I've been reading this thread with interest today, some interesting comments for sure. I have some observations to make on riding on the Scottish islands in general, having spent more than 100 days cycling in the Outer Hebrides in the last seven years alone and that doesn't include my cycle trips to Arran, Mull, Skye and a host of other islands. Since April I've cycled on 15 islands over 25 days, so I have been able to observe any changes taking place this summer too. Here are my thoughts:
- Are the Scottish islands getting busier? Yes, there has been a steady increase over the last few years with the advent of RET (Road Equivalent Tariff - essentially subsidised ferry travel) This year has been the busiest to date based on my observations and also speaking to friends who live and work on a number of the islands. The upturn this year is probably due to a combination of factors: More stay at home visitors due to Brexit and possibly terrorist threats elsewhere and the fact that current exchange rate is beneficial to foreign tourists visiting. I'm sure tourism figures released at the end of the year will back this up.
- What is the cycling experience like with increased traffic? The experience remains as fantastic as ever and is relatively unchanged. Skye is in a unique position due to the bridge, so I won't discuss the situation on Skye but everywhere else the increased visitor numbers are regulated by the fact that a ferry is required and the ferries have a finite capacity. Each one of the 25 days this summer has been generally quiet riding on great roads with an absolute minimum of fuss regarding vehicles etc. Two recent examples - I cycled 150 miles round Mull and Ardnamurchan last month on a Saturday and the number of vehicles I passed on the amazing west coast road from Loch Na Keal to Calgary Bay was incredibly small for prime time tourist season on a day where the weather was great. The previous weekend I cycled the entire length of the Outer Hebrides from Vatersay to the Butt of Lewis in a day and there was only a handful of occasions for the entire 180 miles where two vehicles passed at the same time. My friend and I rode two abreast for many miles due to the lack of vehicles. Fantastic experience!
- In general I find local island drivers to be superb and incredibly warm and friendly relative to what you might find at home - usually a friendly wave from most and those who are in a hurry tend to give cyclists a wide berth. Any issues I've observed tend to happen where there is either a nervous cyclist who has little experience on single track roads or a nervous driver who is also in a similar position with limited experience of driving on the islands.
-If I was to give any cyclist a little advice when riding on the islands or any of the single track roads across the Scottish Highlands it would be to give oncoming traffic a beaming smile and big wave. This often totally dissipates any potential situation totally flat before it even starts. I tend to wave at every vehicle who passes as the locals have always done to me. The roads can't be that busy or my hands would never return to the handlebars
If you're thinking about a trip to the islands then you should go. This year I've met tandems, recumbents, parents with their kids in a trailer, dogs travelling in a trailer and a couple in their 80's who had given up cycling 20 years ago but with the advent of e bikes they have started cycling again. All of these people were having an amazing time and their situation was potentially more challenging than the average cycling tourist. If they can enjoy the cycling in the islands then I think we all can.
Here is a wee link to my slideshow from my adventures in the Outer Hebrides last year. I haven't created one for this year yet Scotland - Outer Hebrides Cycling and Hiking 2016
OR you can watch it direct from YouTube HERE