Day 31, 17th June 2011, Ardhasaig (Harris) to Stornoway (Harris)

We started this morning with a big steep climb, overly sustained by an enormous piece of Stornoway black pudding.  The people around Stornoway claim it is the best in the country.  I prefer to warm up a bit before facing a climb like this, particularly when weighed down with a big piece of black pudding.

This morning was probably the best weather we have seen in Scotland.  It was sunny, and the country looked great, with its sparkling lochs and dramatic hills.

The plan was to ride to Stornoway, by a slightly circuitous route.

We were told yesterday afternoon that there were no B&Bs much between Tairbeart and Stornoway, but we saw at least 6, and there were probably a lot more.  The Visit Scotland people who helped us yesterday were concerned and really tried, but were just wrong.  Visit Scotland seems to have a bit of a problem in this regard.

I have been puzzled as we ride through the Hebrides about the lack of evidence of human habitation before around 1960, when pebblecrete buildings seem to have been built.  We made a point of visiting the hamlet of Arnol, to see some traditional buildings, the last of which was vacated in 1966, and is now a museum. 

It was the sort of design one imagines from the middle ages, no windows, no chimney, no plumbing, a small hearth with a peat fire and a thatched roof. The animals were kept inside, and the floor was flagstones.  Pretty rough living.

When travelling through these islands it is important to remember just how tenuous human civilization was here. If it was not for the availability of peat, it would probably have been impossible.  These islands really are on the edge of nowhere, and a trip to the west will probably see a landfall in somewhere like Boston.

There is a distinct lack of industry here now.  We visited a Harris tweed outlet, but they are well past their heyday.  A couple of generations ago, every middleclass British subject would have worn a Harris tweed jacket, but no more, and the styles we saw harked back to this period.  The roads are covered in EU supported sheep, there is tourism and a little fishing and that is it.

The riding deteriorated this afternoon.  A change blew in, and the country suddenly looked bleak and threatening.  We moved out of the dramatic hill country and onto rolling moors, scarred with the trenches of peat mining.  We rode towards Stornoway, uphill against a strong head wind in occasional drizzle across this bleak empty moorland, that even the sheep have deserted.  It was all a bit ordinary.

We rode 113km today, and both of us prefer the longer days.  We have been a bit constrained by the ferry timetable, but hopefully it will be more up to us from tomorrow.

We booked into a B&B, went to Tesco for food, and will leave the Hebrides on the ferry tomorrow.

View 17 6 2011 Tairbert to Stornoway in a larger map


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