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A Cycling Tour Around The Hebrides

2016/7/26 16:16:37

When planning a cycling vacation you need to balance the challenges with the pleasures. You will want to visit an area with spectacular scenery with a number of tourist attractions worth visiting while planning a route that you can manage reasonably easily. On the other hand you may want to venture into the more challenging aspects of cycling and plan a trip to an area that may be hilly or even mountainous. One place which continues to grow in popularity as a vacation destination for cycling tours is the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.

The Western Isles (or Outer Hebrides) is a collection of over 200 islands situated off the west coast of Scotland in the U.K. Although, in the past, many of the islands were populated today only a small number sustain a population. The main islands are the Isle of Lewis in the north, which is joined to the Isle of Harris, and North & South Uist further south and a few other small islands such as Scalpay, Barra and Benbecula. It is possible to tour the main islands along a mix of single and double track roads crossing a number of bridges and causeways and at least one ferry.

One of the best ways to tour the Western Isles/Outer Hebrides is by starting in the south traveling north until you reach Stornoway. Stornoway is the main town of the region and where you will most likely depart by ferry or air however it is well worth exploring even further north if you have the time. The southern parts of the islands appear much flatter with South Uist having long stretches of flat road until you reach North Uist. North Uist is very much like the Isle of Harris which you reach by ferry and by the time you reach Tarbert you are greeted by an ominous climb up the hills of Harris and over to Lewis (which is once again rather flat).

When cycling in the Outer Hebrides/Western Isles there are a number of very important things to keep in mind. Firstly please be very aware of how powerful the sun can be on the islands, it does not have to be extremely bright for the UV rays to penetrate and burn the skin. Equally important is to ensure that you do not allow yourself to become overwhelmed by the sights. All too often I see cyclists riding two abreast admiring the views oblivious to other traffic on the roads. It is far better to pull over to admire the view at your leisure.

Single track roads are still common in many parts of the Hebrides and you need to understand how to use them properly to ensure yours and others safety. The roads on some of the islands can twist and turn and traffic can suddenly appear from nowhere so always keep an eye and an ear out for it. Do not hog a single track road by riding aside each other as this can be dangerous but mostly very annoying to other road users. Use the passing places to allow all traffic (from behind and oncoming) to pass by pulling into those on the left and pulling over to the left when they appear to your right.

On the Isles of Lewis, Harris and some parts of North Uist, Sundays are unique. Due to the strong Protestant faith there is a strict observance of the Sunday Sabbath which means that virtually everywhere is closed. Obviously you should always take care to ensure that you have everything you will need by stocking up on the Saturday or even on the Friday just to be certain.

In more recent years it would appear that a few places in Stornoway choose to open on Sundays but you can not afford to rely on this. It is far better to be safe than sorry. Stornoway has most shops that you would expect to see in a modern town but importantly there is a small bike shop who do repairs and hire out bicycles. Crime is extremely low so you can safely leave your bike parked in the town center to explore the town by foot.

If you are unable to face the challenge of a full cycling tour of the Outer Hebrides you may find that staying on the Isle of Harris provides numerous opportunities to enjoy cycling at a more leisurely pace. Many cyclist choose to stay in hostels or camp but if you can afford it bed and breakfast in a guest house or hotel is greatly appreciated after a day's cycling and even self catering accommodation is far more inviting.

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