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Epic Routes – Cycling the Scottish Hebrides: Any room at the Inn?

The philosophy of the trip was really to take it as it came and not do too much planning and this extended all the way to accommodation. We rarely booked anything in advance. The ferry finally arrived into Castlebay in the late evening and standing on top of the hill was a hotel, its warm glow beckoning us in to relax with a pint. It was a lovely looking hotel that probably had lovely beds and a lovely shower. Said lovely hotel was obviously completely fully booked by people who had bothered to do the bare minimal amount of pre-planning. The receptionists did wish us luck in our quest for accommodation and invited us to come back and have some food and drink should we be successful.

So there we were on a rock at the very edge of the Atlantic Ocean with nowhere to live. Did I mention that this particular rock was quite a catholic rock? We went to the first B&B that we could see at the other side of the village and knocked on the door to be greeted with an elderly woman, suspicious of two lycra-clad cyclists knocking on her door on a Sunday evening. In our desperate state of mind we asked if she happened to have a spare room and that we were perfectly willing to share a double bed if it meant not sleeping on the beach. Picture the scene if you will. Two guys, head to toe in lycra, asking to share a bed, on a Catholic island, on a Sunday. I say this with no word of a lie but she popped her head out of the window and pointed down the road and in a hushed tone told us that “you might be better somewhere else”. Realising what was going on, my friend quickly interjected that we were in fact just a couple of disorganised heterosexuals and lo and behold a room became available. Turned out, aside from their conservative Catholic views, the owners were lovely people.

Obviously we went back to the aforementioned Castlebay Hotel for those pints. We talked to some locals, joined a party and went back to the homophobic B&B in considerably good spirits. Cycling and drinking in the company of a good friend - we just needed an improvement in the weather.

Our luck didn’t turn and we were greeted in the morning by dreich conditions. We took solace in the full Scottish breakfast on offer and reluctantly got ready for the cycle. On days like this you just have to make peace with the fact that you are going to get soaked through to the bone and get on with it.

It was only seven miles in the driving rain to the ferry terminal in Northbay at the north of Barra but we took a few detours along the way for Gav to take a trip down memory lane. Even the rain couldn’t cloud the impression of this beautiful little island but we were on a schedule and had to keep heading north.

A small ferry took us across to Eriskay, a small island adrift from South Uist but connected via a man-made causeway. With every pedal stroke the scenery became more and more stunning. There were periods where we would just cycle and take in the views, basking in the knowledge that I was fulfilling a lifelong ambition to cycle in these parts. There were periods where we would talk and catch up on each other’s chaotic lives. The roads were brilliantly smooth and the traffic almost non-existent.

This was a long day in the saddle to get us all the way up to Lochmaddy on North Uist. It wasn’t helped by a pounding headwind and several kilograms extra of sodden clothes. We ate some lunch and then passed the time in the toilet desperately trying to dry the contents of our bags with the hand drier. It was not lost on us that as soon as our food arrived, the sun finally made an appearance.

By this point my body was tired and I succeeded in falling asleep with my head in my hands midway through reading an article in the newspaper. I was dreaming about a bed on Skye to rest my weary bones. I had no idea where that bed would be because once again we did not book any accommodation ahead of time. In case we couldn’t find a place to sleep I would have to make the most of two hours off the bike on the ferry sailing across.

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