Day 5 – Sunday 16th June
South Uist to North Uist
This was the morning I discovered that any road that exists on google maps, but not on my Nicolson touring map, isn’t a genuine road. As part of my trip preparation I had googled any areas on the Nicolson map which looked like they should have a connecting road, finding a number of ‘roads’ along the West Coast of South Uist, such as between Tobha Beag & Tobha Mor. However, upon reaching Tobha Beag this ‘road’ was not a thing. Fortunately, there was a short detour around, but I was left feeling relieved that that I hadn’t attempted a pencilled in route between Mingearraidh and Bornais along the West Coast previous day, which would’ve meant either a much longer detour back or a very numb backside for carrying on.
As I detoured back onto the main central road of South Uist the strange sensation of cycling on completely traffic free roads continued, even on the main road, in the middle of the day. After a few minutes the penny dropped – it was a Sunday. What with the freedom of travelling I had already lost track of the day of the week…but on a Sunday the Outer Hebrides come to a standstill, with the day still practiced as a day of rest due to the strong Catholic heritage of the Islands. This didn’t just mean that I would only come across traffic in the shape of Campervans, but also that very few shops would be open, so I was counting my blessings that I picked up some dates the day before.
Heading north past the three hills of South Uist the landscape becomes remarkably flat, especially by Scottish standards, and after Loch Bi the hills disappear completely until North Uist. The flat landscape makes you more exposed to the wind, and unfortunately I was heading into a northerly that felt like a gale, especially by English standards. I had planned another easterly detour for lunch at Loch Carnan but signs for a wind farm at the Loch promised a less picturesque location than Loch Aineort the day before, so I continued towards the Causeway between South Uist and Benbecula. This stretch along the top of South Uist wasn’t without interest though, crossing Loch Bi I spotted a wild horse wading way forward through the Loch to a central island. Back on dry land, a number of others stood and watched, seemingly unconvinced by their rogue friend, but as it reached dry land the others all followed suit.
At the far end of the Causeway I spied two fellow cyclists that I was gaining on rapidly, which turned out to be because they were a couple towing a baby, not because I was going very fast. As we got chatting they didn’t think the wind was bad at all, so I can’t complain, seeing as they were towing a baby! Then again, they were weather hardened Scottish cyclists. At any rate they certainly didn’t let the weather affect their route as I did. It was turning similar to the previous day – dark clouds to the west, bright sunshine to the east – yet they still took the first left for the west coast route around Benbecula whilst I continued my search for a sunny easterly loch for lunch.
Despite the various easterly lochs residing in Benbecula, there is a distinct lack of roads going out to the meet them. It wasn’t until I reached the top of the Island that I saw a beautiful piece of solid tarmac heading out for a place called Flodda, which turned out to be an island itself, albeit a tidal one with very little road access. Yet it wasn’t a fruitless detour, as near Flodda was a small Lochan which was perfect for a late lunch. Reading the map it seemed that I was well ahead of schedule for the day. Based on the mileage from the first few days I had looked at Benbecula as a possible camping spot that night, yet by 1pm I was already at the top of it, looking over the sea towards Grimsay & North Uist. Maybe that headwind wasn’t that bad after all.
The landscape was also beginning to change again, with the hills of North Uist emerging in the distance over the next causeway to the small island of Grimsay. On the following causeway to North Uist I passed another two cyclists, before encountering numerous others at the start of North Uist. Finally the Hebridean tour was out in force and being a Sunday the cyclists outnumbered the motorists!
With the weather again my guide I avoided the cloudy coastlines and followed the old military road over the hill pass of central North Uist, meeting some very hairy Hebridean cows along the way…
I’m not sure how they could see!
Although the ascent over the hills wasn’t overly steep, it was consistently long, and it was a huge relief to finally descend towards the coast the other side. The A865 section that followed along the north of North Uist was the most enjoyable cycling of the day – undulating bends accompanied by the surrounding lochans and hills.
By this point I was so far ahead of the day’s schedule that I was almost at the next ferry port of Berneray, which I hadn’t intended to reach until the following afternoon! However, with evening coming in and no more ferries that day it was time to find a camping spot.
The similarities to the previous evening were uncanny. Again I was searching for a sunset camping spot along the west coast knowing there was a hostel nearby as a back-up option, but again I found a perfect spot by a beach near a headland cemetery. It wasn’t quite so straightforward this time though; I had been down two false trails at the top of North Uist and gashed my leg through stupidly losing my balance and smacking the mud guards, before eventually finding the ideal road with ‘beach access only’ down to Clachan Sands.
Like the first night on Barra, here was a bay that wouldn’t be out of place as a holiday destination in the Mediterranean, only this time I did have Mediterranean-lite weather too. A mile-long stretch of pristine white sand and clear turquoise water, all to myself. That was until a local on a quad bike appeared and started doing donuts along the open sand. I think he was as surprised to see me as I was to see him. With the tide going out leaving a glistening sheen on the sand the beach almost looked like salt flats, with the setting sunset reflected on the mirror-like sand.
Cycling stats and route
– Distance: 47 miles
– Route: https://www.komoot.com/tour/109392491
– Duration: ~4 hours
– Ascent/Descnt: 900ft/900ft
So apparently there is now a campsite right next to this exact spot!