Day five: Benbecula – North Uist – Berneray
Beaches with white sand and azure waters are not what you’d expect to find in remotest Scotland, but even more noteworthy was the lack of leery English getting drunk and sunburnt upon them (that’s what Spain is for).
I’d already swum once, two days earlier on Barra on a beautifully long beach that stretched below a ridge of sand dunes behind their unique tidal airstrip (the airport is a beach).
But that time I’d gone in naked in order to keep my undies dry, and this time there were too many kids around to go full Swedish.
So for once in my life I kept my pants on, and lasted a good three minutes splashing in the crystalline water before deciding I’d eventually like to have children and got out.
The isle of North Uist was a true gem, probably an emerald or a sapphire, depending on whether you looked at the landscape or the sea.
We took the West Coast route so as to see the well-known bird reserve Balranald: before Internet, this was where Tweeters would congregate to enjoyably waste their days.
North Uist was where also we met the most cyclists, no doubt due to its undulating hills, incredible beach and moorland vistas, and relatively low traffic.
These cyclists varied in style and type. The hierarchy of cyclists we met was as follows:
- Cyclists on high-tech road-bikes, carrying luggage and towing a trailer, doing the full Hebridean tour by themselves with no support.
- “Cyclists” using electric-powered bikes to do the tour but otherwise unassisted.
- Cyclists driving motorhomes with their bikes on a rack on the back
- Mum and me
At one point, we pulled over to let pass a group of four young French cyclists hooning along in convoy, powered by testosterone and a Bluetooth speaker-box pumping out dance music. Forget about electric-powered bikes, these guys were electro-powered.
Another girl I met was travelling alone, bike laden with paniers, tent and probably a kitchen sink. Her pace was so slow that my wit could almost keep up with her.
“I wasn’t expecting so many hills,” she said, between heavy breaths.
“I guess that depends where you’re from,” I said, smugly. “If you were from Switzerland for example, you probably think of this as virtually flat.”
“I am from Switzerland…”
Meanwhile, a grandma from Norway I met days later on the bike was left very confused by my conversation.
In essence, I wanted her to confirm a brain-fart I’d been having during the trip, which was that “The Hebrides are like Norway on Steroids” – i.e. that it had even more amazing landscapes, with the added bonus of more jovial locals. Unfortunately I did not know the Norwegian word for “steroids”, and instead went with “Lance Armstrong”.
If my conversation skills left a bit to be desired, having spent five days with mum I was no longer under any illusion where I got it from.
After stopping for water at the Balranald sanctuary camping site shop, mum made small talk outside with the female janitor cleaning the toilets.
The janitor was so sunburnt it was like seeing a cooked lobster wearing a wife-beater.
“You’ve got an amazing sunburn!” was mum’s opening line. Sick burn indeed.