It rained quite a bit overnight, but I couldn't hang around as I was going to get the first ferry across to Berneray and onto North Uist. There was another cyclist staying at the hostel and he was getting the ferry as well. He was a retired German gentleman - he was spending a number of weeks in Scotland traveling between hostels mainly by bus (you can put your bike on a bus apparently!) and then cycling around the local areas.
As the ferry was leaving, I saw the Sea Harris guys and their boat (Enchanted Isle) preparing another trip - they go to other islands as well (the Shiants in particular), so they might not have been going to St. Kilda. Wherever they were heading, it was going to be wetter and choppier than yesterday's trip!
The ferry was somewhat slower than the Enchanted Isle. It's only a short crossing (about an hour), so I settled down with a local paper and my book. I was amused that one of my friend's bands was headlining a music festival in Stornoway in a week or so. Wish I had been able to hook up - I sent Jon a text and he replied that another friend was also in the Outer Hebrides and was planning to go to the show.
We landed at Berneray - a small island now joined to North Uist via a huge causeway. The hostel I was staying at was only about 2 or 3 miles away from the ferry terminal, and I had originally planned to drop my bags there and then do a loop of North Uist before coming back to the hostel to camp. For whatever reason, I thought I would now prefer to keep my options open and headed over the causeway onto North Uist
The earlier rain was clearing - so I felt pretty optimistic for the day. I hadn't eaten breakfast - so my plan was to circle the island clockwise, stopping at Lochmaddy for breakfast.
One of the first things of interest I saw was Dun An Stior - a broch in the middle of a loch. This was a great defensive position obviously. There would have been causeways linking the broch with the land etc. This was the heart of a sizable community.
As I rode on, I noticed that my cycle computer wasn't indicating whether I was faster or slower than my current average speed. Upon investigation, the average speed had stopped working! It now just showed E - I had never ridden so far on one trip before, so I don't know if it is a problem with that. It happened at about 313 miles and 27 odd hours of riding - the trip hour counter does only go up to 9 hours 59 minutes 59 seconds - but it seemed to be working fine up until then reporting an average of something around 11.3-5 mph. Oh well - not a big drama - the mile counter still worked and that was of more interest to me. I could always work out average speed at the end easily enough.
North Uist is definitely far more sparsely populated than Lewis and Harris (and they weren't exactly jam-packed!). It feels very much more remote. The roads were fantastic - like being in an American road movie with the road going in straight lines for miles and miles - you could see it stretching off into the distance.
I arrived into Lochmaddy pretty hungry indeed. The town is not that pretty and is dominated by the ferry port over to Skye really. However, there is a fantastic arts centre there with a great cafe - where I feasted on cheese and ham toasties and the wickedly sweet Malteser and white chocolate cake! There were some interesting exhibits in there and whilst I am not one for heavy duty art, the video piece with the polar bear watching the sunset in Uist was amusing (it wasn't a real polar bear - it was someone in a polar bear costume. I wouldn't be keen on cycling around the island if there were real polar bears roaming free). They were advertising their forthcoming Andy Goldsworthy exhibition - and if you happen to be in North Uist between 6th September and 28th November, then I think it will be well worth seeing as his work is inspirational.
As I left the cafe, I saw the yellow VW camper family coming into the car park - gave them a wave.
On I went towards Clachan. You pass the burial cairn at Langass along the way - and this really is a massive impressive structure. It is a 5000 year old communal burial chamber. It is one of the oldest standing buildings in Europe. Standing is a strong term - it's a bit of a jumble! You can still clearly see the entrance and peer into it - the passageway looks good and safe and you could crawl in, but it is highly advised against in every guidebook I read. I decided not to risk it - particularly on my own in the middle of nowhere!
I reached Clachan where there's a pretty good shop. Picked up more food and drank a can of diet coke outside with another cyclist (there were two other cyclists on the other bench - so four cyclists in total - a record for this trip!). John was from the Isle Of Man and doing the same trip as me, but south to north. He, too, was planning to stay on Berneray tonight. He set off and I finished my can of drink. I caught up with him, and the other two cyclists and passed them all on a climb.
The scenery was magnificent, great beaches, lots of machair. There are also some sections of forest - not seen many trees over the past week, so quite unusual! The winds were getting pretty tough though.
I rode on for a while and then stopped for lunch at a lovely little beach in Hosta. The council (I guess) had gone to the trouble of putting picnic tables near the beach - trouble is the sand had blown up and the seat of the bench was now at ground level - so not very comfy!
As I was getting ready to move on the two cyclists I had passed earlier pulled down the lane and onto this beach - they were planning to camp at Berneray hostel as well - though were now considering wild camping on one of the beaches.
Coming round the north of the island there were more great beaches and some beautiful blackhouses. Finally I reached Solas where there is a surprisingly large Co-Operative. I bought food and the paper before heading on and back to Berneray. I caught up with John again and we rode together to the hostel. Berneray is a beautiful island and worth the trip. Apparently, our future king, Charles, loves it there and has come and lived in a croft house as a crofter with only the locals and Buckingham Palace being aware of it. We reached the hostel and it really was in a great location. The hostel itself was two thatched cottages and there was plenty of space to camp. I elected to go higher up and next to the beach - hoping that the midges would be less vicious up there.
It was a pretty decent end to the day, so I sat and read the paper, drank tea and watched little birds (could be plovers, I am rubbish with identifying stuff though) running up and down the sea front in groups. Sometimes they would run in a line following each other and sometimes they'd run in a line next to each other - they reminded me of the police when they are conducting a fingertip search!
The location really is fantastic and my midge gamble seemed to pay off - there were not many up where I was, but when I went down to the hostel to do my washing up they were swarming away outside the hostel door - you had to run through a thick black cloud of them to get in!
The german guy and John were both in there, so chatted for a while. The lady who is the hostel warden came over, so paid the bill etc. She was chatting with someone about the re-thatching of the hostel. Currently, the roof had a load of batons on it, but no thatch. Apparently, it was meant to have been done last year and had been prepared, but then the crop of the rush (I think) they use had not been good enough, so they were waiting to see if this year's crop was better. It made me think about how connected to the land and nature you are here. Typically, within reason, we now expect to be able to get what we want, when we want if we have money - but here was a lifestyle that relied on far simpler principles and I liked the idea. Rather than getting worked up about it or getting the crop from somewhere further afield, they'd just wait another year (I suppose they can not wait indefinitely, but still). I work with the insanely demanding super-rich for a living - I would love to see their reaction to the concept of a crop not being good enough.
I sprinted past the midges back to my tent and went to bed with a real soft spot for this little corner of the islands.
Read about day 9 here!