Monday August 5th : Norse Mill & Kiln, Gearrannan black house village and 30 km of magnificent ’emptiness’ between Carloway to Stornoway
After a rainy night, it dried up in the course of the morning, enabling me to dry and pack my tenting gear.
Since I had to cycle no more than 40 km to Stornoway, where I am to take the ferry to Ullapool tomorrow, I had time to visit a few places of interest.
My first stop was at the Norse Mill & Kiln. The first thatched roof building contained a horizontal millstone which was powered by water from a loch that ran underneath the building. The second was the kiln, a place with a raised stone platform within which is set a circular stone-lined pit that presumably contained the fire that heated and dried the grain spread out around the remainder of the kiln.
When I continued my ride, it began to rain cats and dogs, so I arrived soaking wet at my second stop, the ‘Black House Village’ near Carloway. Black houses were elongated thatched-roofed stone dwellings that accommocated both people and cattle under the same roof. Some did not have a chimney, the smoke left the house via the roof, which turned black.
I stayed longer than planned at the village because it kept raining. By 5 o’cock the rain was milder and I left for a 30-km ride through a magnificent, vast and totally empty peatbog plane, a real cyclist’s delight. There were even no sheep. The islanders are still cutting peat in this bog. First, they remove the grass layer and put the sods neatly aside. Then they cut the peat about 60 cm deep and arrange the blocks of peat in small heaps, allowing them to dry. At the end of the process, the grass sods are rearranged on the bottom of the peat ditch, ensuring that the landscape remains green. Only the differences in height between the deeper cut-out peat banks and the uncut peatlands are visible.
This 30 km ride has so far been the most enjoyable of my entire journey. In this vastness, your mind totally unwinds, allowing you to cycle in a meditational modus. I felt very sorry when I saw a road sign indicating that I was approaching Stornoway.
Right before entering Stornoway, my chain again jumped off the smallest front gear chainring and got stuck between the pedalling system, for the third time in three days. Tomorrow morning, I will try to find a repair shop to have this problem fixed, because in the Highlands I will often have to gear down to the smallest chainring at the front.
Wednesday August 7th : Ullapool – Inchnadamph (38km)
I stocked up quite some food at the Tesco supermarket in Ullapool, because the next supermarket is in Thurso, some 220 km or 4 cycling days from here. This means I had to ‘attack’ the Scottish highlands with a heavily loaded bike. In some villages there may be small local grocery shops, but they are often virtually sold out.
The rain was not as bad as forecast. Apart from a few wee drops, it remained dry all day. The interactions of the dark clouds and the mountains were spectacular.
I had to cycle against the wind during the entire ride, which made the long ascents even more difficult, but — a major advantage — the wind kept the midgets away.
So far, the Scottish landscape bears fewer historic remnants than was the case on the Hebrides or in Ireland. I am following a ‘Rock Route’, with information panels every so many kilometers explaining how this landscape was formed by gletcher movements during the last ice age some 12,000 years ago. Some 500 million years ago, Scotland was located on the Equator and it was linked to Greenland, the sedimented rocks teach us — or rather geologists who know about these different types of rocks.
The British Telecom notification hanging next to a broken payphone is hilarious. BT notices that the telephone is no longer used and it will therefore remove the kiosk. That is what happens when you do not maintain your infrastructure…. Deliberate neglect?
Thursday August 8th: Inchnadamph – Durness (74km)
74 km and 950 altitude meters with a gale 4 wind upfront all the time. Even on a relatively flat plateau, I had to continue pedalling in a low gear. In these vast planes and with the raging wind, you feel like a small play ball delivered at the mercy of the elements… Imagine a thunder storm would break out here….
As a matter of fact, this ride was a little bit too heavy for me. Tomorrow I will plan fewer kilometers.
I added short explanations to some of the pictures (Click HERE to view pictures on my Flickr-page). I am too tired this evening to write long stories. But in the 17th century, Ardvreck was the scene of fierce clan fights…
Friday August 9th: Durness – Tongue (47 km)
Today, Scottish weather was at its worst: as of 11 o’clock, right after a short visit to Smoo cave, in use as a hideout since Viking times until the early 20th century — it started pouring continuallyn and the wind picked up to gale strengths.
On an unshielded plateau I once again had the N-E wind upfront. Even on flat surfaces, I had to pedal in my lowest gear, and every slope worth that name I had to push my bike. No way I could pedal uphill against such fierce winds.
Neither could I take a rest to eat something. My rainwear did not keep out the rain in these barren circumstances, and since I was wet to my bones, I would cool down too quickly. Keep on pedalling was the only option to stay warm.
In the morning, I had phoned Tongue hostel, but it was fully booked. Fortunately, they also accept tents and when the weather is extremely bad, campers are allowed use the indoor hostel facilities. So right now I am sitting nice and warm inside, and soon I will go to sleep one night in a windy and noisy tent.
The weather forecast is bad for tomorrow as well, so I decided to stay here an extra day. The hostel has a bed Saturday night, so tomorrow morning I will put all my wet camping gear in the dry room and hope the weather will be slightly better on Sunday. For Monday the weather forecast is better again.
Except for Smoo Cave I could not take many pictures today due to the bad weather.
Sunday morning August 11th
The mist cleared up, the hills at the opposite side of the loch are visible again, rain stopped and all my wet cloths and camping gear are dry thanks to the magnifent facilities of the Kyle of Tongue Hostel and Campsite.
On the road again! Thanks, Tongue hostel, for the hospitality for and sympathies with tent campers when the weather turns really nasty.
A pauze at a small nomadic road café to drink a hot chocolate with whipped cream and tiny marshmellows. And now that the inner woman has been warmed up, back on the bike.
Sunday August 11th: Tongue – Melvich (41km)
The wind blew from NW direction today, so most of the time I had a nice tailwind. The difference with previous days: no bikepushing, although I had to cope with some steep and long ascents.
I was also able to practice one of my favourite hobbies today: admire Celtic crosses and a Pictic stone at the Clachan graveyard. Clach means ‘stone’ in Gaelic. Before the little parochial church was built, which was dedicated to the Irish Saint Columba, locals worshipped here at the beautiful Pictic stone dating from the 8th/9th century and engraved with a Celtic cross. This cross refers to the presence here of Saint Columba in the 6th century.
Columba is becoming my travel companion, I have already met him so often on my travels in Ireland and Scotland. Incredible, 1400 years ago this chap was traveling in this rough natural environment to convert the local Picts to Chrisitianity! Respect. The two intertwined birds below the cross may be swans, often regarded as a symbol of faithfulness as they tend to mate for live. They may, however, also be doves, a symbol of friendship for the Picts. So Columba did not spread his faith with sword and fire, as the Spaniards did 900 years later in the New World.
I am staying at a campsite with an Inn and saw on the televised weather forecast that it will be 4 degrees tonight. Not really a summerly temperature to organise an outdoor barbecue….