Sunday, 16 September 2012

Sun 16th: Benbecula to North Uist

An excellent breakfast of poached eggs on toast (and a stolen chunk of Stornaway black pudding) and after a bit of saddle adjustment for Mal, we were off. Of course there was that second day wince when you first get in the saddle!

No sooner were we off than we stopped- on the road by the B&B was a grave yard with a ruined chapel which originally belonged to the monastery at Iona. Apparently much of the island was owned by the Monks. Many of the gravestones were illegible but there were a few war graves - a sailor from HMS Furious, and three Australians who must have died in a plane crash.

The crazy collie across the road wasn't impressed with us hanging around so we doned waterproofs and headed into the depressing looking Baile a'Mhanaich.

Fortunately we were soon out of the other side and out on to the causeway that links the two islands (minus waterproofs by this time). Then there was a bit of searching for birds/otters, and few gratuitous bikes on causeway pictures before we got onto South Uist proper.

Once at Cairinis we had brief stop to visit Teampall na Trianaid (TrinityTemple) a medieval church and centre of learning. There was a surprising amount left of the building, and lots more gravestones.

Back on the road we turned right at the junction in Clachan (the general store was very closed, it being Sunday an' all) as we wanted to check out the stone circle and megalithic tumulus at Barpa Langass.

Down the end of the turning was a hotel and a circular walk taking in both features. Unfortunately when we got to the tumulus there were no entry sighs up as part of the roof caved in, in May 2011. Peering inside with a torch you could see the pillar stones that support the ceiling lintel stones, and clearly make out where some of the stone work had collapsed. The guide book had said you could go inside, but even without the roof collapse the space was cosy! The stone circle was on the side of the hill which I thought was a bit odd as it didn't seem a very prominent position. From the trig point at the top of the hill you could really see that this part of North Uist is manly water-there were just freshwater lochs in every direction.

At this point we had a decision to make- either carry on the east road or head back to the junction and round the west road. In the end we opted for heading back as there were sights we wanted to see on the west side. Foolishly at this point I decided to remove my mid layer, so it is entirely my fault that heading back we got caught in a hail storm and a headwind. Mal ploughed on through it and I followed behind, but it didn't last long and by the time we were back at Clachan it had gone.

Although the rain had gone the wind still remained and we didn't have much choice other than head down and keep plodding. The flat bits weren't too bad but even the slightest rise with the wind and bike luggage just sapped your speed. Soon enough we made it to the Claddach Kirkibost Centre and even though it was Sunday and out of season the excellent cafe was still open. Fortuitous as the heavens opened again while we ordered tea!

Back out and battling the wind again. The land around is pretty flat, only sand dunes to break the view (and much like Orkney, Mal tells me). We passed the turning for the RSPA reserve at Balranald but decided not to turn down as it would put us directly into the wind. Scolpaig tower appeared eventually much to my relief as I knew the road turned eastwards away from the wind at this point. The tower was a strange sight - a small folly built on an island in the middle of a freshwater loch just in land - there seemed no reason why it would be built there.

After a bit of navigational error (we went past it) we ended up at the B&B. The approach is stunning- cycling around the bay of Traigh Bhalaigh with the tide out there's a huge expanse of pale sand, then sitting down to dinner watching the tide come in and the sun setting.

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