An Exciting Cycle Ride From John O'Groats To Lands End
The final part of a two part article by Janet Winstanley. Read the first part here.
It was very calm crossing The Minch to Stornoway, a surprisingly large town. The next day Lewis appeared to be coming out of winter. There were new leaves on the trees and the bulrushes were in flower. The scenes approaching Harris alongside Loch Seaforth, with the mountains ahead, were stunning. We had quite a climb away from the loch, which unfortunately lead us into the mist. So the rest of the day was spent in our own damp bubble. A pity really as we felt that the scenery was beautiful, but we could only see a small part of it. The drizzle did stop in the evening and we were able to see fantastic views from the B&B in Scalpay, whilst being plied with home-made drop scones and shortbreads. We learnt a lot about Lord Leverhulme and his intention of developing both Lewis and then Harris.
The north coast of Harris is the sandy side. Lots of white sandy beaches. Again a strong head wind and a fine wet drizzle meant that we arrived at the ferry terminal (Leverburg) with only half an hour to spare. Cold and damp, with just enough time for a bowl of hot soup. Crossing the Sound of Harris was very smooth. The ferry appeared to be negotiating it's way alongside a series of port/starboard buoys between lots of small islands. On landing at Berneray we cycled along the new causeway to North Uist and found our B&B, not without difficulty. There was a note on the door saying 'back soon' and directed us to our room. The door was unlocked and the dog was tied up, but didn't mind being played with. On her return the lady phoned a B&B nearby to book us in for the second night.
Dropping our panniers off at the new B&B we cycled across a long causeway to Benbecula for lunch. What luxury, cycling without luggage. When cycling in more remote areas it is sometimes difficult to find somewhere to dine. There was certainly nowhere near enough to cycle to from the B&B to dine in the evening. The surrounding farmland was gently undulating. There were many small crofts, some with the traditional thatch held down by large stones. After lunch we cycled on to South Uist, another causeway, before returning to the B&B. It was here in the morning, over breakfast, that we saw the illusive corncrake (now only found on the Outer Hebrides). Just outside the kitchen window. We had heard the distinctive sounds a few times, but had never seen the distinctive bird.
We couldn't make the early morning ferry to Skye so decided on the one in the afternoon. Bit of a wasted day, journey wise, but we did meet up with a friendly group on a 45ft sailing boat. After helping them to take water onboard, they invited us aboard for a cup of tea. Later, on the ferry we were accompanied by a shoal of dolphins as we approached the beautiful Isle of Skye. Again we pre-booked the accommodation. The lady giving directions from the ferry port said that the inland route was 'downhill'. What she really meant was that after a continuous climb for 5.5 miles there was a steep decent down to Staffin Bay. Views of the Quiraing were well worth the effort.
With the Trotternish hills to our right and the Isle of Raasay to our left, we cycled past the Old Man of Storr and later the Black Cullins. It was a very scenic route. As expected the road had lots of climbs and sweeping descents. No problem, we were used to them. Next day we left the Isle of Skye and headed towards Salen on mainland Scotland. Having seen only a couple of cars in the last 15 miles we stopped at the first accommodation available. The nearby restaurant was closed. There was another two miles to the next one, but a better one was 4 miles away. 'Use my car' said the lady. How kind and unexpected. It did seem strange, driving after pedalling for almost two weeks, and the meal was good.
The road to the Isle of Mull ferry was quiet, mainly tree lined, and with glimpses of Loch Sunart through the trees. Leaving the loch-side meant a steep ascent into a strong head wind. Slow going. Saw a deer with a young fawn crossing the road. We had little time to spare to catch the ferry. Decided to cycle besides the Sound of Mull and catch the late afternoon ferry to Oban. Once we had cycled up the long steep climb out of Tobermory it was fairly easy cycling. There were great views of mainland Scotland, with the added interest of lots of passing yachts and ferries. With one mile to go to the Oban ferry we met Bruce. We had first seen him in North Uist going north as we were going south, then met him by chance at the restaurant in Salen. He had taken a totally different route to Mull. We did see him the next day at a post office and finally when loading his bike on his car - he had been met by his wife. Small world.
So many of the views outside our bedroom window could be turned into a picture. In Oban it was the tower or folly, built in 1897 to give work to the local stonemasons. Leaving Oban meant another long steep climb, but with the advantage of a strong northerly wind it was also good to get warm. After a welcome lunch in Kilmartin we took a detour away from our planned route, to go along the Crinan canal. Spoke with a female lock-keeper preparing the surrounding area for the start of the summer season. The towpath was fairly rough, but pleasant to cycle along. We caught a fairly late ferry to the Isle of Arran and found the hotel recommended by Bruce's wife.
Next day, I was enjoying a Loch Fyne kipper whilst overlooking the actual loch - it was raining, and heavily. So it was rain gear from the start. Another steep climb and into a head wind again. The roads were so badly potholed that it was necessary to slow the descent and ride with caution. With still two miles to go, a ferry was seen approaching the harbour across Brodick Bay. It's the first time I've raced a ferry. It won, of course, and the cars had started to be loaded by the time we arrived. Our closest call yet. Using our final Hopscotch tickets we followed the last of the cars onto the ferry.
Back on mainland Scotland we continued to loosely follow Phil Horsley's book, already mentioned, in reverse of course. The exceptions being
- National Cycle Routes—a bit of a detour but misses heavy traffic (Ayre and Preston)
- Visit to my Aunt's in Carlisle—fix burglar alarm (2 nights)
- Sylverdale to Lancaster canal—Brian can't resist a canal
- Eccles—home—clothes and bikes washed, piles of mail/e-mail attended to (3 nights)
- Clifton suspension bridge—well worth a detour
- Penzance—to book the return train journey
And so we reached Land's End on a beautiful, if cool day. With our forms signed for the last time, a message left in the LEJOG club book and the necessary photos, we felt no urgency to leave. Two pairs or cyclists arrived shortly after us. They had completed the journey in 10 and 12 days respectively, both for their chosen charity. Our journey had taken a lot longer, both in days (27 excluding stopovers), in distance (1366 miles plus an extra 230 miles for the start/finish) and 11 ferry crossing. To us it had been a Great Cycling Adventure, one that we will savour for years to come.