Discover Ferries is excited to introduce Sam Jones from national cycling charity Cycling UK. Cycling UK inspire people of all abilities and backgrounds to discover the joy of cycling and campaign to make cycling safer, easier and more enjoyable. Sam Jones is a regular contibutor to Cycling UK’s blog and magazine, sharing his particular passion: travelling on two wheels and seeing the world from the saddle. As holidays go, cycling in the Outer Hebrides is pretty high up there on the adventure scale for most of us, Sam Jones tells us about his cycling and ferry experience in Scotland’s most remote islands and why it is an accessible trip for most reasonably fit people.
-Tell us about your passion and your recent adventure cycling the Hebridean Way
My girlfriend Daria unfortunately has to put up with my biking obsession, which does mean the odd holiday cycling tour. For this particular trip, we thought we’d ride the Hebridean Way from Vatersay to the Butt of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.
Just short of 270 miles, it’s an easily accessible tour, with relatively flat roads and only one major climb from Harris into Lewis. The weather can be pretty fierce though, so you don’t want to make sure you’ve got good waterproofs, a storm proof tent and that you ride with the prevailing winds (hint start south and head north!).
The Outer Hebrides should be on everyone’s bucket list. While it is truly remote as the most northwesterly part of the UK, it’s surprisingly easy to get to thanks to the regular CalMac ferry service. Once you’re there, wait for the good days and prepare to be stunned. There were so many highlights being able to visit the famous sands of Luskentyre when the sun was out, bathe (well dabble my toes) in the blue waters of Barra, spot otters, witness the Callanish standing stones in the most stunning of sunsets and a personal pilgrimage for me also was to see where the world famous Harris Tweed comes from.
You can read about our trip and download our route from the Cycling UK website https://www.cyclinguk.org/cycle-magazine/great-rides-hebridean-way
For this truly stunningly beautiful part of the UK, there really is only one way to get there, and that has to be CalMac Ferries. It’s dead simple, super convenient hopping between the islands too – and above all very reasonably priced.
-What did you like about travelling by ferry with a bicycle?
First off, there’s the romance of getting somewhere by sea. Flying is so abrupt, filled with procedure while sea travel just feels easier. Travelling with your bike there’s no hassle about having to box or bag your bike. You just roll it over the gangway, watch the crew practice their knots as they secure the bike to the railings, and go sit somewhere in the warm.
Also, more often than not, when you’re on the bike you’re allowed on and off first – so for impatient travellers it’s a dream.
-Was there anything that surprised you on the trip, that you didn’t expect?
I never expected to see otters in the wild – I’d hoped that I would as the Western Isles are known for their high population of these elusive beasties – but seeing them was such a surprise. Best thing for fellow otter fans and ferry travellers was that it was at the port in Barra as we waited for the boat to Eriskay.
The winds are fierce too – 60mph tail winds on a bike might sound like fun, but can be pretty dicey when on the roads. We’d had some experience of similar winds on an earlier trip through Iceland’s interior the previous year, but it’s something I don’t think is ever possible to truly get used to!
-Who would you recommend the trip for? On a scale of 1-10 how adventurous was it?
Given the way the weather can turn, if you’re planning on camping and cycling, you want to make sure you’ve got the right kit. Any fool can be wet, cold and uncomfortable – don’t be that person!
The riding along the Hebridean Way is very manageable for most reasonably fit people. As you cycle through miles of wilderness, you really do feel truly away from it all, but civilisation is always there. It’s a very happy balance between adventure and security. With there being only one main road for most of the trip, if something does go wrong there’s bound to be a traveller coming along eventually who can help you out. I’d give it a good 6/10 for actual adventure – though the feeling at times can be right up there in the nines when there’s a hooley!
-Where you would like to take your bike on a ferry to next?
Over last summer, I headed to France to ride along the Loire from Nantes to Orleans, taking Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth to St. Malo and then the train, and returning from the port of Caen. That’s a great trip – a true holiday with some cycling. We’d like to return to Orleans and continue our journey up to the source of the river sometime – though we might have to wait a while for that as our next planned trip is for a long tour in Patagonia, where there will definitely be some ferries required through the lake district there!
-Any tips for people planning to go on holiday by ferry with a bike?
Always bring bungees – these are great for securing your bike while you’re at sea. Have a think about the sort of things you’ll need while you’re on board too and make them easily accessible – the likelihood is that once you head off, your bike and luggage will be inaccessible. Keep your documents to hand in a bar bag, particularly for when travelling overseas – just makes checking in that bit easier. For other tips, it’s worth checking out our guide too. https://www.cyclinguk.org/article/guide-taking-bike-ferry
Cycling UK is a charity largely funded by its membership. Benefits of membership include free international 3rd party insurance of up £10m – perfect for the cyclist interested in riding at home or overseas: https://www.cyclinguk.org/join
See more Great Rides and find out about the work of Cycling UK at cyclinguk.org
Instagram Sam Jones: https://www.instagram.com/on.the.bummel/