Monday, 23 October 2017

end of season

Annie arrived on the Superfast ferry at 10.30 pm on Thursday 21st September. Unfortunately it was a bit windy and Annie does not like a bumpy ride, so we stayed in Lakki for the weekend. On Friday we pottered around Lakki and Lin and Annie went for a swim on the town beach. We cooked a prawn saganaki for dinner on board. On Saturday we hired a car for the weekend. We spent the morning on the beach at Xerokampos, which Annie loved, and had lunch at Aloni. After lunch we drove to Belfouti, but it was quite windy so we decided to try Gourna, which was equally choppy, so we went instead to Merikhia beach, where Lin and Annie swam, though Annie found it difficult getting out and almost pulled Lin in when Lin helped her. We went to Ostria for dinner, where we saw Mary and her new baby daughter for the first time. 

Richard was having dinner with Mathieu, Claus, Sherry and Carsten’s daughter. Mathieu had been sailing in company with Carsten when Carsten fell on his boat and broke his hip. He had to be airlifted to Germany, so Mathieu had arranged for his boat to be lifted on the south of the Peloponnese and Mathieu had sailed back to Lakki with Carsten’s daughter and his dog, Paul, arriving this afternoon. Mathieu was going to lift his boat, take Paul and Carsten’s daughter to Samos to pick up Carsten’s caravan and drive dog, daughter and caravan back to Germany. One of the greatest pleasures of cruising is that people (cruisers, though rarely charterers) are always ready to go out of their way to help, even strangers, but Mathieu has taken it further than most people would!
On Sunday we went again to Xerokampos and had lunch at Aloni, 

coming back to Lakki for showers in the late afternoon. After a big lunch we decided not to go out for dinner and just had a salad aboard.
On Monday morning, 25th September, the wind had dropped so we motored straight up to Arki. 
 When we went in to the harbor there was nobody on the quay, though a few boats came in later in the day. 
We had lunch at Nikolas and went to the town beach for the afternoon, coming back for showers at Stella’s and dinner at Nikolas. 

As Annie had to leave on Wednesday we motor-sailed down to Arkhangelos on Tuesday 26th, where we picked up a buoy. A fishing boat had his nets out just off the jetty.

Lin and Simon swam over to see Simon and Christiana, who were leaving for Lipsi. Annie swam ashore to join us for lunch at Stigma, but she found it very difficult getting in and out of the dinghy on the way back, so we decided to get a takeaway and eat aboard in the evening. Georgos was back from Athens, where he had been for an operation on his hand last week, and had gone out fishing in the morning, catching nothing. He was back when we went to get our takeaway and was very pleased with his favourite wine that we had brought him from Agathonisi. He said the operation had been an instant success – he was no longer in pain and could sleep soundly at last.
On Wednesday morning, September 27th, we motor-sailed back to Lakki and went on to the marina quay. Lin got the first two loads of washing on, to get ready for Gill’s arrival on Thursday. We picked up a hire car at midday, had lunch at Poppy’s, and drove Annie over to Aghia Marina to catch the catamaran to Rhodes. More washing and cleaning in the afternoon before we drove over to Pandeli to have dinner at El Greco with Al and Kitty, Kitty’s mum Jenny, their friend Cloe, and Helen, a guest in their hotel who lives in Samos. We had the usual excellent dinner (and the usual dishes and the usual surprise at how modest the bill was). El Greco is certainly our favourite place to eat on Leros – the food is at least as good as the up-market Milos, the atmosphere is much more relaxed and the bill is much less.
On Thursday morning there was stocking up shopping and final cleaning before Gill’s arrival on the catamaran at 12.20. 

We picked Gill up in a car and got her and her suitcase aboard. We had dinner in Ostria and left to motorsail up to Arkhangelos on Friday morning. After a bit of sunbathing on the beach, 

we went for lunch at Stigma with Al, Kitty Cloe and Kitty’s and Cloe’s mums, who had come over in Georgos's boat. 

Gill found getting in and out of the dinghy very difficult, so we got a takeaway dinner from Stigma.
On Saturday September 30th we motored up to Arki and tied up on the quay. We had lunch at Nikolas, went for a swim on the town beach 

and had dinner at Nikolas. The next day Frank and Lin arrived from Agathonisi, with Frank’s daughter Natasha and son-in-law, and joined us on the quay. It was getting autumnal, but we still spent the afternoon on the beach, swimming and reading.
On Monday October 2nd we motorsailed down to Lipsi and got the last place on the quay, which was full mostly of charter boats, most of whom moved on later. It was cold and windy, so time for reading below! 

We went to the town beach, but nobody felt like swimming. We had dinner at Manoli’s. As the wind was forecast to increase we decided to go back to Lakki and hire a car.
On Tuesday 3rd we had a good downwind sail under genoa to Lakki and went into the marina. Costas did not have a car available until the evening, so we took a taxi over to Xerokampos, which we thought was the best beach for Gill, given the difficulty she has getting in and out of the sea on rougher beaches. We met up with Simon and Christiana, who were having a long lunch with friends. We all watched a charter boat trying, and repeatedly failing, to pick up a buoy from the stern – apparently this is the method recommended by the charter companies, though people often run over the buoys and cut the rope. Eventually a Finnish man rowed out to hand them the buoy – he sat there in his dinghy waving it to them, but they went off an anchored further out (the holding is very bad in Xerokampos because of thick weed). Apparently they dragged in the evening and drifted halfway to Kalymnos before they reanchored. Costas arrived with the car about 6pm, so we could go over to Pandeli for dinner at El Greco.
On Wednesday 4th we drove up to the Deposito di Guerra, a private war museum with a huge and very well organized and presented collection. Then we went up to the castle and went for the first time to the ecclesiastical museum, where the curator, a Texan of Lerian ancestry, gave us an interminable, though very interesting, lecture on the history of Leros, but this prevented us from looking at the exhibits, apart from a black Madonna icon, which was a feature of his lecture. Lin and Gill excused themselves to go outside into the sun, because they were so called. 
Meraviglia and Alinda Bay from the castle

Agia Marina from the castle

After walking round the castle we drove to Pandeli, which Gill loved, and had a rather disappointing lunch at Psarapoula 

before an afternoon on the beach. 

We went back to the boat for showers and had dinner aboard.
Gill flew out on Thursday morning and we had a day chilling. We had planned to sail down to Palionisos and Xerokampos for two or three days, but the weather was still cold, with strong winds and heavy rain forecast, so we decided to stay in Lakki and rest and gradually get the boat ready to lift out. On Friday we went for dinner at To Petrino with Simon and Christiana (bon filet all round). We went for a beer at Poppy’s every lunch time, where friends gathered. Sue and Steve arrived back from their visit to Santorini on Saturday night. On Monday we took Frank and Lin to dinner at El Greco.
On Tuesday morning we took advantage of a lull in the wind to get the genoa down and packed away, which went very smoothly. In the evening Simon had to go to the dentist to have a root canal filled. He had had a toothache for a couple of weeks and went to the dentist last Friday, who took X-rays and booked him in for the treatment. On the way back we had ouzo with Simon and Christiana at Poppy’s, before going home for scrambled egg. We had planned to leave for Arkhangelos on Wednesday morning, but Simon had to go for the second round of treatment on Wednesday evening. Instead we cycled over to Pandeli to have lunch with Al and Kitty and Al’s mum and dad at El Geco, then for a swim. On the way there Simon lost Lin – he had gone a little ahead and Lin had turned up a side round so that Simon missed her when he went back. Eventually we met up. Lin’s cycling has got much better as she has got more confident. She stll pushes up the steep hills, but does not use her brakes too much downhill. We had scrambled egg for dinner again before Simon went off to the dentist at 8.30, not getting back till after 10.
On Thursday 12th October we left for Arkhangelos at 8am, motoring up into a Force 6-7 wind, though the waves were not too big as we were in the lee of the land. Georgos had put his water boat on the strongest buoy, so at first we tied onto the lighter one (which Frank and Lin had last week seen a catamaran testing by driving flat out in reverse, so pulling it inshore and closer to the othe r buoy). We heard a big thump and decided that this was not secure enough, so in the end we anchored off. It was still pretty windy even in the bay, but we had lots of chain and the anchor dug well in. Dimitra and Tasos were not there as Georgos is fitting a new engine to Tasos’s boat – he bought a second hand car engine from Athens and is fitting and marinising it down in Xerokampos. Evropi had, as promised, made us her chicken stewed with prunes and grapes, which we had on Thursday and Friday nights. 
On Thursday morning Simon climbed to the top of Arkhangelos

to see Gill's cruise boat arriving in Patmos.

On Friday night Georgos and Evropi had to serve dinner for 19 people, so they were rather too busy to chat! We swam on Thursday and Friday – invigorating because the water temperature is down to 18 and the wind is cold! On Friday we found a gas leak in the cooker, so we cannot make any hot food or drinks. We are hoping that they can fix it in the yard on Monday.

We motored over to Partheni at 6.30 on Saturday morning, September 14th

picked up a buoy and waited to be lifted out. We were second and were on the shore by 10.30 ready to start work. We had tuna mayo for lunch and hard boiled eggs for dinner, boiled for us by Margaret. Patrick and Margaret came for drinks on Saturday evening. The wind was howling. We had a car from Sunday so we went for lunch to To Steki in Alinda and met Sue and Steve for dinner in Lakki at Ostria in the evening, Ostria's last day. On Monday Tomas came to remove the cooker. It turned out that one of the little rubber gaskets on one of the switches had broken when Simon knocked it taking the cooker out to clean. We have to try to find a replacement, not easy because the cooker is so old.
On Tuesday we went in to Lakki for lunch at Poppy's and to say goodbye to everybody. After lunch we went over to Pandeli for a swim with Al and Kitty and Kate.
We flew out of Leros to Athens on Wednesday morning. After lunch with Lena we took a tram and bus to visit Mahamad, Maysun and the children in their apartment. We had taken a big chocolate cake, which was great as it turned out it was Mahamad's birthday. Mahamad and Maysun are desperate to get to Germany, though Nagm would rather stay in Greece, where all the kids are doing well at school. Mahamad cut Simon's hair and we met their landlady, who has been very supportive. She is an unemployed actor and Syriza activist.
We spent Thursday chilling at Lena's before going to have dinner with Nikos and Fanni. Nikos is still very upset about his Lena's death, but overall is getting better.
On Friday we went for lunch at the Cretan taverna near Lena's before going to the airport to fly home via Paris. We had an hour to change planes in Paris, but there was no departure gate on the board, even when boarding and then Final Call were indicated. We raced around to find somebody who could tell us the gate - a technical fault- and then ran like the wind to get to the plane just as the gate closed. Becky and Charlie picked us up at Birmingham airport and we got home to the cold and wet English autumn.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Goran Schildt Regatta and after

We had arranged to sail the Goran Schildt Regatta, starting on 10 September, with Frank and Lin in their boat, Hamble Dawn 3. The Regatta is a four-day event this year, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Goran Schildt’s bith (and of Finland’s independence) sailing from Lakki to Lipsi, to Pythagorion on Samos, then to Patmos and back to Lakki.

We flew back to Athens from Heathrow on Wednesdy 6 September to stay the night with Lena. We had planned to see Niko, but something came up, so that was cancelled. We flew back to Leros on the afternoon flight on 7 September and Kostas was waiting with our car. We picked up the key to the yard in the taverna opposite the airport, but we could not get the key to work. Fortunately the gate was still open and Irene was just leaving, so she gave us a remote for the gate.

Patrick and Margaret were in the yard, preparing to launch and repairing the damage when they hit the jetty when they came in to lift in July. Patrick was gung-ho, but Margaret was rather apprehensive, worried about Patrick’s health, though her own health worries are over. It was really good to see them.

Once we had unpacked and tidied up a bit we drove in to Lakki to see Frank and Lin and make our plans. Frank was raring to go! He had rubbed down the bottom and planned to empty his forward water tank to increase our speed. We persuaded him not to leave the dinghy and anchor behind! We had dinner with them in the Evros marina restaurant and drove back to the yard for an early night. We spent most of Friday getting Mia Hara ready for launching, but went in to Lakki to have lunch at Poppy’s with Frank and Lin and met them in the evening for dinner at Milos, where we had an excellent meal. On Saturday we had a day sail up to Arkhangelos and back with Frank and Lin to find our way around the boat. In the evening we went for an excellent dinner with Al and Kitty at El Greco in Pandeli, joined by Ann Tee and Gillian. Al and Kitty have had a busy summer in their hotel, but are looking forward to the end of the season.
Sunday 10th was registration for the regatta in the morning. We collected our Regatta polo shirts, sailing instructions and boat numbers in the morning. In the evening we went to the opening of an exhibition of Goran Schildt’s photos in the Sailing Club clubhouse and then had a quick dinner at Costa’s grill with Frank and Lin, Sue and Steve and Steve and Nia (who were doing the Regatta on Sue and Steve’s boat, Unda). This was followed by a concert in the cinema of music which celebrated Goran Schildt’s voyage from Finland to Greece. The core of the group of Finnish musicians was a family of mother, father and three children. The standard of musicianship was not very high but the concert was not too long and was very enjoyable. The high point was a little speech at the end by Goran Schildt’s widow, saying how she had been looking forward so much to the celebration and was very moved by the concert.

Monday 11th was the start of the Regatta. Frank and Simon went to the skipper’s meeting at 9 am 
Skippers' meeting: Steve, Steve and Frank

and we left the marina at about 10.30 to get ready for the start. We motored right out to the harbor entrance to try to gauge the wind and then back, by which time, of course, the wind had changed. The start was downwind from a line from the committee boat to a yellow buoy. We lined up really well for a start at the pin end, to leeward of boats bearing down on the line, but we had to hold back behind Alexis’s little boat to give him room (we have to keep well clear of everybody because Frank does not have insurance for racing). Alexis just squeezed round the buoy and we followed him, but Simon decided against trying to shoot the mark and calling for water on the windward boats, without insurance), so we tacked off onto port, sailed round the back of the fleet and started last.
Hamble Dawn on the right, Unda centre
We made good progress through the fleet as the wind went round and we had a beat out of the bay, though the serious racers were already way ahead, with a couple of dolphins cruising through the fleet ahead of us. As we left the harbor entrance it looked as though there was more wind offshore, 

so we headed out that way until the wind died and we wallowed alongside a Finnish boat, Manta, 

whose crew took the opportunity to have a swim. We decided that the offshore option was not working, so turned northeast and drifted along in virtually no wind. Frank searched in vain for wind.

Lin and Lin rested from their crewing duties

 until we still had twelve miles to go and less than two hours to make our time limit, so we switched on the engine and motored up to Lipsi. Eventually everybody had to motor 

– nobody made their time limit. Still, we were quite pleased with our progress. Having started last we had worked our way up to the middle of the fleet before we gave up.

In Lipsi the regatta boats rafted up on the outside of the quay. We went for dinner with Sue, Steve, Steve and Nia at To Pefko, the tavern of Kai’s friend Manolis’s dad. We were dead tired when we got back to the boat and Simon fell asleep in the cockpit until Lin came to fetch him to bed at 3 am.
On Tuesday 12th the next leg of the race started at 9 am just outside Lipsi harbor. This time it was a windward start with what turned into a very biased line. We started on starboard tack and could only just lay the line. We cleared a melee of port and starboard boats meeting. Just after we crossed the line we heard a great crash and yelling. Steve had been starting on port tack, like most of the boats, and another boat had tacked onto starboard in front of him. Steve bore away to cross his stern, but the other boat kept turning, without looking where he was going, and crashed into Steve’s bow. We started beating up the Lipsi shore, but Frank and Lin were not too happy for Simon to sail close in, so we headed out to get clear wind offshore, which turned out to be the best way to go. We cleared Lipsi and then sailed round the top of Arki in a light and variable wind. We had a close encounter with a large cargo ship.

A bit later we saw a swordfish or marlin leaping repeatedly out of the water. By now we had climbed up to the middle of the fleet, but the wind was dying. With six miles to go and three-quarters of an hour left of our time limit we switched on the engine and motored. Twenty-one of the 39 boats managed to finish within their time limit, but we had had an enjoyable sail and did not damage the boat.

We moored up in Samos marina and, after we had showeried, Ray and Carol, whose boat was moored in Pythagorion, joined us for a drink.

We sat down to a barbecue dinner organized for the regatta by the marina. Keith and Louise were on holiday on Samos, on their way home to Australia, and they joined us for dinner – it was great to see them again, having not seen them since last year.

On Wednesday 13th we were due to race to Patmos, but again there was very little wind. This time the race committee decided to move the start nearer to Patmos, so we motored after them for about ten miles 
The only time we headed the fleet!

Until Unda surged past

before a windward start on a shortened course. The forecast was for the wind to veer and to come in from the northwest, so we decided to head off to the right of the course to meet the new wind. We were surprised that nobody followed us. When the wind started to veer we tacked off and got steadily lifted. At first it looked as though we had made a big gain, but the rest of the fleet very quickly picked up the new wind and our gain evaporated so that, by the time we got to Patmos we were near the back of the fleet. We finished less than a minute inside our time limit to find that all the places on the quay were taken, so we decided to anchor off, rather than double parking on the quay.
That evening another barbecue with Greek music had been organized over the hill at Grikos boatyard. Buses had been organized for 7pm, but it turned out there was only one bus, which soon filled up. 

The bus returned for us about an hour later and eventually we got to the barbecue dead tired, but we managed to get the first bus back, though Frank and Lin stayed on for the dancing.
The forecast for Thursday 14th was for a moderate north-westerly wind to take us back to Lakki. Α big ferry decided to leave just as the boats were leaving for the start.

The start of the race was delayed because some boats had been held up with anchor problems in the harbor, but eventually we got away. Again, we held back so as not to risk any collisions, and stared with only Unda behind us – they had not even put up their mainsail when the starting signal went. We goose-winged down the right-hand side of the course and made good progress through the slower boats, 

but the wind died earlier on our side than on the other side of the course, so we could see Steve and Sue and the other boats over that side catching us up. Coming in to Lakki harbor is always interesting because the wind swirls around. For that reason we all usually drop our sails at the entrance and motor in, but this time we had no choice but to sail in. We made a good job of it with some handy sail trimming that took us past one boat and we almost caught another. We could see the yellow buoy marking one end of the finish line, but could not see the other end so we did not know where the line was. We crossed right by the yellow buoy and got our hoot to finish the regatta. 

As soon as we were back in the marina and stowed we picked up our hire car and went to Poppy’s for lunch.

After lunch we went back to the yard to take our things back and have a rest. Our key did not work, but fortunately the gate was still open and Irene had not left, so again we were able to get a new key from her.

In the evening was the prize-giving dinner in the Sailing Club clubhouse. It was a very friendly, very well organized and enjoyable event with good food and good music. 

We came 29th out of 39 boats in the regatta.
On Friday 15th we did some shopping before the car back and spent the day getting ready to launch on Saturday morning. Philipe and Concecao lifted their Ovni which was parked next to us. It was good to catch up with them, whom we had last seen at the anchorage on Paros in May.
We were ready to launch at 8 on Saturday morning. Francoise and Philipe lifted out before our launch, so we just had time to say hello and goodbye. It turned out that we were second in the queue, but we still launched at 9.45 and went straight over to anchor in Arkhangelos, where we went on a buoy and swam and chilled. Georgos was going to Athens on Sunday to have an operation on his hand on Monday, but hoped to be back on Tuesday. We promised to get him a bottle of his favourite Samos wine when we were on Agathonisi to drink with him when we came back.

We had a really good sail over to Agathonisi on Sunday morning, arriving just after midday. As we arrived we were overtaken by a large motor yacht, who went on the ferry quay, and a space-age trimaran, which blocked the entrance to Spilia, so we went stern to the rocks. As we drove back to the rocks we saw a water bottle floating in the water, which turned out to be the pick-up buoy for a mooring that we could have used to go onto the rocks, though from the surface view it looked very flimsy, as we discovered when we detached it from its rope when we left next day.

We went ashore for lunch at Glaros and were welcomed by Yanni. Voula is no longer working in the restaurant, but has opened a shop upstairs. They both said they had been wondering where we were as we hadn’t been this year. After a chat with Voula in her shop, we sat down to lunch next to the people who turned out to be the owners of the space-age yacht and a couple of their friends. They turned out to be the billionaire Hong Kong shipowner Anto Marden and his wife Elaine. Their trimaran, Adastra, cost $15 million and has a range of 4,000 miles ( They normally sail between Hong Kong and a couple of islands they own in the Philippines. We had an excellent light lunch and swam and chilled for the afternoon before going back to Voula’s shop, where Lin bought a bag, and another excellent dinner.
On Monday 18th September we passed the trimaran

and sailed over to Arki, though the wind died for the last few miles, and we went onto the quay. It turned out that we had missed Carolina and the children, who had gone back to Poland the day before. Alexandr had been crying for days that he did not want to leave and was inconsolable the day they left. Nikolas was obviously very upset to see them go, but he will go to Poland at the end of October. We decided to stay the next day in Arki, again chilling, swimming and eating, which turned out not to be such a good idea because the bastard in the other tavern, Tripas, played loud music until 3.30 in the morning. We can’t understand how he can be so thoughtless as to keep the whole island awake just to entertain a handful of customers (almost invariably off charter boats, who keep very different hours from people sailing their own boats).

We motored down to Arkhangelos on  Wednesday 20th, taking advantage of the lack of wind to run the watermaker. The wind was forecast to be southerly, to which Arkhangelos is exposed, but not too strong. Frank phoned to say that, because of the wind, they were not coming to Arkhangelos, but would go to Blefouti, which is more sheltered. We anchored at first, but when the wind strengthened and the sea got up a bit we moved onto a buoy, which had become free. Georgos had not returned from Athens. The operation had gone well and he had been discharged from hospital, but was told not to come home until Friday, so we hope to see him then. We had an untroubled night and left first thing in the morning to return to Lakki to meet Annie, who was arriving on the Blue Star from Rhodes on Thursday evening.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Cycling the Hebridean Way and back down Skye

During our summer break in the UK, Simon went off on his lone cycle tour. Lin and Becky thought he was mad, but he had a great time! Here is his story. You can find an album of all his photos at

Monday 7th August

I left home with my heavily laden bike to catch the 10.42 train to Glasgow Central, 
Coventry Station

Virgin Train to Glasgow

arriving at 15.17. I walked to Queen Street station, where I was booked on the 18.21 to Oban. I asked a customer service person where I could leave my bike and he asked to see my tickets. He saw that I was booked on the later train and said that he would ask the guard and see if he would let me on to the 16.37 train, even though I had a restricted Advance ticket. When the guard arrived, he agreed to let me on the train so I got to Oban at 19.43. 

The train journey was very picturesque, mostly single track, along the Clyde, up Loch Long, across to Loch Lomond and through the glens to Oban – though a lot of the time hemmed in by the trees.

Glasgow to Oban train
At Oban, I cycled across to the Corran House Hostel, where I had booked for the night. I had a spacious en-suite single room
My room

 with a sea view for £40. 

View from my room

The hostel had an excellent kitchen with free tea and coffee and a comfortable sitting room. I set off for dinner, only to find the two fish restaurants I had chosen were fully booked. With most restaurants closing at 9, I ended up having a biryani in an Indian restaurant and an early night.

Tuesday 8th August

On Tuesday the ferry to Castlebay on Barra did not leave until 1.30, so I spent the morning looking round the town and then cycled out, past the dog stone, 

The dog stone, where Finn the Fingal of MacPherson (of Fingal's Cave) supposedly used to tie his dog Bran.
 and Dunollie castle, on a site which has been fortified since at least the seventh century, though the present ruins mostly date back to the fourteenth century,
Dunollie Castle
 to Dunstaffnage Castle, built by Duncan MacDougall, Lord of Lorn, in about 1220.
Dunstaffnage Castle

Dunstaffnage Castle

Dunstaffnage Castle

There was a large Fred Olsen cruise ship anchored out in the bay, 
Calmac ferry coming in with cruise ship behind
with passengers being ferried ashore and put onto coaches for their excursions.

When I got back I had lunch at a wonderful fish shack on the quay. They had run out of half lobster, so I had a whole small lobster, which came with two langoustine, salad and three sauces for £13.
My lunch

Cooking the shellfish

My bike tied up on  the ferry

The ferry from Oban to Castlebay takes almost five hours, up the Sound of Mull then out into the Atlantic. We saw quite a lot of porpoises, but no Minke Whales.
Leaving Oban
Duart Castle, Mull, the 13th Century seat of the Clan MacLean

Tobermory, Mull

Leaving Mull behind

Ardnamurchan, the most westerly point of mainland Britain

I had dinner on the boat to save having to find somewhere when we arrived.
We docked in Castlebay on time at 6.15.

Kisimul Castle, Castlebay, seat of Clan MacNeil


I immediately cycled over to Vatersay, up and down a 12% hill and across a causeway, to find a place to camp for the night. I pitched my tent on a flat spot in the dunes that made up the isthmus in the middle of Vatersay, just by a community centre that had toilets and coin operated showers, though I discovered next morning that they would not take the new £1 coins.
Vatersay Community Centre and my little tent.

Having pitched my tent, I cycled back up the road to get mobile reception to phone home, then set off in search of the start of the Hebridean Way. My guide book told me that the sign was in the dunes where I had pitched my tent, though I could not see it. A gpx file that I had downloaded showed the start of the way further down the road through the village of Vattersay. I duly set off to the end of the road, which then became an increasingly indistinct track, rutted and potholed through the dunes, and then a meadow. 
Vatersay Village
 The gpx file showed the start a bit to the west so I cycled through the meadow, climbed over a gate, pushed my bike uphill through a meadow with knee deep grass, until it become clear that I was at the end of the island and there was no track here.
Floggaigh, Lingeigh and Sandray from the south of Vatersay

Rather than climb over another series of gates and fences I retraced my steps, looked around the village for another road, cycled to the end of another track and concluded that I must have been to the start of the Hebridean Way. Before going to bed I walked to the western beach. The sea looked very cold, though people were still surfing, in wetsuits, at 9 pm.
The beach on the west of the Vatersay isthmus, with swimmers and a surfer (in wet suits) at 9pm.
Sunset over the beach

I stopped at the memorial to the 350 emigrants who drowned when the Annie Gray sank in 1853. A storm had carried away the topmasts and the passengers pleaded with the captain to return to Liverpool. He refused, instead battening them below decks so that when the ship foundered they had no escape. 
Annie Gray memorial, Vatersay
Sunny intervals and a dry day. Total ride 16 miles 220 metres elevation gain

Wednesday 9th August

On Wednesday I got up at dawn, 5.30, packed everything away and left at 6.40. 
Vatersay Bay - I camped in the middle of the photo.

Chornaig Bay, Vatersay
Vatersay from Barra
I cycled over the causeway to Barra and up the west coast, past some fine beaches,
Halaman beach, Barra

Alathasdal Beach, Barra

Loch an Duin, Barra

to Ardmhor, via Barra airport, the only airport in the world that has scheduled flights landing on a beach. It was near high tide when I got there, so the landing strip was completely under water.

One problem cycling in the Hebrides is that there are very few cafes, restaurants or shops. An added problem leaving early in the morning is that most cafes do not open until 10, so I had nothing for breakfast before getting the ferry from Ardmhor to Eriskay. There was a drinks machine in the ferry terminal, but I was assured that the products were undrinkable. The ferry was due to leave at 9.25, but was full of cars well before 9 and actually left at 9. Some cyclists could be seen arriving as we sailed away.

Ferry to Eriskay
Vatersay to Ardhmor, via airport

Eriskay Ferry terminal
Prince Charlie’s Beach, where Bonnie Prince Charlie landed from France in 1745, is just by the Eriskay ferry terminal. 
Prince Charlie's Beach

A pub with food was signposted from the ferry terminal. After climbing a steep hill from the village, the road to the pub plunged down another steep side road. Of course, the pub was closed, so I had to haul up the hill again, past a little beach with a jetty 
Am Baile, Eriskay

and then across the causeway to South Uist.
Causeway from Eriskay to South Uist
Bagh Shaltabaigh, South Uist

South Uist, between Ludag and Kilbride on the South Coast
At last I came upon a café, attached to a campsite, at West Kilbride, alongside the remains of Kilbride House, where MacDonald of Boisdale received Bonnie Prince Charlie and told him to go home to France, though later he sheltered the Prince during his flight after Culloden. I had two large cups of coffee and a Scottish breakfast to see me on my way.

The ride up South Uist was pretty flat, up the west coast, mostly on the main road, with views of the big hills to the East, though there were ups and downs to keep the legs working. There was not too much traffic and nearly everyone was very accommodating. I made a detour to see Hallan, which was inhabited from around 3000BC to 1300AD. Three Bronze Age round houses can be seen by visitors. However, when I got to the imposing cemetery 
Hallan cemetery

I discovered that it involved a mile or so trecking through the sand dunes, so I turned back. Later, I stopped off at the Kildonan museum for a pot of tea and a piece of fruit cake. The museum provided a very interesting display of island life and, of course, a celebration of the flight of Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Kildonan museum, South Uist

After the museum the Hebridean Way left the main road to meander through back roads along the coast.
Bornais, South Uist

Staonibrig South Uist

Loch Altabrug, South Uist

Howbeg, South Uist
Rejoining the main road we wound our way through the lochs, with a causeway taking us over Loch Bi.
Crossing Loch Bi, South Uist
Geirinnis, South Uist looking south

Crossing another causeway took me to Benbecula, 

Causeway to Benbecula
past Borve Castle, a ruined fourteenth century tower house. 
Borve Castle, Benbecula
The ride up Benbecula was not very interesting. It was fairly flat, which meant that I was exposed to the wind.
just south of Baile nan Cailleach, Benbecula

just south of Baile nan Cailleach, Benbecula

Gramsdale, Benbecula, at the end of the runway of Benbecula airport
Benbecula airport is now a civilian airport, but was the control centre for the Hebrides rocket range and still has the large, ugly, housing estate from those times.

At the top of Benbecula was another causeway to Grimsay, and then across to North Uist. By now I was ready for something more to eat. The guidebook showed a pub, the Westford Inn, at Claddach Kirkibost – the only pub on North Uist. I got there at 6pm, which was when it advertised dinner, but when they heard I did not have a reservation I was turned away, though I had a pint of the local beer before I set off again. By now I was increasingly tired and hungry, but ahead lay the Co-op at Solas. There I got myself a sandwich and a drink and some cold food to eat later, though I had no room to store it in my panniers, so I hooked the carrier bag over my front light and tried to keep it off the front wheel. I only had about eight miles to go to Berneray, where I planned to stay in the hostel, as rain was forecast for the night.
Berneray Hostel

Berneray Hostel Annex, with toilets and showers
I arrived at the Berneray hostel, which is in a restored black house, at about 9pm. I was told that the procedure was to find an empty bed and claim it. At first I could not find an empty bed, but then someone told me that there was one in the room next to the kitchen – I had not realised it was empty because it was piled high with unwanted pillows and blankets. I ate my dinner and collapsed into bed.

A long day, riding into a brisk north wind all day, with patches of blue sky and sunny intervals. Maybe just because I was tired, I found Benbecula and North Uist rather boring after Barra and South Uist.
Eriskay to Berneray
Total ride 95 miles 1168 metres elevation gain

Thursday 10th

On Thursday I got up at about 5 am, had a shower, packed up and cycled down to get the ferry to Leverburgh on Harris that was due to leave at 7.15. After my experience on Wednesday I made sure to get there well before 7. 
Leaving Berneray
 The ferry takes a circuitous route round the shallows and little islands in the Sound of Harris.
   Of course, nothing was open for breakfast, so I set off on the road round the west coast of Harris, with its fabulous beaches and views across to Taransay and the ocean.
Sgarasta Beach, West Harris

Taransay from Horgabost, West Harris
I passed the remains of the Clach Mhic-Leoid Standing Stones, from about 3000 BC

Taransay fromTraigh Lar Beach

Losgaintir across estuary

 I eventually managed to stop at an art gallery that had a café, at Ardhasaig, soon after Tarbert, though they only had coffee and cakes, in my case another piece of fruit cake.

Soon I climbed the 620-foot pass between Clisham (the highest mountain in the Hebrides at 779m) and Sgaoth Aird. The first part was about half a mile at 12%, which was the only time on the ride that I got off and walked (about a quarter of a mile). The top was an undulating road past a series of lochs before the long descent to Lewis (the dividing line between Harris and Lewis seems arbitrary).
Loch Lacasdail

Ceann an Ora

Loch a Mhorghain
Loch Maraig

Above Maraig

Caisteal Ard
Just before Scaladal

The mountains gave some shelter from the wind, until the descent, when there was a horrendous katabatic wind coming down from the mountains which threatened to blow me off the road. 

Loch Shiphoirt
 At the bottom, a mile down to the right, on the road to the Pairc peninsular, was the Loch Erisort Inn, the only pub between Tarbert and Stornaway, where I was at first the only customer. I had an excellent lunch of smoked haddock and mussel chowder, followed by a crab sandwich. A couple of locals came in and I heard one say that he worked in Chengdu, China, where I had been on an ILO mission fifteen years ago. I got talking to him and it turned out that he had first been to Chengdu while spending three years cycling round the world and he now worked there as a high school teacher of English. I set off with renewed energy.
Loch Erisort

 The Hebridean Way turned off the main road to Stornaway to go over the moors and up the west coast. The moors were pretty bleak, with a headwind and occasional rain.

Loch Thobhta Bridein

Loch Acha Mor

Loch Acha Mor

The next stop was Callanish. I turned off at a sign to the Standing Stones, down a lane to a field with a few rather unimpressive stones, which I later discovered were Callanish 3. 

Callanish 3

Ruined Farmhouse at Callanish

Callanish 3

A little way down the road was the turn-off to the real stones, where I had an early and rather disappointing dinner in the Visitor Centre and then looked at the stones, the most important stone circle after Stonehenge. 
Callanish Standing Stones

Callanish Standing Stones

Callanish Standing Stones

Callanish Standing Stones

I then only had another few miles to get to Gearrannan, where I had phoned to book in to the hostel a couple of days before because torrential rain was forecast overnight. The hostel was in one of the restored black houses in the village, which had been abandoned in 1974 when the remaining inhabitants were provided with council houses. Now the houses have been restored on the outside and beautifully fitted out inside, one as a hostel ( ), four more as self-catering cottages, one as a museum and one as a café. 
Gearranen Black House Village bunkhouse

Gearranen Black House Village bunkhouse

Gearranen Black House Village bunkhouse

Gearranen Black House Village bunkhouse

Gearranen Black House Village

Gearranen Black House Village

After a walk around the village, a cup of tea and a shower I had an early night, ready for the last leg of the Highland Way in the morning.

Grey with occasional bits of drizzle but south wind getting up in the evening. 
84 miles 1550m elevation gain

Friday 11th

I woke on Friday to heavy rain and strong winds, so I hung around for a while before I set off, leaving my bags in the hostel, for the Butt of Ness and the end of the Hebridean Way. The wind was very strong, a near gale if not a gale, but it was behind me so I shot along, free-wheeling about half the way. I stopped off at the Arnol Blackhouse, which is a museum and a black house that had been built around 1880 and lived in until 1966. Unlike Gearranen, the black house had not been renovated so one could get some idea of how people lived. There were stalls for the animals in one room, a sitting room with a peat fire burning in the middle, but no chimney, a bed room with box beds made from drift wood. 

 There was also a ruined black house and a small white house, furnished as in the 1950s.

I stopped off at the museum of the Ness Historical Society, which contained a bizarre collection of disparate objects and displays and a genealogical/historical library, but an interesting representation of the traditional farming year. I had a nourishing, but otherwise rather ordinary, lunch in the museum café and then set off for the Butt of Lewis, reputedly the windiest place in Britain, a few miles further on. The wind had not relented, but the rain had eased and there were patches of blue sky and even sun. The Butt of Lewis was a memorable and dramatic place, with the tall lighthouse and the sea crashing on the rocks below. 

After the photos I set off for Port of Ness, where I had tea and a piece of fruitcake in a café on the harbour. The menu was wonderful and I really regretted having had a mediocre lunch at the museum. Still, I could look forward to finding a shop where I could buy some tasty local produce to cook for my dinner.
Port of Ness

Port of Ness

The ride back to Gearranen was the most miserable bike ride of my life. The wind was blowing a gale straight at me, with driving rain (someone at the hostel was told in Stornaway that this was the worst storm since the winter, and unusual for the summer). I clawed my way back over the bleak and windswept moors towards Gearranen, thinking at times that I would never get there. At Borve I stopped at the mini-market to buy the dinner of my dreams. The shop had almost nothing in it, apart from alcohol and tobacco. The best I could do for dinner was a Birds Eye frozen chicken curry – the only way you would know it was a curry was because it said so on the box. 
North Lewis Moors

North Lewis Moors

Loch Urghag near Arnol

Fortunately the rain eased and the wind began to drop over the last few miles to Gearranen and it turned into a lovely evening, the sunset over the beach making up for the disappointing dinner.
Gearannen Black House Village

Gearannen Black House Village

Gearannen Black House Village

Gearannen Black House Village

Gearannen Black House Village

Gale force winds and driving rain. 62 miles 1186 metres ascent

Saturday 12th

I had intended to go to Tarbert on Saturday, stay overnight in the backpackers’ hostel and take the morning ferry to Skye on Sunday. However, I discovered that there was no morning ferry on Sunday in July and August and I did not want to get to Uig in the evening because I wanted time to find somewhere to stay, so I decided to get up early and ride to Tarbert to catch the 11.30 ferry. I didn’t know exactly how far it was to Tarbert or how long it would take me to get over the pass, so I decided to get up at 4 and leave at 5am, but I misread my watch and later discovered that I had got up at 1 and left at 2.15. I set off in pitch darkness and wondered why there was no sign of dawn. It didn’t even start to get light until what I thought was 8 am. 
Stathabhal from the pass on the way to Tarbert

Loch a Morghain

I reached the top of the pass in good time and arrived in Tarbert at what I thought was 10.20. I couldn’t understand why everywhere was closed, except for the posh Hotel Hebrides by the ferry quay. I went in to the hotel restaurant, but they told me that it was fully booked for residents and they were not serving people from the street. I pleaded for a cup of tea and they put me in a corner and gave me one. There was only one couple in the dining room and, still thinking it was 10.30, I remarked to the waitress that everyone seemed to be getting up very late – had they had a wild night? I made my excuses, used the toilet and left and they refused to take any money for my tea – they must have thought a madman had been let loose on the streets of Tarbert. It was only when I met a couple of people waiting for the ferry ticket office to open that I discovered that it was still only 8.10. I hung around, reading the paper on my Kindle Fire, until the café above the harbour opened at 10, where I had a wonderful Scottish breakfast and a couple of cups of coffee before getting on the ferry at 11.30 for the crossing to Uig.


Leaving Tarbert

Approaching Uig

We got in to Uig at 1.30. I had seen a campsite marked on the OS map right by the ferry terminal and there was indeed a small basic campsite. I checked in for two nights at £7.50 a night. 

Having pitched the tent I did all my washing in the hope that it would not rain, then cycled up to the Ferry Inn, just outside town, for a pint and to book a table for dinner. They could fit me in at 6 as long as I was out by 7. 
I discovered that I had pitched my tent on a robin's territory.

I rested for the afternoon, reading the papers, and in the evening had an excellent dinner at last: mussels followed by a delicious slow-cooked belly pork.
I went to bed about 9 and slept well until I was woken at 1.30 by a French woman in the next tent, very close to mine, ranting and screaming, with her friend and then other campers trying to quieten her. I don’t know if she was drunk or mentally ill, but eventually peace was restored and I got back to sleep.

47 miles 903 m elevation gain

Hebrides observations. The Hebrides are very sparsely populated, not too busy, generally easy cycling. Eating was a big problem, very few shops, with very little in them, and few restaurants or cafes, like the population all concentrated in Stornaway. Too wet and windy for midges. Worth spending more time for visiting historical and ancient sites, for walking and for nature study.

Sunday 13th

Sunday started as a beautiful sunny day. I set off about 6.30 to cycle round the northern Skye peninsular and back over the Quiraing, leaving my bags in the campsite.  There were good views from the road over to the Outer Hebrides. 

I stopped off at the reconstructed souterrain at Kilmuir. This is an iron age construction, like a tunnel, which it is presumed people used as a storehouse.  The entrance was far too small for me to crawl through, so I just admired it.

A bit further on I looked in at the Skye Museum of Island Life, which was closed on Sunday,

Sgurr Mor, North Skye
then across the north of Skye 
Sgurr Mor range, North Skye from the north

before I detoured down to the sea and up towards The Aird. 
Kilmaluag Bay, North Skye
The Aird

The path was very muddy so I decided not to walk to the top. I then cycled down to Brogaig.
The Quiraing from the north

north-east Skye on the road to Dunans

The Quiraing from the north-east
Eilean Flodigarry
Staffin Island

At Brogaig a minor road to Uig climbed up to a pass by the Quiraing. A sign at the bottom warned of a 15% gradient. It was steep, but only briefly 15%. 
The Trotternish range from the road up to the Quiraing

The Quiraing

The Trotternish range from the road up to the Quiraing

The Trotternish range from the road up to the Quiraing

The Quiraing

The Quiraing

Trotternish from the Quiraing pass

The Quiraing

Fortunately, I managed the climb without meeting any cars, because the road is very narrow and if you stop on a steep hill it is almost impossible to get started again. By the time I got to the top the tourists were out. The car parks and grass verges were littered with cars and the road blocked by cars trying to find somewhere to park. The Quiraing and the Trotternish mountain range running south were very spectacular and the ride back down the glen to Uig was a relief after the climbing.

The Trotternish from the Quiraing

Down the glen from the Quiraing

 I got back to Uig about 12 in time for a shower and change before lunch at the Ferry Inn, where I had mussels again and a langoustine open sandwich. The Ferry Inn was not open for dinner, so after wandering around for the afternoon I had dinner at the Harbour Restaurant. The Trip Advisor headline ominously said ‘any port in a storm’.  I had a soup and Cajun salmon, which was edible. I went to bed about 9 and an hour later was woken by a grieving stomach. I quickly dressed, rushed to the loo and had a violent attack of diahorrea. Fortunately, that one bout was enough to clean me out and I had a good night’s sleep.

27 miles 700 metres ascent.

Monday 14th

I got up early, packed my things and left at 5.30, to clear the Quiraing before the tourist traffic arrived. The rain started just as I packed my last bag. The ride up from the west was much gentler than yesterday’s ride up from the east, through two glens to the top. The descent was fast, but controlled! The ride down the coast was beautiful, even in the rain, with the mountains shrouded by cloud. 
The Storr

Coir Scamadal On the A855 from Staffin to Portree

The old man of Storr

Loch Leathan

I had breakfast (two cups of coffee, a croissant and a bacon roll) in an expensive café in Portree, went to look at the harbour and found that the fish shop was closed on Mondays and bought some food for dinner in the Portree co-op.

Portree Harbour
 I continued on the road in the pouring rain to Sligachan, at the foot of the Cuillins, but could see very little through the rain, mist and cloud.
Varragill River and Loch Portree

Towards the Cuillins

Towards the Cuillins

Towards the Cuillins

Towards the Cuillins

Towards the Cuillins

Sligachan from the bunkhouse
I had a mediocre lunch of soup and chilli at the Sligachan hotel and then rode up to the bunkhouse. I realised that I did not have the key code for the door (in fact I had it on a piece of paper in one of my bags, which I found when I got home), so I had to cycle three miles down the road to get a mobile signal to call the owner to get the code. When I got back I had a shower, dressed and settled down to read for the afternoon – it was too wet to go out for a walk! The bunkhouse was fantastic – comfortable beds, hot showers, a large dining room, sitting room and very well-equipped kitchen. Other residents drifted in through the afternoon – all French, Spanish and Italian car tourists. I cooked my tortellini for dinner and got to bed early.

Uig to Sligachan                49 miles               764 metres ascent

Tuesday 15th

I set off early for the ride to Armadale to catch the 10.30 ferry to Mallaig, riding through pouring rain. At one point the rain was so heavy that I could see nothing and had to stop. 

Glamaig - on the road from Sconser to Broadford

Druim nan Cleochd - looking south on the road from Sconser to Broadford

Meall a Mhaoil looking north from the same spot on the road from Sconser to Broadford

Blackhill waterfall, on the road from Sconser to Broadford

Loch Ainort. On the road from Sconser to Broadford
Loch Ainort. On the road from Sconser to Broadford
Loch Ainort. On the road from Sconser to Broadford
Loch Ainort. On the road from Sconser to Broadford
Loch na Cairidh. On the road from Sconser to Broadford
On the road from Sconser to Broadford. Scalpay in distance.
I stopped at a cafe in Broadford for a bacon batch and a very weak coffee - unusually this cafe opened at 6.30 am. I then turned off the A87 at last to take the less busy A851 to Armadale. The rain did not relent, though now coming in heavy bursts rather than constant drizzle.
Kinloch. On the road from Broadford to Armadale.
Kinloch. On the road from Broadford to Armadale.

Teangue.  On the road from Broadford to Armadale.



I got to Armadale in good time for the ferry.  I was wet, cold and my legs were like jelly. The ferry people assured us that it was not raining on the other side.

On the ferry
Leaving Armadale
Looking back to Skye from the ferry

Sligachan to Armadale    33 miles              540 metres ascent

Total ride: 7 days; 400 miles; 23,000 feet ascent; 21000 calories burnt; overall average 10.55 miles per hour.

Mallaig Bay

Mallaig Harbour

I checked in to the Mallaig Backpackers Lodge, right by the ferry quay and station, had a shower, changed and had a look around Mallaig. I went for lunch at the Cornerstone Restaurant, which claimed to be the North Scotland Restaurant of the Year 2016. I had an excellent lunch of scallops with cauliflower puree and crispy cauliflower florets, followed by a small fish and chips.
I spent the afternoon wandering around the town, once the rain had stopped. 
Mallaig marina

Lochboisdale ferry passing Skye

Loch Nevis from Mallaig Vaig Road

The steam train, which takes tourists from Fort William to Mallaig and back, was in the station.   
Steam engine in Mallaig Station

For dinner I had mussels (not as good as Uig) and a Thai monkfish curry at the Cornerstone and went early to bed, ready to get the 6.03 train to Glasgow next morning.

Wednesday 16th

I got up at 5, to see a spectacular dawn, 

Mallaig harbour at dawn

and got to the station in good time. The train journey was even more spectacular than that to Oban. 

Loch nam Uam from the train from Mallaig to Glasgow

Loch Shiel from the train from Mallaig to Glasgow


Glenfinnan Viaduct (as seen in Harry Potter films)

Loch Eil from the train from Mallaig to Glasgow
Loch Eil from the train from Mallaig to Glasgow

Loch Eil from the train from Mallaig to Glasgow

Loch Eil from the train from Mallaig to Glasgow

I got to Glasgow on time at 11.30 and walked over to Glasgow Central Station to get my 4pm train to Coventry.

I went to the ticket office to get my bike ticket for the train to Coventry, but they could not find my reservation and all bike spaces were booked. They told me to phone Virgin, but their systems were down. Then a very nice man booked me onto the 2 o'clock train with no extra charge. I went off happily for lunch, having locked my bike in the racks. I had an excellent lunch of tomato and pepper soup, followed by a fillet steak at The Grill on the Corner. I came back to the station at 1.40 to find all my bags gone, including the bar bag in which I keep the padlock combination. I rushed over to an official and told him all my bags had been nicked. He got on his radio and told me that they were in lost property because you are not allowed to leave bags on bikes. I ran to the other end of the station to get my bags and the combination, ran back to get my bike, ran back with the bike and fitted the bags, went through the wrong gate and back out to get onto the right platform. Four minutes to go. I ran down the platform to the front of the train to load my bike. The door was locked. I banged on the door and someone appeared to tell me bikes go at the back. I cycled back down the platform and got my bike on the train with seconds to spare! I got home at 4.30 pm.