Bike touring Scotland, on road and off
Scotland’s handsome Outer Hebrides are another excellent bike touring destination and, to make it more interesting, any journey here must be conducted by both bicycle and ferry. You could cover the area in a week, but take two. The chain of main islands of the Outer Hebrides -- Barra, Eriksay, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist, Harris and Lewis – is a sparsely populated territory of wild beaches lapped by seas as blue as in the Caribbean. On land, barely travelled roads link quiet settlements of thatched and whitewashed houses, moorland valleys and rocky mountains. Machairs (meadowlands behind the beaches) are sprinkled with wildflowers and make for fragrant picnics and camping.
A cycle tour here is best undertaken south to north to suit the southwestern prevailing winds, and early summer promises the most stable weather in the Outer Hebrides. On a Hebridean biking adventure, you will see ancient treasures like 16th-century Kisimul Castle in Castlebay, Barra, the Neolithic Callanish Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis, and the three billion year old Lewisian Gneiss – the oldest rock in the world -- on the Isle of Harris. The Hebrides also have a living ancient language: Gaelic is more widely spoken here than anywhere else in Scotland. Ferries connect the Scottish west coast port of Oban with Barra, and the islands’ northern capital Stornoway with Ullapool on the mainland – so access is easy. A particular tradition of island hospitality means there is always an inviting inn or bed and breakfast to stay at, so you may not even want to put up a tent.
If you are touring on a mountain bike, a great option is to drop your gear and take in some off-road mountain bike trails. The Witch’s Trails at Aonach Mor are spoken of in whispered terms among aficionados. In southern Scotland is the 7stanes complex of seven mountain bike trail centres, and Kirroughtree in the Galloway Forrest Park is reputed to have the best singletrack in the country. For a week of off-road adventure, sign up for a guided tour like the coast-to-coast Scottish mountain bike trips run by H&I Adventures.
Tips for a perfect Scottish cycle tour
Summer is the best time to cycle in Scotland. With long days and short nights (sunset can be as late as 10 pm) there is little need for riding in the dark. Be prepared for four seasons in one day though, and expect sunburn as well as snow flurries. Expect to combat insects: Scottish midges are infamous for their bites.
Scotland’s 2003 Land Reform Act legislates a right to roam. This means there is a statutory presumption in favour of responsible non-motorised access (walking, cycling, horse riding or canoeing) to most land in Scotland. For cyclists, this is a boon, opening up a huge range of wild campsites and making cycle routes infinitely flexible. Of course, there are many brilliant bed and breakfasts and country inns along the way, if you prefer to cycle Scotland in style.