Almost unbelievably, I did not sleep well following yesterday’s mammoth ride. I was simply too warm, and spent most of the night with the duvet off me. It finally dawned on me that my towel, which I had hung down from the top bunk to give me some privacy, was acting like a mini oven. I pulled it down, and felt the fresh air from the open window. It was 7.00 am by now, however, and all too soon it was time to get up.
The day was dull, with low cloud, but it wasn’t actually raining. I left the hostel some time after 9.00, having made my usual sandwiches from part of my breakfast. I headed straight for the cafe in Broadford, and bought a coffee and internet access, and set about updating the blog and doing various housekeeping things. I had not been able to connect to the hostel wifi last night, so although I had everything ready, I was unable to update as usual.
I set off from the cafe at 10.30, heading north to the town of Portree. I had decided, partly due to the length of yesterday’s ride, and partly due to the low cloud, not to head over to the west of the island, but rather to head straight to Uig.
The road soon tilted upwards, and I was glad of the wind to keep me cool. I considered my haste yesterday in labelling the wind my enemy, and thought it best to consider it an ally to be respected. After all, it kept me cool when climbing hard uphill, pushed me along when it was on my back, and kept the midges away.
Speaking of which, there are about 35 species of midge in the British Isles, of which only five have an appetite for humans. Even then, it is only the female of the species who has strong enough jaws to pierce the human skin. She then secretes an anti-coagulant to prevent the flow of blood from drying up, and it is this anti-coagulant that causes the irritation to the skin. The most common type is the Scottish mountain midge, while the garden midge has a less strong ‘bite’, but is more persistent. I can write impassively on the subject as I have yet to be attacked personally by them.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, climbing up the first hill of the day, being thankful for wind rather than cursing it. Every climb has a descent, and this one was no different, with good road surface and no tight bends making it a swift one. Looking right towards the sea, it appeared that the day was getting brighter, but on my left the clouds were still hanging on the hills.
Soon the Cuillins came into view, and I paused at an information point, reading about a local called Charles(?) MacKenzie who, in the late nineteenth century, was the first to explore the mountain range, and who became a well-respected guide. The only thing I know about the Cuillins is that compasses don’t work due to something magnetic in the rock. This is not such an issue nowadays, unless your GPS device happens to be playing up!
Exactly two hours from the cafe saw me in Portree, which was a bustling place, complete with buskers. I tried several cafes, which either didn’t have internet access or had such poor service that I couldn’t order, and bought a sandwich and a chocolate caramel square (oblong, actually) and ate them outside in the sunshine. The chicken tikka salad sandwich cost the very exact amount of £2.18.
From Portree, it was only 16 miles to Uig, taking the most direct route, so I didn’t, and made my way round the large headland that forms the top part of Skye. Portree had been bathed in sunshine, causing me to dispense with the sleeves of my warm jacket and don my sunglasses, but the mist was soon back as I ventured north. Just before a couple of hill lochs I passed a man loading sacks of turf into his van that he had presumably cut and laid out for drying on pallets in the peat bog.
At the top of one climb there was obviously a viewpoint, due to the number of cars and mobile homes stopped there, and there was also a cycle tourist. I stopped for a chat. It transpired that he was working his way down the islands, in a reverse of my route. When I said that I was heading for Harris and Lewis, he simply said “Windy”. He suggested that I take the mountain road over to Uig, but I had had enough of seeing nothing over mountain roads for the time being, so continued round the coast.
Another point on the tourist trail was ‘Kilt Rock’, so called for the way that the different rock formations had eroded over the millennia.
Passing through Staffin, I noticed that a number of the stone built houses had been pointed to within an inch of their lives, rather spoiling the look of them, in my opinion.
With the wind from the south(-ish) at the moment, I was blown north, being grateful to my new ally, but aware that I would be paying for it in the final miles. And pay I did, tucked down on the drops and making painfully slow progress for those last few miles to Uig. I began to wonder what part the wind would play in my time on Harris and Lewis, in terms of needing to be in Stornaway for the 13.50 sailing on Thursday. It has been bliss (relatively) not knowing or needing to know the time over the past few days, and now I will be back cycling to a deadline.
As Uig came into view I thought that, given its size, I would probably get a lot of my book read tomorrow as I waited for the 14.00 ferry. I went to the harbour to double check the time of the Stornaway/Ullapool ferry, and also found out that the hostel was on the other side of the bay. “See that hill”, said the trainee ticket clerk, pointing to the opposite side of the water. “It’s about half way up it!”.
I was a little disappointed that it was not in the harbour itself, as I had already spotted a restaurant that offered free wifi to customers. I set off to the hostel, noting both a pub and a hotel as I passed them going up the hill. The drive up to the hostel had hairpins, such was the steepness of the gradient, and I finished today’s ride in my granny gear!
I arrived at 16.40, and the hostel didn’t open until 17.00, so I sat outside for a while. I chatted with an Australian girl, and when I discovered that she had just come from Harris, and had stayed in the hostel that I would be staying in tomorrow night, I pumped her for information. It turns out that it is only manned until 18.00, after which time it can be difficult to get hold of anyone. She also said that it was busy, because there is a music festival on at Stornaway at the moment (Van the man headlining!). Armed with this new information, I decided to phone the hostel, to check my booking. I talked to Catriona, who confirmed my booking. When I said I might not be there by 18.00, she asked if I had already paid, when I said no, she asked when I was leaving the following morning. After that she talked about me paying on their web site. “What about putting some money in an envelope?”, I asked. “Ok”, came the reply. She gave me details of my bed for the night and I thanked her and hung up, marvelling at her laid back attitude.
I have washed all my kit, left my poor bike outside (no bike shed), and am about to wander down to the hotel for a meal and to upload this. A light rain has come on in the last few minutes, which hopefully won’t come to much.
Day 7 statistics
Miles ridden: 63
Unusual mileposts seen: 1
Views seen: More than I had thought I would see at the start of the day