Day 4 – Saturday 15th June
Barra to South Uist
The next morning I resolved never to lug my bike across a beach again. Beyond the physical struggle of half-lifting and half-dragging the 30+kg combination of bike and luggage over the soft sand, when I finally reached the other side the chain, brake pads, wheel rims and pannier bags were covered in gritty sand. Resting the bike up against an old rusty caravan I used up most of my remaining water supply attempting to wash away the sand, but I still worried whether any bits may cause some lasting damage…
Fortunately (of sorts) the rain was now falling again, so the bike continued to get a clean on the ride towards ferry port. Unfortunately it meant a lack of photo opportunities for north Barra, though I did manage one shot atop a short hill when the rain threatened to halt, only to continue relentlessly moments later.
It would’ve been nice to take a few more snaps as northern Barra was desolate yet beautiful, even in the wet. Hampered by the earlier beach crossing I didn’t have much time to spare for the detour to the Sandy Airstrip, and unequivocally decided against the idea when I reached the turning and saw the road north under further siege from the weather whilst the road east toward the ferry port was beginning to clear. Arriving early for the ferry also enabled me to ensure the bike was clean and in working order and the glorious peace of mind that came with knowing I hadn’t ruined my bike that morning!
The ferry to Eriskay was one of the much smaller varieties linking each of the Outer Hebrides, which at least meant there was no on board restaurant to tempt me on the short journey. Far out on some of the rocks some eagle eyed binoculars spied a group of seals and in the excitement the journey was over in a flash, much like the Isle of Eriskay immediately after. I had read about the steep, steep hill of Eriskay so was fully prepared mentally, but beyond this hill it’s straight down the other side and then straight on to the causeway to the next island of South Uist.
After a couple of hours on South Uist I was beginning to get slightly tired of the monotony of the place, not helped by the accompaniment of a fierce headwind and overcast weather. The road runs along the centre of the island and there’s not much of interest immediately around you, with the coast is miles away to the west and hills far to the east. Needing a short break to renew my senses I stopped off at the large co-op at Daliburgh. I wasn’t really in need of any major supplies, but I was all out of dried dates, and I had already developed a date addiction despite the fact they look like legless cockroaches.
Fresh from leaving with a large dried bag South Uist took a turn for the better. The central road plateau and the coastline to the west remained shrouded in cloud, but to the east there was bright sunshine emerging. Although I had planned to turn left towards the West Coast (due to the lack of routes continuing northwards to the east), I saw a turn to the right for Loch Aineort and thought why not, especially considering I needed to dry out the tent after the night before. Though not the most dramatic of lochs the sunshine more than made up for it, and I was able to while away a good chunk of the afternoon waiting for the tent to try, drinking tea, and trying to spot any rogue otters.
Eventually I had to move on, that road was a dead end with no suitable camping spots, and the onset of evening would bring midges to idle tea drinkers. The roads were considerably quieter than earlier in the day. The traffic had hardly been heaving before but by evening there wasn’t a car in sight. I crossed back over the main road and towards the West Coast and Staoinebrig in search of quiet coastal spot (but not across a sandy beach!) to set-up camp, knowing there was a back-up of a hostel at Tobha Mor a little further north if not.
Soon after Staoinebrig though I hit the camping jackpot, with a one way road stretching past a cemetery by the sea to the desolate headland point of Rubha Aird-mhicheil, overlooking Ormacleit beach. I was discovering that cemeteries on the Outer Hebrides tended to be a good indicator for finding the perfect camping spot, as they tend to be situated in beautiful quiet spots by the coast. This particular headland beyond the cemetery contained a large grassy area descending towards the sea with views of the sandy bays either side, whilst looking the other way you could see the three hills of South Uist. As sunset approached the headland was teeming with the sound of Little Terns, feeding birds found by the coast of South Uist in summer with a distinct siren like bird-song. As I approached their sounds became more frantic, so I left them be and waited for the sunset to wash across the rocky headland.
– Distance: 28 miles
– Route: https://www.komoot.com/tour/109391509
– Duration: ~3 hours
– Ascent/Descnt: 850ft/850ft