The pedalling photographer

Pictures on the move


At last – we make it to the Outer Hebrides! (written by my cycling buddy, my wife Chris)

We were desperate to go on a cycle tour but were not quite sure what we were searching for. What we did know was that we didn’t want to be anywhere crowded. So, we decided to try for the Outer Hebrides once again. You may remember that in 2015 we got as far as Oban, only to be faced with a forecast of a week of gales and rain. We decided to pull the plug on that visit to the islands; in hindsight, a wise decision!

Two years and three major life events later (one sad, one happy, another sad), we felt the need for some wild landscapes, some remoteness, no crowds, no busy roads, some quiet moments, some time to soak up nature and be at peace. The Outer Hebrides seemed the place to go.

We stood waiting for the ferry at Oban in torrential rain, slightly apprehensive about what we were letting ourselves in for. There was quite a large group of cycle tourers in the queue; surely we couldn’t all be mad?

One of the nice things about travelling on ferries is that, in most cases, those on bikes are first on, first off. We got some seats at the front of the ship so that we had a good, all-round view. Even in the murk and mist, the islands off the mainland looked tantalising and beautiful; some really tiny, others much larger.


The further we got from the mainland, the more the weather improved. Unbelievably, the sun even started to shine!



We began to get excited. Perhaps the weather would be kind to us after all? But the highlight of the ferry trip was the pod of dolphins we saw leaping joyously alongside the boat.

We arrived on Barra and luckily found a tiny space to erect our tent in the busy little campsite at Borve, which was almost full with people who had just come off the ferry. We bumped into the Irish cycle tourer we had chatted to whilst waiting for the ferry, who seemed very knowledgeable about the islands. The reason being, we were to discover later, that he had been visiting the islands twice a year for the past several years. In fact, he seemed quite well known (almost famous, I would say!) amongst other travellers that we bumped into later. That’s the nice thing about travelling by bike: people stop to talk to you. Other cycle tourers share their tips and experiences; we compare gear; talk food and recipes; recommend weather apps; suggest which campsites to avoid, what routes to follow; and pass on information about where there’s a good food store for topping up your supplies.

We spent a wonderful couple of weeks making our way up the islands – cycling one day and exploring the area where we had pitched up the next. These islands have a magical feel, they get under your skin. They are so remote, so quiet, so stunningly beautiful. There were so many places where you turned a corner and had to stop as the view took your breath away. From looking across the bay at the airport on Barra


to the view from Scurrival campsite on the tip of Barra





to the RSPB reserve at Balranald (where we actually saw the ever-elusive corncrake and also the islands of St Kilda silhouetted against the skyline; they are the remotest part of the British Isles, lying 64 km from North Uist)



to the gently undulating, almost traffic-free, single-lane roads that taper into the distance.


Seeing these islands in sunshine was an absolute delight. We were so lucky.

Our favourite cycling day was from the campsite at Balranald, on North Uist, to the island of Berneray. We could not believe the views. We would cycle only a short distance before Mike would say – yet again 😉 – ‘I must stop to take a photo’. We made very slow progress that day!






Berneray was unforgettable.


The view from our camping spot at the Gatliff Hostel, Berneray. IMG_0084

The 3-mile long West Beach, with its white sand, made up from broken shells, and its turquoise seas, can make you think you are in a tropical paradise (not that far from the truth, apparently, as a photo of this beach was used mistakenly by the Thai tourist board in an advertisement for Kai Bae Beach) – only difference being the temperature!




You literally have to drag yourself away from this place. But drag ourselves away we did, as we had to retrace our steps and start making our way back to Barra and the ferry back to the mainland.

One of the highlights of our trip was the people we met. Isn’t that the case with every trip? It’s the people you remember, more than the places you’ve seen. Although, in this case, I think the views just pipped it!

We so enjoyed camping outside the Gatliff Hostels (Howmore and Berneray) because of all the interesting people we met there. James, our Irish friend, again; Craig, a Scottish cycle tourist/mountain biker/ski mountaineer/all-round mega fit guy; a couple from Malta, who beat us at Jenga; a group of young Americans (who we actually managed to catch up with and overtake on a cycling day – woohoo); on separate occasions, two Brits now living in Australia; a lady from Finland; a cycle-touring couple from Germany … and Piotr and Agata, cycle tourists from Switzerland, who we met at Moorcroft campsite at Carinish. Although only a brief encounter, Mike had a great affinity with Piotr, both being photographers. And we mustn’t forget the wonderful Hector, the driver of the school bus that we had to hire to transport us, our 2 bikes and all 12 of our bags and panniers in the driving rain and 40 mph winds that caught up with us towards the end of our trip. We were out of food, and he kindly waited while we dashed into the Co-op to grab some supplies.

Fortunately, the islands had managed to cast their spell on us in the sunny weather that we were blessed enough to have most of the time, but they reminded us of what our trip could have been like by just leaving us with a sting in the tail (see video – link at the bottom)!

More pictures from the islandsSouth Uist, The Outer Hebrides





YouTube links to the videos of our trip :

Part I :

Part II :




In search of solace …

Over the past couple of months since I lost my sister to cancer I have sat down several times to write a blog, but my head has been all over the place and I couldn’t find the right words to express my feelings. So now my wife, Chris, has put pen to paper (or should I say, fingers to keyboard!) and written the words below:

We had made plans for this year. As mentioned in our previous blogs, we had planned a 3-week cycle tour round the Outer Hebrides in May. But the weather was against us. Scotland had the worst weather this year; there was still snow on the mountains in midsummer! We made it as far as Oban, but then decided the safest option was to bale out due to the gale-force winds forecast.

We had also hoped to do a longer trip to France; 6 weeks instead of 3, the maximum we’d been able to find time for so far. But ‘life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’, as the John Lennon song goes. And life did happen. My dear sister-in-law, Mike’s little sister, Catherine, lost her battle against cancer and died at the end of July. Even as I write this, I still can’t believe it. We all knew she was ill, but then she seemed to deteriorate so quickly … it all came as a bit of a shock. Even though she was suffering, she still managed to smile and make a joke to get us all laughing. She has my deepest admiration for being so brave. We miss her so much.

But, she wouldn’t want us to sit around grieving for her. She would want us to get up and carry on doing the things we love doing. With this in mind, even though it was a little late in the year, we took ourselves off at the end of September to cycle the Hadrian’s Wall route. It turned out to be a very emotional week for us, which took us a little by surprise. Doing the things we love seemed to bring it home that the person we had lost could no longer do these things. Grief hits you when you least expect it. But then we comforted ourselves by thinking that Cath would be watching us, and even that she had put in a good word for us so that we had good weather – wall-to-wall sunshine, every day in fact! Somehow, we had managed to choose the week of the Indian summer.

We started our ride at Port Carlisle, where we were able to leave our car. The first day we spent exploring the Solway Coast AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). The road round the peninsula is flat, my favourite type of cycling!

Birdwatching over the Solway Firth


Next stop Rome!

Next stop Rome!


Tranquility on the Solway Firth

Tranquility on the Solway Firth

The area has an air of tranquility and peacefulness about it, which is just what we needed. It is a good spot for birdwatching, and we could see – and hear – skeins of geese flying in for winter. Our camp was close to the shoreline and we were lulled to sleep by birdcalls and owl hoots and screeches.

Supermoon over the Solway Firth (shame about the veil of cloud over it!)

Supermoon over the Solway Firth (shame about the veil of cloud over it!)

However, in the middle of the night, I woke to hear water lapping close to the tent and remembered the sign we’d seen on the road alongside where we were camped: ‘When water reaches this point, maximum depth is 1 foot’. Perhaps the high tide also covered the field in which we were pitched? We could end up under a foot of water! My mind started racing. ‘Mike, Mike, wake up! The water has reached our tent!’ Heroically, Mike dragged himself out of his snug and cosy sleeping bag to investigate. Fortunately, all was well. I had forgotten to take into account that sound carries at night – we weren’t going to disappear under a foot of seawater!

We spent the next few days cycling and exploring. After a flat start, the ride became very hilly and we made it up on to the fells of the North Pennines and cycled alongside Hadrian’s Wall. It seems hard to believe that Roman soldiers had actually marched from Italy to this area of Britain and built a wall to mark Rome’s northern frontier. What must life have been like for them in those days?

The occasional hill just had to be walked up!!

The occasional hill just had to be walked up!!


Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian’s Wall


Cycling alongside Hadrian's Wall

Cycling alongside Hadrian’s Wall

We had the most amazing views across this beautiful landscape. With the clear skies and full sunshine, we could see for miles. A rare occurrence in the hills!

Hadrian's Wall Sustrans cycle route No 72

Hadrian’s Wall Sustrans cycle route No 72

The NCN route undulated along quiet, country lanes, through small, rural villages until it reached the town of Haltwhistle, nicknamed the centre of Britain due to its position exactly in the middle of the country. We camped the night here, but in view of the change in the weather and the fact that Newcastle was hosting a World Cup rugby match that weekend so would be chock-a-block, we decided to beat a retreat and the next day caught the train back to Carlisle. From there we cycled back to Port Carlisle, our car and the journey home.

The short break, the remoteness and the stunning scenery were exactly what we needed, but we returned home sad in the knowledge that we wouldn’t be able to tell our dear Cath all about it. What we have to do is believe that she was, and always will be, with us all the way.

RIP Catherine Jenkins, a beautiful person who was very much loved and who will be forever missed.