Day 43: Sunday 10 April Since arriving in the Western Isles, anyone who has questioned me about my route plans between the three well spaced All Weather Lifeboat Stations (Barra, Leverburgh and Stornoway) has initially given the same response. With a quizzical frown, one eyebrow raised, half a pace backwards and the sound of air being sucked through teeth (rather like Fraser’s catchphrase of impending doom in Dad’s Army), comes the exclamation “but… you’ll have to climb the Clisham!” When each of these helpful imparters of local knowledge are then asked to expand, this is where their descriptions of the Clisham begin to vary. From “quite short, but very steep” to “not too steep, but it goes on and on and. ..” So, today’s the day to find out.
After the usual heavy breakfast, a cautionary pause of half an hour to digest at least some of it, some further jettisoning of unwanted weight (like that last piece of flapjack at the bottom of my snack bag, home made in Bristol a few weeks ago, sorry Claire but it’s getting a bit furry) and a nicely oiled chainset, off I go. I can now confirm that, if all the advice I had been given was combined it would be about right. Yes, it had a few nasty steep bits and yes, it went on and on. But I did it. The first 7 miles were almost all uphill and restricted me to a low but respectable average of just 9mph. More disappointing was the realisation that the next 30 miles of gentle ups&downs was to be spoiled by an irritating NE head wind. However, there was one thrilling downhill half-miler where I just about managed to reach 40mph before a terrifying front wheel shimmy, combined with the bright red brake lights of the lorry I was catching up with, brought me back to my senses. The brakes still work well in dry conditions.
Lewis & Harris now done. After yesterday’s unbelievably beautiful beaches and rocky, rolling landscape of West Harris, today’s stark, mountainous start over North Harris (the Clisham peaks at 799 metres) was quite a contrast with the route through Lewis to Stornoway. This section was like a cooler, longer, lumpier, peaty version of Dartmoor, with extra helpings of mini lochs & tarns on the side.
Arriving in Stornoway was quite a shock. Having grown used to long spells of isolation on narrow “main” roads with passing places for the occasional car or sheep, I’d quite forgotten about roundabouts, traffic lights, side streets and everything else associated with large towns. A bit of time to explore tomorrow, plus the planned visit to Stornoway Lifeboat Station. With the long ferry crossing back to the mainland in the afternoon, tomorrow is a non cycling day. I hope I remember how to walk.