The nights sleep at the Am Botham hostel was a poor description; between the snoring of Matt, a short Scots guy and one of the two Angus’s as well as the guy who insisted to listening to his music all night, it was a bit crap.
Whilst camping has the potential to be wet, windy and cold, the decision to bail out to a hostel should not be taken lightly. That we’d would have had a cold, wet and early start, would have been outweighed by a good nights sleep. Funnily enough Matt would disagree.
Short 2 minute ride down to the pier in Leverburgh still allowed enough time for us to get completely soaked. Decamped to the waiting room to see when the ferry would arrive. A number of the people from the hostel were in the waiting room as well and we were all well placed to see the ferry fail to make an initial attempt to offload. The crew and the lorry driver were obviously well practised in the art of scaring the people about to drive their expensive cars (and less expensive bikes) up the ramp onto the ferry.
Run the bikes on the boat and for a sit down in the warm and dry of the seating area. Couple of vending machines to keep you company as the wind and rain lash across the Sound of Harris. After a hour of playing chicken with the rocks, the ferry arrives at the north end of the causeway to Berneray and on a day like this, it feels like the middle of no where. Across the causeway to North Uist and the wind is gusting at > 40 mph, pushing the bike across the narrow single track road as it weaves it way around the lochans. There was more water than land it seemed.
The Transalp then had its first jitters of the trip, as it was misfiring on one cylinder, probably as a result of the amount of moisture in the air. We headed to Sollas and the supermarket, with the intention of heading down to the GHHT hostel at Todha Mor (Howmore) in South Uist. The idea of camping in this didn’t really appeal. Coughing and spluttering we got to Lochmaddy, not the biggest town, but where food and drink could be obtained from the Arts Centre. The proprietor of the Lochmaddy Hotel said the staff weren’t on yet, so couldn’t help with coffee or food, so therefore directed us over to the Arts Centre, and then joined us later when she was on the hunt for an Internet connection. Dial up of course.
Back out to get set for the journey south, with the amusement of Roger trying to don his wet weather oversuit in a howling gale. The Transalp was still running mainly one one cylinder and therefore struggling against the wind, whilst Rog found the clutch on the XL slipping as it tried to push its way forward. Meanwhile Matt was still failing the Ewan off-road riding school challenge as he took it steady at the rear.
Lots more rain as we crossed the causeway into Benbecula, and with the conditions relatively interesting it made you wonder what it was like here when the wind really blew. After camping near Taransay and its history with the TV Series ‘Castaway’ it was noticed that the only person still in the media eye from the series, Ben Fogle could be a badly pronounced Benbecula (Beinn nam Fadhla) in Gaelic ?
Next stop was a garage for some fuel, where there were two pumps and a price of 126p a litre. Interesting place with a few suitable car wrecks scattered around the back. Another stop just after getting across into South Uist, this time for food. Attached to a local community hall was Mary’s Cafe serving traditional fare of the region with Matt plumping for Black Pudding supper (ie two big slices of black pudding, deep fried in batter with lots of chips). Whilst we were eating a large puddle collected beneath our coats hanging in the corner, which we did offer to clean up prior to leaving but our offer was not accepted, “its happens all the time out here”. Reluctantly we pulled on our kit, which were more like sponges that an effective means of weather proofing and headed back into the rain and wind, which was by now gusting strongly. About 6 miles down the main road (ie single track with passing places) till we got to Tobha Mor (Howmore) and turned off towards the Hostel, which given the weather was our target for the day.
Interestingly, all the road signs in the Uists and Benbecula didn’t have any distances and though the main road goes from Lochmaddy in the north, to Lochboisdale in the south, you need to look at the map to work out the distance travelled.
An initial inspection of the dormitory at the Tobha Mor hostel wasn’t that appealing, as like the one at Garellin it was a traditional Black House, with heather/thatch roof. However, this one leaked. We then realised that there was another house next door, where the kitchen and common room were and by timely moving of clothing, we managed to blag the three bed room in that building. One couple were about to leave and head towards Barra and we’d arrived with another couple of people who’d just got off the bus. The stove was lit and providing some heat, so by 14h30, we were settling down to an afternoon of reading, chatting and welcome other bedraggled visitors to the hostel, which began to fill up. Plenty of tea and chat as the wind and rain continued to batter the outside walls, which are luckily of a Uist 3 foot thick standard.
Roger’s turn to cook later, following our visit to the Coop earlier and created a superb dish involving pasta, new potatoes and a pasta sauce. Also, uniquely for the week, it contained green vegetables. As part of the hostel cookery competition, Matt christened it “Nunn-chuck” in honour of Rog’s ninja skills in the workplace, though this was an undeserving description. This was Roger’s parting shot as he decided to head for the 09h00 ferry from Lochboisdale so he could spend a night in Perth with Amelia and the in-laws.
The hostel is slightly less formal that the Youth Hostel Association (or its Scottish counterpart) and is run by the Gatliff Trust , along with another 3 in the Western Isles. They are to be recommended.
Rain still falling, we settled down to more Ambrosia rice pudding and a tin of Tennants lager. More chat and then to bed. Promise of a better day tomorrow and memories of one of the more interesting 50 miles I’d ridden.