Licisto campsite was great. I was just about to use the word peaceful but remembered that we were kept awake by a lesbian couple having a domestic in the early hours, which is what you get for camping at an ‘alternative’ cool site. Breakfast in the morning was enlivened by the source of the fresh eggs. Anything that you put down these chickens got their beaks into. I sprayed water at them from our bottles. They loved it and hung around to play. Otter sightings were once again very poor.
The weather was perfect for late autumn. It was the 26th of May and we cycled on with leg warmers and a gilet and would have had long fingered gloves if we had thought to bring them. We had a second breakfast in Tarbert which would have been cheaper in central London. Hills lay ahead on the A859 and we needed carbs and vitamins but the bill made me wince. The person in front asked for a receipt and I think she wanted to take it home and frame it.
Off we went in the direction of Stornaway and towards enough climbing to make you dress for summer on the way up and mid winter on the descent. This is touring cycling at it’s very best though, with hills, lochs and on that day, blue sky making Scotland just about the best place in the world. Many people come from all over the world to Lewis for the standing stones and they push the cost of a room up to silly prices. A Christmas break may need to be booked a year or more in advance if you want to stay near Calanais. It would probably be worth every penny.
I had been at Calanais many years ago and gosh how it has changed. It pulls in the Druid Dollar and Euro and so you need a big car park and interpretation centre. It is done as well as these places can be and I did like the underfloor heating as we sat and had coffee and cake in socked feet in the almost empty cafe. Calanais is impressive even on a world scale and unlike Stonehenge you can get right up to these massive stones and touch and hug them if you feel the need. In a few weeks time there would be hundreds of people spoiling your photograph, but on that day we had the place almost to ourselves and loved it.
We were cold and hungry and our resolve for camping was wearing more than a little bit thin. We stopped at two B&B’s when it started to rain. The first was a silly price and the second outrageous and both were full. No matter what you pay for a tent you will always get your money back. We cycled on and were glad we did.
We had been told that there were Blackhouses ahead that are converted into bunkhouse accommodation which is true. More importantly, on the beach just down from there are the ruins of more houses and flat land where camping is allowed. The Gearrannan Blackhouses are a wonderful spot, and yes, the camping is free and you can sneak in to use the shower block. It rained very heavily which in a well made and trustworthy tent can actually make things even nicer. We had saved a load of money, we were in a lovely place and we had not needed to cheat. We had got some of the money back on our kit as well.
As we retraced our route on our bikes in the morning we stopped at a gallery come corner shop to pick up bread and listen to the Corncrakes. A little after the turn back onto the A858 there is a Broch and it is well worth a stop. Again we had it to ourselves but were told that in a few weeks time there would be hundreds of visitors a day making busking with a harp in the car park a lucrative gig.
Sunday looks like a good day to retreat to your bedroom and computer games, as the play park is one of the sources of excitement off limits on Lewis. There were similar social restrictions many years ago when I farmed on the top of Dartmoor, with farm work on a Sunday frowned upon. If it looked like there was to be a harvest threatening downpour on Monday, farmers rushed ahead doing a pass in every field, as the rule was that you could continue on a Sunday anything already started.
We had seriously under estimated how long you could cycle on Harris and Lewis if you want to get down to all the remote beaches. We would have to retrace our route back to Tarbert for the ferry to Skye leaving so much unexplored and whole map or two unopened in our panniers. We went down one of the side roads on our way back for a bit of exploration and arrived in Tarbert too late to work out a camping option. I have a rule never to use bunkhouse accommodation and for some reason broke it at the Rockview Bunkhouse. We had a very early ferry the next morning and this was convenient. I regretted the choice just after midnight as a fight broke out in the dorm. I should have looked at the map more and found a spot for a wild camp. I just do not have the constitution and passive nature to cope with communal living. Bunkhouse, Commune, Hostel or Kibbutz should never be used. Lesson learned again and yes, even self imposed rules are there for a reason.
We caught the ferry. But only just, as we were told one thing and then the exact opposite about buying a ticket and where to wait. It had been raining most of the night and more importantly, heavily since we had spilled out onto the pavement of the Rockview to put panniers back onto bikes. Sleep deprived and short of both temper and joy I waited to be called forward and up the ramp into the dry. Esther is always about two stiff shots of Scotch more happy and sanguine than myself at these moments and I know that I must let her do all of the talking if things are not to get out of hand. We picked a seat, hung things up to dry and tucked into the first breakfast of the day. A grey and cold Hebridean morning glided past the window as we sailed towards Skye.