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Hebridean Way
200 mi / 4-7 days
Moderate
🇬🇧 780
3
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Britain’s remotest cycle route puts you cheek-to-windswept-cheek with the wild Atlantic. Cycling the Outer Hebrides from heel to head, you’ll experience stark scenery like nowhere else in the country. With ferries shuttling you from island to island, the Hebridean Way is undoubtedly the best way to discover Scotland’s island frontier.

There are few roads in the Hebrides, and the cycle route is designed to choose the quietest and most picturesque of them. Even the biggest village en route has a population of just 500, leaving you space and time to be alone with the landscape.

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Basics
Route
Getting there

Basics

How hard is it?

Most of the route is flat. The exception is Harris (the northernmost island), which has a couple of significant climbs. They’re not exactly high mountains, but when you’re starting from sea level, a 200m hill with occasional 10% gradients is not to be sniffed at. But don’t let it put you off what’s generally an easy route. Wind and weather are more likely to be a challenge, so check the forecast before setting off and make sure you have appropriate clothing.

So... the weather?

Ah yes. The gradients are (mostly) gentle, the surfaces are smooth, but the weather could be your greatest challenge.

Most of the time, the Hebridean weather is mild, and you can enjoy glorious sun in the summer months. Yet when the mood takes it, the weather can be Biblical. The saying “four seasons in one day” has never been more appropriate. In particular, the wind can, and does, blow from any direction, at speeds of up to 60mph if you’re unlucky. And then there’s the rain…

What does this mean when planning your trip? Aim for a season when the weather is more likely to be forgiving. From October to January the weather is at its wettest and windiest. May to September is the best time to visit; there’s a lot to be said for June, when the weather is forgiving but the accommodation isn’t fully booked up.

And consider a plan B if you suddenly find, five days before departure, that the weather will be intolerable. The Caledonian Way, from Campbeltown to Oban, Fort William and Inverness, is a Scottish alternative that is (usually!) spared the climate extremes of the Hebrides.

How long does it take?

Most cyclists will spend between four and six days on the route. You could do it in less, but ferry times restrict your options.

What bike do you need?

It’s all on-road, so any bike will be fine.

What facilities are there?

Don’t fret that you’re heading into a remote land where there are no shops and nowhere to stay – these are the Outer Hebrides, not Outer Mongolia. But it does help to be aware of a few differences. Tourism dominates the economy in the summer months, and B&Bs can fill up unexpectedly, so you may choose to book ahead. Note that many B&Bs are not bookable through online portals.

The route bypasses the major ports of Lochmaddy and Stornoway, choosing the less travelled roads on the opposite shores. Plan a little in advance to ensure you have your evening meal!

The Western Isles still “keep Sunday special”. It’s not a complete shutdown: many tourist businesses, takeaways and so on will still be open. But you’ll find fewer shops open on a Sunday than other days. This is particularly the case on Lewis, so try to plan your trip so you arrive there on a different day.

Cash machines are few and far between, and some B&Bs/campsites may not take cards. Check when booking, and keep some spare cash in your wallet just in case.

Route

Is it signposted?

Yes, but the signs are changing. At present it’s signposted as National Cycle Network route 780, but the route has been removed from the NCN, so the numbered signs will be replaced with Hebridean Way text.

Which direction is best?

South to north makes best use of the prevailing winds, which can be fierce at times. 

Getting there

How do I get there and back?

Any exploration of the Isles always involves getting to know Caledonian MacBrayne, the long-standing ferry operator. Castlebay on Barra, at the southern end of the route, is reached by ferry from Oban with one sailing on most days. At the northern end, you can backtrack to the port at Stornoway, for the regular ferry to Ullapool.

Oban has a railway station, but Ullapool doesn’t. You can either cycle on from Ullapool to Garve (30 miles) or Inverness (60 miles), or take one of the private bike bus services. Alternatively, Hebridean operators will take you and your bike back from Lewis to Castlebay.

Bikes are carried free on the ferries and don’t require booking except in groups of six or more.

(If you don’t mind missing out Barra, you can also take the ferry from Mallaig on the mainland to Lochboisdale, rather than Oban to Castlebay.)

What about the island ferries?

The Western Isles are a chain of islands linked by regular CalMac ferries. You’ll need to take two on your route: Barra–Eriskay, and Berneray–Leverburgh (Harris). These run every few hours through the day so don’t impose too much of a route-planning burden. But it’s worth checking the last ferry times each day, particularly if you’ve pre-booked accommodation.

Ride reports & comments

Our Hebridean Way

Having just completed the Hebridean Way and part of the Great Glen Way I thought I'd add my comments. The idea for the trip came when my wife and I…

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Ridden this route? Write a ride report and share your experience…

Wed 4 May 2022, 08:41

Just finished a two week tour of the islands which included the Hebridean Way. The prevailing wind is SW but unfortunately for my trip it was NE which made it considerably harder. Single track roads were delightful as they forced drivers to slow down and be considerate. However, when I left Harris to Lewis the big climb, which is a tough one, was made even tougher and indeed dangerous by the road widening which has taken place. Coaches, lorries, cars and motorhomes drive past at 60 to 80 mph causing a lack of stability and a great degree of trepidation. In my view, the Lewis section should not be attempted as it's too dangerous and exposes the cyclist to unecessary dangers and shouldn't be encouraged by the tourist board. An alternative is to get on the ferry at Tarbert (Harris) to Skye (which also has its dangers).

Tue 21 May, 15:00

This was my first century ride - started at Lochboisdale ferry terminal, heading north to do a casual ride (my plan was to go to Benbecula and back. But it was a nice summer day, sunny, just a light breeze, so i decided to extend up to Berneray and back, unplanned pocketing a good century ride (actually 118 miles). Highlights of the day? A pit stop at the very top of north uist with genuine Hebrides' fast food, that is stornoway black pudding with a pair of scallops in a bun :) ... On return, a storm caught me on South Uist with quite nasty headwind. I was pretty knackered, frozen, and soaking wet when i reached the hotel in Daliburgh (recovered after a couple of wee drams of lagavulin ;) )

Never tried the Harris-Lewis part (plan for this summer)

Traffic: not so bad, a couple of vans and lorries per hour, but not as bad as Michael experienced. 
Midgies: a word of advice: make sure your helmet is not one of the fancy ones with koroyd or similar honeycomb mesh as it captures those wee beasties - so you'd need to stop every other mile to clean the mesh.
Weather: do not trust clear skies with no wind in the morning - the gods of weather there are cheeky buggers!
Start early, to have time to stop and enjoy the view many times.