Scotland’s Outer Hebridean islands are a popular destination for both walkers and cyclists. While easily accessible by ferry from the mainland, they feel like a lifetime away.
The diverse and wildy beautiful chain of islands is sparsely populated and boast quiet roads and myriad peaceful walking trails.
Now there are two new reasons to head to the Outer Hebrides (also known as the Western Isles). A project is underway to create a Hebridean Way for cyclists and another for walkers.
The Hebridean Way bike route is now signposted the entire length of the island archipelago, from Castlebay on the isle of Barra to the Butt of Lewis in the far north of the island of Lewis.
This is a ride of around 150 miles and will take the average rider some three to four days. If you have the energy, a ride of two days or even just one is also possible if you have the prevailing south-westerly winds in your favour.
The project has been jointly organised and funded by the Western Isles Council and SNH and supported by Sustrans. It is due to be more officially launched in June, 2015.
Barra: From Castlebay to Northbay
The island of Barra is a treat for cyclists with a quiet road and stunning views. The island is known as the “garden” of the Hebrides and boasts 1,000 species of wild flowers and some of the rarest birds in Scotland, including the elusive corncrake.
The views will also captivate you as you cycle alongside long white sandy beaches and through beautiful scenery mixed with a rich history.
Did you know that a tourist plane can land on a beach on Barra? While on Barra visit dramatic Kisimul Castle in Castlebay and the deserted village at Balnabodach on the east side of the island.
Catch the small Ardmhor (Barra) to Eriskay ferry.
Eriskay: A short ride
The tiny island has much more to offer than you might imagine. It was the first place that Bonnie Prince Charlie set foot on British soil in 1745.
Another famous date is 1941, when the SS Politician ran aground and spilt its cargo of whisky on to the island’s shores. Pop into the Politician bar to see one of the original whisky bottles, or watch the film Whisky Galore, which made Eriskay famous worldwide.
A causeway links Eriskay to the south end of the island of South Uist.
South Uist: Ludag to Carnan
Did you know that South Uist is the only place in Britain where prehistoric mummies have been found or that the west coast is almost one long sandy beach or that the island’s nature reserve has one of the UK’s most important breeding population of waders? All this, plus a fascinating Kildonan Museum, and mile after mile of scenic cycling awaits you on this Outer Hebridean island.
A causeway links South Uist to Benbecula.
Benbecula: Hacklet to Uachdar
The Hebridean Way hugs the west coast of the island. Cyclists will be captivated by the gorgeous beaches and turquoise seas. The island is also famous for machair, the grassy fringes of the beaches where thousands of wildfowers grow in the summer months.
While you’re on the island, you could leave the bike for a while to climb the only hill, Rueval, for sweeping views.
Small islands and causeways see you on your way to North Uist.
North Uist: Carinish to Port nan Long
There’s a choice of routes on this island, either sticking to the western side or heading east to take in Lochmaddy.
The island has Europe’s largest breeding seal colony, with some 9,000 pups born each year. It also boats a nature reserve at Balranald populated with many different birds.
If you fancy some more time off the bike, North Uist has some of the highest peaks in the Outer Hebrides and you could burn off some extra energy with a climb up the steep cone of Eaval.
Catch a ferry at Berneray, just north of North Uist and over a causeway, to reach Harris.
Harris and Lewis: Leverburgh to Butt of Lewis
While Harris and Lewis are identified as two islands they do in fact amount to one larger land mass of island. The Hebridean Way winds its way through changing scenery northwards.
The island of Harris has been voted one of the best in Europe and it’s no wonder. On Harris you will be wowed yet again by fabulous white sandy beaches. It will seem, at times, as if there is yet another more beautiful beach around every corner. Look out, too, for the inhabitant puffins.
Lewis has also received many accolades including last year’s TripAdvisor’s top island pick. It has a lot to offer visitors, including cyclists, such as the Neolithic Callanish standing stones, yet more gorgeous beaches and fabulous clear seas.
Returning to the mainland can be done by CalMac ferry from Stornoway on Lewis to Ullapool.