TThe rain returns as we ride west towards Skye. We suffer the spray of passing tour buses as we make the white-knuckle descent to the village of Shiel Bridge.
There we encounter a crotchety clerk at the Shiel Shop, buy a bottle of malt, climb a mountain overlooking a loch, coast through a misty pine forest, and in the twilight, find the Suardalan Bothy.
It’s the best yet, outfitted with wooden bunks and an iron stove. We discover that the previous visitors, as per the MBA bothy code, had stocked the shelter with a large stack of dry firewood before they left.
We’re only a ferry ride away from the Isle of Skye, and the next day, at an old lighthouse with complimentary tea, we load our bikes onto the last manually operated turntable ferry in Scotland.
We’d read about a bothy at the northern tip of the Isle called the Lookout, a former coastguard station from which you can spot whales swimming in the Atlantic. And we intend to make it there; but the weather remains ominous, forcing us to stop in Portree and overnight at a bed and breakfast.
There, we find we’re not the only hardened bike tourists getting soft. At a pub on the town square, we share a round of pints with Mike Ryan, who’s on a three-week tour with his 14-year-old son, Caelan. Mike tells us he’s a park ranger at Big Bend National Park in Texas, and we find we share mutual friends. He and his son are heading south, and we suggest they stay at some of the bothies we visited.
“I heard they’re hard to find,” Mike says. We nod our heads in unison.
A band plays Gaelic folk songs. Another round ensues, and then another.
The next morning comes too early, but the trip’s most geographically stunning ride awaits. Skye’s rock formations, the Storr and the Quiraing, draw tourists from all over the world, and we’re soon among them, hiking up the Storr in our cycling shoes, a salty sea breeze swirling around us.
We ride along the undulating coastline and turn to summit the Quiraing. Up there, where legend has it that ancient tribes once used the rock formations to hide their cattle from raiding Vikings, we don’t dare stand too close to the cliff’s edge, for fear that one of the many mighty gusts will blow us into oblivion.
→inally, we find the Lookout Bothy. It’s a relatively easy walk from the road, and when we arrive, we discover that the tiny hut is already occupied by half a dozen other travellers. Everyone is welcoming, and – as per the bothy code – eager to make space for others. But we’d never intended to stay overnight; we’d left our bivvy sacks and sleeping bags at the B&B in Portree.
You learn things on a seven-day bike tour through the Scottish Highlands. And over the course of the week, I’d learned that in all of life’s day-to-day stresses and excesses, really, I don’t want for much more than a warm sleeping bag, the companionship of friends and loved ones, and a beautiful view.
We use the bothy for a respite from the whipping wind. We make coffee and watch for whales.
Then we get on our bikes, and let the tailwind take us home.
LOOKOUT BOTHY, ON THE ISLE OF SKYE. LEFT: SANDY CARSON, NICK COOMBES, IAN DILLE, DEAN HEARNE (L–R) OUTSIDE GLENBUCK BOTHY. ABOVE: SUMMITING THE QUIRAING.