2-week motorbike packing trip to the Outer Hebrides, quickly via NC500. Wild camping for most of the trip, couple of nights in a hotel, and in youth hostel, plus a few stealth showers in odd campsite. The Outer Hebrides didn’t disappoint, providing a real adventure feeling set of isles, but still populated enough so you can go for a pint and a whiskey. I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing NC500, given its popularity, but the trip up there was surprisingly good, even though it’s a main tourist route.
Traveling North, it was ridiculous at times with the wind and rain, especially slightly north of Edinburgh. Trying to keep the bike on the road was laughable due to the bad weather.
However, after Perth, the roads and weather got easier. We made a stop at Aviemore, in the Rothiemurchus estate café, and the Beef Goulash was worth the battle against the bad weather. Thirty minutes north of Aviemore, after Inverness, the roads got really good. We pushed on so we could get to John o’ Groats that night and set up camp, enjoying an amazing sunset.
We camped just outside John o’ Groats, hidden from view by a drystone wall. We woke up early and headed straight to the lighthouse to see the Duncansy Stacks, which were definitely worth the walk, even in enduro boots.
We stopped at the main points of interest along the way and spent our second night at a little gem of an area just outside Tongue, where a seal sat and watched us all night. On the second day, the roads and landscape were phenomenal, and apart from the odd clueless motorhome hirer, the roads were pretty empty. We took a little detour and went off-road, finding an area we were happy to leave our bikes and kit hidden away to the side of Alltnacillich. We put our running shoes on and quickly climbed Ben Hope Mountain, full of anxiety in case something went missing, which made us get up quickly.
After that, we were back on the main tourist trail and hit the main points of interest around Durness, including Smoo Cave, then cracked on and spent a night on NC500 at an amazing location.
The last day on NC500, the weather was against us, and it was torrential rain, so we didn’t do any stopping until we reached Ullpool. This is where my friend and I split; he went back South, and I jumped on a ferry west to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis to start the main part of my trip.
Isle of Lewis and Harris
I found a lovely little hotel when I got off the ferry, somewhere I felt my bike would be safe, and I could get my head on an actual pillow. It was great to have a place to clean up, dry my stuff off, and have space to get my kit back in order. There are endless places to camp and things to see on this island. I did quite a bit of backcountry off-roading here as well, and the trip over the fell from North Tolsta to North Galson was a different level of difficulty that I wouldn’t recommend, but it is possible. The south part of the island is just outstanding, and Sgarasta and Seilbost beach are an absolute must-see.
North & South Uist
To be perfectly honest, I found Uist to be a slightly odd place. The wind, the lack of facilities, and the fact that it’s quite far off the mainland all contribute to the unique character of the island. One morning, while taking refuge from the wind at the side of a closed youth hostel, I met a man who was a class act. He reminded me of Sam Neil, the Kiwi actor who played one of the main parts in Jurassic Park. We only spoke for five minutes, but something was highlighted to me: there is a strange pull to this island. All of this just makes me want to go back, perhaps even more so than to Lewis and Harris. However, I’ll have to avoid the equinoctial gales next time.
Taken from Journal on South Uist:
I lost my way a little today, and had to chase down from the ferry port to get to the only open bar on the island, which turned out to be terrible. I was freezing cold and didn’t get a chance to warm up before the bar closed. To make matters worse, I had already changed into lighter clothes on the ferry and stupidly didn’t grab warmer clothes then and there. I went searching for a place to pitch my tent in the dark but couldn’t find anywhere due to serious gates, fencing, and a lot of animals basically saying “fuck off!” Eventually, after about an hour, I found somewhere to pitch up on the side of the dunes with my brake light on so I could see what I was doing. I was too cold to find my head torch, and the wind kept me up all night, leaving me with a terrible night’s sleep.
After days of exploring, I finally made my way to the Isle of Skye before heading south to Fort William. I spent a peaceful night at a youth hostel, reflecting on the highs and lows of my adventure. Probably the best part was, I stumbled upon a deserted beach and gathered freshly picked mussels to cook with white wine. As I made my way South, I felt fulfilled and content, knowing that I had embarked on a successful adventure.