Category: travel

Hebrides Itinerary

Some workings on how a Outer Hebrides trip might work.  I’m going on the conservative side with timings (10mph) assuming that we’ll be stopping to look at views and history.  Lots of folk seem to do it in 3 or 4 days, but i guess some of that is taking most direct route rather than scenic route, and maybe not going up to Butt of Lewis, and back down again.

Approaching MalacleitApproaching Malacleit by Richard X, on Flickr

Day 1

1. Train to Oban

Trains to Oban go via Glasgow. Need to be in Oban by early afternoon.

2. Ferry Oban to Castlebay (Barra)

Timetable: summer-barra–oban-castlebay . Most days the ferry seems to depart mid-afternoon and  get in late at night 8.30pm (4.5 hours)

Maybe stay on Vatersay? or maybe cycle to near ferry if light and conditions allow..

Day 2

1. Cycle Barra

It’s 8 miles from the ferry port  at Castlebay to the ferry port at Ardmhor via the east coast of the Island.  9 miles via the west coast.  (1 hour aprox)

2. Ferry off Barra

There’s 4 ferries a day from Ardmhor; 9.25, 11:10, 15:45, 17:30 . Would be good to get first one. (the sailing to Eriskay takes 40 mins)

3. Cycle Eriskay to South Usit

3 miles from Ferry to South Usit across the causeway.
35 miles up the island of South Uist.

(4hours aprox)

Day 3

1. Cycle Benbecular

a) The long way round – 11 miles, by the main road

b) Up the main road – 7miles

(1 hour aprox)

2. Cycle North Uist

a) the long way round (west coast) – 32 miles

b) the east way – 23 miles.

(3 hours aprox)

Day 4

1. Ferry from North Uist to Harris

Timetable: north-uist-and-harris (berneray-leverburgh)

Four ferries a day, either up early for the 7.15 or later for the 10:25

(takes 1 hour)

2. Cycle Harris

1. Cycle 50 Miles up Harris – a few different routes depending on how feel.
would be good to make some dent on the next days miles too.

(5  – 6 hours)

Day 5

1. Cycle Lewis

Cycle up one side of Isle to butt of Lewis – then back down the other side to Stornaway,
70 miles – 7 hours

Day 6

There used to be a coach that took bikes between ullapool and inverness, but no longer running. Seems the only way with bikes is to ride.

1. Ferry Stornaway to Ullapool

Ferry Timetable: Stornaway > Ullapool

Seems to be 2 a day, most days. Either up early for the 7am – or there’s one at 13:50 takes 3 hours.

2. Ride Ullapool to Garve

Along A835 is 32 miles with 450m of ascent – approx 3 hours.

3. Train – Garve to Inverness

Trains at 13:39, 16:14, 18:50 (check up to date times nearer time)

4. Train Inverness to Home

train back to edinburgh/carlisle


Freedom of Scotland Travel pass;

  • covering Train and Ferry. and some coasches
  • 4 days unlimited travel out of 8 consecutive days £114
  • Valid from Carlisle.


Crazy Guy on a Bike | Magic of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland
Paul’s Cycling Trips (with 2 Hebrides trips)
Book: Cycling in the Hebrides: Island Touring and Day Rides (not released until 15th May 2012)

Alpine Daydreaming

Mont Ruan, originally uploaded by <<<...Buddhamountain....

A dear friend bought me “Trekking in the Alps” for Christmas. A nice glossy summary of 20 classes routes. But where to start?

Trekking in the Alps, a Cicerone GuideI’m quite fancying the Tour of Mont Ruan. There’s dinosaur footprints and no guidebook. It’s also 5-6 days so doable in a weeks holiday maybe?

There’s long term goals of Tour of Mont Blanc and HRP also in my head, so this might be a good introduction.

The good news, there’s a website, the bad it’s in French. This seems to suggest 4 stages, so I guess the summit side trips make it longer.

Let the research begin!

Random Touring Bits

Some random bits from my 2011 tour of France, and Northern Spain.

Camping in France

There are a lot of campsites in France – but about half of them shut at the end of September, some more shut at the end of October, and yet more shut mid November (after the 11th November bank holiday). Not very many open all year.  Confusingly some campsites remain open – but not for tents, only for caravans. It’s not often you can’t find an open site – but sometimes it takes a bit of planning.  When you do find a site, you’ll probably be the only person in an actual tent.  Autumn camping in France seems to mean campervan.

Some trees are too thick to tie a bike to, Tree provision is a big pitch consideration.

Because I often didn’t plan on wildcamping (i do like a shower after a day in the saddle)  it was always a bit of a last minute decision. Usually meaning i didn’t have enough water to re-hydrate and cook. Sometimes i just ate prince biscuits and drank tea – sometimes i cooked then work up dry mouthed.  Better planning and more water carrying capacity might be the way forward.


I did manage to spend the first month with reduced and painful mobility in my right shoulder- no idea what caused it – but I think maybe sleeping on it. It went away again though.

The only medicine I used was anti-fungal cream and 2 tablets of ibuprofen.

Towards the end I  lost some feeling in the fingers on my right hand – they would be tingly at times- and numb at others.  It took a week to feel my little finger again.  All OK now though.

It’s probably a good idea to carry a first aid kit.

Bike Bits

I love my bike.

I intended fit a kick stand before I went, but never got round to it.  I’d still quite like one. (…but)

It’s a good idea to write the code that corresponds to your wheel size on the back of your bike computer – then you’ll know it when you reset your computer trying to change the time.

I also love my non-puncturing tyres.

My saddle kept coming loose near the start – I took it to a man with dead long allan keys and he sorted it.  Pigeon French and gesticulating was involved. He didn’t even charge me.

My bike is a boy magnet.  (I am not)


on The Road

Hills are the best bit.

I took a week off to go bouldering in Font, apart from that I took 4 days off, for sightseeing more than rest. Generally I would cycle about 80km a day – although a few days i just did 50km.

French and Spanish drivers are nice to bikes.  Merci Beaucoup! Gracias!

A woman said to me “if you can do this, you can do anything“. I hadn’t though of it like that, but I liked it.

Loire Valley

The Loire valley is very geared up for cycle touring, in much the same way a railway is geared up for trains. The Loire à Vélo touring route goes sea to source, or vise-versa. It’s well signposted, its largely on quiet roads, or off road. Better yet the Loire valley has really bought into the route, tourist attractions all have bike parking, much of the accommodation has bike friendly certification,  apparently even the trains have special bike carriages.  You can imagine that in summer it’s rammed. I avoided that by going in October.

The Loire is famous for châteaus and wine,  so in some ways it’s not the kind of place you’d expect to find me; I don’t like wine, and nobility bores me quickly.

What I loved about the Loire was the quality of light.  The rivers mirror surface bounces this light around making everything seem a little ethereal.   The Autumn nights were cold, and come morning mist would rise off the river like smoke.  Mid mornings were still cold, but the mist’s  gone, instead the blue sky is everywhere.

Loire Barge

Cold clear mornings on the mirror of the Loire

“The river, a constant companion” is one of the route’s strap-lines, cheesy, but an unparalleled navigational aid. (We’ll neatly sidestep the day I got lost and cycled of the edge of my map; I was looking for a more challenging route – I found it.)  The Loire is a companion with a lot of character. Languid, and indulgent. The area isn’t cheap- it feels firmly aimed at the middle class traveller, there’s no backpacker circuit in evidence.  I was mainly camping, where sites were open, and these where generally nice three and four star sites.  Meals were of excellent quality – but prices also seemed notch above average. The harsh exchange rate no doubt exacerbating perceptions. All in all very sophisticated.


More great reflections

I did check out a couple of the many Loire châteaus. On a rest day in Azay  le Rideau I visited the Château there. The palace is small and neat and both above and below stairs life is exhibited. Oak beams in the roof are like the innards of a ship.  The same afternoon I visited the troglodyte peasant village down the road, they cut their homes  and livestock shelters into limestone banks, complete with refuges for when raiders where sweeping through.  Its good to see both sides of the coin.


There's a lot of Châteaus in the Loire. This one is Azay-le-Rideau.

The other château I visited was retirement home of Leonardo de vinci, Clos Lucé. The main theme here is the man, and his inventions and discoveries – reproductions abound in various sizes – could have done with a bit more interaction I reckoned though; of course I want to play with them, who wouldn’t?

Basque Country Touring

First sight came after 4 days riding down from the Arachorn Basin, through the forests of Landes

Oh My!

Suddenly there’s a skyline, and after a few intakes of breath, I can’t help but smile; game on.

First taste comes in Bayonne, France. In all the best ways it reminds me of Leith a bit. The road in through the docks and industrial estates, is busy with trucks, but I don’t care. Because it turns out I’m a mountain girl at heart and this road takes me there.

Bayonne has such a good vibe I decide to stay a day. Good choice. I eat one of the best meals of the trip, buy a map for Spain, visit the cathedral, and wander round absent-mindedly.




I set of round the coast, because I feel I ought to see Biaritz – I feel ambivalent about it. Then as I head inland the road gets lumpy, and I get reacquainted with my bottom gear.

The border is disappointingly devoid of appropriate signage to lean a bike up against. instead just alot of petrol stations- which don’t have the same photographic narrative. Then it’s over the Puerto de Otxondo (602m) to the Baztan valley.

The next day starts out flat enough, picking it’s way along the valley. It’s Market day in Doneztebe (Santesteban) and the town is busy. There’s garlic and onions piled high, and police direct traffic on the packed streets. Then there’s another climb, the valley twists, narrows and flares, while climbing constantly. The scenery is great, and there’s villages all the way up to the Porte de Usateguieta (695m). From Leitza to Tolosa comes the dowhill, the reward for those hours of climbing.

Saturday in The Basque Country and the bikes are out. There’s boys on hot bikes everywhere, all are imacuatly turned out. There’s no black shorts here – it’s full team kit and it’s way hot.

As I leave Tolosa I’m unsure about if I’m allowed onto the busy dual carriageway of the N1, but there large bunches of cyclists making use of the ample hard shoulder, so I figure I must be. Today’s climb (as recommended by the tourist info office) is from Villabonna to the coast at Zarautz. Traffic is mostly pedal powered, and I’m joined by an international group of three riders near the bottom. They tell me the climb is 7km long, then proceed to chat to me as we climb. I manage to keep pace for a respectable distance, about two thirds of the way, until I wave good bye and stop to take some pics and eat some food.

As I’m coming down I get passed 4 times by a guy in team sky kit doing his hill reps; in my defence I had stopped to take more photos. The red road (on the map) along the coast to Deba wasn’t very busy, and was very scenic.

Deba Beach

Deba, another surf beach

The road from Deba goes up; of course, but then you get an awesome descent into Gernika. (taking the longer sweeping road, rather than the busy short steep descent) Everyone’s heard of Gernika, bombed, then immortalised by Picaso. The town itself isn’t as pretty as many of it’s neighbours. The tourist office tipped me off that the coast road is in bad condition, so bad that it closes tomorrow for maintenance, so if I want to go that way I have to pass today.

In Bermeo I get another example of Basque hospitality, I think I’ve missed they junction, so pull over to check the map. A group of runners clock me and hurdle the barrier into the road to point me in the right direction, proudly extolling the beauty of my route choice. as I carry on round the coast, I’m intercepted by a motorbike who pulls me over for a chat about my bike, and touring in general. my surly is a bike geek magnet, which is fine by me, geeks rule.

The road is indeed in need of repair, but once again it’s soul food scenery. It would be hard to not feel happy riding here.


It is a very pretty, and pretty hilly coastline

The next day starts well, eucalyptus lines the road, thinning often enough to provide tantalising preludes to the vista that awaits at the top of the climb.

Then it’s off round the coast to Bilbao. I opt to stay in a hostel opposite the Guggenheim, this might be the best view in the city. I’m lucky enough to meet a Brazilian, with fluent Spanish, to hang out with, and it’s nice to be less solitary and have a laugh for a while. We spend a day eating, drinking, doing world class art, and riding trams. The Guggenheim is better than good, and I’m kinda blown away by it.

The road out of Bilbao makes its way through large towns and ports for a good while before you get to leave the urban area. The traffics not to bad though. As I pass under the sign that signals the end of the Basque Country I turn to give a little wave, but I’ve already promised myself I’m going back.

The afternoon’s pretty rough, copious coffee and the buzz of the city have left me sleepless, and it turns out that a handful of Liqueur Chocolates are not the ideal cycling lunch. Then again maybe I’m just coming down from my Basque trip.

The route and practicalities of my journey are here: Appendix , and there’s photos too