#HebWay and #NuttyTandemers Club – Introduction
So the “old git” came up with the idea that our next annual tour of the self-proclaimed Nutty Tandemers Club should be an epic odyssey taking on the Hebridean Way Challenge – tandem cycling “on the edge” of Scotland, while taking in the views of some of the world’s best beaches.
Now the “old gal” really enjoys a little fun recreational island hopping – and scenic beaches – but this was something different! A true adventure on Sustrans Scotland NCN Rt 780 across the Outer Hebrides, starting at the southernmost point on Vatersay and ending on the northernmost point at the Butt of Lewis, which takes in 185 miles, 10 islands, six causeways and two ferry crossings!
Fortunately – and perhaps naively! – both tandem teams quickly agreed that the Hebridean Way would be the ideal route for an independently booked self-guided end-to-end tandem tour, which offered a real challenge amidst some stunning scenery, and plans were put in place to complete the distance over five action packed days in June 2019 averaging around 40 miles a day in the saddle.
This blog aims to be the definitive guide to tandem cycling the Hebridean Way – an unfiltered honest reflection highlighting the highs and lows, and the many uphills and downhills, from four good friends who don’t consider themselves to be anything more than keen and enthusiastic leisure cyclists, who enjoy the joys of a bicycle made for two!
So who are the members of the Nutty Tandemers Club? Regular readers of my blog will remember that in 2016 my dynamic Team Matilda crew became ‘best pals’ with another crew of a bicycle made for two – Team Siggy, made up of John and Jane, who also have their own Travelling in Tandem blog, but more importantly have the same views as my dynamic crew on not taking tandeming too seriously.
Such was the level of laughing, fun and general nuttiness on our inaugural Le Tour de Perthshire du Tandem that we became the founding (and only!) members of our self-styled and therefore exclusive Nutty Tandemers Club! A year later we all enjoyed Le Tour de New Forest du Tandem before a Mini Tour de Perthshire last summer.
Because of the logistics involved, our #HebWay challenge has been a long while in the planning and booking. This blog is therefore full of useful tips and recommendations for places to stay, eat and replenish picnic supplies along the way – along with some to avoid! – in order to be self-sustaining. It also contains Strava Maps and Relive videos of our route – and loads of photos to give you a flavour of what it is really like tandeming or cycling “on the edge”!
In short, if the Hebridean Way is on your bucket list of rides – then go for it! But read this blog first!
#HebWay – The logistics and getting to Barra
Getting to the start line of the Hebridean Way at Vatersay is almost as challenging as doing the route itself – and there is no easy way of doing it. You need to allocate time to get there – the best part of two whole days! And that’s before you get to start pedalling!
The recommended way of tandeming or cycling the Hebridean Way is from south to north so you get the benefit of the prevailing winds. Access to the start point is by the island of Barra, which is around 100 miles out in the Atlantic by a 5 hour ferry trip from the Scottish mainland at Oban – think next stop America! Oh and there is only one ferry sailing a day! Then the finish line is 185 miles further north on Lewis – where the return ferry operates from Stornoway to a different mainland ferry port of Ullapool. Thus why it can be a bit of a logistical headache to organise travel for your trip. So planning is key.
At this point my dynamic crew want to recommend the guide which became their “bible” – both in planning and along the route. The “old git” and “old gal” used the fabulously detailed ‘Cycling the Hebridean Way’ by The Offcomers. It is written by and aimed at cyclists and provides a wealth of information – with comprehensive maps, routes and listings. In a nutshell it was crucial to the Nutty Tandemers Club’s planning, and became an essential reference guide each day.
Another recommendation is a company called HebShuttle – the award winning cycle tour and transfer operator in the Outer Hebrides which offers, among other services, bike and passenger transfers, bike and e-bike hire, and an accommodation booking service.
The official tourism information website for the Outer Hebrides also has a wealth of information on suggested itineraries with a linked on-line planning service, along with a newly launched ‘Pit Stop’ listing of rest, refuel and repair stops along the Hebridean Way. It has also published a new handy 1:200,000 scale HebWay Cycling Route Map which my crew found invaluable.
The Nutty Tandemers decided the best way to overcome the transport issues getting to and from the Outer Hebrides was to position two vehicles on the mainland – one at the departure port of Oban, and one at the arrival port from Stornoway.
But first up there was the vitally important pre-tour prosecco toast to welcome John and Jane when they arrived at Matilda’s Rest on the Saturday afternoon after a long drive from their current base in Lincolnshire. The sun came out (briefly) allowing for a very convivial catch-up on the decking before a hearty meal and an early night with a long day of driving ahead.
Sunday saw a 6am rise with Team Matilda and Team Siggy’s cars on the road by 7am heading from Matildas Rest to Oban. That was the first leg of what was admittedly a fairly torturous day of driving around 400 miles. The detail of the trip, firstly saw the two tandems dropped off at the Hostelling Scotland hostel in Oban, our pre-ferry overnight base, before embarking on a near 4-hour 160 mile drive to Ullapool to park John and Jane’s vehicle there for our return from Stornoway. After a brief lunch stop we returned to Oban and although the scenery on route was magnificent – including driving the full length of Loch Ness – there is no doubt it was a marathon, but logistically necessary, journey.
The return journey from Ullapool – with both tandem crews in one car – offered a great opportunity for everyone to catch up on life since the last tour! And there was the opportunity of the grand unveiling of the tour t-shirts, complete with tour logo on the front and crew names on the sleeves.
After the long drive back to the ferry port of Oban, the Hostelling Scotland hostel offered a welcome refuge for the crews who were most impressed with its five star VisitScotland accredited facilities including private en-suite double rooms with sea views over the Firth of Lorne. Meanwhile the two tandems – me and Siggy – enjoyed a comfortable stay in the hostel’s great secure cycle storage shed complete with a selection of useful maintenance tools!
After the drive some good food and drink was required and The Olive Garden offered the crews some tasty seafood followed by a gin tasting in a nearby pub before some much needed sleep.
After a solid sleep, the “old git” and the “old gal” got into final packing mode, refining the items in my four panniers which were to support Team Matilda for the duration of the Hebridean Way trip, with cycling gear covering every possible eventuality of weather and geographical conditions, my trusty tool kit and a variety of essential spares – such as new inner tubes – which spokes crossed would not be needed, as well as a a few non-cycling clothes for evening relaxation!
Along with Team Siggy, my dynamic crew then had a short pedal along the seafront at Oban just to check all was in order with the tandems. It was, but with the four panniers my frame has never been heavier. Let’s just say some of the hills are going to be interesting!
After a coffee, and picking up some fresh seafood, it was time to head to the Caledonian Macbrayne Oban Ferry Terminal – the departure point for the ferry to Barra. There is just one crossing a day to Castlebay from Oban – departing at 1.30pm. The “old git” had done his usual meticulous research and discovered that there was a Hopscotch 8 ticket created by CalMac, specifically tailored for tourists doing the Hebridean Way end-to-end. And it is great value at £31.75 per passenger – with tandems (and bikes) travelling free!
Excitement was building as we queued to be allowed to embark on the ferry, which reached fever pitch as we finally boarded the MV Isle of Lewis through via the car ramp. And it was amazingly busy with bikes, with at least 100 cyclists heading over to Barra to start their own adventure – proving the success of the marketing of the Hebridean Way route as a “must do” route.
I was securely tied to the some railings with rope, just beside Siggy, as the deck hands were warning the crossing could be a bit lively given the wind conditions. The ferry departed on time and headed out of Oban, offering a very scenic route as it passed thru the channel between the mainland and Mull. After we left the mainland behind, at Ardnamurchan Point, and headed out into the Atlantic Ocean, the waves increased and the crossing became a bit rockier. I know the “old git” and Jane certainly benefited from their anti sea sickness tablets and wrist bands! Meanwhile the “old gal” and John seemed fine on their sea legs!
As conditions calmed again the crews were treated to a few brief glimpses of porpoises swimming along beside the ferry. The crossing itself passed fairly quickly – with a decadent mid afternoon glass of prosecco helping the journey along. From about 90 minutes before arrival the chain of islands which make up the Outer Hebrides was evident and offered an amazing vista the closer we got! The view also offered our first glimpses of some of the hills – make that mountains – the tandem crews were going to have to negotiate! The “old gal” turned a bit pale at this point!
The arrival into the port of Castlebay offers one of the most spectacular views from a ferry in Scotland passing almost within touching distance of Kisimul Castle – the seat of the chief of Clan Macneil – which is perched on a rocky islet in the bay.
Right on schedule the ferry berthed at Castlebay, which is the village capital of Barra and as both crews emerged from the car ramp it was immediately apparent why it is known for its beautiful setting, relaxed atmosphere and friendly residents. It is actually quite an incongruous sight to see such a large ferry arrive at such a rural location and disgorge its cargo of passengers and vehicles on to the island.
We quickly found our stop for the night – the ultra relaxed Dunard Hostel – a small family-run hostel which offered basic but comfortable great value accommodation. It was easy to see why it is a favourite spot for bike crews to stay before they embark on their HebWay journey the next day.
After self checking-in (noone actually checked who we were!) me and Siggy were parked under a shelter out the wind at the back of the hostel. The crews then headed for a meal to a tiny restaurant which had been highly recommended to the “old git” – and Café Kisimul certainly did not disappoint. It is a friendly family run licensed restaurant which specialises in Indian and Italian cuisine and local seafood … all with an Outer Hebrides twist! The hand-dived scallop pakora was just fantastic and the whole meal was a culinary delight, with the menu offering several vegetarian options. It is no surprise that booking ahead is essential, and it offered the ideal start to the Nutty Tandemers time on Barra.
#HebWay Day 1 – And they’re off! – Vatersay to Daliburgh
Morning broke after a restful nights sleep at Dunard Hostel with some ominous clouds and heavy rain showers around, along with some serious wind. But both crews making up the Nutty Tandemers Club were in great spirits at finally getting to do some pedalling after all the travelling, and getting to grips with their Hebridean Way Challenge.
So buoyed up they were to get moving that there was an almost immediate schoolboy error of setting off without any breakfast! And as any cyclist knows trying to cycle on empty is not a great idea! To be honest it wasn’t really anybody’s fault. There was no breakfast available to buy at the hostel, and the cafe recommended for breakfast as we left Castlebay was unexpectedly closed for a few days.
So fully kitted out in gear that would not have been out of place in winter, both Team Matilda and Team Siggy headed to the official start point of Sustrans Scotland NCN Rt 780 at Vatersay. Almost immediately on leaving Castlebay we hit the first steep climb of the tour – and right on cue a nasty squall hit us. Both crews were seriously hoping that this incongruous start over the first few miles was not going to set the pattern for the rest of the 185 miles – both in terms of climbs and the weather!
Fortunately almost as quick as the heavy rain arrived, the storm clouds blew away, and by the time we arrived on Vatersay the sun was shining. The crews easily located the sign marking the official start of the Hebridean Way – an iron plinth in the grassy dunes between two glorious beaches. Not sure how you could come all this way to do this route and actually miss it, but the “old git” has been reliably told that some people actually didn’t find it and amazingly set off without the obligatory “start” photos!
Leaving without a photo (or ten!) would obviously have been a major faus pax for this tandeming blog – bigger even than setting off without breakfast! – but the “old git” ensured that embarrassment didn’t happen and the bright sunshine added to the magnificent backdrop for the photo shoot. My dynamic crew even managed to record their thoughts at the start of our HebWay adventure on this video:
Sadly the Vatersay Cafe, part of the community centre, did not open till a good hour away at 11am, so there was no option but to start the Hebridean way proper on an empty tank! Hopefully we would not bonk – the cycling definition of hitting the wall thru a lack of energy – within the first hour of the ride! As funny as it sounds, the cycling bonking is not a good feeling – especially with a heavily laden tandem like me!
Fortunately the “old git” had researched where the Co-ops were situated along the route – which was to become a running joke of the tour but the stores offered some very necessary opportunities to top up with supplies – and knew that on our return to Barra the Co-op at Castlebay would offer something for breakfast … and stop the “old gal’s” stomach from grumbling!
Our actual route for day 1 of the Nutty Tandmers Club HebWay Challenge was combined with day 2 on Strava due to a problem with a mobile phone battery. But you can still check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below (just remember we stopped overnight at Daliburgh!)
So we were officially underway and Vatersay was island number 1 of the 10 we would cover on the HebWay. Soon we were crossing the first (of six) causeways which took us on to island 2 of Barra and a rather cheeky 11% hill climb before that much anticipated food stop at Caslebay. My dynamic crew decided that as a precautionary measure they would push up the short distance of this first big hill – given the “old gal’s” asthma and not wanting to create any unnecessary problems so early in our trip.
The rain stayed off and me and Siggy soon rolled in to the Co-op at Castlebay – after just 5 miles of the route! – where much needed breakfast pastries and smoothies were quickly consumed by my dynamic crew providing some much needed nourishment – and a great place to buy picnic supplies.
Before leaving Castlebay there was an important visit to make – to the Isle of Barra Distillers, which makes the Barra Atlantic Gin. The main botanical in its unique island mix is carrageen seaweed, which is collected from the island’s coastline. The tandem crew saw the seaweed being dried before being offered a tasting – I mean it would have been rude not to!
The company has now started producing the gin on the island itself and has announced that the first batch of the first ever distilled spirit on Barra will have a limited number of 1,174 of bottles – marking the island’s population on the last census back in 2011. The “old gal” ordered one of the individually numbered bottles which would be delivered to our home base offering a unique memory of our trip.
Refreshed in more ways than one the two tandem crews headed off on the route which took us up the scenic west coast of Barra hugging the Atlantic coast, before heading inland to cross to the east side – all the time enjoying the benefits of a mostly favourable southerly wind.
We took a short detour to see the wonderful Traigh Mhor beach – which doubles as the runway for Barra Airport, which offers the world’s only scheduled beach landing.
On arrival at the airport we enjoyed a coffee in the tiny departures and arrivals hall before the Nutty Tandemers had the first of their signature prosecco picnics in the sun, but blasted by the wind, on a picnic bench in the sand dunes.
Just after lunch excitement reached fever pitch as around 100 spectators took up position to watch the arrival of the Twin Otter Loganair flight from Glasgow land and taxi in across the sand.
It really was quite spectacular to watch – and the “old gal” said it was actually one of those moments that she was glad to have witnessed in person, rather than just on video or tv. Once the twin propellers on the aircraft had stopped the ground crew headed out on to the runway on the beach – complete with a wheelbarrow to collect the baggage!
There was a quick turnaround and after watching the flight depart from a magnificent viewpoint just above the beach, we pedalled back to join the official HebWay route again and the short trip to the Ardmhor ferry terminal for the ferry to Eriskay – the first of the two inter island CalMac routes. Look out at the ferry terminal for an attractive sculpture of two otters chasing a salmon.
The short scenic 40 minute crossing saw the Nutty Tandemers arrive on Eriskay – island number 3 – and immediately face a long hill to climb away from the harbour passing above “Prince Charlie’s beach“. This is where Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, first set foot on Scottish soil in 1745 at the start of his ill-fated campaign.
A short diversion took us to the Am Politician bar which is named after the SS Politician which ran aground in 1941 in the Sound of Eriskay spilling its cargo of whisky onto the island’s shores. Eriskay is the original Whisky Galore! island made famous by the book and film.
The tandem crews were lucky enough to be shown some fascinating artifacts from the SS Politician by the friendly barmaid, as we enjoyed a welcome refreshment. This included one of the original whisky bottles still containing its original whisky, an other original bottle, plus a machete type weapon, and a heavy flare gun from the doomed ship.
It was at this point we had our first (and fortunately only) mechanical of the Hebridean Way Challenge when John discovered that Siggy’s brakes were in a pretty bad condition. There had been a ghastly noise on the descent of the last hill and a closer inspection showed that effectively the brakes needed replacing. Annoyingly none of us had thought to bring spare brake blocks with us – schoolboy error number 2! But in a spark of ingenuity John quickly swapped the front blocks with the rear, allowing the journey to continue given that we were on fairly flat ground and that Siggy was equipped with a drag break.
The final 10 miles or so pedalling firstly took us across the mile long causeway – causeway number 2 – which took us on to island 4 of South Uist. It was here we saw the first of what would be regular sights at the causeways – signs warning drivers to take care of potential otters crossing.
On we pedalled, with the route taking us off the busy B888 road and onto gently undulating minor roads giving fabulous tandeming and an interesting view of some real crofting land at South Boisdale. The crews were a bit battered by the wind and happy to spot Invercanny Bed and Breakfast just a few hundred yards outside Daliburgh – where we received a hugely warm and friendly welcome from hosts Eddie and Audrey Woods.
Time for a quick shower and change into non cycling clothes, then a walk to the nearby Borrodale Hotel for a hearty and tasty re-fuelling meal, with my dynamic crew sampling the local delicacy of Barra scampi. A nightcap of a Barra gin was a fitting way to bring an end to the first day’s activities. Not surprisingly sleep was not hard to find!
At the end of the day the “old git” was somewhat devastated to find that a phone battery power failure resulted in a Strava operating error. You know that cyclists’ view that if it is not on Strava it doesn’t exist! After appearing that the ride was “lost”, Strava suddenly sprung into life on day 2 and decided to combine the actual route and data for first two days of the Nutty Tandemers Club Challenge together! However, that meant the clock kept ticking while we were in the bed and breakfast – so thus recorded the ride with a crazy long time of over 22 hours and ludicrous low average speed (even for Team Matilda!) of just 3.7mph!
But my faithful on-board milometer recorded that on day 1 Team Matilda tandemed a distance of 33.7 miles with a moving time of 3 hours and 18 minutes, giving an average speed of 10.1 mph.
#HebWay Day 2 – Tandeming on the very edge! – Daliburgh to Sollas
The schedule for day 2 saw our longest mileage to be covered, tandeming onto 3 more islands by crossing 3 more causeways on the Hebridean Way, on the very edge of Scotland, and indeed Europe.
Both crews were raring to go after recharging their batteries with a great sleep in comfortable rooms and a hearty breakfast provided by Eddie and Audrey at Invercanny Bed and Breakfast. Indeed our hosts were so hospitable and interested in our challenge that they reassured the tandem crews that if anything went wrong we were to phone and they would come and rescue us. Now that is service!
Our actual route for day 2 of the Nutty Tandemers Club Challenge was actually combined with day 1 on Strava due to that problem with a mobile phone battery. But you can still check out the details of our route by clicking on the Strava map below (just remember we started day 2 from Daliburgh!)
As we headed off the “old gal” – who has rather good hearing! – heard a bit of a squeak coming form one of my wheels and was worried that I had pinged a spoke. But closer examination discovered it was actually the magnet on my speedometer rubbing on the receiver part and just required a tiny adjustment – much to everyone’s relief!
The first stop was a cairn marking the birthplace of Flora Macdonald, the famous island heroine who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape “over the sea” to Skye back in 1746. This marked the first of several British Cycle Quest (BCQ) clues which John and Jane were collecting along the way.
At Bornish the NCN Rt 780 turns off the main road again thru crofting lands. This was spectacular tandeming on flat terrain, helped by a brisk southerly breeze. As the sun emerged from behind the clouds we pedalled on a scenic stretch with a sea wall on one side and the renowned machair on the other. Machair is a Gaelic word meaning fertile low lying grassy plain. Here sand, largely made up of crushed shells, is regularly blown ashore by Atlantic gales. Over time the calcium rich shell sand and traditional crofting land practices have led to the development of a mosaic of fertile Scottish grassland habitats renowned for its Outer Hebrides wildflowers, Western Isles birds and insect life.
Thanks to both the official HebWay Cycling Route Map and the fabulously detailed guidebook ‘Cycling the Hebridean Way’ by The Offcomers the tandem crews had earmarked a stop at a bicycle hire and repair shop where John hoped to buy new brake blocks to solve the mechanical on Siggy which became apparent on Eriskay yesterday.
Fortunately we found Rothan Bikes at Howmore – which was a traditional South Uist house with a small sign on the hedge and lots of rusty old bikes in a heap along with some “newer” and more ride-able ones! John knocked on the door and Tommy and his sheepdog appeared! After a rummage about Tommy returned with a box of brake blocks – some which appeared to date back more than a few years. But he had something suitable and John selected 4 as spares and we were on our way again.
With new brake blocks for Siggy, we pedalled on cutting inland for a bit thru the Loch Druidibeg National Nature Reserve. Then it was time to cross the causeway – causeway number 3 on the HebWay – which took us on to island 5 of Benbecula. Despite another of the Otters Crossing signs there were sadly no sightings of the otters themselves!
After a stop to restock on vital picnic supplies at the Co-op, the crews had a detour to Griminis to visit the Benbecula War Memorial – providing another BCQ clue for John and Jane – which is proudly positioned overlooking the whole island.
We headed back to the coast and almost immediately found a sheltered area of sand dune where the tandem crews set up their prosecco picnic. Just as the cork was popped the only rain of the day fell with a short but sharp shower, which passed as quickly as it arrived – meaning that thankfully the fizz didn’t get too watered down, although the French baguette did get a bit soggy! The views across the beach provided a magnificent backdrop for a picnic with lots of suitable nuttiness!
Re-fuelled Team Matilda and Team Siggy set off again – but with the crews feeling the call of nature a short diversion was taken into Benbecula Airport. Such was the rush to enter the terminal building to use the facilities, I am not sure how the sight of 4 crash-helmeted, reflective sun glasses-clad, hi-vis jacket-wearing adults didn’t set off an anti-terrorist alarm or a major security alert at the airport – but happily such a scenario was avoided!
Another causeway – number 4 – saw us tandem onto Grimsay – island 6 – albeit very briefly. Just four miles long and two miles wide and surrounded by clear shallow waters and shifting white sands, Grimsay was connected to neighbouring Benbecula in 1960 with the opening of the causeway. But it more than makes up for its tiny size with its huge spectacular scenery. And with the sun shining brightly, the causeway offered the perfect opportunity for a few fun sunny photos!
No sooner had we tandemed on to Grimsay we seemed to head off it again as we skirted the north west corner of the island. Another causeway – number 5 on the our HebWay adventure – curved across some small islets to take us to island number 7, North Uist.
The Hebridean Way takes the west coast route on North Uist. At Caranish we stopped to take in the atmospheric sight of Trinity Temple and a field at the roadside known as “Field of Blood” which is reputed to be the site of the Battle of Caranish – a famous clan battle back in 1601.
After finding another BCQ clue at Caranish Church of Scotland at Clachan, the wonderful tailwind made the tandeming easy despite the heavy load on my frame and the undulating terrain. There was a quick stop at The Hebridean Smokehouse at Clachan where my dynamic crew tasted some of their wonderful peat smoked salmon before making a purchase for the next day’s picnic. Seems there was a spare few inches of room in my panniers after all!
The tandeming here was really spectacular on a nice smooth road surface in bright warm(ish!) sunshine – with rugged moorland and lochans on the right and the sea, sandy beaches and some small islands to the left. The crews were ready for an afternoon cake and coffee stop and the Claddach Kirkibost Cafe at the unique community run centre provided the perfect venue. The “old git” decided it was warm enough for a rare HebWay tour t-shirt picture and we got one of the staff to volunteer to be team photographer in the centre’s garden again the magnificent backdrop of the sea.
A few miles further we passed a sign for our destination for the night of Sollas, just before Bayhead. So after consultation with two different locals we decided to turn inland rather than hug the coast for the last few miles. And the tandem crews were glad we did as the so-called Committee Road – built in the 1840s to provide famine relief work – cut across the top of North Uist. There was a bit of a climb but the reward was a great downhill with views direct onto the fabulous beach at Traigh Bhalaigh.
Sollas is a small crofting community – which rather bizarrely hosts a Co-op which is quite literally in the middle of nowhere! But both tandem crews decided that a nice bottle of wine was required after today’s mileage and the “old gal” was utterly amazed to pick up a bottle of one of her favourite wines – Oyster Bay – which was on special offer!
My dynamic crew spotted a revamped traditional Hebridean Blackhouse – still with its thatched roof – which provided the last photo opportunity of the day. With over 50 miles on the clock the tandem crews were happy to spot Struan House bed and breakfast which has got to have one of the best outlooks for a b+b – overlooking the magnificent turquoise waters and silver sands of Vallay Strand.
This was Hebridean hospitality at its best! When we arrived Peggy, our hostess, was not home, but the door was open and there was a cheery welcoming note telling us which rooms to use and to make ourselves at home! Because of the remoteness of Sollas, we had taken up the offer of an evening meal at the b+b. Peggy excelled herself presenting a magnificent and tasty 3-course dinner – including a fabulous fresh sea food salad starter which could have been the main course – all eaten in front of a large picture window looking out at the stunning beach landscape. And the “old gal’s” Oyster Bay was a fitting accompaniment for such a feast!
You will remember that it was at the end of the day 1 the “old git” was somewhat devastated to find that a phone battery power failure resulted in a Strava operating error. After appearing that the ride was “lost”, Strava suddenly sprung into life on day 2 and decided to combine the actual route and data for first two days of the Nutty Tandemers Club Challenge together! However, that meant the clock kept ticking overnight at our bed and breakfast stop – so thus recorded the ride with a crazy long time of over 22 hours and ludicrous low average speed (even for Team Matilda!) of just 3.7mph!
But my faithful on-board milometer recorded that on day 2 the Nutty Tandemers Club tandemed 54.2 miles with a moving time of 4 hours and 24 minutes, giving an average speed of 12.3 mph.
#HebWay Day 3 – Gin and bear it! – Sollas to Tarbert
The Nutty Tandemers Club Hebridean Way itinerary for day 3 was a 40 mile pedal on NCN Rt 780 from Sollas to Tarbert – taking in the immense and dramatically beautiful beaches on Harris before a climb over to Tarbert … but with the reward of a locally produced gin to finish if we were on schedule!
As both crews wakened in their ultra comfortable rooms – having enjoyed the superb Hebridean hospitality on offer at Struan House bed and breakfast – heavy rain was battering the windows. Showered and wearing freshly laundered cycling kit – another service provided by our hostess Peggy who could not do enough for the tandem crews offering her true ‘home from home’ experience – the hearty breakfast was eaten looking out at the rain lashing down. The view from the huge picture window across the Vallay Strand beach was still nothing short of spectacular and and right on cue a massive rainbow appeared which the “old gal” managed to capture on a photo.
After kitting up all the panniers to both tandems – me and Siggy – and bidding fond farewell to a brilliant hostess in Peggy – the crews pedalled off into the rain. You can check out the details of our HebWay Day 3 route by clicking on the Strava map below.
Fortunately the rain stopped within a couple of minutes of pedalling off and the wind soon blew the crew’s jackets dry! Blue sky was starting to appear as we all tandemed over our last causeway, number six on the HebWay, to Berneray – island number 8.
Here my dynamic crew had an invite to call in to Coralbox Gift Shop on Berneray to meet Eilidh Carr, the owner of the tiny gift shop on Berneray who has been named one of Scotland’s best new tourism entrepreneurs. Eilidh had found my blog, and also been following my Facebook and Twitter feed, and suggested that the “old git” and “old gal” make a quick pit stop before catching the next ferry.
It was great to meet Eilidh – who is a real breath of fresh air in Scottish tourism. The small shop stocks an amazingly wide range of nautical and island themed gifts, and also has an on-line store. Most impressively Eilidh had done her homework and clearly been reading my blogs and knew a big part of tandeming for my dynamic crew was their love of a prosecco picnic! So Eilidh very kindly presented Team Matilda with a bottle of prosecco – which she said should be consumed overlooking one of the magnificent beaches en route! Ok if you insist!
We easily found the Berneray ferry terminal for the ferry to Leverburgh on Harris – the second of the two inter island CalMac routes. This was a scenic hour long sailing which offered a constantly changing seascape vista as the ferry weaved between low islands across the sound of Harris before arriving at Leverburgh on Harris, island number 9 on the HebWay. It was great to see the ferry so busy with other cyclists and the “old gal” and “old git” took the opportunity to compare notes and exchange stories!
While enjoying the view the “old gal” was accosted by a friendly cyclist who said: “Team Matilda – you are the guys with the tandem blog aren’t you. I just love it! It is brilliant!” Fame had obviously followed me to the Outer Hebrides! Turns out the person who was a big fan of my blog was Gav McDonald who is a professional bike guide who has led adventure biking trips all over the globe and runs his cycling holiday and events company called Rather be Cycling. Gav and his partner Chez were leading an organised tour along the Hebridean Way and took a photo of my dynamic crew to post on their firm’s Facebook page with a link recommending my blog! Thanks Gav!
At Leverburgh we made a detour off the official route for John and Jane to claim another British Cycle Quest (BCQ) clue – this one focusing on the restored medieval St Clement’s Church at Rodel. We retraced our pedals to Leverburgh and had a coffee at the wonderfully named The Butty Bus – an old bus enterprisingly converted into a cafe and fish and chip shop – just beside ferry pier.
The tandems crews set off from Leverburgh with both the sun and the mostly helpful south westerly wind at their backs. It was a still a bit chilly however in the strong breeze which necessitated the wearing of jackets. The “old git” had diligently done his research here and discovered that a few miles further on, near the community of Northton, there were a couple of ‘must visit’ honesty shops.
The first was the Mustheb Shack – a small blue shed by the roadside with a selection of homemade mustards made by the Hebridean Mustard Company Purchases were made by both crews – including an unusual liquorice mustard – with the money deposited in an honesty box. Brilliant system!
The second honesty shop stop was at the highly recommended Croft 36 – which is a slightly bigger shack where a pie/bakery business is based specialising in sustainably caught produce from the Hebrides including seafood, venison and mutton. There is also a culinary delight of a selection of Patisserie style baking on offer – including bread, tarts, quiche and cakes, with some gluten-free or vegetarian. We arrived just after the lunchtime “rush” and much of the stock was denuded and needing restocked – but the crews still found a few goodies for their picnic.
As we headed towards Borve the crews got their first sight of the fabulously breathtaking beautiful beaches of West Harris, and the views out to Taransay and the Atlantic ocean. Each headland brought a new ‘wow factor’ as the stunning blue sea and the white empty beaches came into view, with the contrast of the desolate North Harris hills in the distance beyond.
The crews passed the incredibly scenic Sacrista Golf Course, home to the Isle of Harris Golf Club which rightly claims to be “one of the most picturesque 9-hole courses in the world” It is bordered on one side by the Sound of Taransay, leading onto the Atlantic Ocean, and all down the west side of the course stretch the white sands, typical of this part of the Hebrides.
Around Borve the crews found a picture perfect spot for their signature prosecco picnic – their third in three days! – with a picnic bench just out of the main force of the wind and overlooking the stunning views toward the beaches. Not surprisingly the Nutty Tandemers caused a bit of a stir popping the prosecco cork and a couple who had arrived by car were suitably impressed by the organised set up that they had a chat and took photos for us!
Picnic over – and refreshed with the food and fizz (thanks again to Eilidh at Coralbox!) – the tandem crews pedalled off to enjoy more sensational views as they passed the world renowned beaches of Horgabost and Seilebost. The Nutty Tandemers were in agreement that this was one of the most stunning stretches of a route that they had ever had the pleasure of tandeming along. Words hardly do it justice – but it was an unforgettable experience to be immersed in such Caribbean-like scenery as we cycled along a route which quite literally was “on the edge” of Scotland.
The last of the ‘big three’ beaches is Luskentyre and although it had clouded over at our viewpoint it was easy to see how it earns its reputation for being ‘a little slice of heaven‘. Sadly the crews had to leave the beguiling beach vistas behind as the route headed east and inland and it was back to the reality of grinding out a 500 feet hill pass – with the climbing helped (a little!) by a great new road surface.
At the top of the climb beside one of several picturesque lochans Jane decided this was a suitable venue for what has become a tradition of the Nutty Tandemers Club tours – a recreation of the Three Wise Monkeys ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ scene, which has made an appearance on our personalised calendars featuring the best images of our annual tours! This year John opted to be the photographer and it therefore featured Jane and the “old git” and “old gal”!
Nuttiness suitably completed – not sure what the passing cars thought about this rather strange scene?! – the crews pedalled on tandeming across a desolate rocky moonscape before a rapid and somewhat thrilling descent to the east coast ferry port town of Tarbert, our destination for tonight.
Before our hotel there was the scheduled flying visit to the Isle of Harris Distillery which is home of the famous Isle of Harris Gin known for its unique beautiful blue glass bottle which represents the “seas of Luskentyre with a gentle azure rising from its depths.”
The building was still open but the cafe was showing a closed sign to allow for clearing up. The “old git” put on his best pleading voice and explained that we just wanted to sample a gin – no food required! – as the crews had just tandemed 40 miles specifically to get to the distillery! A little poetic licence there, but his strategy worked! A supervisor appeared and warmly welcomed us in to the now empty cafe and quickly produced a round of stylish and very appetising gin martinis to allow the Nutty Tandemers to celebrate one of the best days tandeming ever!
After (quickly!) finishing the drinks, the building had suddenly become noticeably very quiet – but there was time for the “old gal” to purchase a bottle of gin to be sent back to Matildas Rest by post. A final look around the gift shop, and a loo stop, before the crews tried to get out of the building … only to find they were locked in! Yes they were officially locked in a distillery! I mean if the “old gal” had to be locked in any distillery – then this was the one! But just as she was thinking she had arrived in heaven a member of staff arrived to let us out! Drat!
With the gin martinis clearly having gone straight to the heads of the tandem crews, it was good that our base of the Harris Hotel was just a few yards away! But first Jane and the “old gal” burst into a fit of the giggles when they spotted what they thought was a rather amusing road sign which asked them to “indicate their intention” – so naturally they obliged and took up a suitably nutty pose!
At the hotel there was a super spacious bike shed for us tandems, and I am reliably informed that the rooms offered the crews a luxurious sanctuary for some well earned relaxation. Later, a very tasty meal was eaten in the hotel’s restaurant as the crew looked out at the heavy rain – thankful that they were warm and dry. Finally there was the need to sample from the bar’s huge selection of gin and whisky for a nightcap to toast what had been a truly fabulous day on our HebWay tour.
The “old git” was delighted to report that Strava had worked normally on day 3 and recorded the ride showing that my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 40.19 miles with a moving time of 3 hours and 58 minutes. The average speed was a healthy 10.1 mph given the terrain and weight being carried in my panniers and an overall elevation of 2126 feet. The maximum speed was 36.2 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up 2552 calories and produce an average power output of 160 W.
As always the route and pictures are brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.
#HebWay Day 4 – Tandeming to a standstill! Tarbert to Callanish Standing Stones
The schedule for day 4 – the longest day of the year – saw the tandem crews face the daunting challenge of tandeming up and over the massive North Harris hills before crossing into Lewis and heading east for a Summer Solstice visit to the evocative Callanish Standing Stones.
And it was also set to be a record breaking day as both Team Matilda and Team Siggy were scheduled to hit significant cycling mileage landmarks.
The “old gal” woke after a great night’s stay at the Harris Hotel with an air of foreboding about the hills ahead due to her asthma – which was not helped by hotel staff saying we better have double breakfasts when they found out the direction we were tandeming!
Today’s route started with a quick tandem round Tarbert’s one way system – required by the ferry traffic – in order to re-stock on picnic provisions. This is actually where the “old git’s” planning came a bit unstuck in spectacular style. He had meticulously researched where all the Co-ops were situated along the way and confidently asked at hotel reception where to find the Co-op in Tarbert – only to be met with a somewhat bewildered look! Turns out that he had confused Tarbert in KIntyre (which does have a Co-op) with Tarbert on Harris (which doesn’t have a Co-op) and thus found himself some 240 miles away from said Co-op much to his embarrassment! Naturally this was the focus for some serious ribbing from the other Nutty Tandemers!
Fortunately there was a local grocery store where the crews could stock up before heading into the hills! You can check out the details of our HebWay Day 4 route by clicking on the Strava map below.
Tandeming away from Tarbert along the north shore of West Loch Tarbert – looking out at the unbelievably blue ocean – was a joy with a gradual climb and some gentle undulations bringing us to the hamlet of Ardhasaig where Team Siggy screeched to a halt when Jane noticed a sign for a licensed grocers. The Nutty Tandemers were still missing the key ingredient for their prosecco picnic. But it was still only 09.57 and Scottish licensing laws mean no alcohol can be sold prior to 10 am. So Jane entered the shop and placed a bottle of prosecco on the counter at exactly 10.00 am much to the amusement of the shopkeeper!
Then the serious climbing began as we had to cross the North Harris Hills. The steepest section is actually quite near the bottom and there is no shame for Team Matilda to report that this was a part of the route where they “took me for a walk!”
This process involves the “old git” strenuously pushing me up hill – with the “old gal” walking about 20 yards behind! To most passing drivers it probably looks like my dynamic crew have had a major fall out – but nothing could be further from the truth. It is the only way Team Matilda can conquer the steep hills … and it was only for about a mile.
The Hebridean Way climbs rapidly to the pass between Sgaoth Aird (1833 feet) and Clisham (2621 feet) which the guide books rightly describe as “true mountain country!” It is also bang in the middle of the islands’ Bird of Prey Trail in Golden Eagle Territory. Don’t think the crews spotted any Golden eagles but there were a few big birds around – one of which could have been a Sea Eagle given its large wingspan.
The crews hit the first peak at over 650 feet – then had a pleasant downhill pedal and a flat stretch – before knowing a second peak back up to 650 feet awaited as we passed Clisham – which officially qualifies as a Corbett as being between 2,500 and 3000 feet. Despite the dramatic scenery, Clisham will forever have an expletive adjective in front of it when it is referred to by the “old gal!”
Between the two peaks – in almost surreal circumstances – I am delighted to report that my dynamic crew officially clocked up their 4000th tandem mile together. Jane was on hand to record the significant landmark moment when my Matildas milometer hit the 4000 mile mark on this video; and take some photos of the “old gal” and “old git” as they celebrated their achievement.
Buoyed by the irony of a tandem team who “don’t do hills” hitting the 4000 mile mark on one of the highest hills they have been up, the crews slowly reached the top of the second peak – with the “old git” happily pointing out the small wooden bridge on the right which marks the top!
Now after any climb there is usually the elation of freewheeling at speed down the other side! But not today! The wind was blowing at over 20 mph and directly into the faces of the crews. So for the first time ever my dynamic crew found that they had to actually pedal downhill to make any serious progress. A quick stop allowed the “old gal” a triumphant shot looking backwards at those (expletive adjective!) hills the tandem crews had just conquered!
After battling downhill – and yes the word battling is not usually linked with the word downhill – there was a welcome stop at the Taste n’ Sea food caravan which not only offered a welcome coffee but also incredible panoramic views across Loch Seaforth. This was just one of the many brilliant tips the tandem crews enjoyed from the fabulously detailed guidebook ‘Cycling the Hebridean Way’ by The Offcomers – so naturally the “old git” had to pay homage to the book with a photo.
After the stop at Taste and Sea we immediately crossed a river from Harris onto the Isle of Lewis – island number 10 and the final island on our Hebridean Way adventure. Quite why Lewis is deemed to be a separate island – as it is simply the northernmost part of the largest island on the Outer Hebrides – remains a mystery shrouded in history. Some say the distinction between the two dates back to a split in the MacLeod clan which dominated the Western Isles for centuries. But if it is officially island number 10 on the HebWay, then that is good enough for the Nutty Tandemers!
As we tandemed on the “old gal” was almost delirious that the big North Harris Hills were now behind us and fast fading into the distance as we pedalled along. Although it wasn’t as bad as expected for my dynamic crew, she was still muttering under her breath the words “never again”!
As the miles rolled on – with the wind now happily behind us – the tandem crews ticked off a couple of monuments along the route. The first was the Charles Edward Stuart Monument near Arivruaich – where history says Bonnie Prince Charlie landed while on the run just 18 days after the disastrous Battle of Culloden – whilst heading from Scalpay to Arnish near Stornoway.
The second was the intriguing looking Pairc Raiders Monument south of Balallan. The cairn, built in 1994, is dedicated to the memory of the people of Lochs who laid claim to the dispossessed land of their forebears and challenged the authority of the State to spotlight the poverty and injustice they suffered under the oppression of heartless landlords. The unusual style of monument offered a perfect spot for a photo opportunity for the tandem crews.
The crews had to answer a call of nature and called in to use facilities at the fascinating Kinloch Historical Society Museum at Balallan. We asked a local if there were any picnic spots nearby and thanks to his local knowledge we were told to look out for a huge rock in a mile or so where we would find picnic benches with a view over a lochan. The rock provided some shelter from the wind and it was an ideal spot for The Nutty Tandemers’ prosecco picnic number 4 of the tour!
Batteries suitably recharged by the food – and spirits refreshed by the fizz – the tandem crews pedalled off enjoying a downhill start. At Leurbost the crews headed west directly into a head wind which was nothing short of brutal for the final 10 miles to the destination for the night near Callanish. There is a real feeling of exposure here – of being in a big open amphitheater of a landcape featuring loch filled moorland and the backdrop of those Harris hills. Some bright sunshine appeared giving my dynamic crew the chance to remove their anoraks and reveal the supreme irony of their choice of cycling shirts given today’s hilly stage – their King of the Mountain Tour de France-style jerseys!
Team Siggy and Team Matilda both found this stretch a hard slog as they tandemed into the relentless wind, with next to no protection on the exposed moorland road. There was a welcome break from the hard pedalling with another major mileage landmark – which firmly puts my dynamic crew’s earlier 4000 mile celebration in the shade!
Incredibly Jane clocked up her 66,000th cycling mile and the “old gal” captured the actual moment – complete with commentary – when Team Siggy’s stoker recorded her amazing feat of hitting that 66,000th mile on bicycle saddles throughout her life in this video.
Fortunately, given the head wind, there was just a few more miles to for the tandem crews to cycle till the imposing sight of the Callanish Standing Stones came into view. Rated as one of Scotland’s most magnificent and best-preserved Neolithic monuments, this was to be the focus of a much anticipated evening visit on what was the longest day – so Team Matilda and Team Siggy pedalled past for another mile or so to check-in to our base for the night at Loch Roag Guest House at Breasclete. And since this is a warts-and-all appraisal of our experiences it would need to be said that this bed and breakfast had the most brilliant location – but my dynamic crew felt it was a bit of a tourist trap and therefore overpriced and lacking in the real Hebridean hospitality factor experienced throughout the trip.
Before heading to our evening meal at the Standing Stones at Callanish – or Calanais in Galeic – there was time for the “old git” to check that Strava had recorded the day 4 HebWay ride showing that my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 41.4 miles with a moving time of 4 hours 34 minutes. The average speed amazingly was 9.1 mph given the massive steep hills and the overall elevation of 2630 feet. The maximum speed was 35.6 mph and Team Matilda managed to burn up a new record of 3034 calories and produce an average power output of 165 W.
As always the route and pictures are brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.
After a bit of welcome relaxing the crews enjoyed the benefit of tandeming without the heavy panniers and sprinted along to the Callanish Standing Stones and Visitor Centre which had a great cafe which provided a memorable spot for a tasty, home-cooked evening meal.
The Callanish Standing Stones consists of circles and lines of stones making up an extraordinary ‘Celtic Cross’-shaped setting of stones erected 5,000 years ago. They predate England’s famous Stonehenge monument, and were an important place for ritual activity for at least 2,000 years. The importance of the sight remains a mystery, but the best guess is that it was a kind of astronomical observatory.
The Nutty Tandemers had a wander round the ancient Neolithic stones, enjoying their enigmatic, almost magical quality on the Summer Solstice. One of the most remarkable aspects of the site being its relationship to the landscape within which it sits – from its dominating ridge it has uninterrupted views over land and seascape to the distant horizon around 360 degrees.
The “old git” decided that this was too good a photo opportunity to miss and so dragged me round the perimeter of the site to find a gate with easy access which avoided me being lifted over the fence!
Because of the date lots of druid-type revellers were arriving to feel the celestial presence as the sun set later – and throughout the longest night. But the by now weary tandem crews decided that a comfy bed was a better option before the final tandem to complete the Hebridean Way tomorrow!
#HebWay Day 5 – the final tandem! Callanish to Butt of Lewis Lighthouse
The Nutty Tandemers Club schedule for the final pedal on day 5 was a 36 mile ride from Callanish to complete the Hebridean Way Challenge at the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse. Both tandem crews were full of anticipation at crossing the finishing line and were hopeful it would be a gentle, mechanical-free pedal to the end of the route – to meet our booked transfer to our overnight stay in Stornoway.
Breakfast at Loch Roag Guest House was sadly a meagre affair – in comparison to the hearty meals enjoyed on the rest of the trip. The disappointment was confounded by ordering the packed lunch service – only to be given two slices of bread with some tuna in between as a sandwich and a slice of cheesecake which was obviously just out of the freezer. Not good value for money.
Before pedalling away from Breasclete my dynamic crew paid a quick visit to the Flannan Isles Memorial which pays tribute the tragic mysterious loss of three lighthouse keepers in 1900 – which was used as the basis for the 2018 movie The Vanishing starring Scots actor Gerard Butler.
Then we were off on the final day of our adventure tandeming “on the edge of Scotland”! You can check out the details of our HebWay Day 5 route by clicking on the Strava map below.
The route immediately headed off through what was to be the typical terrain for the day – remote rolling moorland landscape with lots of lochans. Fortunately the wind was behind us which helped us tandems fair whizz along. There was plenty of interest to see along the way, as the crews firstly passed the Carloway Broch – an Iron Age drystone fort structure then the Garenin Blackhouse Village – depicting what life would have been like in the thatched blackhouses in the mid-20th Century.
The crews were in buoyant spirits taking in the sights of the bog cotton grass and hearing the lonesome call of curlews. And it was a joy to pedal along the well sign-posted Sustrans Scotland NCN Rt 780 route which was notably pot-hole free.
After pedalling past the Shawbost Norse Mill and Kiln we pulled in to see the fascinating recreation of a shieling – a simple dwelling lived in during the warmer months by families taking their cattle away up into the hills for summer grazing developed by the Barvas and Brue Historical Society
As it says on the interpretation boards: “Imagine a time in the latter half of the 19th and early 20th centuries where there were no tarmac roads, cars ferries or plane travel, no electricity, running water, or toilets, a time before the internet and mobile phones.” It was clearly a basic and frugal life.
By this time of day the “old gal” was much in need of her caffeine fix, but small townships and villages came and went but no sign of a coffee shop. Interestingly most of the towns on this stretch had a Lower section – which required a downhill pedal … followed by a Higher section which obviously required an uphill pedal. Not surprisingly the “old gal” wasn’t a fan of this type of town planning! But after coming down thru Lower Barvas – and then up thru Upper Barvas a sign appeared in the middle of nowhere indicating “gallery and coffee”.
More in hope than expectation the crews followed a track which ended up at the Morven Gallery – where we spotted lots of other bikes leaning against the walls, so we knew we were in luck! The gallery turned out to be a wonderful place – full of paintings, driftwood mirrors and sculptures, and pottery – as well as having the vital coffee shop where the Nutty Tandemers indulged in a coffee and cake.
Refuelled and resisting the temptation to splash out a few hundred pounds – well the tandem couldn’t really carry a big mirror, could they?! – the crews moved on stopping at the Borve Mini Market which belied its claims to be a clothing and general store as it did not appear to have very much stock at all. But it did have one bottle of prosecco behind the counter, which the “old git” snapped up for the picnic, but only after not having much luck at chatting to a very uncommunicative shop assistant!
This section of the route is really open to the elements and the crews were grateful that the wind was generally behind us – but the air movements were still interesting! There was a few more miles of climbs and descents – more ‘uppers’ and ‘lowers’ – before we sought out a picnic spot by turning down a track at South Galson – part of Galson Estate owned by the Galson Community Trust – and ended up on an idyllic deserted stone beach.
Overlooking the Atlantic, and totally private to us, this was the perfect sun-kissed spot for final Nutty Tandemers’ signature prosecco picnic of the tour – number 5! And in the distance, we could see our Hebridean Way end point of the Butt of Lewis lighthouse – which added to the nutty celebratory mood!
Fortunately at the mini market both crews had topped up the “packed lunch” provided by our bed and breakfast – as it really wasn’t very filling. And given that this was the stop before the finishing line I think it is fair to say that the prosecco went straight to the tandem crew’s heads, such was the euphoric atmosphere. Team Siggy’s captain John found the fizz had a ‘relaxing’ effect, before all the tandemers had to pose for one of their suitably nutty photos!
After the picnic there the crews set off on the final stretch – to pedal the last 10 miles. With the ocean to the left, the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse crept tantalisingly closer with every push of the pedals. And still the final miles continued to undulate – providing some sharp inclines before some fast descents.
In fact one of the last downhills was so sharp that my dynamic crew hit a new Team Matilda speed record with Strava recording it as an amazing 40.1 mph. Team Siggy also clocked up a new record too – just a fraction behind at 39.6 mph.
Three final townships of Dell, Swainbost and Lionel passed in a flurry of excitement before the last junction and a left turn signposted to the lighthouse, One final climb had to be negotiated before the road flattened out and the lighthouse was firmly in the tandem crew’s sights for the last mile!
Perhaps not unexpectedly, The Nutty Tandemers ensured that crossing the Hebridean Way finishing line did not go unnoticed! And as luck would have it our arrival was shot on video by Gav McDonald – of cycling holiday company Rather be Cycling – who we had met on Day 3 and was at the lighthouse area for his own organised tour finishing just a few minutes before us. Watch the video here:
I am reliably told by those who have completed even longer end-to-end rides that the end point can be a bit of an anti-climax! There was no chance of that happening with the tandem crews who savoured every second – almost incredulous at actually completing their 185 mile 10 island challenge! Great to see the video now appears on the I Have Cycled The Hebridean Way Facebook page!
Naturally the “old git” was in his element – taking lots of photos at the metal sign which marks the end point and finishing line of the epic Hebridean Way odyssey.
My dynamic crew took a few minutes, amidst the euphoria, to record a few initial thoughts on their immediate feelings after completing the Hebridean Way Challenge which you can see on this video:
There was a palpable sense of achievement among the tandem crews – and the other cyclists who had reached the end of their route. And there was something really satisfying finishing the ride “on the edge” of Scotland at the Butt of Lewis Lighthouse – where it really was next stop America!
After loads of photos it was time to head back a couple of miles to the car park at the Sporsnis leisure centre where we had arranged to meet our pre-booked pick up transfer – to avoid a 30 hilly mile pedal to Stornoway – our base for the final night.
This is where we were in the hand of the experts at HebShuttle – the award winning cycle tour and transfer operator in the Outer Hebrides which offers, among other services, bike and passenger transfers, bike and e-bike hire, and an accommodation booking service. The company was a recent winner of the Scottish Rural Award 2019 for the Best Business Start-up – and its easy to see why from their highly polished and professional service.
The NuttyTandemers were glad to see the branded HebShuttle minibus and bike trailer waiting their arrival – complete with a bottle of celebratory prosecco, what else?! The “old gal” was delighted to meet up with co-owner Jan Schouten to have a quick chat about the rapid growth the business is experiencing from the booming popularity of the route among cyclists – and tandemers!
Siggy and me were loaded into a custom designed covered bike and tandem trailer, complete with internal secure bike track holders – for the transfer to Stornoway. HebShuttle offer a wide range of bike and cyclist transfers throughout the Outer Hebrides linking the various ferry ports, including an all day transfer back to Barra for those who want to return to Oban.
The tandem crews were happy to be driven to Stornoway in comfort by Jan’s son Mike – underlining the family nature of the business – rather than face a long energy-sapping cycle into the wind. And all highly recommend the HebShuttle pick-up service as the perfect – and good value – way to get back to the ferry port after the satisfaction of completing the route.
In the spacious minibus there was time for the “old git” to check that Strava had recorded the day 5 HebWay ride as showing that my dynamic crew tandemed a distance of 36.17 miles with a moving time of 3 hours and 11 minutes. The average speed was 11.4 mph given the undulating terrain and an overall elevation of 1993 feet. The maximum speed was a new Team Matilda record of 40.9 mph and my dynamic crew managed to burn up 2175 calories and produce an average power output of 170 W.
As always the route and pictures are brought to life in our Relive 3D video – so take a look below.
In no time the Nutty Tandemers were checking in to their comfortable rooms in the hospitable Crown Inn in Stornoway for a much needed shower and relaxation. Meanwhile me and Siggy were allocated our own large en-suite family room to spend the last night together – oo er! But of course this “old lady” of a tandem never reveals her secrets!
The tandem crews enjoyed a brilliant tasty meal to mark the completion of their Hebridean Way Challenge. I am told there was a fantastic gin bar – which helped the celebrations along! Lots of stories were recounted about the best bits of the tour. And the cork was popped on the bottle of prosecco, presented earlier by HebShuttle, to provide a fitting nightcap!
#HebWay – the journey home
The tandem crews gamely tried to hide the fact that there was a certain light headedness around – after last nights celebrations! – as they were up for an early Sunday morning continental breakfast provided for them at the hospitable Crown Inn in Stornoway. The early rise was due to the need to check-in just after 7am for the 8am departure of the CalMac Stornoway to Ullapool ferry.
This was where the Nutty Tandemers got to use the final section of their fabulous value Hopscotch 8 ticket created by CalMac, specifically to cater for people doing the HebWay from end to end, The crews all thought that CalMac offered a great turn-up-and-sail service for cyclists throughout the Outer Hebrides. Just remember to keep your batch of tickets handy as you will need them on boarding!
Siggy and me were once again secured to the side of the car deck on the stylish and fairly new MV Loch Seaforth. The tandem crews were thankful that the sea was ultra calm for the 2 hour 30 minute crossing. Perhaps not surprisingly some strong coffee was the order of the day from the ship’s cafe!
During the crossing there was a flurry of social media activity as the crews caught up with messages. The “old git” checked the Tandem Club UK leader board on Strava for miles covered over the past week – and spectacularly both Jane and John and my dynamic crew occupied the two top places! Chapeau!
Although the Hebridean Way route is officially 185 miles end to end-to-end, on the ferry crossing the “old git” had time to work out – via Strava – that Team Matilda tandemed a grand total of 200.5 miles due to a few detours. The total time my dynamic crew spent in my saddles was 19 hours and 25 minutes, resulting in a fairly impressive average speed over the five days of 10.6 mph, given the weight of my panniers and the total overall elevation over the route of 9488 feet. And don’t forget that top speed of 40.6 mph of which I am immensely proud for an “old lady” of a tandem!
On arrival at Ullapool we made our way to John and Jane’s SsangYong Tourismo car, which we had positioned at the start of the week. Team Siggy’s car is cavernous – and it needed to be to accommodate us two tandems, the four Nutty Tandemers and all the luggage. To create a bit more room Siggy did his very clever act of splitting into two bits – with John undoing the couplings on the tandem to allow this to happen! Now I don’t bend in the middle – or split into two – so I had to go in full length, although I did have my front wheel removed so I could fit! Oh the ignominy of it!
After fitting everything, and everyone in, we set off on the long near 4-hour 160 mile drive from Ullapool back to Oban, where Matilda Transport was parked – required by the logistical nightmare of having a car at the start and end ferry ports. The crews did however have an enjoyable pit stop at the artisan Cafe Eighty2 just after Drumnadrochit on the A82 on the drive down the side of Loch Ness for some much needed, and very tasty, food!
When we arrived in Oban my dynamic crew bid a fond farewell to John and Jane who had wisely decided to stay overnight in the local area before Team Siggy embarked on their journey back south of the border the next day. The “old git” and “old gal” meanwhile had a further two hour drive back to Matildas Rest to complete the epic journey.
#HebWay – final thoughts
The morning after the end of the Nutty Tandemers Challenge saw both Team Siggy and Team Matilda a bit sad that they were not tandeming “on the edge” on the Outer Hebrides and that their island odyssey was over. But back at base the “old git” discovered that the Outer Hebrides Tourism website had a new addition – a free downloadable personalised Hebridean Way completion certificate. So naturally my trusty captain printed out two versions – one for Team Matilda and one for Team Siggy – to keep the memories of the trip alive!
The certificates include the fact that there were ‘185 smiles to match the miles’ – which is of course what tandeming is all about! To that end I was in a quandary about the best way that I could recap our Hebridean Way adventures and end this blog – so I decided to simply ask both tandem teams to give their considered opinion to a series of questions about the trip.
1 Best B+B:
Team Siggy: Struan House at Sollas – on day 2 – because of the openness of hospitality provided by hostess Peggy, the wonderful meal, and the view from the table.
Team Matilda: Agree about Struan House for the unique ‘home-from-home’ Hebridean hospitality – although Invercanny on day 1 was a very close second!
2 Worst B+B:
Team Siggy: Loch Roag Guest House near Callanish – on day 4 – because of the tiny room with full size price++, the meagre breakfast, and the exorbitant cost of the packed lunch.
Team Matilda: Also Loch Roag, although to be fair perhaps we did hit them on a bad day with it being very busy due to the Summer Solstice.
3 Best prosecco picnic spot:
Team Siggy: Joint winners between the picnic bench above the Harris beaches on day 3, and the one at South Galson on Lewis on day 5. Why? Because of the locations and the company!
Team Matilda: Popping the cork on the bottle of prosecco overlooking the Caribbean-like scenery of the stunning blue sea and the white empty sands of the world renowned Harris beaches of Horgabost and Selebost – and sharing that with good friends – was a truly unique and unforgettable experience!
4 Most scenic part of the route:
Team Siggy: Day 4 – all the way from Tarbert to Callanish because it was such a varied day – from the stunning shoreline, the rocky moonscape, looking down on the lochans from the top, and the moorland and trees.
Team Matilda: The stretch along the fabulously breathtaking beautiful beaches of West Harris on day 3, with the views out to the Atlantic ocean. Each headland brought a new ‘wow factor’ as we tandemed along with that feeling that we were quite literally “on the edge” of Scotland.
5 Funniest moment:
Team Siggy: When the wheelbarrow was brought out to collect the baggage from the aircraft which had just landed on the beach at Barra Airport on day 1.
Team Matilda: A dead heat between the “old git” looking for the Co-op in Tarbert on Harris on day 4 – when the Co-op was actually 240 miles away in Tarbert in KIntyre; and, on the same day, Jane patiently waiting till exactly 10 am to buy a bottle of prosecco to stay within licensing laws at a tiny grocers in the hamlet of Ardhasaig.
6 High point of the tour:
Team Siggy: Being at the Callanish Standing Stones on the Summer Solstice on day 4.
Team Matilda: Another dead heat between the surreal moment when my dynamic crew, who “don’t do hills”, clocked up their 4000th tandem mile together on one of the highest hills they have been up; and the Callanish Standing Stones being the perfect place to celebrate Midsummer Night.
7 Low point of the tour:
Team Siggy: There wasn’t one!
Team Matilda: We agree it was all a fabulous experience – although the “old gal” did mention having to pedal down hill into the fierce headwind after the climb up (adjective expletive!) Clisham over the pass thru the North Harris hills on day 4!
8 Nuttiest moment for the Nutty Tandemers:
Team Siggy: Jane and the “old gal” ‘indicating their intention’ at the sign outside the Harris Gin Distillery on day 3 – in a moment fuelled by gin martinis!
Team Matilda: At the same venue – when the tandem crews found themselves literally locked in a distillery!
9 Overall thoughts on the Hebridean Way experience:
Team Siggy: The permanent special memories created by the friendliness of the people of the Outer Hebrides, experiencing life as it should be and the spectacular scenery.
Team Matilda: To borrow that phrase from the Hebridean Way marketing people, It was quite simply unique, fabulous and unforgettable to ‘experience life on the edge’. If this route is on your cycling or tandeming bucket list – you simply MUST do it! Thank you Outer Hebrides!
10 Finally, wold you do it again?
Team Siggy: YES, YES and YES – and with the same people, and the same tandems!
Team Matilda: In full agreement here – although for some reason the “old gal” is muttering something about an e-tandem!
In conclusion, on behalf of Team Matilda, it was a real pleasure to share every moment of the fantastic scenery and uphills and downhills of the Hebridean Way Challenge with Team Siggy. It was a true privilege for the “old git” and “old gal” to be with John and Jane on such an epic journey – where they more than lived up to being fellow Nutty Tandemers and once again proved they are real kindred spirits to my dynamic crew!
It really was an utterly fabulous week – a time where you can honestly say that tandeming just doesn’t get much better than this! Delighted that we have created lots of new nutty images for the memory bank! And this “old lady” tandem is already pining as I am missing that real gent of a tandem Siggy! We can’t wait for the next Nutty Tandemers Tour next year! Thanks guys!
Finally, thanks to all of you for reading this special edition of my blog, focusing on the Hebridean Way. if this is your first time, remember if you want to know more about Matildas Musings – the UK’s only blogging tandem – then click the follow button on this webpage to sign up for regular updates!