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