By: Angus MacLeod
is an extremely popular sport and more and more people are
discovering the pleasures of taking a cycling tour in preference to
other types of vacation. Most choose to tour areas where the ground
is rather flat and any hills are but gentle slopes while others
prefer to visit areas which offer much more of a challenge. The Isle
of Harris in the Western Isles (also known as the Outer Hebrides) of
Scotland continues to increase in popularity for cycling tours and
vacations and is well worth consideration if you are a competent and
The Outer Hebrides (or Western Isles) is a group of over two hundred islands found off the west coast of Scotland in the United Kingdom of Great Britain. The vast majority of islands are now uninhabited with only a handful remaining populated. There are two distinctive land masses with the Isle of Harris and Isle of Lewis part of one in the north and to the south the islands of North and South Uist with a number of other smaller islands dotted around. Happily these islands have excellent transport links and it is possible to tour from the very south up to the northern tip via a network of double and single track roads, bridges, causeways and ferries.
|You will find that South and North Uist are much flatter that
the Isle of Harris. After visiting the beaches and other tourist
attractions on Uist the Isle of Harris comes as something of a
surprise. The beaches are just as, if not more, spectacular but the
hills start off gentle but as you move further north they become far
more challenging until you reach the mountains of North Harris.
There is really only one steep ascent and a steep descent in the
range but it can be exhausting.
Once you reach the Isle of Lewis the terrain flattens to open moorland and onto Stornoway, the main (and only) town of the Outer Hebrides. Further north the terrain once again becomes slightly more challenging.
Cycling in the Western Isles (Outer Hebrides) necessitates the need to understand a few safety measures and considerations. It is of extreme importance that you fully understand how easy it is to get sunburnt on the islands, even on what appears to be a dull day the UV rays still manage to get through to cause their damage. Please take great care not to allow yourself to become too distracted by the incredible scenery and always pay attention to the road and other traffic. Rather than cause obstruction simply pull to one side, move away from the road and then spend as much time as you like taking in the wonderful views.
Single track roads are still common in many parts of the Hebrides and you need to understand how to use them properly to ensure yours and others safety. The roads on some of the islands can twist and turn and traffic can suddenly appear from nowhere so always keep an eye and an ear out for it. Do not hog a single track road by riding aside each other as this can be dangerous but mostly very annoying to other road users. Use the passing places to allow all traffic (from behind and oncoming) to pass by pulling into those on the left and pulling over to the left when they appear to your right.
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|It is important that you understand that on the Isles of Harris
and Lewis (and areas of North Uist) most places are closed on
Sundays due to their strict observance of a Sunday Sabbath. It is
therefore vitally important that you stock up on the Friday or
Saturday so that you do not find yourself without the following day.
Although there are now a few places that open on Sundays in Stornoway you should ensure that you arrive before then, especially if you are needing to visit the local bicycle shop for spares or repair (they also rent out bikes). Stornoway is only a small town and should be explored on foot, and, if you have time, make the effort to take a stroll in the Lews Castle grounds if the weather is nice.
If you enjoy cycling but a full tour of the Outer Hebrides is too much then why not consider basing yourself on the Isle of Harris and spend a couple of days here and there cycling to the places you wish to visit? There are plenty of places to stay on Harris with a number of places to camp, hostels, hotels, guest houses and plenty of self catering accommodation to choose from.
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