Cycle Touring Scotland

Day 8 – Wednesday 19th June
North Lewis > Assynt

It turned out that I was actually the first ever guest at the bunkhouse. The owner (who I had met in Tarbert the day before) wouldn’t be back for a couple of days as he continued flyering round Lewis to anyone who would listen. I’m not sure he had expected anyone to turn up so soon, which would explain the unpreparedness of the bunkhouse-sitter in his absence the evening before!

Looking back now it was certainly worth the detour north of Stornoway, but after a rotten cycle back to Stornoway I’m not sure I felt the same at the time! I feared that the strong winds which propelled my ride north to Tolsta the day before might return meaning a headwind on the ride back for the ferry. However, I wasn’t quite mentally prepared for the hailstorms along the way! At least my wet weather gear was at the ready this time, but the headwind made the 15 mile cycle take considerably longer than expected, and I was the cyclist cutting it fine for time for the ferry this time. The ferry journey itself was a fairly mundane affair, consisting of rushing to a seat in the warmth of the onboard restaurant to dry my gear, followed by 3 hours looking out across an expanse of open sea, known as the North Minch.

On arrival at a grey looking Ullapool, I was lacking somewhat in motivation. The journey through the Outer Hebrides had already felt like a complete journey in itself. Arriving back on the mainland to such bleak weather felt like a continuation of the similarly bleak final day on the Hebrides, and didn’t put me in good spirits. Barely 3 miles north of Ullapool I considered stopping for the night at the campsite at Ardmair, as the dark clouds on the towering hills ahead didn’t look particularly inviting… 

I was put in a much better mood by a lady calling out from her campervan offering me some leftover chips “I’ll just throw them away otherwise!” I hadn’t checked a mirror on the ferry, but I might have looked slightly disheveled after a single hot meal in the last week, as she asked if I had come a long way that day. Saying yes wasn’t technically a lie, but it had been mostly on a ferry! With bonus chips in tow, I now had food for thought and roused myself to set-off from Ardmair towards Assynt to look for a wild camping spot in order to earn the meal. Back out on the bike I turned my focus to the clouds and hills around me and spent the next hour or so starting-stopping-starting-pondering and taking photos that all came out very grey.

Turning left off the A835 towards the mountain of Stac Pollaidh revealed a dramatic sunset flittering between the clouds over Loch Lurgainn and a beautiful road sweeping towards it:

However once alongside the Loch camping spots were proving virtually non-existent from this road, with a steep boggy drop down to the loch on one side, and a steep boggy rise up into the mountains on the other. With the midges now out in their droves I had almost given up hope on camping inland, and was preparing to head for the coast before coming across the Stac Pollaidh car park. Finally, there was a track leading away from the road to some grass (not a bog!), whilst it was also the perfect camping location for an early morning hike up the mountain. I had packed walking poles so it was about time I put them to some good use…

I gorged on a tinned fish & chips broth in the shadow of the mountain before meeting a Czech guy travelling in a hilarious 30 year-old orange Skoda. It transpired that he had been camping by Stac Pollaidh for a few days already in waiting for the perfect day to hike to the summit. Perhaps a good indication of the consistently bad weather in Assynt, and maybe I had also found someone even more afraid of the weather than myself! I simply didn’t have the time or patience to stick around there for a few days (the midges were horrendous) so I resolved to either head up the mountain first thing, or head on the journey if there were no views.

Cycling stats and route:
Total Distance: 30 miles (15+ferry+15)
– Route: 
part 1 – New Tolsta to Stornoway
part 2 – Ullapool to Stac Pollaidh
– Duration: ~4 hours
– Ascent/Descent: 1650ft/1650ft

New Tolsta > Stornoway, 15 miles
Ullapool > Stac Pollaidh, also 15 miles

Camping Spot:°53’34.8%22N+6°57’08.0%22W/@57.8931048,-6.9542209,686m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x0!8m2!3d57.892989!4d-6.952223

Stac Pollaidh directly above
Sunset over the Loch looking away from Stac Pollaidh