Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Uig Sands, Lewis

It's great to watch the mainland receding from the deck of the Ullapool - Stornoway ferry, although I have to admit that such journeys are much more relaxing when sitting in the bar scooping beer rather than refereeing in the children's soft play area.  We were headed for Uig Sands on the west coast of Lewis, a place that has been calling out to me ever since my last visit in July 2003, having stuck in my  mind as one of the most relaxing and enchanting places I have ever been to.

Uig is approached through the incongrous narrow defile of Gleann Bhalthois. I love landscape features like this narrow, steep-sided glen, that act as passageways between different areas,  in this case linking the  peaty moorland of which much of Lewis is composed to the magical land of Uig. There is just something about the landscape - the brooding grey hills, their profiles aped by the gneiss knolls, dunes and banks of moraine in the foreground;  the beach - really two beaches, the vast sandflats of one remaining substantially unharassed by the turquoise waters other than in spring tides. The bold outcrops of striped pink and grey gneiss that separate the two beaches are doused in sand at each high tide by any Atlantic breakers that make it through the narrow mouth of Camas Uig.

The winds were strong, perhaps gusting up to 70 mph, so I sat in my van, watching the sand snake across the sandflats like spindrift across a mountaintop. The features of snow were there in the sand.In  the wind-scoured areas shells stood aloft like ice nodules, capping tiny pillars of sand. The blown sand accumulated in soft drifts of floury powder. Where the sand had been compacted by footfall it resisted erosion by the wind and reared up, as if fossilised in plaster.

At the both sides of the bay rivers flow down the perimeter, making an island of the sand. Through my slightly rose-tinted shades the water appeared bright purple, like August heather. As my eyes tracked downstream they registered a psychedelic transition through green to bright yellow as my shades augmented the van's tinted windows.

The cost of camping at Ardoil has doubled since my last visit, to two pounds per person per night. By contrast, the ferry fare has shrunk thanks to the Road Equivalent Tarrif. In 2003 I'm pretty sure it cost at least 250 for a car and two adults,now it's only 105, much less than even the 1996 price of 154 pounds quoted in the SMC climbing guide. Let's hope the pilot RET scheme is rolled out to other routes.

Just down the road are the astounding sea-cliffs of Mangurstadh, without doubt one of the most spectacular pieces of coastal scenery I have seen anywhere in the world - remarkably clean. boiled sweet stripey gneiss, pounded by a pulsating, foaming sea. A fantastic treat awaits for lovers of bothies and howffs, for a local man has built a charming small bothy on the clifftop. Through its spray-dampened window the view blurs to become an oil painting hanging on the wall.

The outer isles never fail to inspire me - check out the post I wrote last year when the Sunday ferries started up, or another more recent one discussing Jonathan Meades' comments on the island's built environment.

Labels: , , ,

Friday, 20 August 2010

Waiting for the ferry in Ullapool

Carlos Castaneda's shaman Don Juan remarked that a crow is never just a crow, it is always a sign.

In a similar vein I hope that the seagull that obligingly placed itself in the centre of my photo of Loch Broom, with a cloud-veiled Ben Mor Coigach beyond, is a good omen, promising a fine long weekend on the Isle of Lewis.

It must be 7 years since I last visited Uig Sands on the west coast of Lewis. The place has been calling me back ever since.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

North Coast Cycle Day 4: Strathy to Thurso

One question has been burining in my mind since finishing the tour. Does the act of cycling itself induce flatulence, or is it simply that gas is generated in direct proportion to calorie intake, three times the calories generating three times the wind? Perhaps the liberal consumption of foaming pints of Radler plays a part. Or the fact that a vegan cycling partner meant that Beanfeast featured heavily on the menu.

I hadn't particularly been relishing the last stage of this journey, leaving behind the peaks of the Northwest for the agricultural lands of Caithness, but the 20 or so miles into Thurso to pick up the train south was the most enjoyable part of the tour - perfect cycling terrain of gentle rises and long sweeping descents. The sun on our faces and the speedo reading over 20 mph. This is what cycle touring is all about. What a contrast to the coast road between Coigach and Kylesku, alternating between 40 mph downhills and grinding, thigh-busting 4 mph uphills.

I've not done any long rides this year so my ass was ruined and I was quite glad to dismount after 170 miles in the saddle. A great trip, a true journey, with highs and lows. I loved the long downhills, but would happily have accepted a lift if one had been offered during the wet climb after Loch Eribol. All the unpleasantness has now been forgotten, and if I do this tour again, which I surely will, but in settled high pressure next time, I would blast up the main road to Durness in a day, nab a hill or two, then scoot all the way to Wick.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, 1 August 2010

North Coast Cycle Day 3: Durness to Strathy

Another soggy, squalid start to the day in a beer-smelling tent, thanks to a minor spillage on the first night. This must be Scotland as the tourist sees it, day after day of low cloud and constant precipitation. Always a risk when activities are planned far in advance, as they must if they involve securing both the bicycle spaces on a train.

The day brightened as we approached Tongue, dispelling the morning's gloom; the road to Bettyhill was at times bathed in sunshine and the day remained dry to the finishing point of Strathy. Beers were consumed in the Tongue Hotel and the Strathy Inn.

All in all this has been an awesome but deeply fatiguing trip - very hilly, and the downs never enough to carry the next up, meaning that every uphill ends in a gruelling low gear grind.

Only a few miles remain to Thurso and the train south.


This Page

has moved to a new address:


Sorry for the inconvenienceā€¦

Redirection provided by Blogger to WordPress Migration Service