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.