- From – To: Vatersay to the Butt of Lewis
- Distance: 150 miles
- Terrain: All on road; a few significant hills; remote
- Access: Oban railway station; ferries from and to Oban, Castlebay and Lochboisdale; Uig on Skye and Lochmaddy; Uig and Tarbert; Stornoway and Ullapool
- Map: The Hebrides PDF cycle map (56)
A dedicated page lists any major route closures and diversions for the National Cycle Network in Scotland.
The Hebridean Way is a 150 mile on-road route through the remote and spectacular islands of the Outer Hebrides. It begins in the south on the Island of Vatersay and heads through Barra, Eriskay, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist, Berneray, Harris and Lewis, ending on the northernmost point at the Butt of Lewis. The route is accessible by ferry from the Scottish mainland and from the island of Skye at several points along its length. See Caledonian Macbrayne for all ferry information.
One of the ultimate get-away-from-it all cycling trips, the route runs the full length of the Outer Hebrides, over remote moorland (remember to pack water and food!), past wide, white beaches and over a few memorable hills. You also hop from island to island on ferries or over long causeways. Because of the prevailing winds, it is usually recommended to cycle the route from south to north. On a fine day, the Western Isles are a glorious place to be, but they also receive the full lash of storms from the Atlantic, so be prepared for all types of weather.
1. Vatersay to South Uist
You can reach Castlebay on Barra by ferry from Oban and then cycle down to the island of Vatersay if you want the full Hebridean Way experience. Head back over the causeway from Vatersay and round the west coast of Barra. You have to time your trip to make sure you catch the ferry from Northbay on Barra to Eriskay – where a slight diversion takes you to the Am Politician pub, named after the ship the SS Politician which ran aground off Eriskay in 1941 with its cargo of over a quarter of a million bottles of whisky. Rumour has it that the locals helped themselves to more than a few bottles and their attempts to evade the officers of the law became the genesis for Compton Mackenzie’s famous book ‘Whisky Galore’. From Eriskay, a causeway leads on to South Uist.
Alternatively, you can cycle the 13 miles round Barra, returning to Castlebay from where you can catch the ferry to Lochboisdale on South Uist.
2. South Uist to Benbecula
Ferries from Uig on the Isle of Skye come in to Lochboisdale at the southern end of South Uist. There is a signed link route between the ferry terminal and Daliburgh on Route 780. The route follows the A865 for much of the way through South Uist, but heads west towards the coast at a couple of points. Follow these (or other minor roads) to experience the ‘machair’ – expanses of wild flower meadows on the sands near the sea. There are also some nice places to wild camp along the coast. Take the causeway onto Benbecula where the route again heads away from the main road and round the west coast. You go past the utilitarian airport buildings and barracks at Baile a’ Mhanaich (Balivanich), before crossing the long causeway to North Uist, crossing western end of the island of Grimsay on the way.
3. North Uist to Berneray
The route heads up the A865 to the junction at Clachan na Luib. From here there is a choice of route. The main signed route is around the west side of North Uist, covering 20 miles. On a fine day, this is the way to go for corncrakes, sandy beaches and views to St Kilda.
The alternative round the east coast is 17 miles long and heads over open moorland to Lochmaddy, where there are shops, accommodation, a bank and the ferries from Uig. Over a footbridge near the Outdoor Activity Centre is the Hut of the Shadows – a grass-roofed, stone tumulus surrounded by sea and sky and built by land artist Chris Drury in 1997. A lens and three mirrors built into a wall project an image of the landscape outside on to the opposite wall. It’s a lovely place to chill after a day in the saddle.
The roads come together again and head over the causeway to Berneray. The ferry terminal is at the north end of the causeway, but it is well worth going a bit further onto Berneray. There is another magnificent beach and sand dunes on the west coast, a tea room and accommodation, including the Gatliff Hebridean Trust Hostel perched right at the sea edge. You can seal-watch while cooking dinner!
4. Berneray to Harris
The ferry runs from Berneray to Leverburgh at the southern end of Harris. Follow the route round the west coast of Harris. There is a nice café at the Seallam Visitor Centre at Taobh Tuath (Northton). Further on you can see the island of Taransay about a mile off-shore – this was where Ben Fogle and 35 others lived for a year for the TV programme Castaway, broadcast in 2000. A few more miles and the silver sands of beautiful Losgaintir (Luskentyre) Beach may tempt you stop again. There then follows a steady climb into the rocky interior of Harris and a run down to the port of Tarbert, which has accommodation, restaurants, a bank and shops. A ferry runs between here and Uig on Skye.
There is an alternative to the signed route along the east coast from Leverburgh to Tarbert. For this, turn right at Leverburgh towards Roghadal (Rodel), where you can visit the 15th century St Clement’s Church, said to be the finest medieval building on the Western Isles. You can then follow the Golden Road, so called because of the huge expense of building a road along the rocky, inlet-indented coastline. The single-track road twists and turns its way through tiny settlements and remarkable scenery. At the junction at the head of Loch Stocinis, take the road back up to the A859 to rejoin the signed route to Tarbert.
5. Tarbert to Liurbost and Stornoway
Follow the main road out of Tarbert, round the west coast and then begin a steep, long climb up to the highest point on the route. Also, somewhere along here you pass from the Isle of Harris to the Isle of Lewis – they are not separate islands! This is followed by a lengthy and, potentially, speedy run down to the shores of Loch Siophort (Seaforth). The route then goes through a succession of small settlements, though moorland and by lochs, for almost 17 miles. There are very few shops or places to eat, so make sure you carry enough food and drink to keep you going. Just past the right turn off to Liurbost, the route turns to the left towards Carlabhagh (Carloway).
Should you wish you can ijnstead continue straight on for 7 miles to reach the town of Stornoway, from where ferries leave to Ullapool.
6. Liurbost to Carlabhagh (Carloway)
Route 780 heads off westwards, with expansive views over wetland to the hills of Harris to the south. Nine miles on you arrive at the Callanish Stone Circle, where there is a café and visitor centre. You pass more chambered cairns and stone circles, before reaching the Carlabhagh Broch (Dun Carloway Broch), one of the best examples of this type of fortification which is found only in Scotland. There are several accommodation options in the area, including Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, a restored crofting village where you can see how people lived not so many years ago.
7. Carlabhagh to the Butt of Lewis
From Carlabagh, the road runs through a string of small settlements with their prominent churchs, and with the Atlantic coast never too far away. There is an art gallery and café just north of Barabhas. Thirteen miles further is a string of villages collectively known as Ness. There is an inn at Cros, which may be a welcome sight! Follow the signs to the Butt of Lewis to the left. In just over two miles, you arrive at the lighthouse on the Butt, which marks the end of your island odyssey.
There is only one road, so there is no alternative but to return the way you have come, until just past Barabhas. Here the B857 connects direct to Stornoway. Please note, this is a busy rural road with frequent fast moving traffic, and you should take this into account when planning your journey. The alternative connection to Stornoway would involve leaving the route as described above in the text for section 5. You may also find it helpful to know that we have been contacted by Alistair Glover of BeSpoke Bicycles (link to BeSpoke's Facebook site / Twitter profile) to indicate that he offers a ferrying service for bicycles and their riders on Harris and Lewis (alongside mobile bike repair, delivery services, and similar).
If taking the ferry from Stornoway, note that there is no railway station at Ullapool.
For additional information please see the Hebridean Way section of the Visit Outer Hebrides website.
The Hebridean Way is a 185 mile (295 km) bike ride through the Outer Hebrides.
Route 780, 'The Hebridean Way', is a 150-mile on-road route through the remote and spectacular islands of the Outer Hebrides. Using ferries and causeways to hop between islands, this popular route begins on the Island of Vatersay and ends on the northernmost point at the Butt of Lewis.