The stoker on the safe side of the gate. She is on North Uist and suitably dressed for a Hebridean summer.

July 5 to July 11 2005 Leverburgh to Stornoway

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Day 41 July 5th Leverburgh to Drinishader (Harris)

The Golden Road through the bays of Harris equals if not betters any ride we have done anywhere. There are two ways to cross Harris, either to the west of the mountains or to the east. The west, on the mainly single track with passing places, apparently goes by wonderful white beaches. We have not seen them. Both this time and the last time we were here we went to the east.

The road to the east rises very steeply from Leverburgh to the lovely little church at Rodel near Renish Point. Here it is normally very quiet but today we had the Hebridean Challenge. This involves road and mountain biking, kayaking, swimming and mountain running in teams. It is very complex and to find out more we will look on the web when we get home. Another km on and everything was peace and quiet again except for the huge breaths the Stoker was taking to drive us up the hill. The first of many.

This area of the island is called "The Bays" and the road "The Golden Road". The island population came here during the land clearances. It is so rugged that even the rich aristocratic sheep farmers did not want it.

The single track road winds up and down and round and round like a mad big dipper. It goes down to the rocky coast and to the foot of the mountain. There are lochs at all levels and of all colours today in the sunshine with a few clouds. The very occasional car or van comes as a surprise.

We stopped for lunch at the highest point we could find. It overlooked a rocky inlet of the sea and the rocky islands nearby. In the far distance are the mountains of Skye. Just down the way two men are doing some resurfacing of the road. Both were fast asleep in their vehicles in the sun. Looks like a good summer job.

The Management seems to have got so laid back that he failed to plan the route properly. It was not that he was lost. He just took us up a gigantic hill, on top of all the others. Then we went steeply down to the hostel at Drinishader. What he should have done was navigate us gently along the coast.

Travelling in this part of Harris has become at times very sociable. We met several people whom we have seen on ferries or hostels. This included Andrew who is travelling by bike, and a couple from the north west of the USA travelling by car. Andrew is out from Edinburgh. The couple, who do lots of walking, have sensibly abandoned the idea of going far and seeing little to stay here for the rest of their holiday in the UK.

Day 42 July 6th Day off at Drinishader (Harris)

The hostel at Drinishader is in a typically lovely setting on the Golden Road, named not for its beauty but by locals referring to its cost of construction. It overlooks lochs and rocky islands. It is truly silent, a silence seldom experienced anywhere in the UK. Very very occasionally a vehicle passes by on the single track road. As far as we are concerned it was tax payers money well spent.

Perhaps it is not the best equipped hostel we have stayed in. But we don't care. We have our own room up the steep stairs in the low roof of the ancient building. The kitchen is fine and there is a washing machine which works.

The tandem was serviced, washing done and plans made for the next two weeks. We took our three legged stools to the place on the road 500 metres away where 02 has a phone signal. We were then able to phone round for accommodation and send emails.

We then had some time relaxing in the sun. In the evening we all ate and chatted together. Gordon had just come back from a once in a lifetime trip to St Kilda. He will be the warden of the Bayfield hostel at Portree on Skye when it opens soon. John and Jenny were popular with us having brought us a bottle of wine. And Andrew had lots of stories from his life on the railways.

Day 43 July 7th Drinishader (Harris) to Balallan (Lewis)

Even so far away in such a beautiful place it is hard to escape the dreadful events in London today. Some 50 people killed and 700 injured by four terrorist bombs. We were in Tarbert when we heard. Elisabeth, Ken's daughter, phoned to say that his family were all OK and soon Anne's sons texted that they were also fine.

We had left the hostel and exited the Golden Road via a big climb. It's funny but it felt just like leaving a lane in Dorset and going onto the main road. And yet here we were going onto a little frequented A road in wonderful scenery.

The road into Tarbert was mainly a descent. The plan was to go to the tourist office to sort out accommodation across the top of Scotland to Inverness. OK, it's next week, ages away, but the Management wants to take a quiet route. The Stoker is worried that there will be nowhere to stay.

We did not escape from the tourist office until lunchtime. Gordon, at last night's hostel, had worked in the office, and told us about their computer system. It is a reasonably good system and the staff were very helpful. It is also time consuming and only includes accommodation registered with them.

It had been drizzling all the morning so we went to a café nearby for lunch. We emerged well fed with a day's ride to do in the afternoon. This would have been physically impossible six weeks ago. Now having at last got some fitness it was not a big problem.

The route through North Harris is along the coast. It then goes between mountains which rise from sea level to 800 metres. The road rises to a pass at about 200 metres. It is a long hard climb through quite different scenery from the Golden Road.

Unfortunately the single track road is being widened and spoiled. A council that is prepared to approve the biggest wind farm in Europe would no doubt think these road "improvements" are essential. Especially when the EC is paying. We suppose that we can expect the same kind of idiotic schemes in Dorset now that we have the Olympic sailing.

Balallan is an interesting place. On the way into the village is a monument commemorating the land grab. In protest against the pernicious Highland property laws disinherited crofters demonstrated here. The "owner" of the land had set up a deer park for wealthy hunters rather than even considering letting the crofters return. This resulted in troops being deployed and the riot act read. But a prosecution against the leaders failed and eventually the law was changed.

Balallan is also a lovely place on the side of a fine loch with hills and mountains behind. And our B&B is set high up with great views.

Day 44 July 8th Balallan to Callanish

We think we must be suffering from scenic overload. As we went steeply down and back to the road the loch and the mountain were the same, still there. But we almost failed to notice them. The following wind and the steepness of the up and down, yes we noticed those. Otherwise we just got on with the morning's work of getting to Callanish.

After a few miles we came to a sign which said "stone circle". We followed the standard EC path. Then we reached the EC explanation panel. We wandered across the bog but there was little or no sign of any stones. We guess they didn't get an EC grant to put them up.

We returned to the road to a fallen down tandem. EC bike parking would be useful. Then our friends of the past few days, from Washington northwest USA, pulled up in their car. It is a small place and we are meeting the same people as we go along. It's nice.

A bit further on we came across an elderly couple shearing and giving medication to their sheep. They had forty sheep in a pen and were taking them out one at a time. Islanders are almost always friendly and unhurried. What started as a photo opportunity turned into a long conversation. We learned that they received about 50p per fleece. We guess it would take them all day to make £20. It is not surprising that hill farming is in steep decline.

With rumbling tummies we pedalled on to Callanish. We stopped just outside the village at the first stone circle we came to. We walked over the bog and this time enjoyed the silence and intimacy of a small stone circle.

The Rough Guide recommended eating at the Black House tea room. It is a nice place but the visitors centre does a better chip. Suitably replete we made for the stones, but not for long. It was raining quite hard. So instead we checked into a nearby B&B.

But all was not lost. After we had eaten we walked back up to the stones. It was very atmospheric in the evening light. It hardly gets dark here at this time of the year so we had plenty of time.

The Management has parked the tandem beside a renovated blackhouse. This one is used as a hostel and is part of the Garenin Museum.

Day 45 July 9th Callanish to Shawbost

The distance today is not far. We tried to stay in the same place for three nights without success. There is a Celtic festival at Stornaway later in the week and accommodation is hard to find. We had planned to ride to Great Bernera to see the biggest standing stone in this part of the western world. The weather was damp and misty so instead we went slowly without much enthusiasm towards Shawbost.

We detoured down a minor road which went to Tolsta Chaolais. Unusually for this part of the world we came back to the main route without back tracking. This village and some of the villages here are a bit different from other parts of the Hebrides. The land owner allowed crofters to return in the 1880's and they did not all live on crofts. So it is a little more like the villages we are used to.

We then visited Carloway Broch. This is a round double skinned castle built without mortar. It was intact until only about 150 years ago when it was plundered for building materials. It is still well worth a visit though we would have been happier if there had been a café.

As the weather persisted in its precipitation we pedalled on to the Blackhouse museum at Garenin. This is now a village of eight or so reconstructed ethnic dwellings which were last occupied by locals in the 1950's. The locals moved to comfortable council houses and the Blackhouses fell into disrepair. Then along comes the Garenin Trust and rebuilds them. Shame they didn't do it for the residents instead of building council houses.

The village looks ethnic enough from the outside. But electric underfloor heating and wood lined interiors were not present in the originals. We did however have a nice lunch and visited the hostel where we stayed in 1999. It was exactly the same as it was then, bypassed by the interior designers. We are obviously getting soft, preferring B&B to basic hostels.

Going on in the rain we were back on the main road. It is amusing that it is a new road, not single track and with street lights and pavements in places. It would not look out of place in downtown Basingstoke. Only thing is there is little traffic or housing and it is over a hilly peat bog.

We don't completely agree on this but it looks as if Lewis has lost the plot. It has a very specialist tourist trade which is probably the only income to the island other than grants, benefits and tax credits. Tourists take a lot of trouble to come here. It takes four hours by ship over what can be a rough sea. They and we don't want a rural version of down town Basingstoke. We want ethnic unspoilt Outer Hebrides.

The tourist trade in the north of the islands could already be in decline. At Callanish there used to be five B&Bs. Now there is only one. The proposed wind farm, the biggest in Europe, could be the last straw. Perhaps the new road here should be called the Goose Road, to remember the killing of the goose that could have laid the golden egg.

As we were nearing Shawbost there was a nice descent. The tandem however was not gaining speed. The Stoker looked back. The trailer tyre was completely flat. She felt guilty that she had not noticed sooner. She, all of her own accord, without any Management pressure, had taken responsibility for the rear of the tandem.

The trailer, almost entirely without maintenance, has done more miles than any other component. It gets forgotten. The last time the wheel was looked at was in Canada last year after a taxi driver bent the rim. So the Management changed the tube. He also decided to treat it to a new tyre when he gets home. If he does not forget. So at about the usual time we arrived at the B&B rather damp.

Day 46 July 10th Shawbost back to Shawbost via Brue

By chance we have come across perhaps the most unusual and pleasant B&B in Lewis. It is run by a lady who came here 28 years ago from the Philippines. She married a merchant navy officer and has brought up her two sons here. She has lost nothing of the flare and enterprise of her people. Her house is full of colourful knickknacks. But what we like most is her approach to the Tourist Office inspector. There is everything one could think of in the room. It may not be in the normal place but they can't refuse her her rating.

What we particularly enjoy is her fine vegetarian cooking. It is good in its own right. But we are in a place where vegetables are hard to come by and she grows most of what we eat in her own garden. So we are looked after very well though communication can be a little difficult. It can be hard to understand the Hebridean accent. Mixing it with Philippino and ......

Sundays here are still like the Sundays of our childhood. One does not hang washing outside and if there were any shops they would be shut. On the face of it no work is done, especially in the morning. As it was rather wet early on we had no problem with this.

It eventually brightened up a little and we went for a walk to the seaside. Actually it was a very long way and we eventually turned round with a view to getting the tandem. But by the time we got back to the digs it was lunchtime.

After lunch we headed north on the tandem. It became a blackhouse ride as the Stoker is trying for her degree in the subject. We went to the Arnol Blackhouse museum which was shut like everything else. But the only thing we couldn't see was the inside of one preserved since the last resident moved out in 1964. They were condemned as unfit for human habitation in the 1920s. Most then fell into disrepair and were replaced by shoddy whitehouses. It seems that they were hardly ever converted or incorporated into modern houses although some are reroofed and used as farm outhouses.

We went onto a fine beach, careful to avoid a breeding colony of little terns. The way back was of course against the wind and there was also enough rain in the air for waterproofs.

Before our huge dinner we had time to make phone bookings for next week. It is difficult because we hope to use minor roads and accommodation is limited. Details of all accommodation is not held by the Tourist Office. Elisabeth back in Camberley had got the numbers for us off the internet. The future of the Tourist Office has to be in doubt unless they get connected and use full lists. The Management is in tears.

Day 47 July 11th Shawbost to Stornoway

As we left Norma, our wonderful hostess, we could not help but think of Puckoon. Spike had a fully integrated Chinese policeman. Lewis has a fully integrated Philippino lady. And she was able to put her washing out today but not yesterday. It was a breezy but sunny Monday.

We were also pleased to see the sun after four days of mist and rain. We made our way south to a minor road. From here we turned inland across the peat moors to Stornaway. Again it is impossible to do photographic justice to the beauty we experienced. The rolling peat moors are backed in every direction by distant or, to the north, closer mountains. The occasional loch reflected the deep blue sky.

We are not very good at identifying birds and flowers but they are both prolific and lovely. We watched a huge bird of prey apparently bring food to a fledgling which had left the nest. The baby was almost as large as the parent. The occasional clump of flowering heather stood out from the peat banks among other wild flowers.

Amusingly, tourists are told that this fine single track road is unsuitable for motor vehicles. So we only had to make way for the very occasional local.

Stornoway is a small town. We have been out in the countryside for ten days and it feels very bustling and busy. We enjoyed an ice-cream then checked into our B&B. Describing our route today to our host he immediately mentioned the proposed windfarm. He is strongly opposed as are we. The campaigners say that peat moor is not waste land and we couldn't agree more. Apparently each of the hundreds of wind turbines will need a piece of concrete the size of a football pitch to hold them down. They may be preferable to nuclear but no way can they be considered green energy.

We are about to enter the last phase of this trip. We are sad that we will be leaving the peace and quiet of the Outer Hebrides tomorrow. But we look forward the the gentler weather of mainland Scotland.

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