The hostel was virtually empty last night. Left at 9 to explore the peninsula of Faraid Head, 2 miles north of Durness. Went down the road towards Balnakiel for a little way, then turned off north. Not a terribly nice day, it's very windy. Make my way through a campsite and through a landscape of dunes. End up at Seanachaisteal Cape, from where I headed west along the clifftops. These veer north after a litttle while, and in due course I was reunited with the road. This winds its way through the dunes and the sand towards an MOD monitoring station on Faraid Head. This is off-limits. The road at times disappears under sand, but is intensively used. Have a break on the hills just south of the fence, and look west towards Garbh Eilean, the bombing target for the navy. I make my way south again and when the road peters out in the sands of Balnakiel Bay, I go down to the shoreline. I return to the road at Balnakiel village. Half a mile further down I have another look at the craft village. Have a cup of soup in the bookshop and look round the gemstone shop. The proprietrix is a large elderly lady who told me how to kill a dog.She complained about the neighbours whose dog was forever p'ing in her flowerbeds, and about all and everything. I returned to the hostel to collect my things and have lunch. The bus back to Ullapool starts at 2.45. It was strange to alone in the hostel after the convivial buzz of the weekend. Left at 2.15 to walk up the road to the starting point at the Smoo Caves. The journey back down to Ullapool took 3 hours and was the same as on the way up, albeit a little sunnier. The Youth Hostel in Ullapool still had vacancies. One of the wardens was a young Dutch lady. Nipped out to Safeways for food, then proceeded to eat it. Internet access in the village was extortionately priced, so I left that. Nice natter with some hostellers.
After breakfast, Mrs Beaton very kindly offers to run me into Castlebay. I'm there as early as 9.30 a.m., so I pop into the TIC to sort out my accommodation for the weekend. This will be a B&B at Earsary, on the eastern side of Barra. It's about 5 miles from Castlebay. Unfortunately, I cannot go there until 11 o'clock. I retreat to the library to access the internet. The library is located in the local school. When I arrive there, everything is yet to start up, so I natter to the librarian, waiting for the computer to get its act together. After that, I proceed to the far side of Castlebay to hire a bicycle. It's a dinky little place, where they can let me have a bike for a couple of days for about £25. The bike I am given needs a bit of tweaking, in terms of brakes, saddle &c. After a preliminary run round the block, I saddle up with my huge, big rucksack to tackle that hill. And it's a long, high climb. You go up to 102 m over a distance of about a mile. Bearing in mind it's turning into a nice, sunny and hot day, I'm soon perspiring. I end up walking the bike up, and have to take a few breaks on the way. Snide comments from passers-by don't help, but I manage to reach the highest point. There is a little picnic acrea, opposite a stile, which gives access to the highest point on Barra. This is more than 900 ft above my present position. Now I have to descend to sealevel again, and the descent is as hairy as the ascent. I walk the bike down, then, as the gradient eases, I mount up and ride the remaining stretch to Earsary. After the bay at Brevig, there is a side road to Sgallairidh. Both villages lie under the dramatic backdrop of Heaval and Hartaval, the highest hills on Barra, 383 and 353m respectively. My accommodation is at the far, northern, end of Earsary. Have to jolt over a cattle-grid first, then leave the bike at the side of the house. Only too glad, the thing plays havoc with me undercarriage. Mrs MacNeil is still waving off her guests from last night. I'm afforded a nice welcome. Afterwards I mount the bike again and head north. Problem is that the main road on Barra, the A888, is single-track. As a cyclist, I have to dive into a passing-place to let vehicles past. Following a long descent thorugh Buaille nam Bodach, I pass over a causeway across part of Loch Ob. The road veers along the bank of the inlet and heads steeply up through a pass, to descend once more into Northbay. It's here, at 12.30, that my eye falls upon the Heathbank Hotel, which serves barlunches. I park the bike and go inside. A very pleasant young lady behind the bar takes my order. As I sat down at the back, a lady with a young child tries to get him to eat his lunch. Meanwhile, I'm flabbergasted when a man gets up from the bar and walks straight into the ladies' toilets. My surprise will have shown, as the barmaid explains that in the recent refurbishment, the gents' and the ladies' were swapped round. The chap in question gets some ribbing over his insouciance. I say good-bye to the lady behind the bar and go on my merry way. First down to the ferry terminal at Ardmhor, where the ferry isn't due for another 3 hours. So, I carry on to Traigh Mhor, which doubles as the island's airfield. Scheduled services depart here for Glasgow and Benbecula. As that bike is so hideously uncomfortable, I flop down at the southern end of the beach to enjoy the sunshine. Watch a small yellow plane outside the terminal building, a little way along. I slowly cycle past the terminal, where the fire-engine is being tested. Carry on past Eoligarry School and through the township itself to Bagh nan Clach, until the road appears to run straight into Beinn Sgurabhal, the northernmost tip of Barra. Park the bike at the roadend near a farm. Climb over a stile and go down to the beach, Traigh Sgurabhal. This stretches southeast for about a mile, and looks out towards Fudaigh and Eriskay. South Uist lies about 4 miles to the north. Laze on the sands for a bit, faff with rocks and sand. Then I climb up to the machair above and return to the bike. I cycle back all the way to Earsary, 7 miles in total. It takes me about an hour to cover the distance. People are collecting cockles on Traigh Mhor. Return to Earsary at 5, with the dogs barking furiously. Just before 6, I cycle back to the Heathbank for supper. The girl behind the bar has been replaced by her dad. Good food here. Return to Earsary at 7.45. There is no wind tonight, so the midges are out in force. There is only one thing for it: keep going. The sun shines warmly until my return at Minchview. Mrs MacNeil very kindly gives me a saddle cover - my bike is so blinking uncomfortable.
Decide on today's course of action after breakfast. I have a choice of joining the Citylink bus to Glasgow or the Calmac ferry across to Tarbert, Harris. I opt for the ferry. Having bought a ticket, I now have to wait for the minibus to take me to the ferry. It is very windy today, blowing a gale. When on the actual quayside, the wind gets hold of the gangway, which nearly sweeps everybody off their feet and into the wall of the waiting room. Departure time 9.20, and it's very lively in the Minch. Visibility poor, but I nonetheless spend the duration of the journey out on deck. Dock at Tarbert at 11 o'clock. Bus leaves for Stornoway at 11.30, depositing me there an hour later. I'm first going into the TIC for a bed. A lot of trouble later, I'm finally directed towards a B&B in Newton Street, on the seafront. At the TIC I also enquired about what's on: it appears a play called Metagama will be staged tonight, so I buy a ticket. After dinner in the Crown Hotel, I proceed up the road from my B&B to Seaforth Road and the studios there. Metagama is the name of an emigrant ship that left Lewis in 1923 for Canada, taking scores of young men and women with it who were looking for a new life in the West. Following the Great War (1914-18), prospects in the Western Isles were definitely bleak. The Canadian Government advertised for work, and hundreds applied. Return to B&B at 10.30.
Bus left at 12 o'clock with me in prime position, behind the driver. Had this half-baked idea to alight at the Duntulm Hotel, to look up Renata who I'd met last Saturday on the Small Isles ferry. She was the one that forgot to get off at Eigg. Alighted at Duntulm and went into the hotel bar for a bit of lunch. They took their time getting it out to me, it should be said. When I finally got out again, not having found Renata, it had turned cold and miserable. Very strong winds, mobile phone coverage only at sealevel. Walked down the road to view the ruins of Duntulm Castle. They were popular that day with a variety of tourists. They all had nice warm cars and coaches.
My bus finally turned up at 3 pm. A step down the road, we picked up a local man, who was going to work for Calmac over the weekend. I did mention poor visibility. On cresting the hill leading into Uig, we were brought to a halt in a line of traffic. Someone had driven their car into a ditch. A tractor was just in the process of pulling it out. It was beginning to rain heavily. Driver pulled up outside the convenience store at Uig pier to buy a paper. On return to Portree, it was raining heavily. My search for accommodation resumed at the TIC. It lands me a B&B 16 miles away - at Uig (where I've just come from).
Return to Uig on the 4.20 bus, which drops me off quite neatly outside the door. Am welcomed into Orasay GH, with a pokey likl room, but a pleasantly spacious sitting room. Go for a bite to eat in the restaurant two doors down. Food acceptable, but when I go for a beer in the bar, there's hardly anyone there. Have a short walk into the croft behind Orasay, where a number of selfcatering caravans stand. By now, 8 pm, it's dry if chilly. Turn in at 10.30.