Outer Hebrides Ride: Day Two

June 10, 2013
By Danny Morris
The next morning l woke-up early, the ferry wasn’t until 10 a.m., but Blaggy is an absolute fidget and packing his tent-up and clattering his equipment around while he crammed his bike – all the time eager to leave. I took a hot shower. We said goodbye to the 40-year-old Land Rover and rode-off down towards Castlebay. We had time for one lap of the island before we would need to head north to Ardmhor and catch the ferry across to Eriskay. We circled the island, passing some really beautiful white beaches and crystal clear waters as we pushed north and alongside the local Barra Airport, set-on Traigh Mhor beach. We hear this is the world’s only airport where scheduled flights use the beach as a runway, but they say it’s best to wait till the tide is out.

We arrived at Ardmhor ferry terminal, expecting there to be a café to grab some breakfast, but there was nothing, just an old vending machine with more bacon chips, scampi chips and salted peanuts. We opted to wait until we arrived at Eriskay, but l could see Blaggy and Nick were tempted by the taste of another packet of chips. We had a good laugh as we rode the bikes down to the ferry. Nick had spotted the guy with the binoculars glued to his eyes from the previous days ferry ride, and we laughed out loud as Nick shouted bulb. The binoculars hadn’t changed position, they were a permanent fixture. We boarded the ferry, much smaller this time as we strapped down the bikes and made our way to the deck to watch our departure for the quick 40-minute trip across to Eriskay. We stood on deck; the wind was high as we pushed towards the front of the ferry, Blaggy at the front, Nick at the rear and myself tucked in the middle. All seemed to be going great then ‘Boom’ this huge gust of wind lifted a cold wave right over the front of the ferry and in super slow-motion, l managed to duck and Blaggy took the full force of the water. He was soaked and Nick and l laughed our asses off, saying how close he resembled a real Scottish fisherman. We also remembered that there was a lone-sheep onboard in the back of a farmer’s 4×4 – so we quipped on ways he could have warmed himself up?! We headed inside laughing hard at Blags expense, as we tried drying off and waited to reach the next island.

Blaggy was ready to dry-off and get warm after being soaked by
a wave on the ferry.

It was in our sights, Eriskay, a small island on the southern tip of South Uist, both joined by a short causeway. We disembarked the ferry, rode up the hillside looking back on what looked like the smallest ferry terminal in the world, then proceeded to ride round to Eriskay fishing village, looking for somewhere to feed. Blaggy was riding up front, always eager to keep moving quickly, never time to take-in the view and constantly shouting ‘Come-on’. Some people, eh?

We pulled-up at the ‘Am Politician’, a pub named after the ship that ran aground in the bay February 1941 during WWII. It was actually called the SS Politician and one-day gave the islanders an unexpected windfall. The ship was bound for Kingston, Jamaica, carrying a cargo of currency and whisky, with around 28,000 cases of malt whisky onboard. The Politician foundered on a rocky reef, broke in two (conveniently for the locals), right next to the shore. It was Compton Mackenzie who went on to romanticize the story in Whisky Galore (produced at Ealing Film Studios, London) and the huge communal hangover it gave to the local town. I can imagine this small town going crazy due to wartime rationing, the thirsty islanders were probably nearly out of the ‘water of life’ and this would have seemed to be an unexpected gift from God. They say there was so much whisky that even the local ponies were drunk. It’s a great story, but has totally grown into legend. I laughed to myself, thinking if something like this has happened while the three of us were motorbiking past, we would have probably struggled to leave the area, given up our jobs and just sat back and drank. We pulled into the car park, walked into the pub and seated for lunch. A little disappointed as nothing really Scottish on the menu, so we opted for beef lasagne and a hot coffee to warm up the cockles.

After a good feed, we pushed on north, across the causeway that joins Eriskay to South Uist and across the harsh, barren island landscape and we just loved it! The weather wasn’t particularly warm, the sky over-cast, but at least it was dry and there wasn’t a raindrop insight, though it did make me stop and realize that these small islands, without any sign of trees must be severely beaten during the winter months. Perish the thought; l’ll be sure to only visit during the wee summer months. We continued north, over a small causeway and onto the Isle of Benbecula for a short trip before crossing our final causeway and making our across North Uist.

It had been a great days ride so far from Eriskay, the scenery was a little less dramatic than the isle of Barra, but l think had the sun been shining down across the ocean and the surrounding landscape, it would have made the day feel much more cheerful. I was thinking how funny it was that sometimes you can wait too long, maybe a lifetime to get to a certain place you always dreamed to visit and then before you know it, it’s behind you in the rear view mirror. You get embroiled in seeing how far friends were riding in front, Blaggy shouting ‘Come-on’ and sighing when you stop to take another photograph. But it’s nice looking back because no matter what momentarily distracts your concentration, the mind can hold the vision and at any point in the future – take you right back to that same spot. We made our way across North Uist, over a small causeway and onto the Isle of Berneray to wait for another ferry. Blag and Nick sniffed out a small coffee shop and we chatted about the views, the islands and their isolation from Scotland and the world, whilst munching our way through baked scones coupled with fresh jam and cream. I was with a pair of eaters and no-matter whether the day was good or bad, we would always end-up with more than a bellyful of something sweet and savory to digest.

We caught the ferry across to Harris, which sits just south of our final island destination, the Isle of Lewis and from here the islands stretch back south behind us, known as the ‘Long Island’, right back down to where we started from the Isle of Barra. The beautiful islands stretch their way parallel to the Scottish West-Coast and are probably only around 130 miles from top-to-toe. It is easy to see that we hadn’t ridden far the last few days, but our trip wasn’t about covering massive distances. It was about enjoying the beauty of these remote landscapes, stark ocean views and their inspiring shapes and surfaces that gave us some of the best moments of escapism we had captured. It is the reason we had each come away – to feel the sense of isolation set within this beautiful wilderness – perfect biking territory!

The Isle of Harris is a super location, probably now my favorite destination for its beautiful ocean bays and clear aquamarine waters. It seemed no matter which way you looked while riding, you could just lose yourself in the drama of the landscape. The beaches of Luskentyre and Scarista are just out of this world, so unbelievably rich, clean and with crystal clear inviting waters. This short five-day trip made me realize that it wouldn’t be long before l returned to the Hebrides. It was somewhat quick and felt more like a recce than a holiday, and l realized that l had found my jewel, my inner peace set within the magnificent scenery and beaches here on Harris.

After stopping to take in the many views  we are back on the trail heading towards Tarbert.
After stopping to take in the many views, we are back on the trail heading towards Tarbert.

We pushed north from Leverburgh. It was around 25 miles or so, before finally we pulled into a small harbor town called Tarbert. It had been a relatively short ride, but the views and riding were just something else, exactly why we had chosen to make this trip. Nick, Blaggy and l pulled over numerous times that day, excited about the views and scenery, though Blaggy always reluctant to make time for the camera and always shouting ‘Come-on’. There is something about Scotland that never fails to blow my mind. A small country, perhaps, but if you want to get-away from it all – it can give you the magical views, the dramatic scenery and everything l feel a person needs to have their personal gas tank refueled.

Arriving into Tarbert we dropped into the local visitors center and asked where to find a campsite nearby. It was confirmed that it was some 40 miles away, hence we realized the desire for wild camping was slowly depleting. Tarbert sold beer and we knew there must be somewhere semi-wild where we could pitch the tents. It was pointed out that there was a spot around the corner, near the harbor where we could park the bikes, set-up camp for the evening, with public toilets and shower if needed. We rode around the bend, past the ferry terminal and pulled onto the grass alongside a couple of park benches. We laughed. It was just such a funny spot to camp and far from the ideal we set-out to achieve. It did seem a ridiculous place to stay, the ground was so hard it was like concrete as we tried to drive the pegs into the grass, but we got there in the end and thought a good compromise for a nice town.

We headed up the street to find a restaurant and stumbled across the Isle of Harris Inn. It looked a great spot for food and a few beers. We sat together and talked about the days riding. It had been a fun ride with the ferry journeys, visiting a new part of Scotland for the first time, coupled with a great experience shared by good friends. We told a few jokes over food, but Nick kept complaining that he always suffered from serious indigestion these days. Blaggy and myself laughed pretty loud. After drinking his fifth pint of beer bedded on a plate of greasy food, we wondered what would cause such indigestion? The mind boggles, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out. After food, we headed back towards the visitor center and into the Hotel Hebrides and slid into the lounge bar, which was packed to the rafters with tourists and a mix of locals, plus a small folk band tucked in the corner. It just seemed to be the perfect spot for the evening. We grabbed beers and stood and watched the locals flirt with a group of ten or so female tourists. It was a mixture of girls from the UK, Scotland and USA vacationing together. l am not sure on their circumstances, but it looked like they were in town for a good night. It wasn’t too long before the males started dancing and jigging around the floor trying to impress the ladies from out of town. There was a young kid twanging-away playing local Scottish folk songs on the accordion, how could these guys fail? It wasn’t long before one of the older ladies jumped up and started cutting a few shapes on the dance floor, giving the old boys a run for their money. Now l am not much of a dancer, but the old folk dances are the best – simple moves! The ladies tried to get the three of us involved, but we were having none-of-it – being professional watchers at best! It wasn’t long before one of the ladies grabbed Nick for a dance which made for a fun evening, though twinkle-toes didn’t last long and soon bailed when he realized that he had a distinct lack of something called rhythm. We drank a few beers, but it wasn’t much longer before we decided to turn-in for the evening. Maybe the thought of seeing Nick dancing again was too much and we returned back to the tents to sleep for the evening.

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