A quick spin north

When I last wrote the long range forecast suggested a weather window might form for a sea kayak journey to explore the uninhabited islands and islets that form the most southerly limits of the Outer Hebrides. With a few days in hand in the meantime I decided to hop on my bike and head north from Barra for a few days to explore some favourite places from the landward side, previously only seen from the seat of a sea kayak.

The ferry across the Sound of Barra dropped me on tiny Eriskay at midday. The weather was somewhat less than agreeable with gale force winds and rather a lot of rain… not really a day for sight-seeing, and when the weather is poor both South and North Uist can be soul-crushingly bleak… especially if you haven’t got the legs. I didn’t at first but after an hour or so found my legs properly and made the 120km north to the ferry slip on Berneray at the top of North Uist in time for the 5 o-clock ferry across to Harris. The sun did come out for me briefly on Benbecula so I stopped for some cake, but other than that it was a non-stop ride. I enjoyed it, in that perverse fashion that sometimes happens when the weather is stormy.

I think I can tell the rest of the story in pictures… but in short it was a terrific few days. The anticipated weather window did also happen so after riding a lap of Harris and enjoying a poke around Berneray I had to dash all the way back south, take my camping gear off the bike and sling it in my sea kayak for a 3 day journey south… but that is another story and will be the subject of the next blog post (here). Stay tuned… it was fabulous.

The Barra – Eriskay ferry. It’s about 45 minutes across the Sound of Barra. From there all the islands: Eriskay, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist, and Berneray, are joined by causeways. From Berneray another ferry makes a tortuous hour-long journey around the numerous shoals and skerries that litter the Sound of Harris.
South Uist.. actually took this picture on my way back when it wasn’t piddling down with rain. Still bloody windy however.
North Uist is much flatter than mountainous South Uist and consequently is often a little bit drier…
North Uist.. the weather on my way north turned more showery. Happily.
North Uist. In this instance.. deliciously bleak.
Most of the inter-island causeways are signposted thus.
Rolling off the Harris ferry in Leverburgh I was ravenous.. the evening was drawing on so I inhaled a box of fish and chips with one eye on a rapidly approaching rain storm before riding off up the west coast, in the now arrived rain, in search of a spot to spend the night.
The wind was still howling but I managed to find a tiny bit of shelter in the dunes behind a beach 10km up the road.
As the storm cleared away and sun set the light was rather magical… as were the waves. I must come back here with surf toys.
The beach was stupendous with not a soul on it. I ruined the perfection by leaving some footprints while wandering with a mug of hot chocolate…
A family wandered over the dunes to say hello and watch the sunset.. they were visiting from mainland Scotland and proved to be the right kind of company.. i.e, nice people.
Sunset… magical… but bloody cold.
It was a very rough night with strong winds and frequent heavy rain… but with the morning sun things looked very different. I took my breakfast down to the waters edge.
With a few light showers around the lighting was still interesting.
I enjoyed trundling up the west coast in a somewhat more relaxed fashion than the efforts of the previous day.
Looking across at Taransay. I camped there in 2011 while taking a group of sea kayakers around the west coast.
Harris locals…
The east coast of Harris is very different in character, rocky with weedy, sheltered inlets.
A rather lovely highland road runs around the east.
I was back in Leverburgh for the late afternoon ferry back to Berneray… with time for a couple of mugs of tea from the harbourside eatery.
Harris bus shelter
Tiny Berneray sits at the top of North Uist. It is a very pretty spot.
Berneray has some wonderful views across the Sound of Harris
As with so many of the islands Berneray also has some stunning stretches of sand. I put my tent on the machair behind the beach on the north-east corner of the island. A local lady I met while pitching my tent later sent her fisherman husband over with some fresh local crab for my dinner. I spent a very contented evening sat in the dunes with my dinner, enjoying the company of flocks of sandpipers doing their thing along the waters edge, and always with those fine views across to the mountains of Harris. Lovely.
Conditions changed overnight.. the day dawned cold with a steely light and strong wind that promised a hard ride back south.
Berneray. The place rose even higher in my estimation when, on my way off the island, I discovered, purely by accident, that there is a coin operated shower and well-appointed changing room at the harbour. It is lovingly maintained by the community and £1 will give you a decent 7 minutes of hot water. There is a donation box so if you have spent the night on the island for free, as I did, and make use of the facilities then you really should drop a little extra in the box :-)
The road at the top of North Uist. The wind steadily increased during the day with spitting rain. The only spot with some shelter for a quick lunch was a bus shelter on North Uist. I always find being reduced to such rather amusing, it reminds me of many similar lunches in bad weather around the world :-)
This ancient church on South Uist heavily adorned with lichens. The ground is still sanctified and some newer memorials have been placed… like this one, its age disguised by the rate of lichen growth and only betrayed by the crisp detail of the underlying stone.
The sun came out again when I reached Eriskay. I had time for a rest before the afternoon ferry across to Barra and some quick packing of my sea kayak for the next stage of the micro-adventure…. which is here.


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