I can’t remember which birthday it was I received my first Meccano set. I was really excited and could not wait to construct my first model. Somewhere, perhaps in a shop window, I had seen a Meccano model of a travelling crane. A picture of the same model was shown on the box of my new set. The limitation of that first set soon became apparent, but, I had been sold on the dream of this giant motorised beast of a crane. I wanted more Meccano so that, one day, I too could make that model.
Along came Lego and the dream was forgotten. I had, however, learnt a lesson; the importance of not selling a product, but what that product could achieve or become.
I suspect that Blue Door Bicycles at Crystal Palace may believe that I treat their shop like the local social services drop in centre rather than a bike shop. This and following them on Facebook and twitter has given me quite an opportunity to witness David and staff of the shop with their customers and listened to the advice they give. They can advise on local cycle routes, clubs that cater for different kinds of rider, or other information such as cycle insurance or training scheme for new cyclists. Most important of all however, they will share the enthusiasm and encouragement to help the customer explore new cycling horizons.
If you follow them on Facebook, or perhaps by twitter, as they post pictures of various rides or places they have visited by bike, you learn that these are cyclists. One example of this are the pictures shared David, the proprietor, who recently rode the Hebridean way.
Chatting with in the shop with David after his return, he added extra detail and colour such as the midges weren’t too bad except for when he sat outside the church following morning service (confirming the old adage that no good deed goes unpunished). In short, this has pushed the Hebridean Way well up on my bucket list of rides.
The Hebridean way is also National Cycle Route 780 which was launched by round-the-world cyclist Marl Beaumont. To mark this, he decided to ride the entire route in 24 hours. This video is a short record of that ride and gives a feel of the scenery along the route.
On my first visit to the Hebrides I rough camped on the edge of one of the beaches. Waking in the morning I was greeted with the sight of sea otters foraging amongst nearby rocks. They were obviously aware that I was there but chose to ignore me and carry on with what they were doing. Along the way you may also come across seals and, the islands, are also blessed with a wealth of seabirds.
These days many people will have encountered the Hebrides through TV programmes such as Island Parish or Islands on the Edge. For me as a child, it was Home Service radio dramatization of Compton MacKenzie’s Whiskey Galore. This is set on Eriskay, a small island hanging off the tip of South Uist. The 1949 Ealing Studios’ film adaptation may have played on stereotypes and been filmed on Barra, but does give a glimpse of the scenery 70 years ago.
Eriskay is also famous for its ponies. When I joined the newly formed Rare Breeds Survival Trust in the 1970’s these were on the verge of extinction. From memory, there was only about 20 left on the islands but, more worryingly, only one stallion.
Now there is getting on for 500 across the UK but are still on the RBST watch list. I’m guessing that this is partly to do with there still being limited genetic choices. Click on the picture and it will link you to a page, on the RBST website, about these beautiful ponies
Benbecula also featured in my early days of radio listening. Occasionally there would be a weather-related item that would mention Benbecula. What a fantastic sound that made, especially in the voice of BBC announcer. So much so that a pupil at my secondary school, writing their first novel (unpublished), included a character called Ben Becula, This is really no more than an excuse to include another of David’s pictures,
If you plan to ride the Hebridean Way, a good starting point is with the Outer Hebrides Tourism Website. From here you can download maps and leaflets, whilst the site itself can help with suggested itineries, accommodation, details of ferry and other services, and information on places to visit and what’s on.
I love the Cicerone guides and they do several for walking or cycling in the Hebrides. Their ‘Cycling in the Hebrides’ includes the Hebridean Way and includes other rides should wish to stay longer and explore more of the Hebrides.
Sustrans have a webpage dedicated to the Hebridean Way or, as they know it, National Cycle Route 780. Which gives good insight to the route at the planning stage. For a couple of quid they will also sell you a downloadable pdf map of the route.
Most people ride from South to North as the prevailing wind is more likely to be working for you than against you. If you do the same then your destination will be Harris where the picture below was taken.