A great morning promising sunshine. However this of course meant the midges were out in force again. So after a quick shower, I very quickly struck camp and headed off. The fast descent into Rhenigidale meant that my first job of the morning was climbing out of there. It was tough, but not as tough as coming in (and I don't think that is just because I was fresh compared to the previous night). On the road out of Rhenigidale is a phone box - it amused and impressed me that BT maintain these boxes in the middle of nowhere (most of them don't accept cash anymore, so I guess that BT really don't need to visit that often now). The logos on the phonebox were the old T ones - this was phased out (as I looked up when I got home (I am that sad!!)) in 1991 in favour of the piper logo (himself now phased out).
The descent towards Tarbert was very fast and steep - I saw cyclists at the bottom heading up. Rather them than me! Right at the bottom of that descent (I missed the turning with the speed I was doing) is a turn off towards Huisinis - this is meant to be a beautiful road and I wish I had time to cycle down every road, but I didn't - however, I did want to see the whaling station at Bunavoneader (Bun Abhainn Eadarra) so I quickly flicked round and headed about a mile down this road. The whaling station is an interesting spectacle - there's not much to see other than a large chimney and the ramp where the whales would be dragged onto land to be butchered. I don't know much about the UK's whaling industry and there is potential there for some kind of information centre or something.
On towards Tarbert. I had promised myself a fry-up breakfast (assuming, of course, that there would be somewhere to have one) as I hadn't eaten anything this morning in my desire to get away from the midge hell of Rhenigidale! The midge risotto of last night had not been that filling either - so I was hungry! The last three miles into Tarbert seemed to take forever. I arrived and quickly saw that it was not a very exciting place - however, it did have several good things including a cash machine (first one I had seen since Stornoway) and a tea room. Sadly, the tea room did not open until 10:30 - so I went to look in the tourist information office and also got some much needed funds from the bank!
The First Fruits Tearoom in Tarbert is a little gem - I enjoyed a great breakfast there (and reminded myself how much I like good black pudding!) including the first good coffee of the trip (other than those made on my own espresso maker!). Thoroughly enjoyed that breakfast - oh, and the fresh orange juice was good as well!
The guy from the family I had seen near Uig beach popped in to get a coffee and a cyclist who'd stayed at Rhenigidale also had his breakfast there.
Great breakfast - set me up for the day! Finished up and popped into the grocers to get lunch etc. before setting off.
I caught up with the guy who'd been in the hostel - he was a teacher from Portree in Skye, we rode together for a while - he was a nice guy with plenty of good advice on the islands. We parted ways as I wanted to visit Luskentyre (Losgaintir) as it was meant to be a fantastic beach. I was not disappointed by the beach at all. It really was beautiful - blue sea, mountains in the distance and white sands - spectacular. I walked along the beach and it was easy to imagine that one was in the Caribbean or something! The sun was even out nicely now. This beach is a real treasure and would be great to spend time on if you had kids etc. It was not crowded at all - and a few people were swimming in that clear sea.
The rest of the trip towards Leverburgh was very pretty - I had elected to take the west coast (this was the main route down to Leverburgh) rather than the east coast (known as The Bays). The ride around the Bays was a backup plan for tomorrow if I did not get to St. Kilda - though the weather appeared to be on my side for now! There is more camping in Harris than is generally advertised - one could camp at what looked like a good site at Horgabost and there was some camping in the Bays for sure. There were great sections of dunes and beaches - very pretty indeed.
Leverburgh is a nice little town. The supermarket was pretty well stocked - I picked up some further anti-midge protection - a citronella candle and some bog Myrtle stuff that is supposed to keep them off. I caught up with the white VW camper family in the supermarket - they'd camped at the Uig site last night rather than Kneep and said it was great. They could not believe I was on a bike as they had first chatted with me only a day and a half ago and about 100 miles away. It is funny how you see people time and time again - there was a family in a yellow VW camper who I had first noticed on the ferry from Ullapool - the dad wore short shorts in all weather and did not look like the kind of man who would paint flowers on his yellow VW camper - but you never can tell! I had seen them again in Shawbost and Calanais. I guess people follow similar routes whether they are in cars or on bikes. The car people just have a little more time to do stuff than cyclists who have to sit on the bike for several hours a day to go the 50 miles or whatever.
I went to the bunkhouse I was staying at - and was mighty impressed. Ruari (the owner) has done a great job with this place and I can highly recommend it in every way - I camped, but the bunk rooms looked great as well. It was very colourful inside with lots of interesting bits of shipwrecks on the walls and built into the design. The Am Bothan website is here.
I decided not to pitch my tent quite yet as the weather was still pretty good - but I ate a little sandwich. At this point there was a quite heavy shower - hopefully this was not a bad sign for my St. Kilda trip tomorrow! Anyway - the rain stopped, so I left my bags at the bunkhouse and headed towards Rodal (Roghadal) to see St Clement's church. It was the first time in nearly a week that I'd ridden the bike without bags - boy did it feel funny and almost wrong! It felt horribly twitchy. Weird how quickly you get used to a sluggish, heavy monster!
The church is fascinating - it almost grows out of the stone and is one of the most impressive churches on the islands. It is quite eerie inside as it is completely empty - no pews or anything. There is the mid 16th century grave one of the MacLoeds designed for himself about 20 years before he died - very impressive indeed.
I headed back to Leverburgh (hitting a highly irresponsible 42.3 mph on the way back - I'd previously kept my speeds under about 35 mph due to the weight of bags and the thought of stopping it).
I needed to get a bag for St. Kilda - you have to carry everything you need for the day (food, clothes etc.) as there's nothing there. I could have taken a pannier - but it'd have been a pain. Anyway, a weird little shop/post office supplied me with a lovely cloth bag - it was so tacky, but it was the best I could do......
Pleased with my purchase and looking forward to being the most stylish person on the trip, I returned to the bunk house and pitched my tent. There was a group of divers staying at the bunkhouse and they had caught some great looking crayfish - it was a bit distressing to watch them kill it in the kitchen - but I guess that's nature!
I managed to charge my phone and camera batteries and also called the people running the St Kilda trip (Kilda Cruises) and they confirmed that the trip was going ahead. I was so excited! I had to ring my mum as she'd sent me a nice text saying she was crossing her fingers that I would get there!
So I made my dinner and then prepared sandwiches etc. for the next day. It was going to be an early start (8 am leaving the pier), so I went to bed. I did, however, get up in the night to use the loo and was reminded that there are a LOT of stars out there. It was a near full moon, and the skies were clear and I could see thousands of stars - incredible. I stood out there looking up for a few minutes and realised that we do miss so much living in cities. In London, you're lucky to spot half a dozen bright stars due to the light pollution. Amazing!
Read about day 7 here!