I am planning on doing the Hebridean way, and if all is going well, possibly carrying on to Orkney and the Shetlands, and taking the Ferry back to Aberdeen.
This is all very flexible.
I was thinking to go May, but I wish to be back last week of May as my Wife will be on holiday then so we can spend the time together. The only problem with this is that it narrows my time window to starting first week of May, and I think with this trip going with a weather window is key.
Anyroads I was chatting with a Scottish bloke and he said I would be fine on the Outer Hebridies in June as Midge are not really a problem there, Orkneys and Shetland was not discussed.
Has anyone any thoughts on this.
I have not even researched the ferry back to Aberdeen yet. I will go and do that now.
If you book the ferries keep an eye on Calmac as they are having problems sticking to their timetables due to maintenance issues. We're off to Colonsay next week and they have changed the time of our return journey. Instead of a full day there we'll only have a few hours. I did get a text telling me this. I've not been to the Outer Hebrides so can't comment on the midges but if the wind drops you'll soon find out if your Scottish bloke was right. Last year I was out round Oban in early May and the little beggars were just starting to make themselves known. A B&B owner near Crianlarich told me they'd be full on within a week or so.
> I've not been to the Outer Hebrides so can't comment on the midges but if the wind drops you'll soon find out if your Scottish bloke was right.
If it does, he won't be. But the thing about the Outer Hebrides is that the wind very rarely does drop, so you'd have to be quite unlucky not to have at least enough of a breeze to keep the midges at bay.
Hi Steve, I think you’ll find midges less of a problem in the Outer Isles, but this is largely a result of the almost incessant wind there. There’s a clue in the trees - there aren’t any to speak of.
I cycled the Hebridean Way back in June 2017, over 3 days.
Midges were generally not a problem as it was quite breezy. Though if you get a still day it could be an issue!
Make sure you go South to North (takes advantage of the prevailing wind), everyone going the other way was pretty miserable.
Plan where you can get water; a lot of the route is coastal through crofting land so streams are not very appealing. Just make sure you know how far to the next place you can definitely top up and fill enough bottles. We got a bit caught out!
All the locals we met were lovely, and seemed to really appreciate us asking permission to camp in their fields, even though you don't need permission in Scotland (with all the usual caveats).
The folk operating the ferries really do not care if you are booked onto a specific ferry. In fact most of the time they didn't even bother checking out tickets and just waved us on. Obviously you could meet someone who's up their own arse about it though.
In general the further North you get the more touristy it becomes, so enjoy the more remote feel in the South! But facilities are better in the North.
Drop me a pm if you have other questions!
Thanks for all the advice, I have spoken with my cycling guru, and he has advised I should do this as two trips, as I will find the Orkneys fascinating and want to spend much time looking at old things.
So I think I will get past the may bank holiday, and if the weather is Clement, get a train to Oban, and cycle south to north 🚵
But then what?
I can get a train 🚂 from Inverness or mallaig, which of these two places would people suggest would make the most pleasant finale to my tour. Time is not really of the essence.
I sorry if these questions seem naive, but I have not been to Scotland much but do recall a trip to Skye and thinking the West Coast was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.
I did this back in 2014, also in May. Statistically you often get high pressure forming near the NW of Scotland around then, which indeed we had, but a bit to the west so unfortunately had NEly headwinds almost the whole way!
Another thing to mention is come fully self sufficient as I think there was only one bike shop on the Uists (might be more now?), which was shut when I was there. Luckily for me, when my back tyre split (in the rain of course), a local took me to the son of the owner who opened up the shop to get me a new tyre.
We got the ferry to Ullapool then a train from Garve which was a nice ride.
It was a great trip, enjoy.
It's a great ride, I did it in Sept 2020. Parked at Mallaig and at the end got the ferry to ullapool and took a couple of days cycling back down the mainland through Gairloch, Torridon, Plockton, across onto skye and down to Armadale for the ferry back to Malaig. The ride from Ullapool to torridon was the highlight of the circuit for me, but it was also the best day for weather, with sunshine and no wind. I think the circuit was about 350miles the way I did it.
I wild camped for 5 nights with one night in a B & B in ullapool. It wasn't as easy as I thought it might be to find good secluded camping spots with a lot of the landscape being very open, exposed (to the wind and passing motorists) and rough/boggy. I found good spots in the end but sometimes rode quite a distance without finding anywhere I would have been really happy to camp.
As others have mentioned it is quite a distance between shops for food/water, but I found quite good mobile coverage (on EE) on most of the hebridies, and that was handy for finding out which villages had shops/cafes, and their opening hours.
My mate and I are planning to go in June. We're hoping to park at Mallaig and get the ferry to South Uist. We'll come back from Tarbert to Uig and then bumble down Skye, back to Mallaig.
Two things strike me.
1) there's a distinct lack of campsites with pubs and shops nearby.
2) it's likely to be a bit draughty in a single skin tent. My Tarptent has quite a lot of mesh in it, so I'm wondering if a tent with a solid inner skin will make more sense.
We were originally thinking of flying to Scotland but on reflection, driving makes more sense. Probably kinder to the environment but gives us the flexibility to adjust dates to get better weather. Spending two weeks in the Hebrides in incessant wind and rain isn't my idea if fun.
> If you book the ferries keep an eye on Calmac as they are having problems sticking to their timetables due to maintenance issues. We're off to Colonsay next week and they have changed the time of our return journey. Instead of a full day there we'll only have a few hours. I did get a text telling me this.
Anytime there's a good swell or strong southwesterly the Colonsay ferry is off. The ferry port there is very exposed.
Can’t help you with the Outer Hebrides as I’ve never been.
I live in Orkney and have travelled to Shetland so can possibly help a bit with those.
Firstly getting here. If you are coming from the west you’ll need to get over the Pentland Firth you’ll either be on Northlink Ferries Scrabster to Stromness route or Pentland Ferries Gills Bay to St Margaret’s Hope route. Both carry bikes free of charge. You can book. With a car it’s pretty much essential in the summer but on foot or with a bike you should be fine to just show up. Both go three times a day at that time of year.
Getting between Orkney and Shetland and from Shetland to Aberdeen might need a bit more forethought. For this you need Northlink. The service between Aberdeen and Lerwick goes every day but it only calls in at Kirkwall 3 or 4 times a week. From memory heading north that’s on a Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday but you’ll need to check that. You’ll likely get onboard with a bike no problem BUT if you want a cabin, you’ll need to book well in advance and it’s expensive. These journeys are both overnight.
There are “pods” which are cheaper and more available than cabins but they are not very comfy or private (basically a big chair with a hood and a charging point). You can lie down in your sleeping bag on the floor but it’s not a great way to spend the night.
You should be OK for midgies unless the wind drops (unlikely).
Bikes also free on Orkney inter-island ferries. Don’t know about the Shetland ones.
One last thing - it’s Orkney. No “s” on the end of it.
Any specific questions just ask
> Hi Steve, I think you’ll find midges less of a problem in the Outer Isles, but this is largely a result of the almost incessant wind there. There’s a clue in the trees - there aren’t any to speak of.
There would be without the grazing, they'd be forested isles
> Anytime there's a good swell or strong southwesterly the Colonsay ferry is off. The ferry port there is very exposed.
Scalasaig is on the east side of the island so sheltered from the prevailing weather. It's the bit once you're clear of Mull that's the worry - nothing between the ferry and Canada!
It strikes me that when picking my weather window, I should be paying as much attention to the winds and not just be looking for no rain.
Not just the strength but also the direction. A week of northerly winds is not unknown. I was once anchored in Castle Bay on Bara cowering from a northerly storm and felt so sorry for the cycle tourists coming off the ferry. They looked crushed when they realised that not only did they have to pedal hard to ride down the ferry loading ramp into the teeth of the storm, but were going to have to grind away in bottom gear to earn every yard of their trip north.
The wise ones I think stayed on the ferry.
Don't know about midges but watch out for ticks especially if you're camping. Lyme disease is prevalent in Harris and probably elsewhere.
If you are heading for Orkney after crossing from.Lewis to Ullapool one option you could consider is to cycle north then east to Lairg joining the train north to Thurso/Wick and from there to Orkney using one of the ferry options mentioned by Sealwife The run from Ullapool to Lairg is a bit over 40 miles going via Ledmore Junction. You could also cycle south from Ullapool to Garve and pick up a train from here to Dingwall. At Dingwall you could then join the service north to Thurso/Wick but this involves a bit more timetable juggling albeit with less cycling than from Ullapool to Lairg.
> Not just the strength but also the direction. A week of northerly winds is not unknown.
Yep. We did a bike tour in the heatwave of 2016, Oban-Mull-Kilchoan-Skye-Lochmaddy-Barra-Oban and had a tailwind all the way south through the Hebs. All the other cyclists heading north, lots of them, were labouring. That said, we plan to do it again and will go N-S.
Uncle Derek: If you can be flexible that would help as the only guarantee with the weather is instability. However the Western Isles often bask in sunshine while the west coast of Scotland is mizzling. Check out the Gatliffe Trust hostels in the Hebs, and make sure you camp at or stay in the one on Berneray, it is one of the most beautiful and idyllic places I have ever camped.
You'd need a couple of days to ride from Ullapool to Thurso for an Orkney ferry, preferably with as much away from the accursed NW500 as possible (badly driven hired motorhomes, supercars etc). Watch of Barrisdale's advice is good, and the train from Lairg to Thurso goes through some impressively bleak landscape.
Orkney is lovely, very different from the western isles and the mainland. I've only been once and visited Hoy and Rousay before having to leave due to an urgency. I look forward to returning, I was very taken with it.
Finally, Mallaig is a much nicer place than Inverness to end the trip, but so is Ullapool. If you have days in hand you can get ferries to the Small Isles or Inverie (from Mallaig).
Just a thought, the concensus seems to be do it South to North, because of prevailing winds.
However if a fair weather window appears with forecast northerlies for a few days, is there a particular reason not to do this north to south.
I know I know, overthinking again, just do it 🤣
If you have the flexibility to make your mind up at last minute I'd definately just go with the prevailing wind on the forecast. Tis is much more likely to be going south - North but could be different.
I had a 20mph headwind for one short section at the end of the day and it was miserable crawling along struggling to maintain 10mph. The next day I had a 20mph tailwind all day and flew along.
A lot of the route is so open and exposed, unlike other parts of the country where often trees, hedges, walls or buildings do provide some degree of shelter from winds.
If you're doing this anytime from early May onwards I would advise trying to book all ferries. Even as a foot passenger. Pre-covid this would really very rarely have been necessary, even in peak season, but the explosion in the numbers of visitors and the number of cyclists means that this isn't really any longer the case - unfortunately. You might get lucky by just rocking up, but its become much harder to do that in the last couple of years.
Its a similar situation really for campsites. There aren't many, so those that there are in demand.
Some not 100% correct advice here. I've cycled this route a few times in both directions. Last did it from south to north in August last year. Departed from Oban and returned to Ullapool.
I regularly travel to the Western Isles for work and unless there is a big event on you can almost always travel as a foot passenger to and from the isles. Taking a car is a very different matter and that needs to be booked year round. The ferries take about 600 passengers and as a foot passenger I haven't been turned away once in the last couple of years (20+ return crossings per year). If you have fixed dates then it's common sense to book.
There will be midges in the last week in May. The breeze often dies down in the evening and if you are camping you will notice them. There are many drizzly wet evening when the wind dies down. Saying that, yes it's windier than the mainland.
If the wind is blowing from the north, which in April and May it can do, then by all means cycle in the opposite direction. You have the flexibility of camping so not a problem.
Getting water is not an issue. There are shops, and some of the village halls/public loos have outside taps. You can also get water at the Calmac office loos.
Good to know you have a different experience, but that's not been mine over the past two years. 2021 was extremely busy and many of the main crossings fully booked even for foot passengers - Ullapool-Stornoway and Uig-Lochmaddy in August for ex.
The Sound of Harris ferry is much smaller and getting on that in mid May 2022 was not that easy. I saw a party of 4 turned away as they'd reached capacity for bikes.
It always annoys me that they have a bike capacity. It's not like they don't have the space. Having a passenger booking doesn't mean you will be allowed to take a bike so even if you have a reservation you could be turned away. Berneray to Leverburgh has 4 or 5 crossings a day in summer so as long as you are not going for the last ferry you should be able to catch the next.
2021 was busier on the ferries than last year (per day not year). This year is looking slightly quieter again and that's with one of the major routes out of action for a few months. Passenger numbers for 2022 were slightly up on 2021 but the season was only 7 months long in 2021 compared 12 in 2022 due to covid. The Berneray to Leverburgh ferry averaged 7000 passengers per month in 2021 and 5500 per month in 2022. The ferry on that route has a capacity of 18,000 passengers per month.