Setting out for Tarbert the second time, we actually made it. Although we still faced stiff headwinds, the weather was greatly improved. It was highly unsettled, swirling between dark clouds, significant chunks of blue sky, rain showers, sunshine and mist throughout the day. We really only got wet once, and the sunshine did wonders for both the scenery and our dispositions.
Rolling hills surrounded by mountains and passing alongside numerous lochs or inlets from the sea made for beautiful views. The brown mountainsides and rocky terrain with a lack of trees proved how rugged that area is. It didn't seem to bother the sheep, though, which grazed lazily in the fields and peered at us from the roadside.
Never trusting the weather, we were intent on getting to Tarbert by early afternoon. But even if we had wanted to stop for a break, options for refreshments along the way were nil. Fortunately our hearty British breakfast served us well.
The islands of Lewis and Harris are actually a single land mass. We started on Lewis and crossed over into Harris en route. It was impossible to identify the boundary without the sign.
We knew there was a significant climb just before Talbert, and it didn't disappoint. Approaching a wall of mountains, it was difficult to tell just where the pass cut through. Misty mountain tops hovered in the distance and all options looked intimidating. Suddenly we could see the road ahead, snaking up the mountainside in a series of angled switchbacks. It was a long slog, but the inclines were reasonable. And the best part? On some legs we actually had the wind at our backs, pushing us along. Hallelujah! The worst? Huge cross-winds that threatened to blow us over.
Reaching the summit required some celebratory pictures. Our relief was short-lived, however, when we discovered a second ascent beyond that.
Booking into the lovely Harris Hotel in Tarbert seemed just reward for our efforts. The gracious inn obviously sees its share of cyclists and hikers as it featured a bike shed and drying room for gear. The beautiful garden out front was especially appealing in the afternoon sun.
Doing some reconnoitering on our route, we decided to take the ferry to the Isle of Skye the next day. The only drawback was that I had my heart set on seeing the western coast of South Harris. But even that wrinkle was soon solved. Since the ferry did not leave until almost noon, I would do a morning bike ride along that route while Rich relaxed at the hotel.
The day dawned much cloudier and with promise of rain, but intent on my mission I set off early, unencumbered by gear. It took seven miles of climbing and traveling through baren mountains, but when I reached the west coast I was rewarded with an entirely new landscape. That is the rich fertile region of the islands, and the lush green hillsides were proof. I had expected a dramatic coastline, and instead found great variety. Rocky promontories gave way to sandy beaches and tall dunes. The water was a surprising deep green and mostly calm. With the road hugging the coast, cycling was easy and there was little traffic to disturb my peaceful journey.
I managed to cover nearly the whole length of the coast I wanted to see, and doubled the pleasure viewing it from the opposite direction on my return. Not even the heavy mist in the mountain pass could dampen my spirits. Sometimes it's best to divide and conquer. We were both happy with our morning choices. And I will remember it as the brighter days we had on Harris.