Hebridean Cycle Club

Paul at Swordale


Ride Reports: 300k in a day round Lewis and Harris

Friday 25th August 2006

Golden Roads, Standing Stones and a Lighthouse

At 5.00 in the morning, in the semi darkness, I fumbled to silence the alarm and shuffled into the bathroom to put on my cycling gear. Duncan was already in the kitchen eating breakfast. He had travelled over from Aberdeen the day before to join me for a bike ride, the longest days cycle either of us had ever attempted – 300km around the Isle of Lewis and Harris, from Stornoway to Tarbert, a South Harris loop, then north to the Butt of Lewis, via Callanish and the west-side, before heading home, back to Stornoway across Barvas Moor. A ride that would show the diverse character of the island -  historical sites, mountains and moorland, rocky coast and sandy beach.

The forecast for the day was good, a slight southerly breeze, a small risk of showers and not too hot. The lack of wind was confirmed by a ‘midge attack’ as we got the bikes out of the shed, and we quickly retreated indoors and covered ourselves in ‘skin-so-soft’ before preparing the bikes and heading off. By 6 o’clock we were climbing out of town via Marybank, side by side and silent, anticipating the miles ahead, trying to convince ourselves we could do this and push back the nagging fear of failure.

The miles passed quickly as we made our way south. The climb from Scaladale passed easily, but progress was slowed by a headwind over the top, through the valley between  Clisham and Toddun. We reached 80kph on the descent past the quarry down to Aird Asaig, but both stopped grinning when Duncan mentioned we would be climbing back to the top after another 50 miles. We passed through Tarbert and climbed to reach the start of the Golden Road by 9.00am.

The sun came out as we started on the 40km of twisting, up and down single track of the Golden Road. With great views over to Skye and back to the Shiant Islands, the miles seemed to pass by quickly. At Rodel  (100km down and the furthest point south) we turned north and had the wind on our backs reaching Leverburgh at about 11.00am for our first coffee stop at An Clachan.

It rained while we were in the café and the roads and bikes were wet when we left. A few showers threatened, as we headed past the sandy beaches of Harris back towards Tarbert, but no rain materialised and we stayed dry. The climbing and the distance were  starting to tell on the legs, and low gears and the granny ring were being used more and more. The tail wind helped the pace up the long climb from Luskentyre, but the climb from Aird Asaig back past the Clisham was a struggle on tired legs and painful on the knees. Once over the pass, however, we maintained a good pace as we passed back through Balallan to Leurbost..

From Leurbost we climbed over Acha Mor and visited Callanish visitor centre for our second coffee break (3.30pm and 190km down). The woman who served us asked where we had cycled from. Duncan said 'Stornoway', then added 'via the Golden Road and Leverburgh' and I added ' and we're heading for the Butt of Lewis then back to Stornoway'. Her look told us she didn’t believe us as she pushed the coffee our way, took the money and commented,  'oh well, lovely day for it'.

From Callanish we continued north. Passing through Carloway,  with  over 200km covered, we resisted the temptation to turn back to Stornoway along the Pentland Road. The villages on the west side passed by,  Shawbost, Bragar, Arnol, Bru and then Barvas. We had arrived at the last 'wimp out' point. All that was left was the 50km out to the Butt and back and 20km back across Barvas Moor to Stornoway.

The wind had changed direction to north westerly and was against us as we headed towards Ness. Eventually the lighthouse came into view, a pencil on the horizon, slowly getting bigger as the kilometers ticked by. The road seemed to last forever, a desolate place with the wind straight off the Atlantic. At last we arrived at Lional and turned left for the last leg to the lighthouse.

At the lighthouse we met the enthusiastic Jon, of innertuba, who was on a much more gentle tour of the islands, visiting schools and entertaining kids along the way. After a few pictures we turned south for the final 50km leg and left him to set up camp for the night. The wind on our backs helped the return trip. We resisted the temptation of chips from the 'chip shop on the edge of the world' in Cross and retraced back to Barvas and onto Barvas Moor for the last 20km. The road from Barvas is tough, a series of short drags over a feature less bog, as you crest one rise another climb appears ahead, then another and another, until eventually the high point is reached and Stornoway  War Memorial comes  into view and then it’s a long downhill back to Stornoway.  Duncan followed, on my wheel , for the whole length of the moor.  I thought he was suffering, but like me he was just trying to ride the smoothest line over the rough road surface to ease the saddle soreness.

Ian at start of Golden Road Duncan and Ian at Ness Lighthouse
Ian and Duncan at Ness recument and trailer in the background

A last out of the saddle effort for both of us past the hospital and into Town and home! Arriving back at my place at 8.30pm we grinned, big grins, we'd done it! A great day, good weather and 300km in 14hrs 30mins, the longest day ride both of us had done. Time to put away the bikes and relax with a cold beer.

Map of Route
Map of Route

Duncan on Airidhbhruaich straight
Duncan on Airidhbhruaich straight

Duncan above Finsbay
Ian at start of Golden Road

Duncan above Finsbay
Duncan at end of Golden Road section

Ian all but at Ness Lighthouse
Ian all but at the Butt


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