit. There is only one sailing for Uig on a Friday, which is scheduled to depart at 1150. It was pretty full with motor vehicles, and cyclists (there were quite a few of us, including two that were on the Leverburgh-Berneray ferry the previous evening – they had stayed at Berneray hostel) were pretty much the last to get boarded. The ferry departed slightly late, and eventually we disembarked at Uig just after 2pm. Some passengers reckoned they had spotted a whale (entirely possible – we’ve seen them on other occasions), which generated quite a lot of excited charging about the observation lounge.

Above:  The glassy smooth waters of the bay at Lochmaddy.

Below:  The ferry leaves Uig, bound for Tarbert, after we disembarked

Leaving Uig, the road to Portree climbs then descends, setting the pattern for this route. To an extent, the building of the Skye bridge seems to have changed the nature of the road traffic on Skye. Certainly that’s our impression from cycling visits going back to the days of the Kyleakin ferry. Anyway, we reached Portree at about 3.30, and proceeded to locate a B&B. Portree is really a bit scary after riding on the Outer Hebrides – it has a bizarre and unpredictable traffic system, so I was pleased to find accommodation without needing to negotiate the centre of the town.

Having been frustrated thus far as to availability of seafood, a seafood restaurant was high on our list when we went to explore Portree. Once you get into the centre of Portree and the harbour aeea, you find a more interesting environment – the harbour area in particular is attractive, with brightly painted buildings along the waterfront. One of these is The Lower Deck, a restaurant we visited for dinner. I had pickled herrings, king scallops on black pudding, and crannachan, all washed down with two of the beers brewed by the Skye Brewing Company – Red Cuillin and Black Cuillin (obviously named after the Skye mountains). This pretty much put paid to my day, and we returned to the B&B!

17.36 miles (cumulative distance 152.53 miles; 1:35:08

Day 5 – Saturday 7/6/08

I woke at about 6am, and peeked out of the window. Well there was a change! Thick fog! However, this soon burnt off and we set off from Portree in sunny conditions. This was perhaps the hottest day so far on the tour.

The ride over to Broadford was pretty uneventful. There were roadworks through which the traffic was taken un convoy behind a slow-moving van. This in itself was no problem except that for some time after, traffic was coming past us in great groups. Onward to Sligachan, then up the big climb over Glamaig, followed by a hugely satisfying descent. We reached Broadford at about 11.30 and stopped at a tearoom for tea and scone. Then we located a B&B (the Birnam bed and breakfast), left most of our luggage and cycled over to Elgol.

This road was splendid – it was singletrack B road with passing places, and after a mild climb out of Broadford we had about 8 miles of very easy riding, before some serious climbing to reach Elgol itself. We saw herons, and large eagle like birds wheeling overhead, and reed and lily filled lochs looking rather depleted after weeks of hot and dry weather.

The views from this road were absolutely stunning – from lochs to jegged mountains to forested headlands, and all the while the bright blue sky gave the sea a brilliant blue colour.

We stopped above Elgol and brewed up tea/coffee on the trusty Trangia. We decided not to ride down to the jetty – it was steep and we were mostly there for the fine view of the Cuilluns, Soay, Eigg, Muck and Rhum. We could see a trio of canoists setting out across the bay. This route, which we’d not cycled before because it’s a 30 mile round trip on a dead end road (and therefore not the best route when on tour) was a fabulous one, and highly recommended, particularly on a day such as this.

Above: cloudless skies at Elgol.  You can see several of the smaller Hebridean islands.  Click on the image for a larger version.

We backtracked to Broadford and trundled over to the excellent Creelers seafood restaurant to book a table. Then back to the B&B, where we had to wait briefly for the owners to return. Afte showering, we went to Creelers for dinner. We both had scallops for starters, then I had halibut poached in muscadet on green tagliatelle, while Carol had roast monkfish in a light soy and Pernod cream sauce. It was a fine meal!

Then back to the B&B, via the Co-op for some supplies.

Nature points – herons, hoodie crows, possibly an eagle, the reed lichs with waterlilies, and a seal in one of the sea lochs we cycled along.

55.54 miles, cumulative 208.08 miles; 5:13:01

Day 6 – Sunday 8/6/08

Yesterday morning’s BBC TV forecast had predicted rain this morning, dying out by the afternoon. I looked out of the window to see broken clouds and every likelihood of another fine day ahead of us (though there was some evidence of overnight rain). So once again, a very sunny day, and again very hot.

We left the B&B at about 9.45, and made good time to the Skye bridge.  The Skye Bridge was opened in 1995 – on one of our early tours we crossed for the last time by the CalMac ferry and photographed the bridge nearly complete, with just a small gap in the middle.  It’s a graceful arch-shaped bridge that originally has one of the highest tolls in Europe (by 2004 a round trip cost £11.40).  The high toll made it rather unpopular and a focus of considerable protest.  The Scottish Parliament abolished the toll later in 2004.  Unfortunately, from a cyclist’s point of view the construction of the bridge has changed the nature of the road network on Skye.  A greater volume of traffic together with road upgrades means that the Isle doesn’t feel so “island-like”.  Along this road, we saw another restored Skye blackhouse (they are distinct from Lewis and Harris blackhouses in that the thatch overhangs the walls, and the weights on the ropes dangle down the walls). The bridge itself was our first climb – it’s a graceful arch shaped bridge! We carried on along the main A87 road for a few miles – it has no deperately hard climbs, though on one 40mph descent, we got alarmingly buffeted by an oncoming lorry.

Then, the hard work began. We turned towards Stromeferry, and up the A890. This is a big climb, and I needed to stop to adjust the front derailleur, as it wasn’t reliably shifting into the granny ring. Once at the top, we stopped for a cup of tea, brewed up on the Trangia. We had a chat with a bloke walking to Achmore – they’d had a gala the previous evening, and he was heading back to pick up his car. Also while we sat on the roadside, we saw a solo tourist trundling along – we saw him again at the view point abbove Stromeferry. Since they built the ghastly (more of that in a bit) road along the southern side of Loch Carron, the ferry has stopped, and the sign now reads “Stromeferry No Ferry”!

Above: looking inland along Loch Carron from above Stromeferry

By this time, the sun was out in full force, and I had copious rivers of sweat runnin from my helmet, releasing an odour so offensive to my trusty stoker that I had to stop wearing it! Just past Attadale the loch-side road rears up at 14%, then descends at 14%. This objectionable piece of road design really encapsulates the toughness of the A890! Pretty soon we were riding easily towards Strathcarron with a distinct tailwind. After joining the A896 towards Lochcarron, this became a head wind, but I for one found it rather refreshing! In Lochcarron, we stopped at the Waterside café for bacon and brie paninis and tea. Thus fortified, we sat on some steps down to the shingle beach and just soaked up the views across and along the loch. In a successful attempt at procrastination, we then had a magnum ice cream each, before setting off once more. In view of the absurdly splendid weather, we decided to camp at a spot we’d previously used.

The road out of Lochcarron rears sharply upwards (bizarrely the 12% gradient sign comes after the steep section), then carries on climbing up onto rather bleak mountainside. All of a sudden, this changes to woods, both farmed and more natural. We passed the Kishorn seafood bar (not open at useful times!), and down by Loch Kishorn itself. From here we could see the huge rugged mountains of the Applecross peninsula, and indeed we could see the lower sections of the Bealach na Ba climb – see my description of our trip to Lochcarron in 2006 for more details of that road. Past Tornapress, our road continued through more mountainside, enlivened only by passing motorists and panicking sheep. It seemed to us that the majority of tourist traffic was heading over Bealach na Ba.

We pitched camp in a near idyllic spot near Sheldaig. I say “near” idyllic because of the ubiquitous midge Culicoides impunctatus. However, judicious application of DEET and the Avon moisturising spray given to us by the B&B in Lochmaddy kept their little nashers at bay.

Above: our campsite near Shieldaig. This was a delightful spot until the breeze dropped and the midgies turned up!

Best nature point – a raven, and some cuckoos flying.

45.90 miles, cumulative miles 253.99; 4:35:54

Day 7 – Monday 9/6/08

The wind, which had dropped away yesterday evening forcing a midgie-induced retreat to the tent, reasserted itself during the night (though not much evident in our sheltered spot.   When we woke at around 6am, it was clear that armies of the haematophagous blighters were out there just waiting for us. We made usual division of labour – I got breakfast going, while Carol began dealing with packing the sleeping mats an sleeping bags. Breakfast was porridge and tea/coffee. When I nipped down to the stream for water to boil up for the coffee and tea, I startled a female red deer, which popped up from the undergrowth only a couple of feet from me. We were all cleaned and packed up and ready to roll by about 7:40. By this time the white clouds had become grey and the wind had strengthened further.

First port of call was Sheildaig, firstly to get rid of some rubbish, and secondly to see if Rivendell (a B&B we had stayed in a few years ago) was still there – it was. Then it was out on the main road to batter our way over to Torridon, buffeted all the while by the wind, and drizzle whenever we climbed more than a few feet above sea level, setting the pattern for the rest of the day…The final stretch down to Annat and Torridon itself is a pretty rhododendron lined descent alongside Loch Torridon. From Torridon, we had a stiff tailwind over to Kinlochewe, which we reached at about 9.30. Fortunately the tearoom was open, so we had tea and scones. We reckoned we’d get to Poolewe (our original destination today) far too early, and that our best bet was to press on to lighten the mileage for the following day.

Above: en route from the campsite.  Strong wind, low cloud and drizzle – more like the Scotland we know!

From Kinlochewe, we made good progress along Loch Maree. At this time, we were getting sunny spells as well as blustery wind and drizzle, but at least the wind was by and large helping us along. After the somwhat rugged landscape of Glen Torridon, the road alongside Loch Maree is quite lush, with many wild flowers and trees. Unfortunately there came the point where the road turned more to the west, and we had to climb into the unyielding wind. Eventually we descended through some broadleaf wooded glens to Gairloch, where we stopped at the Old Inn for lunch. I was fairly conservative, choosing fish and chips, while Carol had two large sausages with mash, spiced red cabbage and a red wine gravy. While my fish and chips was very good, I did regret my choice!

After a quick perusal of a gallery, we pressed on towards Poolewe. As is usual with villages and towns in this area, we had a stiff climb – albeit a win-assisted climb! Over more rough terrain, with what seemed to us to be more climbing than descending, before the final descent into Poolewe at about 2pm. We had originally planned to stop here for the night, and spend a decent amount of time looking round Inverewe Gardens, as our previous visit was rather brief. On the day, we decided that the weather really wouldn’t answer, and we pressed on to Aultbea, which is quite a sizeable place that seemed to off quite a lot in the way of accommodation. This is where we made what might have been a bad call – we decided to press on to Gruinard bay. The next 10 miles or so proved to be particularly arduous, being rather bleak and exposed to the rising wind. Also, we saw only one B&B before Little Loch Broom, and it had no vacancies!

Gruinard Bay has some fine beaches (deserted due to the weather), and also contains Gruinard Island, the wartime test of Britain’s biological warfare, in the form of an anthrax bomb. This test left the island severely contaminated and off-limits for many years.

However, the depressing fact was that the wind was, if anything, getting stronger, and the wind propelled drizzle more frequent, and there was no accommodation in Gruinard bay! We survived the long 12% descent to the bay despite the wind – we’d previously climbed this road, being video filmed by a tourist.

From here, the day’s cycling degenerated into a slog up and down small but often quite steep hills, trying to beat the elements, while searching the horizon for some sign of a B&B – we eventually found one at about 4:30pm.  What is more, it was a particularly good one, at Easter Badbea. We had a terrific welcome, and had a cup of tea and an interesting chat with the owners.  It’s in a splendid location, and all facilities are excellent.  Unfortunately we were rather exhausted and didn’t really use the guest lounge!  It has fabulous views across Little Loch Broom, and is actually only about 6 miles from Ullapool as the crow flies (about 30 miles by road, however!).

Above: the view from our room at Easter Badbea, looking out on Little Loch Broom, with strong wind!

64 miles; cumulative miles 317.99; time (estimated) 6:30:00

Day 8 – Tuesday 10/6/08

During the night, the wind strengthened, confirmed by my peek outside at about 3.45am. However, when I woke at 6.30, conditions seemed similar to the previous day, with the exception that we were bathed in sunshine! I felt pretty refreshed after about 10 hours sleep.

Following an excellent breakfast we changed into our cycling kit, packed everything, loaded up the tandem and set off, with some trepidation. In the end, the weather was very similar to Monday’s, though with slightly heavier showers and more frequent sunny spells, and the wind was dropping gradually.

The ride to the end of the loch was quick as we were descending and had a tailwind. From there the landscape changed – from being quite a bare landscape, it became quite thickly wooded. The road rises pretty consistently from here, eventually emerging from the trees to reveal imoosing crags. On one side we could see a minibus of birdwatchers looking for golden eagles (among other things), while we could see distant red red deer on a ridge.

Above: Robert with the tandem at the top of the climb along Glen Dundonnell.  From here the road descended for a gratifying distance, though the weather closed in a bit as we approached Ullapool

As we crested the top of the climb, we saw another tandem heading the other way, then we descended past the Corrieshalloch Falls and joined the main road to Ullapool, running down alongside the River Broom, once again wooded, and a fast descent in rain. The rain eased and the road levelled as we reached Loch Broom. The road becomes the usual lochside road – mostly undulating, but with one or two more significant climbs.  We reached the car that we’d left in Ullapool at about noon, and uloaded the tandem into the car, munted it on the roof rack, and retired to the Ceilidh Place for a much-needed cappuccino and carrot cake, the cycling part of our holiday over.

Returning to the car, we returned home near Milton Keynes in stages – one night in Tayport staying with friends, two nights in Edinburgh and one in Yeadon staying with parental units.

30.37 miles; cumulative miles 348.59; time 2:47:13