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The Herald Magazine - - etc TRAVEL - LON­DON

north­ern tip of the is­land. Af­ter a shower, I set­tle down next to the stove, think­ing there’s nowhere else I’d rather be. As dark­ness falls, the only signs of life are the numer­ous light­houses blink­ing across the haz­ardous Sound of Har­ris. Iso­la­tion never felt so good.

No more rush­ing for fer­ries. I’m up in plenty time for the early boat from Bern­eray to Le­ver­burgh, where I meet my first fel­low cy­cle tourists, ran­sack­ing the vend­ing ma­chine for cho­co­late. “We missed any chance of a meal in Bern­eray last night and then set off too early this morn­ing to get our break­fast at the B&B,” one tells me. For­ward plan­ning is es­sen­tial in this part of the world, it seems.

When we pull into Har­ris, they turn left for the slightly eas­ier west­ern route to Tar­bert. I read in my guide­book that the east side – the so-called Golden Road – is for more “com­mit­ted cy­clists”. That’s all I need to hear. Af­ter the flat, bar­ren ex­panses of the Uists, the Golden Road is a roller­coast­ing joy to cy­cle. It winds up, down and around the lit­tle in­lets dot­ted along the coast­line, a harder cy­cle but ex­hil­a­rat­ing and re­ward­ing and with great views across the Minch to Skye.

When I reach Tar­bert at about 11am, I man­age to ca­jole the girls setting up for lunch at the Ho­tel He­brides into fix­ing me a ba­con roll and a cup of tea. It’s just as well I’m able to re­fuel. The hard­est part of the route so far is around the cor­ner, with the long slog over the shoul­der of Clisham, the high­est hill on Har­ris. But it’s a grad­ual climb and, once I’m in my “granny” gear and spin­ning away, it doesn’t feel too bad. The swoop­ing de­scent on the other side to­wards Lewis is also re­ward enough.

The cy­cle to Stornoway is pleas­ant but lacks the drama of Har­ris, and I’m reach­ing the end of my is­land road. The of­fi­cial route car­ries on past the stand­ing stones at Cal­lan­ish to the Butt of Ness, but I’m sav­ing that for next time. For now, there’s a seat in the In­dian res­tau­rant with my name on it, and a comfy bed in the Heb Hos­tel.

Push­ing the bike off the boat at Ul­lapool the next morn­ing feels like re-en­ter­ing some form of recog­nis­able so­ci­ety, af­ter the com­plete oth­er­ness of the West­ern Isles. The main street is full of life – an at­mos­phere of bustling ac­tiv­ity I haven’t felt since setting off from Oban.

The road to In­ver­ness also feels fre­netic com­pared with the soli­tude of the past two days. It’s amaz­ing how quickly is­land life can get un­der your skin and make you con­form to its own gen­tle pace. Rid­ing your bike is the per­fect way to slow down enough to ap­pre­ci­ate it.

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