Monday July 29th : Kilbridge – Linaclate (Benbecula) (50,5 km)
Cycling is wonderful on these two Outer Hebridean isles! A huge, flat plane dotted with loghs and some isolated dwellings, delimited by de ocean on the western side and by (dark)green hills on the eastern side.
Here, too, there are many ruins of deserted houses. Emigration movements from here went mainly to Canada.
In the huge fields, one can discern lone standing stones or overgrown funeral cairns, as was often the case in Irish fields.
To get to the Isle of Benbecula, I had to cross two elevated causeways linking the isles.
Walking to the beach in the evening, I witnessed a peculiar scarlet sunset, which, as usually, did not come out well on the photograph.
Tuesday July 30th : Linaclate – Balranald (North Uist) (35 km)
Magnificent ride through vast panoramic landscapes. The causeways beyond Benbecula airport — which unlike Barra airport has an asphalted tarmac — were overwhelmingly beautiful. I move on very slowly here because I frequently stop to dig up my binoculars out of my handlebar panier and gaze at the scenery. Moreover, the one-track roads often compel cyclists to stop on passing places and let cars pass by.
The ruin is that of ‘Teampall na Trianaid’ (Trinity Temple), a medieval monastry and centre of learning. The Irish philosopher John Scotus Eriugena (9th century) is said to have studied here. With his panentheistic neoplatonic religious views, he challenged the theistic stance of the Roman Catholic church.
From my tent I see a hill with a graveyard. On the meadow in between the campsite and the graveyard, a big brown owl was hunting in the evening. I could easily follow him with my binoculars, but he was too fast and too far away to photograph.
Right after the campsite, beyond a dune, is an vast beach alongside a bay of which I posted some pics last night.
During an evening beach walk, I shot a zen film of the waves and a few seascape pics so as to gently sail into the night.
By the time I got back at my starting point, the tide was low and I saw many small sand heaps on the wet beach, topped by spaghetti-like structures, which implies there must be an animal underneath each heap.
On some rounded stones without any holes of cracks, seaweeds were nevertheless growing. Very remarkable.
Wednesday July 31st : Balranald – Horgabost (South Harris Island) (64km)
At 6 am there was a mysterious orange-colored early-morning haze.
The Scolpaig Tower, a.k.a. Mac Leod’s folly, standing on a small islet in the middle of a loch with the same name, was built by a man called Alexander Mac Leod in 1830 to provide employment for the purpose of famine relieve in the wake of the potato blight disaster.
The scenery on Isle of South Harris, where I am now, is again more dramatic, with higher hills and more rocks.
Alongside the road I noticed a standing stone in a meadow near Na Bothain hamlet. It was placed there some 5,000 years ago. At that time, it was surrounded by a stone circle including 30 megaliths. These have vanished now, but some stone sockets that held the stones upright are still there.
I pitched my tent on an untended campsite, on top of a grass dune with ocean view. I look forward to a quiet night with the peaceful rythm of the waves in the background.
Thursday August 1st : Horgabost – Tarbert (North Harris) (18km)
This morning I first walked to a gigantic standing stone in a meadow nearby the campsite that I had seen from the road yesterday. To get there, I had to climb a grassy hill which offered a fantastic panorama of the nearby isles, lagunas and yellowish sandy beaches.
I guess the stone is about 3 meters high. I (1.72 meter) stood before it with raised arms and it reaches about 1 meter higher. I am not wearing a terrorist cap on the picture, but a midget head net to protect me against these tiny bloodthirsty horrors which, when there is little wind, circle in clouds around your head, bite wherever they can, and even try to get into your ears and nostrils.
It was so peaceful, all alone near the stone and enjoying the magnificent scenery. I stayed for quite a while, just sitting still on one of the flattened rocks near the stone.
This meant it was quite late when I got on my bike. The ride to Tarbert started alongside a vast laguna and afterward went uphill crossing a mountain range. Sometimes I thought I was on the moon, so barren and rocky the landscape was.
In Tarbert, I found a bed in a Backpackers Hostel. Although is it was only half past four, I decided to stay so as to have all my cloths washed. I had to wait for the drying machine, which implied that I had to go to the local supermarket in my bathing suit and down jacket, because all my other cloths were in the drying machine. But nobody seemed to bother.
The ferry for Uig/Isle of Skye, departs from Tarbert harbour, but I do not intend to visit this huge island during this trip.
Friday August 2nd : Tarbert – Lacasaigh (40km)
Tarbert is a pretty village. It consists mainly of one ‘Main Street’, a marina and a ferry terminal to Isle of Skye. It has a fish and chips shop with fresh local produce. Since it was nearly lunch time when I was ready to leave, I first ate a portion so as to have sufficient ‘input’ for the long and steep climb that was awaiting me.
The first section ran along a narrow sea loch with green hills at the opposite side. A landscape that strongly reminded me of Norway.
Then followed the tough climb over a range of hills. I did not need to push my bike during the ascent, but I did have to get off a few times to give the soar muscles of my legs some rest.
It is very strange here. One moment you cycle at sea level, and hardly 1 hour later, you find yourself in a mountainscape, including murmuring mountain brooks, at an altitude of not even 200 meters.
No hostels or campings are to be found on this trajectory to the Callanish stone circle, so I had to camp wild. It was not easy to find a suitable spot. Alongside the road, there were cattle and sheep fences, and the open spaces were swampy peat bogs.
I asked John Angus, who had just finished shearing his sheep in his garden, whether he knew a good spot. He sent me 200 meters back to the Islands Book Trust, a place where I had just gone to a public toilet, and which also has a 1£ hot shower. However, I did not dare pitch my tent on the small parking lot behind the building. John said this would be no problem at all, since he knew the neighbours.
We chatted during quite some time. John’s sister deceased last July. I took a picture of him with his two lovely dogs. They are working dogs that help him herding the sheep. On the short video I shot, John is steering the youngest dog which is herding sheep 150 meters further on the hill. Unfortunately, you can not see the dog on the video, but what it was doing was quite impressing.
When I was pitching behind the Book Trust building, I saw one of the neighbours and asked, just to be sure, whether I could camp at that spot. She said it was perfectly OK as far as she was concerned. Somewhat later, a young man turned up and asked me whether there was a toilet. I showed him which door it was, and he laughed and said: “I have driven past this building at least a hundred times, and now a tourist has to show me the toilet. Have a nice holiday!” The people here are so lovely! In Flanders, I would have been chased away at least 20 times.
Only one disadvantage at this camping spot: there is no wind behind the building, so the midgets have free play and tried to eat me alive…. I had to dine inside the tent this evening.
Saturday August 3rd : Lacasaigh – Shawbost via Callanish stonecircle(s)
Clear sky and sunny weather today, fortunately with a light breeze so that the midgets stay in their shacks, wherever these may be. They don’t fly out when the wind’s speed is 5km/hr or higher.
First I cycled via a straight ondulating road through a huge peat bog plane, with on the far left the Harris hills.
In Achmore village I saw a road sign to a stone circle that was not mentioned on the map nor on GoogleMaps. To complete my collection of ‘megaliths and cairns on my road‘, I walked through the peat bog to visit it.
The Achmore stone circle was found during traditional peat cutting works. Over the past millenia, it got completely covered up. Unfortunately, only one part of a stone is still standing upright; all the others lied on the ground next to their stone sockets, were broken or got lost. From the stone circle — and only from there — one can discern the profile of a pregnant woman lying on her back in the hill range to the South West. I could not zoom in far enough to photograph this, but archeologists think this female fertility profile, which is known here as the ‘Old Woman of the Moors‘, ‘Sleeping Beauty‘ or ‘Earth Mother‘, may have played a role in the location of the stone circle.
The Callanish Stone Circle some 10 kilometers further is an overwhelming monument. It does not only consist of a circle and a central tumb, but it also has four ‘avenues’ boarded by standing stones that connect to the central circle in the form of a cross. The atmosphere, however, was less intense than what I had experienced at previous stone circles. This may have been due to the many visitors wandering around the stones, but maybe also because the monument is too huge for me. The atmosphere could be compared to that in an ostentatious cathedral where everything sounds hollow, whereas I prefer the peace and quiet of a small rural Romanesque church.
At about 1 km distance from Callanish there are two more, smaller stone circles, Callanish II and III. There I found the peace and energy that I love so much.
The final 20 kilometers to Schawbost campsite included a few steep hills with the wind upfront. I was happy when I finally got there.
At the campsite, I met David and Sue again, a British cycling couple whom I had met at two earlier Hebridean campsites. They rented a camper this year and go on daily cycling tours because Sue has a knee problem and does not risk embarking on a long-distance cycling journey. I really enjoyed the cup of milk tea they offered me because I noticed I felt somewhat exhausted. You do not really feel this until you stop pedalling…
Sunday August 4th : Day of rest with surprise present
The northern Hebridean island of Lewis and Harris is dominated by Calvinist ‘free churches’ and has been described as “the last bastion of Sabbath observance in the UK”. Everything, including tourist attractions, is closed on Sunday. On the campsite there is even a sign with the request to refrain from hanging the laundry outside on Sundays. A suitable day to grant my legs some rest and catch up with translation work.
This morning I met a British lady in the camp kitchen who was about to leave. We chatted about my fundraising expedition, the sabbath and the fact that everyting is closed. She was willing to give me some foods like bread or beans if I didn’t have enough — since Tarbert the day before yesterday I did not come across any grocery store on my route — but I said I still have enough until tomorrow.
When I got back at my tent, I noticed a gift bag in my portal with some goodies and the text ‘Wish you a good continuation of your trip’. Isn’t that wonderful? I even do not know the lady’s name.
Thanks a lot, lovely lady!