Monthly Archives: May 2013

Leg 28 – a day off in Orkney

Time to fix the bike (fingers crossed), and for some sightseeing.

28 May 2013

Post a bit of a late night chatting with fellow campers I was still up relatively early to get to the bike shop as soon as possible. It looked like it was going to be a brighter day, and the wind had dropped a bit which would make cycling easier. I had breakfast and a shower, before following Allan, one of be campsite wardens, to the bike shop – Orkney Cycles. I followed him in his smart car, cycling with my rear brake disconnected to stop the wheel from rubbing; it was pretty bucked now.

Orkney Cycles turned out to be a great bike shop, probably better than any within a 100 miles or so, including the mainland, so I’d struck lucky. It’s also one of the only bike shops on the island so was quite busy, and I was glad I’d got there early. I left the bike with them for half an hour whilst they worked out what they could do to help, and grabbed a cup of tea in town, opposite St.Magnus’ Cathedral.

St Magnus' Cathedral 1

St Magnus’ Cathedral 1


St Magnus' Cathedral 2

St Magnus’ Cathedral 2

Thankfully the bike shop were able to find a new wheel, albeit a racing wheel really, with 32 spokes instead of the 36 I’d had previously. It’s still double rimmed and strong, so should be as good as the previous being a good spec. At the very least it will get me further south where there are more bike shops, but hopefully will last for the whole trip otherwise this is going to get expensive. Didn’t really have a choice anyway given my whereabouts. I’m writing this whilst on the ferry back to the mainland, with my bike 3 decks below me, so can’t tell you the make presently! (Mavic CXP 22) I also got my chain replaced as it was getting worn and had stretched, which would mean it might start slipping or break; not something I wanted to happen on the next leg along he north coast. £130 all done.

Orkney Cycles

It was nice spending a relaxing morning chatting to the staff and other customers, without worrying about how many miles I needed to get done today. It seems there is quite a lot of cycling activity on the island, mostly road biking and time trials rather than mountain biking. There was a constant stream of customers coming in and out, either to hire bikes, or get repairs or advice. The shop also doubled up as a Games Workshop, selling figures; a slightly odd combination but works, will have to dig my old figures out at some point.

Orkney Cycles 2

Cycle Orkney 2

Recommend any tourers passing through Kirkwall drop in and say hello and get your bike checked by the friendly and helpful staff, who no doubt can give you a few tips on where to visit on the islands too.

Post bike fixing I pedalled out of Kirkwall, wanting to visit the Churchill Barriers around Scapa Flow, as well as the Italian Chapel. I’d already decided to spend one more night on Orkney, so had booked in at the same campsite in Kirkwall again and would head back to the mainland on Wednesday – think Wednesday anyway, losing track of what day it is slightly. Just a short ride today would give my legs, and body in general, a bit of a break. I very nearly stopped in at the leisure centre for a massage, but the weather was really too good to not get out. Nice not to have to pack up my tent, and to ride without panniers. Of course I did have to contend with the wobbles for a bit, until I got used to the much lighter bike again! It feels really weird for a bit, and the front wheel wobbles all over the place.

Looking back and down to Kirkwall

Looking back and down to Kirkwall


I did have to stop to adjust my back brake, which with the thinner rear rim wasn’t gripping enough, easy and quick job though. All done I rode up the hill and past the Highland Park distillery, where I stopped to look in the shop. They do tours but decided to save my money for a pub dinner later. Smelt pretty good as I rode up to the distillery and was tempted to get a whee dram! They had some expensive whiskys in the shop. I liked the look of their Loki and Thor bottles, but they’re well over £100. I also thought that Loki being a bit of a trickster might mean the whisky isn’t quite what you’d expect, and Thor might just give you a hammering hangover!

Highland Park distillery

Highland Park distillery


 

Highland Park distillery - steaming chimney

Highland Park distillery – steaming chimney


I pedalled on to St. Mary’s, over some moderate but exposed hills, into the lessened but still mildly irritating south easterly. It didn’t matter as much today as I wasn’t in a rush, the sun was out, and the scenery amazing.

Road to St. Mary's

Road to St. Mary’s


 

St Mary's - Lobster Pots

St Mary’s – lobster pots. Lobster wanted to sabotage these but the fisherman was around so he decided discretion was the better part of valour and hid.


 

Churchill Barrier number 1

Churchill Barrier number 1


From St. Mary’s I rode over the first of 4 Churchill Barriers, built in the Second World War, to stop German U-boats and warships from attacking the British fleet, which were based out of Scapa Flow. As well as the Churchill Barriers a host of anti-aircraft defences were also erected pretty swiftly after the outbreak of war. Unfortunately the defences hadn’t been maintained or improved upon since the First World War, and were a little shoddy to start off with as a result. The German U-boat U47 managed to sneak through one of the narrow sounds (Kirkwall Sound I think) and torpedo the British warship HMS Royal Oak, with the loss of over 800 lives. The U-boat got in and out without being caught, so despite the tragic loss of life a pretty gutsy move from its commander. This was before the Churchill Barriers had been built, and whilst a lot of the main fleet were still out at sea; if they’d been in Scapa Flow it could have meant an even worse toll. The defences were much improved by the end of the war, with at least one U-boat being destroyed in the anti submarine nets and minefields.

Post the 1st of the barriers I cycled up to the Italian Chapel, built by Italian POWs during the Second World War, who worked on building the Churchill Barriers.  They felt in need of a spiritual retreat, deprived as they were of other things, and built the chapel with the blessing of the camp commander, out of two donated end to end Nissan shelters, and other material they had to hand. For example bullied beef cans to make the lanterns/candle stick holders on the altar.

Italian Chapel 1

Italian Chapel – built out of two end to end Nissan shelters


Italian Chapel 2

Italian Chapel 2


Italian Chapel 3

Italian Chapel 3

 

Italian Chapel 4

Italian Chapel 4

The Chapel is a pretty amazing place, with everything having been built by hand. The Islanders promised the Italian POWs to look after it when they left, and it’s become a bit of a place of pilgrimage, restored in the 1960’s when the original Italian responsible for its design and build returned for a visit.

The POWs were also responsible for much of the work on constructing the barriers. Construction began with the scuttling of of old merchant ships to provide a temporary barrier, followed by the laying of large concrete blocks. They provided a very effective barrier, and now join the Orkney east mainland to Burray and South Ronaldsay. It was great cycling across them all, especially in the nice weather, but I wouldn’t like to do it in the winter with a gale blowing, and waves crashing over. 

Skua I think

Skua I think


Old scuttled ship

Old scuttled ship


Sea and amazing colour

Sea and amazing colour, and great sandy beaches


Sandy beaches

Sandy beaches – bit cold still for a dip though

I saw lots of seabirds including Cormorants, Lapwings, Gulls, Oystercatchers, Plovers and I think a Great Skua. Also saw a seal fishing next to one of the barriers. You could see it swimming under the water it was so clear, but didn’t get my phone out in time for a pic.

I had lunch at a little cafe just before barrier 4, attached to the Fossil & Heritage centre. A bowl of butternut squash and ginger soup, plus a smoked salmon an scream cheese toasty for £6, bargain. Treated myself of chocolate cake too.

Lunch break on Burray

Lunch break on Burray

Post lunch I cycled over the last of the barriers and on to St Margaret’s Hope, a small fishing and tourist town, with a pier and ferry too, on South Ronaldsay. 

St. Margaret's Hope

St. Margaret’s Hope


St. Margaret's Hope 2

St. Margaret’s Hope 2

I cycled back to Kirkwall on the same route, but with a tailwind so zipped along at quite a pace, especially with the new wheel. The hills that had taken quite a bit of effort before took half the time this way round. I popped into the bike shop on the way through to let them know the bike was running well, before going to Helgi’s Bar in town for a couple of beers and dinner; it was my day off after all.

Over a fantastic lamb tangine, and a few pints of the Orkney brew Scapa, which is a really good ale, I chatted to a few people. Hamish is a local salesman and travels around the islands selling agricultural products to farmers. Great bloke and seemed to know everyone that came in who was a local, which included the owner of the brewery whose beer I was enjoying, as well as Cameron who apparently once won Big Brother. I also learned that there are quite a few Harveys on Orkney, and in Scotland in general. I’ve always wandered about the origin of my surname, so maybe I have ancestors from round these parts! Thanks for her beer and company Hamish, I’ll be in touch on my next visit! 

So I’d recommend Helgi’s for the beer, food and company; it seems to be the place it go in Kirkwall and is good value for money.

Post the end of a great day off, a 32 mile ride and lots of good food, I returned to the campsite and chatted to a few of the other visitors for a bit. Shane was on holiday for a family gathering on Orkney, with people travelling here from all over the place including America. They can trace their family tree back to around 1480 on Orkney, pretty amazing. Made me keener to try and trace my roots back further.

Tomorrow I planned to get back to the mainland, after a quick tour round the rest of the mainland. Orkney definitely worth the visit so far.

Misty Scapa Flow

Misty Scapa Flow

Sunset in Kirkwall

Sunset in Kirkwall


Sunset in Kirkwall 2

Sunset in Kirkwall 2


Kirkwall bay

Kirkwall bay

Leg 27 – to Orkney and Kirkwall


Thanks for all the messages of support and sponsorship, they really help keep me going.

27 May 2013

It had been a somewhat disturbed night’s sleep due to the South Easterly that got stronger overnight, rattling the rafters in my tent, not that it has rafters, but the canvas definitely rattled. I was up early to go and meet Mark Beaumont, of ‘The Man  Who Cycled The World’ fame, who’d I’d been in touch with over Twitter. He has a page on his website that promotes various people’s expeditions/challenges, which he’d stuck my ride up on – http://markbeaumontonline.com/your-adventure/

Mark was cycling down the coast from Duncansby Head with a team from BBC Scotland, filming a programme to air on midsummer, and he’d suggested that it would be good to meet up en-route, both to say hello, and we could do a short interview for the programme. Seemed liked an opportunity not to be missed.

I quickly breakfasted and hit the shower block, but realised I’d lost the code for the door, d’oh, needed to do my hair and everything. I ended up having to phone the warden to get in as no-one else was up and needing the loo, typical. Didn’t delay me long and I was in plenty of time to meet Mark and the crew down by the river in Thurso. They were talking to and filming two local fishermen, who’d brought along some marinaded trout and salmon to taste. Not being one to refuse an opportunity for food on this trip I got to taste some of the trout, marinaded in whisky, it was delicious.

Post finishing with the fishermen we grabbed a coffee in Thurso to get out of the cold wind for a bit, before cycling a couple of miles out of town to film Mark and I meeting up on the road, and having a brief chat about what has changed as I’ve travelled further north. Mark noticed my rear wheel had a bit of a wobble but seemed okay, something to keep an eye on though.

It was great to meet up and fun doing a bit of filming, should be airing on 21 June in Scotland, and will be on iPlayer – I wonder if I’ll make the cut. I’ll have more of a speaking part than my last foray in front of a camera, for which you’ll have to see our Arms Race movies on You Tube; definitely worth a watch if you’re a Science Fiction or Steam Punk fan.

Meeting up with Mark Beamont

Meeting up with Mark Beamont

Bidding goodbye to Mark on his slinky road bike, and the production crew Ed and Jenna in their far warmer land rover, I cycled back down the road to the ferry terminal in Scratsby, to catch the boat to Stromness on Orkney. Mark pedalled off to their next scheduled stop with someone who could take them whale watching, before he continued on to Sandwood Bay – a today distance of 125 miles for him, but there again he wasn’t weighed down by lots of kit! He’s got a big challenge starting on 01 June, to swim and run across Scotland. It sounds a little bit crazy, but is in aid of a great cause – http://www.justgiving.com/markbeaumontSTVAppeal

I had a few hours to wait for my boat to Orkney, however these were productively occupied, first with a large fry up in the port cafe, good value and hit the spot. I spent a bit of time updating my blog before heading down to the terminal to get my ticket and board – £17.50 for a single, bike is free, much more expensive in a car.

The trip across to Stromness was a little bit rough due it the wind, but not enough to cause at sea sickness – I don’t generally suffer anyway but there’s always a first time. I spent a bit of time in the lounge, where I nodded off on one of their comfy chairs, before going on deck to admire the scenery.

 

Thurso from the ferry

Thurso from the ferry


 

Bit windy on board

Bit windy on board


 

Passing the Isles

Passing the Isles

 

Arriving in Stromness

Arriving in Stromness


I was chatting to another passenger who pointed out how the majority of the houses, especially the older ones, are built side on to the harbour to avoid the worst of the wind. Most of the houses also have slipways down into the sea, a testament to their fishing heritage. Post disembarking I had a quick cycle around Stromness, and stopped to by a sandwich even though I hadn’t cycled much yet today – permanently hungry on this trip anyway. The older roads are laid with large paving stones, which is fairly novel and something my dad remembered from when he visited years ago.

Stromness - cool alleyway

Stromness – cool alleyway


 

Stromness - view into bay

Stromness – view into bay


I cycled out from Stromness to Sandwick, before continuing up the coast on minor roads. The coastline is fairly hilly, although I had a strong tail wind for this first section so was easy going. I was kind of dreading the long haul back to Kirkwall into the headwind but I only had myself to blame for that.

I rode on up past various lochs and the Bay of Skaill, to Skara Brae, the site of an ancient Stone Age settlement that was uncovered in a storm which blew the covering sand dunes off. As a result the site is remarkably well preserved, and you can see the stone huts, beds, and even dressing table like constructions.

Riding the Orkney mainland 1

Riding the Orkney mainland 1


 

Riding the Orkney mainland 2

Riding the Orkney mainland 2

Got hit by a dust storm just after this.
 

Skara Brae

Skara Brae


From Skara Brae I continued, riding up to Birsay and slowly turning further into the wind. At one point I had to cycle through a bit of a dust storm caused by the strong wind blowing over dry ploughed fields, it stung a little and the sand-like dirt got everywhere; glad I had my sunglasses on, and had to wash my mouth out.

Orkney coastline

Orkney coastline 


Road to Birsay

Road to Birsay


On one section I heard a ping as I rode over a bump, a pretty distinctive noise if you’ve been cycling for a while. Stopping to examine my rear wheel I found the cause of the disturbing noise, my real wheel rim was cracked and the spoke had almost pulled through. It had obviously been weakening which had been the cause of the wheel wobble Mark had spotted earlier.

Cracked rear wheel rim

Cracked rear wheel rim


Without much of a choice I carried on – I’d just have to tighten the two spokes around the break if it got worse and started rubbing.

Birsay - Earl's Palace

Birsay – Earl’s Palace


 

Birsay coastline and lighthouse

Birsay coastline and lighthouse


Post Birsay I turned into a buffeting cross wind, that turned into a draining headwind as I turned down towards Finstown. I nearly ran over a group of teenagers out hiking, strung across the road. They couldn’t hear me due to the wind and were walking in the middle of the road as hardly any cars around. I pedalled around the top of the island, then down through Evie, reminding myself it had been my decision to take this route and not go straight to the campsite, despite the force 5 to 6 wind. Still, the countryside and coastline made it worthwhile, even the my legs were really started to hurt. I passed a couple of potential campsites but ruled them out wanting to reach Kirkwall. Not many trees around on this island, maybe there were once and they got used for firewood and construction, or maybe it’s just too windy.

Felt like a bit of a twat to be cycling out in this wind

Felt like a bit of a twat to be cycling out in this wind


 

Eyehallow

Eyehallow


 

The road to Kirkwall

The road to Kirkwall – sheep regarding me with suspicion as usual

From Finstown I rode on to Kirkwall, gradually turning out of the wind, and arriving at the Pickaquoy campsite about 20.00. The ride had taken me at least twice as long as it would have done without the wind. And incidentally Orkney is not as flat as I’d anticipated. I guess the buckled rear wheel didn’t help either.

The campsite on Pickaquoy road is really good, very close to Kirkwall city centre, and only cost me £7.15 a night – ended up staying off two nights in the end. It has an indoor lounge area, laundry, kitchen, and great loos and showers, as well as decent free wifi. All included in the price – usually you have to pay extra for kitchen facilities, and this was the first lounge area I’d encountered. The site is also attached to a leisure centre, which will shortly have a swimming pool opening, but has a sauna, jacuzzi, massages, a climbing wall and lots of other stuff. Was quite tempted to try a massage and sauna but would depend on the weather, so much to see on Orkney.

Post pitching up I had a chat with the warden who let me know about a good bike shop in Kirkwall which I’d try tomorrow ref a new real wheel, fingers were most definitely crossed as it would be a long walk back to the ferry, and my wheel was now rubbing so much I’d had to disconnect the rear brake. Dinner consisted of a microwave meal for two from Lidyls, along with some fruit and cake. Lidyls is really common in Scotland and has some great produce at low prices. The stores up here seem to have a wider range than those down south. Will definitely be stopping at more of them on the way around.

Sunset in Kirkwall

Sunset in Kirkwall


 

Sunset in Kirkwall 2

Sunset in Kirkwall 2


I spent the rest of the evening planning out the next few days. Tomorrow would depend on a wheel fix, but if successful I wanted to visit the south of the island, the Italian Chapel, Scapa Flow, the Churchill Barriers, and maybe the Highland Park whisky distillery. More on that tomorrow. I also met up with a group of Liverpudlians, or self proclaimed Scousers as they wanted to be known (Fred, Spike and Richard if memory serves). The generosity of strangers is always great and heartwarming to behold; they donated £30 to the ride and Big C which was very much appreciated, especially as they’d been saving for ages to come to Orkney. They were camping too and spending the week island hopping, having a great time by the sounds of it. Come as 

So a great day, only about 50 miles, but went to bed with tired legs post the afternoon’s slightly ridiculous ride to Kirkwall into the killer headwind! I’ve only got myself to blame and the advantage of touring along is you can only fall out with yourself, plus you get to stop and start when you like, and it’s easier to meet other people and make decisions. 

Still finding bits of sand from the dust storm!

Leg 26 – to John o’ Groats and Thurso

26 May 2013

I was on the road by 09.30, feeling enthused about making it up to John o’ Groats and and seeing the North coast of Scotland. Might even bump into a few tourers starting their Jogles, or competing their Lejogs! I had a quick cycle around Wick before leaving. It was pretty dead compared with the previous evening, not many people having surfaced as yet, especially of the younger generation. Unfortunately didn’t find any cafes open for a second breakfast opportunity.

Wick campsite

Wick campsite – weather looking promising


 

Wick harbour - weather getting less promising

Wick harbour – weather getting less promising


 

Waterfront nightclub, Wick

Waterfront nightclub, Not dissimilar looking from its namesake in Norwich

From Wick I cycled north under grey skies, and into a mild headwind making it chilly. The weather seems very changeable at the moment, there having been rain overnight, something you can hear very clearly in a tent. Think there must be a few weather fronts moving through, with the low pressure system that’s been sitting off the north coast finally moving.

I took the A99 up around Sinclair Bay, through Keiss and Freswick, and past Skirza, the latter two town names being Viking in origin. Think the Norwegians still ruled this area, at least loosely, until the 14th or 15th century. I’d read about how one of the last Viking adventurers had one of his strongholds around here but I couldn’t find it. Will have to look him up again. Going back to my Pictish topic of yesterday their must be loads of different bloodlines mingled up here, from Celt, Pict, and Viking, to more recent migrations. I love a bit of Viking history, having read Bernard Cornwall’s Uhtred books in which they feature. Hoping to get to Orkney where they’ll be more on them.

The road was relatively quiet, with more motorbike tourers out than anyone else, but I passed a few cyclists going the other way and waved. The landscape is mostly moor and farmland, and remained fairly consistent all the way to the north coast. I thought I could see evidence of peat cutting, which no doubt provided a great source of fuel in the past. On the subject of fuel sources I’ve seen quite a few coal trucks about in Scotland, so they must burn it in boilers still up here. I can’t remember seeing a coal truck down south for years.

Continuing on I passed quite a few older buildings in a dilapidated state, or ruins, providing a stark contrast to the newer homes built more recently. I thought the older ones looked more in keeping with the landscape, but would be a tad drafty!

Old farmsteads

Old farmsteads – passed quite a few like this over the last few days


 

The road North

The road North


 

Gorse in full bloom

Gorse in full bloom – stark contrast to the grey day


I pedalled on to John o’ Groats, but just before the Lejog finish line I turned right and cycled to Duncansby Head, the true most north easterly point on the UK mainland. Coming over the rise before John o’ Groats had been quite an emotional experience, even though I’m not doing a Lands End to John o’ Groats ride. I’d still been 26 days on the road and covered well over 1500 miles, and seeing the North coast with Stroma and Orkney in the background, with the sun coming out, caught me off guard.

Duncansby Head was worth a visit, there being a big seabird colony in the stacks nearby. There’s a lighthouse there built by Robert Stevenson, father of Robert Louis Stevenson of Treasure Island fame. He built quite a few of the lighthouses on this coast, including the one at Dunnet Head which I visited later. There must be a lot of lot of lighthouses on this coast, it being a little treacherous to shipping.

Duncansby Head

Duncansby Head 


Duncansby Head lighthouse

Duncansby Head lighthouse

Apparently it’s a little short for a lighthouse, but makes up for it by being quite high up.

I cycled  back to John o’ Groats and down to the centre by the harbour, where the famous sign post is. Took some photos then had lunch in one of the nearby cafes – wanted pizza but they’d run out of bases so settled for a bacon, tomato and mozzarella panini, equally as good if not quite as carb heavy. It was great looking out across across the Pentland Firth to the isles, and I met up with Dan and Dave who’d just finished their Lejog, covering 980 miles – respect to anyone who’s completed the end-to-end ride. They’ve got a blog which is worth a read for anyone considering doing the same – http://www.2blokes2bikes2far.info

John o' Groats Harbour

John o’ Groats Harbour


 

The sign post, with a lobster

The sign post, with a lobster if you look hard, although he is red

 

Me at signpost 1

JoG – Me at signpost 1


 

JoG - Me at signpost 2

JoG – Me at signpost 2 – thanks for taking the photo Dan/Dave


The Pentland Firth and seas around John o’ Groats, Stroma and Orkney are somewhat notorious, with tidal flows ripping through at up to 10 knots at times. The locals from Stroma used to guide ships through, however the island is now deserted and being reclaimed by nature, the last family having left in the 1960’s. At its height there were only about 360 people living there, earning a living primarily off fishing and as shipping guides. The fishing stopped when their main catch became depleted and too far to sail to, probably as a result of larger commercial fishing operations, a familiar story.

Isle of Stroma 1

Isle of Stroma 1


 

Isle of Stroma 2

Isle of Stroma 2


Bidding John o’ Groats farewell, realising this was nowhere near the end of my journey, I cycled west along the coast to Dunnet Head, via Mey and its castle, Scarsferry and Brough, through lovely countryside, although the sea does look pretty challenging to navigate through – rocks and rip tides – wonder if Will Copestake will be kayaking this bit of the coast. Check out his blog – http://willcopestakemedia.com/ , really interesting challenge he’s currently undertaking, affected by high winds like me.

Mey Castle

Mey Castle


 

Some stark panoramas

Some stark panoramas


Dunnet Head is the most northerly point on the UK mainland, and from it I had a clear view across to Orkney and the entrance to Scapa Flow, west to Cape Wrath, and back east to Duncansby Head. It was a bit of a climb to get up to it, but worth it. In World War 2 there used to be a lot of servicemen stationed up and around the head, keeping an eye on activity around Scapa Flow, the main British naval base which was under threat from bombing raids and other enemy activity. It must have been a challenging place to work when the weather turned nasty; there are still lots of old concrete buildings around where they used to live and keep watch.

Dunnet Head

Dunnet Head


 

Cliffs at Dunnet Head

Cliffs at Dunnet Head


 

Looking west towards Cape Wrath

Looking west towards Cape Wrath, where I’d be in a few days, touch wood


 

Dunnet Head, looking towards Orkney

Dunnet Head, looking towards Orkney


From Dunnet Head I rode along to Thurso, with a bit of a tailwind which was a nice change. I passed quite a few cyclists going the other way and having a considerably harder job of it u- gave them a wave. I realise I was now in effect doing a Jogle (John o’ Groats to Lands End), albeit via a somewhat convoluted route via Wales etc.

I cycled over the bridge into Thurso, and had a quick tour around, spotting a promising bar where I stopped for a pint and a meal – chilli burger. There was a live band on, two acoustic guitars who were excellent, doing a lot of old classic numbers some of which I can even play – Hotel California, Every Rose has its Thorn, Behind Blue Eyes, amongst others.  Great bank holiday atmosphere and would recommend the Y-not Bar, definitely rock and roll.

Bridge at Thurso

Bridge at Thurso

 

Y-Not Bar

Y-Not Bar – great band and atmosphere

Leaving a little later than anticipated I found the campsite just outside Thurso and pitched up, it’s right on the coast with some great views. Also ideal for getting the ferry the next day across to Orkney, which I intended to do as a side trek. A little bit expensive though at £11.

Thurso Campsite 1

Thurso Campsite 1


Thurso Campsite 2

Thurso Campsite 2


Thurso Campsite 3

Thurso Campsite 3


Thurso campsite - sunset

Thurso campsite – sunset

I’d also been in touch with Mark Beaumont over Twitter during the evening, and we’d arranged to meet up tomorrow morning in the town for a chat and maybe some filming, more on that tomorrow. Really looking forward to Orkney and its scenery, archaeology, and people, south easterly wind getting brisker though!

Leg 25 – to Wick

Hills, lots of hills.

25 May 2013

Post a good night’s sleep I woke up to a bright morning, and was on the road by 10.00 post a shower and shave. Remembered to put some sun cream on for a change! Feeling fresh I had a quick cycle around Dornoch, taking in the old square and market place, once the centre of commerce for the area, with several big fares held throughout the year; no doubt earning the Sutherlands a pretty penny. There was an old stone slab in the market place, one of only a few still in existence in Scotland, that was used to accurately measure out lengths of plaid/cloth/tartan.

Dornoch Market Place and Cemetery

Dornoch Market Place and Cemetery, plus cloth measuring slab


 

Merchants and Money - history lesson

Merchants and Money – history lesson


The markets, or ‘Mercats’, apparently went onto decline in the early 19th century.

From Dornoch I rode up to and around Loch Fleet, passing seals basking out in the sunshine on the mudflats. Not sure if they were Common or Grey seals, in fact I didn’t know what they were at all at first as they weren’t moving. Then the incoming tide started to submerge their basking spot and they all decided it was time to find a new spot, en masse, was quite a sight to see them all shuffling/swimming off. Some were quicker than others, obviously wanting to reserve the best spot with their beach towels. Also saw a Grey Heron fishing just on from the seals, he lunged down from a motionless hunting poise and his beak came back complete with a small meal, must have been second breakfast time; I was starting to get hungry again. Saw the usual masses of Oystercatchers.

Castle on shores of Loch Fleet

Castle on shores of Loch Fleet


 

Loch Fleet 1

Loch Fleet 1


 

Loch Fleet 2

Loch Fleet 2 – Seals


 

Loch Fleet 3

Loch Fleet 3 – Heron


I could have stopped every 50 yards for another photo of something interesting but thought I’d better get on, and made haste around to Golspie. I passed a few cyclists going the other way, including one tourer with whom waves were exchanged. 

Loch at Loch Fleet

Loch at Loch Fleet


 

Mystery statue just outside Golspie

Mystery statue just outside Golspie

I stopped in Golspie at a promising looking cafe called Poppy’s, and proceeded to consume their most excellent full Scottish breakfast, complete with black pudding, bacon, beans, egg, potato pancake thing, toast, mushrooms etc. I should have taken a photo of it but forgot in my haste to get stuck in, truly delicious – best second breakfast stop of the tour so far. Chatting to the owner I discovered the tourer I’d waved to earlier had been James Ketchell, on his way from John O’Groats to Land’s End (Jogle) in preparation for his round the world cycle starting in June. Check out his website – http://www.jamesketchell.net – he’s done a few great challenges such as rowing across the Atlantic. He’d stopped at the cafe too and had partaken of the same breakfast just 30 minutes previous. Anyway I heartily recommend Poppy’s Cafe to any hungry tourers passing through Golspie; you’ll need the energy for the next bit if you’re going north!

Leaving Golspie I pedalled on to Brora, through lovely countryside along the coastline, with only moderate hills at present. The gorse is really out in bloom at the moment, and not too much traffic on the A9 which I’d been nervous about, considering the bank holiday weekend. I stopped briefly in Brora to buy more bananas.

Post Golspie - lovely coastline

Post Golspie – lovely coastline


 

Post Golspie - lovely coastline 2

Post Golspie – lovely coastline 2


At Helmsdale things changed, with the terrain starting to grow more challenging. A long ascent got my legs going, followerd by lots of ups and downs through moorland and forest. The hills got really big again around Berriedale, steep and lengthy, leaving my legs somewhat burning by the time I reached the top only find to the scene repeated. I managed to make it all the way through this section without stopping, albeit in a very low gear, which I was pretty chuffed about; don’t think I could have done at a few weeks ago, on a bike this heavy. I really must deal with my squeaky pedal though as getting a bit irritating.

Hills around Berriedale

Hills around Berriedale – great scenery again


I rode on to Dunbeath where I stopped for a food break, raiding my panniers for calories to recharge on. A light north wind had started up which made the going a bit tougher, despite the hills getting milder. I pedalled on zoning out slightly, thinking about books again, as well as possible future plans; more expeditions – although I must finish this one first, opening a cafe/pub with a cycling theme somewhere – offering guaranteed high carb meals, 1000 calories minimum!

During the course of the day I passed several groups of motorbike tourers, who I kind of envied whilst going up the steeper hills. I still rather be riding under my own power though, less noisy and more environmentally friendly, reckon I see more to. I saw a group of buzzards circling overhead, riding the thermals, and wondered if they were waiting for me to expire on one of the steeper hill sections. Do they get eagles up this coast? I know they do on the west coast but not sure here, it would be great to see a Golden Eagle and a Sea Eagle.

Also passed a few abandoned villages today, in ruins. One was labelled as a clearance settlement, which tended to grow up along the coastline post the evictions in the 18th century I think, when landowners wanted to clear out tenants in favour of sheep farming. Not a popular move which displaced thousands from the more sheltered and fertile inland glens. Must have been a very hard and exposed life up here on the coast. Reminded me of a song by the band Goats don’t Shave which I used to play years ago – The Evictions I think it was called, will have to dig it out when I get home.

I continued on to Latheronwheel and Lybster under clear skies, but the terrain just seemed to keep repeating itself with more farms, livestock, and ups and downs through moorland. I passed a few highland cattle on which I heard a theory from my godfather and his wife. They think they are placed at strategic points by the Scottish Tourist board, and must complain about getting put in the same spot each year!

Terrain on repeat

Terrain on repeat


 

Endless road to Wick

Endless road to Wick


 

Must carry on!

Must carry on


I was beginning to think the road was never going to end by the time I reached Thrumski, with only few miles to go to get to Wick. Interestingly I don’t remember passing any golf courses today, maybe they’ve finally petered out.

I made it too Wick about 18.30, after another great but leg straining day, covering about 65 miles. I camped up about half a mile from the town centre at a nice sheltered site, with easy access to the centre via a path alongside the river. Decided to go into town to eat as a reward for today’s efforts, plus I couldn’t face pasta again quite so soon. Ended up at the local Weatherspoons which was cheap and cheerful, with a huge plate of curry and a couple of ales – Belhaven Best again. They also had free wifi and I was able to recharge my phone and iPad which was handy. Aside from that it was quite an interesting cultural experience, with what looked like a few hen parties in, and a football crowd. Lots of enthusiastic drinking and general antics. A good atmosphere, but not the Champions League result everyone was looking for by the sounds of it.

Got back to the campsite but stayed up for a bit, it doesn’t really get completely dark up here, and the sky looked impressive.

Path along river from campsite to Wick

Path along river from campsite to Wick

 

Outside Wick at about 23.30

Outside Wick at about 23.30

 

Wick by night

Wick by night

On to John o’Groats tomorrow, and then Thurso. Hope this weather continues.

Leg 24 – to Dornoch, via Tain

Saw a lot of interesting things today, and weather was brighter! Bit of a long post.

24 May 2013

A cold morning but brighter. Feeling famished I dived into a breakfast of pitta bread, cheese, bananas, flapjack and berocca substitute, realising I probably hadn’t eaten enough yesterday. It’s hard to take on board the required calories for this sort of day in day out riding sometimes. I spent breakfast mulling over a strange dream I’d had about recovering diamonds stolen by Nazis during the Second World War, and getting a reward for them when I returned them to their descendants via a contact of a friend, all a bit strange. I blame Lucy’s sisters blog which I’d read the day before and mentioned Nazis.

I packed up as the sun started to come out, a bit late to dry the two pairs of socks I’d washed last night, or my still damp towel. It had been too wet and cold to get anything dry of late, however I attached the socks to my cargo net to hopefully dry as I went along. Campsites rarely have drying rooms, and your stuffed wild camping anyway. My tent was also still damp and I wondered, not for the first time, if I’d not be better off just using a bivvy bag – on reflection I think a tent is better though.

With the Ridgeback loaded I gave it the once over. Everything checked out fine, despite it being a little more battered and grimy than when I first started, and with a few bits of gaffer and wire in places including holding together the front right pannier rack; I just call that a custom job.

I wasn’t sure how far I’d get today, so I loaded up on pies and doughnuts at a bakery in Dingwall for lunch, on the way out. There were 3 bakeries to choose from, that I sa. I chose Deas where my purchases came to about 5 pounds, a bargain. Scotland seems to have more bakeries that England, which have fuelled my progress around the coast pretty well to date; cheap, tasty, lots of carbs, and always have a nice chat with the staff. I need to find more black pudding and haggis though.

Dingwall high street

Dingwall high street 


Dingwall Wimpy, unfortunately closed

Dingwall Wimpy, unfortunately closed

Post a second breakfast of a cheeky croissant from the same bakery, I pedalled to Alness. You can follow Route 1 and avoid the A9, but I stuck to the coast road which was a little busy. I hadn’t looked up where Route 1 went, and had been led astray by it before, or it had turned out to be really bumpy, so I generally left it alone today aside from where our paths converged on roads.

From Alness I rode to Invergordon, once site of of the main British Naval base in the early 20th century back when Winston Churchill was first sea lord. The base got moved further north to Scapa Flow, when it was realised it was in range of bombers from Europe. The fleet sailed from here for the Battle of Jutland in the First World War, the one great sea battle of that war. There was a submarine boon/net across the entrance to the Cromarty Firth back then. A German Sub once tried to sneak in under a British warship, and nearly made it; they had trouble raising the boon afterwards and found a big bit of the net missing. Also found a plaque commemorating the lives lost on HMS Natal, mentioned in yesterday’s post.

Invergordon Rigs

Invergordon Rigs


The sun dismissed the last of the clouds in Invergordon, and I took off a layer, still leaving two on not including the bib; it still wasn’t warm. There was a big cruise ship moored up, I guess where the old naval docks used to be, the MSC Magnifica haling from Panama, although every one I saw going back to it appeared to be German. Apparently quite a few cruise ships stop here, it being a deep water birth.

Invergordon - Magnifica

During the break I tried to phone Garmin again. I’ve been trying to get through to them for a few days but it’s impossible. You just end up with the message saying all their lines are extremely busy at the moment, and to check their website. I’ve already checked their website, and emailed them, to which I got a reply suggesting I call them. I think I need a replacement unit as this one is clearly bust, I can’t even perform the hard reset suggested. Think I’ll try calling them a few more times then email them if that doesn’t work. I hope my phone isn’t being charged for being on hold, could be expensive and will result in a complaint. Still feel better off with just a map though.

I pedalled on up the firth through Barbaraville, where I started singing the beach boys song Barbara-Anne, then down around the point to Nigg, to the shoreline opposite Cromarty. It was a bit of a long ride but worth it and followed my sticking to the coast plan. There used to be a ferry that ran from here but not sure if it still does, couldn’t see one, much better weather today though!

Cromarty Firth in sunshine

Cromarty Firth in sunshine

 

Cromarty on opposite shore

Cromarty on opposite shore


I could see where I’d been the day before, in much worse weather, I waved. Amazing how quickly the weather can change.

Cromarty Firth panorama

Cromarty Firth panorama


 

Me and lobster in Cromarty Firth

Me and lobster in Cromarty Firth

At this point I consumed the lunch I’d bought earlier; curry pie, pizza slice, Bridie (like a pasty but with different pastry) and a toffee doughnut, nice. Re-energised I rode on to Balintore and Shandwick Bay, on the Pictish Trail apparently. The Picts, descended from the ancient Celts that once lived across most of Europe, used to live in the area, and there’s a standing stone covered with their carvings just outside Balintore. It’s got a mixture of Christian symbols and Pictish artwork on it, carved in the 7th or 8th century, and pretty impressive.

Pictish stone

Pictish stone with carvings

This got me thinking about the Picts, about whom I know relatively little. I wondered what happened to them, did they all die out or get absorbed by other nations and cultures, the Vikings for example? Apparently not a lot is generally known about them, aside from their stone carvings and silverware which still survives. They’re also mentioned in writings from the same period, from other countries. I don’t think they wrote anything down themselves, probably using a tradition of oral history like the Australian aborigines. I expect their genes are mixed in with everyone else’s, Britain being a mixing pot of people from all over the place, so no doubt they still have descendants around today, even if those descendants don’t realise it.

Balintore looked lovely in the sunshine, and I could have easily whiled away a couple of hours down by the harbour, however I decided I couldn’t dawdle with more miles to cover today.

Balintore

Balintore Harbour


 

Looking down on Shandwick Bay

Looking down on Shandwick Bay

Post adjusting my rear mudguard which has a habit of slipping and rubbing the tyre slightly, I pedalled on to the other end of the peninsula. My pedals have started to squeak sometimes which is getting annoying, so I’m going to have to address it before they drive me to distraction. I arrived in a Portmahomack in the sunshine, which was persisting throughout the day, and cycled through the village. There’s a visitor centre there too which would be good to visit sometime if they have more stuff on the Picts.

Portmahomack

Portmahomack 


 

Random Alpacca

Random Alpacca

There were three Apaccas. They regarded me with some suspicion.

I rode on to Tain, where I stopped at the Duthus Inn (great name) for a pint of cider, it being a warm day. There were quite a few motorbike tourers pausing there too, so had a quick chat. I noticed I’d got singed a bit – forgot to put on sun cream! My face might be a bit stripy due to the cycling helmet and sunglasses.

Tain

Tain


I decided I had enough time to tackle the Dornoch Firth, it only just coming up to 17.00 when I left Tain. I knew there was a campsite in Dornoch itself on the coast. Passed a couple of distilleries including the Glenmorangie distillery, which apparently isn’t pronounced quite how we all pronounce it.

The ride around the firth was really great, spectacular scenery and sunshine, and not much traffic. I rode along the gently undulating road to Bonar Bridge, through more heathland and verdant forest – pine and Beech; think Beech woodland is my favourite, especially if it includes Copper Beech.

Road to Bonar Bridge

Road to Bonar Bridge


Dornoch Firth countryside 1

Dornoch Firth countryside 1


Dornoch Firth countryside 2

Dornoch Firth countryside 2


Dornoch Firth countryside 3

Dornoch Firth countryside 3

 

Dornoch Firth

Dornoch Firth

 

Bonar Bridge

Bonar Bridge


I passed quite a few other cyclists and tourers going the other way, and got passed by a couple of groups on sleek carbon fibre road bikes on their way to John O’ Groats judging from their outfits. They didn’t have panniers or tents, lightweights I thought ;-). Good to see other cyclists out though, probably the weather and it being a bank holiday weekend,  which I’d forgotten about. Can’t quite believe it looks like we’ll have had two good bank holiday weekends weather wise in May, must be a record, even if some of the rest of May has been dubious at times.

The ride up the north side of the Dornoch Firth was again beautiful, through a more forested landscape, though more hills to tackle. On tired legs this meant jelly baby consumption, however I made it all the way along without stopping so my legs must be getting stronger. I joined up with the A9 for a short section, going back to the bridge across the firth near Tain which I’d ignored earlier. I then cut North East up a side road that lead to Dornoch, a lovely looking town with a few shops, pubs and hotels, and main square with historic marketplace (photos tomorrow). Think this is where the Sutherlands were centred. I stopped to buy a few bits and pieces, including a multi pack of crisps – proceeded to eat about 4 bags I was so hungry by this stage.

I got to the campsite and pitched up about 19.00. Nice site right next to the beach, cost £7.00. Bloke said it was the cheaper of the two in the area so a bonus. I proceeded to cook up the traditional pasta feast, but might have overdone the Tabasco slightly; bit of an inferno but there was none left after only a short time. Finished off with a banana, an apple, more cheese, ginger nuts and a Pepperami I’d forgotten I had for good measure.

All in all a great day, covering 85 miles in predominantly sunshine, even if there’s still a chill in the air and snow on the mountain tops. The only slight annoyance is trying o get through to Garmin, they need to get more staff or stop issuing faulty badges of devices, something they apparently have a history of doing.

Onwards to John O’ Groats!

Durnoch campsite

Durnoch campsite – following morning

Leg 23 – to Dingwall via Black Isle

A good leg at 76 miles.

23 May 2013

I hadn’t been disturbed or nibbled my monsters overnight, although I did wake up with a lobster on my head; that happens sometimes. Somewhat reluctantly I climbed out of my warm sleeping bag and tent, into a very cold, grey and wet morning. I half expected to see Nessie come looming out of the mists as I ate breakfast, whilst shuffling about to keep warm. Must be the cold air flowing down from the surrounding mountains that makes it extra chilly.

I packed up quick, including my wet tent which slightly numbed my hands, before loading the bike and pedalling back to Dores.

Loch Ness wild camp

Loch Ness wild camp site, a wet and cold morning

 

Mist on Loch Ness

Mist on Loch Ness – or was it just low cloud and rain really

From Dores I headed quickly back towards Inverness, wanting to get out of the wet and hoping it was better near the coast; it was, but not before my head and hands started hurting it was so cold cycling, that’s British summertime for you. It stopped raining as I left the vicinity of the loch, and a couple of hills warmed me up a treat. I paused at a supermarket just outside Inverness to restock with a few bits and pieces, and bought a hot sausage, bacon and cheese roll whilst I was there; very welcome second breakfast. A lot of food seems to come with cheese in Scotland, or you have the option to add cheese. I’m not complaining as I need the carbs on this trip, but can’t help but think it’s not a great thing for the majority of people not cycling over 50 miles a day.

After a couple of wrong turns in Inverness I made my way down the Beauly Firth, through the occasional shower but with the sun coming out. I seem to be getting used to the weather now, which probably means it’ll change again, hopefully for the better. I decided I’d try and put in some good miles today, wanting to get back into the swing of things after a few short days recently. It would be good to get around Black Isle and down to Dingwall, depending on hills and weather.

Inverness - Kessock Bridge in background

Inverness – Kessock Bridge in background

 

Snow on the mountains on the way to Beauly

Snow on the mountains on the way to Beauly

I cycled west through Kirkhill and on to Beauly, where I stopped to look at the old priory, built in the 13th century.

Beauly Priory

Beauly Priory

Beauly means beautiful place, from the French beau lieu. The priory was founded by French monks from the Valliscaulian order in 1230, who gave the town it’s name. Bit of an obscure Order by the sounds of it, this being only one of three British bases outside of France, all of which are in Scotland. Quite a strict group of monks, only the Abbot being allowed contact with the outside world, but they were still pretty rich and influential, from fishing etc. It later converted to the Cistercian Order, when the Valliscaulian Order was disbanded by the Pope – maybe it became too rick and influential. In ruins now, having been abandoned in the 16th century.

From Beauly I cycled on to Muir-of-Ord, looking suspiciously at the snow on the surrounding mountain tops. I’ll cycle in most conditions but draw the line at snow, which isn’t good on a loaded touring bike. I fell off in snow once and it left a big dent in my helmet, I’ve always worn a helmet ever since, whatever the conditions.

I turned east to Black Isle, following the other side of the Beauly Firth which mostly ran right next to the water’s edge all the way to Charlestown, where I could see the bridge over to Inverness which I’d ignored earlier – can’t take any shortcuts! There were traffic jams on it which left me feeling slightly smug.

Beauly Firth - looking West

Beauly Firth – looking West


Beauly Firth and Kessock Bridge

Beauly Firth and Kessock Bridge


I pedalled on to Munlochy, up and down a big hill, then had to hide in a bus shelter for a bit as a hail storm passed over. I’d been caught out in the open earlier during a hail storm, and it doesn’t half sting when it hits you on your face and especially nose and ears. It makes quite a racket pinging off your cycling helmet too!

Continuing on I passed through Avoch, Fortrose and Rosemarkie, where I could clearly see Fort George across the Moray Firth, looking imposing; you can see why it was built there, giving it a commanding presence over the area and shipping lane.

Fort George across the Firth

Fort George across the Firth

A stormy looking sky

A stormy looking sky

Munlochy Bay

Munlochy Bay

Sun came out sometimes

Sun came out sometimes, revealing stunning coastline


I had a really long ascent from Rosemarkie, lasting for about 2 miles and quite steep in places, so was relieved to get over the top and down into Cromarty. I’d used the minor road which was nice and quiet, passing through farmland and forest, and mostly sheltered from the wind and rain.

Cromarty, which I think is a great name for a town, was also the birthplace of the famous Scottish writer and geologist Hugh Miller (look him up). I was getting blasted by wind and rain so decided to retreat to the Cromarty Arms for a large plate of scampi and chips, a very welcome break.

Me in bad weather mode

Me in bad weather mode in Cromarty

Entrance to Cromarty Firth

Entrance to Cromarty Firth – there used to be an anti submarine boon/net across it


Post refuelling I ploughed on down the Cromarty Firth, seeing rigs out in the bay, along with lots of seabirds. I passed through Jemimaville and Balblair, before a long stretch down a straight bit into a leg draining headwind, at least it was less hilly, and the sun kept making an occasional appearance.

Cromarty Firth, Dingwall bound

Cromarty Firth, Dingwall bound

Cromarty Firth, rigs

Cromarty Firth, rigs

Cromarty Firth, A9 bridge

Cromarty Firth, A9 bridge


I passed a few nature reserves (RSPB), and a sign telling me about HMS Natal, which blew up whilst moored in the Firth in 1915, killing over 400 people including visiting women and children. The sign said it was caused by a stray cigarette in the shell room, but who knows for sure. The explosion shattered glass in Cromarty and rattled windows in Fortrose.

The Cromarty Firth had several ships and rigs in it today, but was nowhere near as busy as it once would have been, being the UK’s primary naval port at one point. I don’t know if the rigs are built here and towed out to sea, or are being dismantled, or just in for maintenance. It would have been a different scene in the First World War, with masses of Naval ships moored up or on their way in or out. There are more seabirds these days, with the aforementioned Oystercatchers in abundance, along with Scaups which apparently eat cockles and mussels whole, crushing them in their stomachs! That’s a pretty strong constitution. Oystercatchers are a very familiar sight so far in Scotland, with their familiar call which is quite piercing.

I rode on to Dingwall, and camped up at the Caravan and Camping Club site, next to the football stadium. The builders were in at the stadium, and a little bit noisy finishing late and starting early, but I found a quiet spot and had a welcome warm shower. The shower was especially welcome after the previous night’s wild camp and a cold day.

Had a relatively quiet evening, with a quick pint at the Mallard pub as it was close, where I wrote up my journal. One thought from today; I sometimes feel like a ship’s lookout whilst cycling, on the alert of icebergs, accept it’s potholes instead. There were quite a few vicious ones today, a few of which I hit but bike seems okay, even if I slightly smarted from the experience. I tend to miss them when I get tired.

Good leg at 76 miles, onwards to Dornoch Firth tomorrow, which is hopefully the last Firth for a while!

Leg 22 – to Loch Ness via Inverness

A trying day…

22 May 2013

I woke up slightly later than anticipated at 08.30, the latest I’ve ever slept in so far in my tent. I’m not sure why but might have been because it was overcast so still quite dim inside my exceedingly cosy tent. I had breakfast looking out for red squirrels, but couldn’t see any. They must have decided it was a good day to stay in bed too, so no photos of my elusive quarry yet.

I was packed up and ready to go by 09.45, post refilling water bottles and a final loo stop. I drink quite a lot of water in the mornings but consequently I always need the loo about an hour later, which can get annoying when you have multiple layers and a cycling bib on. It’s not warm enough to sweat much at the moment, which I suppose is a good thing, but maybe I could cut down on water consumption as a result.

Delnies - packed and ready for another day

Delnies – packed and ready for another day, with banana attachment

From the relatively sheltered campsite I waved goodbye to the owners and pedalled off into a headwind, joy of joys, it looked  like it was going to be another one of those days. I rode down to Ardersier and then up to Fort George, stopping briefly to shelter from a heavy shower that moved through from the North – found a convenient shrubbery (it was quite a verdant shrubbery incidentally).

Fort George is a working barracks and I could hear the sound of live firing from quite a distance away, single shots interspersed with automatic bursts, so sounded like they were practicing on the ranges – the red flags were up to confirm this. I rode up to the massive edifice that is Fort George in a fierce squall, quickly cycling into the entrance tunnel to gain some shelter. It’s an impressive fort, built in the 18th century post the quashing of the last Jacobite uprising, don’t think it was ever needed in anger but it does dominate the area and would have provided a significant deterrent to any trouble makers. I had a look around the bit you don’t have to pay for, but decided not to pay the £8.50 to look around any further; would have been interesting but taken a few hours, and I wanted to make some decent progress today. Few photos below, the layout reminded me of playing Total War on my computer; I’ve defended and attacked many of a similar design and they proved pretty formidable bastions on both accounts.

Fort George - inner drawbridge

Fort George – inner drawbridge


 

Fort George - cannons

Fort George – cannons, there were lots of them


 

Fort George - view from battlements

Fort George – view from battlements


 

Fort George - turret view

Fort George – turret view


As you can see from the photos I was experiencing a variety of weather. It was sunny one minute, then throwing it down the next, with hail mixed in. All a bit melodramatic. I’ve given the Scottish weather a personality I’m competing against. It’s doing everything it can to try and stop me, throwing in dirty tricks like changing the wind direction, and I’m constantly trying to thwart it and pedal on. Bit odd but the competition makes it more bearable. We’ll see what its next plan of attack though; I’m thinking of it as a mixed up teenager at present, changing it’s mind and generally being awkward!

From Fort George I pedalled down the Moray Firth, looking for dolphins that are supposed to frequent these waters in large numbers. It was high tide and they probably would have been more likely to make an appearance when the tide was running, hunting for salmon which apparently irritates the local fishermen no end; bet the dolphins were here first though. Didn’t see any but nice view.

Moray Firth

Moray Firth – no dolphins


The next bit of the leg was a little bit trying, teenage angst must have been setting in as the weather decided to unleash several squalls of chilling rain, followed by bright sunshine that quickly overheated me on the long climb up to Culloden Moor. I didn’t want to bother taking any layers off though as I knew the weather would change its mind again in a minute. I made it to Culloden Battlefield and stopped at the visitor centre for lunch, soup and a burger. A bit pricey, and not the best food I’ve ever eaten but was nice to get inside. I didn’t look around the centre as it costs £10, and again I didn’t want to spend three hours doing so. Several coach loads of tourists also turned up thronging the place with Germans, Japanese and Americans, all intent on using the toilet then the restaurant. Wanting to avoid the crowds I beat a hasty retreat – accidentally dropped my iPad when repacking my bike, it’s slightly dented and the volume sticks, but still seems to work.

From Culloden I cycled to Inverness, descending from the moor in more turbulent weather, which was starting to get a little draining. I’d been turning the air blue for the last hour or so, dredging up a few special insults for my teenage weather nemesis I need to get a name for; can’t decide if they’re male or female though. Name suggestions on a postcard (or comment) please.

As fortune would have it I discovered the Velocity Cafe and Bicycle Workshop on the way into Inverness, completely by accident, so I stopped for a cup of tea and a chat. Great cafe and staff, obviously cycling themed. The girls gave me a few tips on my route to Loch Ness, where I intended to wild camp that evening, directing me to Dores. This avoided the A82 on the north side, which is apparently a little hazardous for cyclists, being very busy.

Welcome break in Velocity Cafe

Welcome break in Velocity Cafe


 

Velocity Cafe and Bicycle Workshop

Velocity Cafe and Bicycle Workshop – pop in if you’re passing


I spent a while in the cafe before heading in to Inverness revitalised to hunt for a few bits and pieces, including a new cable for my Power Monkey, to connect it to the solar panel – the cable has fractured somehow. I spent a while trying a few different shops, so got to see quite a bit of Inverness, including one of the retail parks a few miles out of town where there’s a Maplins. No joy on the cable front but bought a few supplies and I like Inverness, has a nice feel to it. I’ll have to order the cable online and get it somewhere on route, but that’s going to take a bit of organising; I’ll add it to the list with the Garmin on it.

Inverness high street

Inverness high street


Inverness castle

Inverness castle


Post Inverness I took the B862 down to Dores, temporarily leaving the coast to go monster hunting. The rain, hail and wind dropped off in the lee of the hills as I approached Loch Ness, I was definitely in the Highlands now, passing through some lovely countryside, and up and down a few hills.

Sun on beech trees

Sun on beech trees


I reached Dores and cycled on for a bit, taking in some of the loch and beautiful scenery, as well as scoping out a site to  camp for the evening. Satisfied I’d found a suitable location I returned to Dores and the Inn, recommended by the Velocity Cafe, for dinner and a couple of pints, plus a cheeky dram. Dinner consisted of oven roasted salmon on ham risotto, and was truly excellent. I chatted with a few of the other patrons, both locals and visitors. Thanks for the tips on the route and things to see Ryan!

I also met a couple on holiday from Houghton-le-Spring, somewhere I’d camped a couple of weeks ago, small world. They were interested in my ride, having lost one of their sons to leukaemia a few years ago. Was good to have a chat with people who’d had similar experiences, and was interested to hear about his charity ride of a few years ago, via several forces bases to Germany I think. All the more impressive seeing as he has one prosthetic leg from the knee down – a result of a childhood accident involving a bus. Sounds like that was a great ride with some good company in the form of squaddies, dangerous drinking pals.

Post the pub I retreated to the site I’d spotted earlier. It was a little damp underfoot but found a firm spot and set up, bedding own for the evening in a very peaceful location overlooking the loch, with the rain pattering down through the trees.

On up the coast tomorrow but I’ll finish with a few photos from Loch Ness.

Loch Ness 1

Loch Ness 1


Loch Ness 1

Loch Ness 2


Loch Ness 3

Loch Ness 3


Loch Ness 4

Loch Ness 4


Loch Ness 5

Loch Ness 5


Loch Ness 6

Loch Ness 6 – with mini Nessies. Sign said this was then dwelling of a dedicated Nessie hunter who’d been on watch for about 17 years!


Loch Ness 7 - sun going down

Loch Ness 7 – sun going down


Loch Ness 8 - me

Loch Ness 8 – me


Loch Ness 9

Loch Ness 9


Loch Ness 10

Loch Ness 10 – wild camp

Only about 43 miles today, but hard won, in spite of my weather nemesis. No monsters to report on the loch.