A “breeze” through the Outer Hebrides
My aim in August 2006 was to spend 9 days cycling the Hebridean Isles (now officially known as the Western Isles), cross as many as I could and discover for myself the essence of life in the most remote of the western communities in Scotland. Thirteen isles and thirteen ferry crossings later, I was left astounded at the beauty and solitude of the existence of the islanders, even though the summer months bring a lot of occasional visitors. It has to be said that the variable weather
patterns and the ever changing sea and landscapes are the very essence of the islands’ beauty.
My route started in Castlebay in Barra, heading northwards with the direction of the 20mph winds! Once landed on Eriskay (made famous by the film Whisky Galore) the route through the Uists, Benbecula and Berneray
was made easier by the construction of causeways. What hit me forcefully on the first day was how Catholic the lower isles had remained, and how freely everyone still spoke Gaelic as their first language
The northern isles of Harris and Lewis provided a more mountainous environment, with standing stones betraying ancient civilisations, and beaches that would be the envy of any Mediterranean country. Skye introduced me to the Cuillins, Talisker whisky and Gaelic music, the sound of which was to stay with me for the rest of my journey.
The smaller isles of Eigg and Rum gave me an insight into the enterprise and self-sufficiency of tiny communities. Eigg, with its resident population of 80 can still boast a taxi and bus service, restaurant and primary school, and the tragic story of St Donan and his monks caught me by surprise. Rum has only 30 inhabitants, but its life revolves around the legendary Kinloch Castle and the Bullough family, former owners of the island.
The inner isles of Mull and Iona were the conclusion of my adventure. As you cross Mull, you join the thousands of day visitors from the mainland who head directly to Iona. I
happened to arrive when the international community of Iona were gathered together in the Abbey, and I joined them for a most moving evening communion service as the sun was setting in the west, filling the Abbey Church with its golden hue.
The ferry crossings were all part of the adventure. With an “Island Rover” ticket you can hop on and off ferries at will, and your bicycle goes free. I was glad I had packed a small pair of field glasses. The entertainment on board by basking sharks, seals, porpoises and even the odd minkhe whale kept me spellbound.