Islands by Bike
Next month sees record breaking cyclist Mark Beaumont officially launch the Hebridean Cycling Way. The Guinness world record holder will attempt to cycle the entire route, which stretches 185 miles from Vatersay to the Butt of Lewis, in less than 24 hours. The challenge is part of a wider campaign to showcase around the world the appeal of cycling in the Outer Hebrides. It is not expected that people attempt to better Mark’s time, (although they are most welcome to try) instead it is recommended that you take your time, revel in the unique island atmosphere, the quiet roads and the outstanding scenery.
The slow pace of life here is most suited to adventures on two wheels where there is rarely an abundance of cars on the roads and there are also countless off road tracks, machair and beaches you could ride on. In addition there are numerous options including everything from week long tours to half day adventures, technical and challenging mountain biking trails, as well as safe family friendly excursions.
Cuir na Bhoir is right on the beach on the west coast of South Uist and has views over the ocean. There is a heated shed to store bikes but the best thing about the cottage is the proximity to the machair and white sandy beach. This stretches for miles, all the way down the coast to the bottom of the island and makes for a brilliant day out, completely traffic free.
The Golden Road on Harris is that rarity in the UK, a combination of amazing scenery, light traffic and a smooth but twisting and undulating route. Truly this makes it one of the premier road cycles in the country. It forms an integral part of the annual Western Isles Audax, where riders from all over the UK converge on the islands to try and complete a 300km route round the island in under 20 hours. It’s a huge challenge but for those who would like to take things at their own pace then St Clements View is in the ideal spot, only a few miles from Leverburgh and well positioned for a two wheeled loop to take in all the highlights of Harris.
Experienced mountain bikers will also find enough trails on the islands to satisfy their adrenaline cravings. Singletrack, the premier mountain bike magazine in the country recently did an extensive feature on riding in the islands, extolling the virtues of the remote and challenging terrain. Local enthusiasts have known about this for years and are delighted about the recognition they are finally receiving. One of the most famous off road circuits takes in an old postman’s track from Reinigeadal to Urgha (island posties must have been a hardy bunch back in the day). This technically demanding route has a superfast descent but perhaps the biggest risk of crashing is because of the difficulty keeping your eye on the trail with all that stunning scenery around you. Scotisay View Cottage is riding distance away so you could easily have a car free day out.
The north of the island of Lewis is also blessed with an abundance of biking opportunities. Guests at Atlantic Longhouse on the Uig peninsula can get a discount on bike hire and there are a number of other companies providing rental services in Stornoway. From Peninsula Cottage there is a great ride out past Stornoway to the lighthouse at Tiumpan Head, a grassy hillside loop which takes about 2 1/5 hours and when you get back to the cottage you have a hot tub to look forward to for soothing those tired muscles.
Bikes can also help you explore some remote parts of the Hebrides not accessible by car. Vallay is an uninhabited island that lies off the top of North Uist. It was once owned by Erskine Beveridge and the crumbling remains of his mansion are still visible here. The island can be accessed by boat but a far more fun option is to cycle over the sands at low tide, this will give you more time to explore the beaches and historical sites before returning the same way. Care is required to time your visit, if the tide does come in there is not much in the way of comfortable lodgings for the night. Shalom Cottage is located on nearby Harris and from here it is a short pedal to where you can get the ferry to Berneray and North Uist. An added bonus is that Calmac, who operate the ferry do not charge you for bringing a bike.
So what are you waiting for, call LHH, book your holiday home and start planning your two wheeled adventures.