Onwards to the Cape.
30 May 2013
I was up and about in good time, to a bright day in Bettyhill. Over breakfast I met a couple of cycle tourers who’d gone to bed by the time I’d arrived last night, one Italian and one German, both doing tours around Scotland, and using Ortlieb panniers like me; only things suitable given the weather! They were both on their way to Orkney and enquired about the ferry times, so I gave them the brochure I still had.
I also met a Labrador dog named Max, he was very friendly and wanted to sniff everything, especially the Tiffin I was having for breakfast dessert; a new concept I’ve developed which I think works. I’m sure dessert for breakfast is totally acceptable.
I hit the road about 10.00 hoping to get along to Cape Wrath today, but that would depend on the weather and hills along the way. My route took me up round to Borgie, whereupon I took the minor road out to the coast and Skerray, cycling through some great countryside which is home or all sorts of flora and fauna, including Ospreys, but I didn’t see any. I did hear about 3 Cuckoos whilst cycling around the Skerray loop to Coldbackie. Apparently they are much more common in Scotland, their preferred nest to deposit their egg in being that of the Reed Warbler, which is also much more common up here. Think it’s the the Reed Warbler anyway, someone told me they’d seen it on Springwatch but I didn’t write it down at the time.
Skerray is a lovely looking village, small and with a thatched post office which must be a rarity. I cycled down to the harbour where you can see the island of Eilean Nan Ron, not inhabited by humans, but home to lots of seabirds. I still really want to see a Gannet colony but that might have to wait a bit, probably best seen from a boat anyway.
I made it around to Tongue by about 12.30, and decided to stop at the Hotel there for a lunch break. It was a great view out over the Kyle of Tongue, with the Rabbit Islands in the bay, and the bridge crossing about halfway down the Kyle I wouldn’t be taking. After chatting to a few tourists outside who were interested in what I was doing, and gave me lots of encouragement, I dined on poached smoked haddock and a toastie, with a pint of Belhaven Best to wash it down. The poached haddock felt like an extravagance but couldn’t resist it, I’ll just have to wild camp a bit more. The chocolate fudge cake was’t bad either, think I’m going to have to wean myself off pub food, but not today. I also had a FaceTime call with my parents, who were being visited by my brother, sister in law and their toddler son. It was great to talk to them all at once, thanks to the free wifi supplied by the hotel. The wonders of modern technology.
I spent a couple of hours at the hotel catching up on emails, a bit of social networking, and my blog. A friend from Norwich had written an acoustic song which he’d posted in honour of my tour – nice touch and great tune, thanks Bill, will have to post up the link when I get back to an Internet connection somewhere. So a bit of a longer break than initially planned but worthwhile, even if I could see the sea fog rolling down the kyle as I rode off.
The road around the kyle reminded of Greek countryside, which was a bit weird – scrubby trees looked a bit like olive groves.
Ignoring the bridge I cycled all the way around the kyle, through some lovely scenery again, before getting back to the A838 and turning west. It looked as if there weren’t going to be many more level bits on this leg though, which was confirmed by the long climb from the other side of the bridge, up through the moorland, which lasted about 3 miles. I stopped once just before the top to answer a phone call from an unknown number. It turned out to be Ed from the BBC film crew the other day saying thank you for meeting up and doing the interview. Unexpected and nice to get a call to say thank you; he’s going to send copy of the programme too so I’ll definitely get to see it. Ed recommended the Hebrides so think I’m going to have to get across for a day or two from Ullapool for a cycle about; think I’ll have time but might have to put in a few longer legs to make up for it down the line – will wait until it gets a bit flatter.
Cresting the hill I coasted down the long descent to Loch Hope, letting my aching legs recover, and passing through patches of sea fog that were getting thicker. I’d seen it flowing down the Kyle of Tongue earlier and had been above it when going over hill. Then it was another long climb up Ben Anaboll, before descending into thicker sea fog (Haar) down to Loch Eriboll.
Pedalling around Loch Eriboll I could see more fog rolling in, blown by the northerly wind. It was moving quickly and was quite dramatic – was getting a little concerned it might get too thick to safely cycle in. Even so I still had periods of bright sunshine and the loch looked beautiful. It’s a tranquil setting with lambs in the fields, the odd red deer, or group thereof, and the occasional farmstead. Don’t think I’ve passed over quite as many cattle grids on an A-road before.
I made it around the end and pedalled up the other side straight into the fog and wind. This made the temperature drop off quite a bit, so I stopped to eat some bananas and put another layer on. The fog unfortunately had no effect on the undulating terrain which continued to tire my legs out, even if I couldn’t see the hills.
I started to remember the film called The Fog, and was hoping their weren’t any zombie ghost pirates in the haar. As it was there was only occasional car, and plenty of stupid sheep standing in the road as usual. It’s pretty sparsely populated around the loch with only the occasional farm, B&B, and what looked like a salmon farm. As usual all the car drivers were very careful and gave me lots of space; they really are so much better around cyclist up here. Passed quite a lot more motorbike tourers today too.
One other observation about the landscape – the underlying rock changed to limestone, making the land a lot more fertile and greener – there was a sign that told me about this before you think I’m a geologist. The coastline has had lots of useful signs with interesting facts along the way.
Post Loch Eriboll and another ascent I cycled around the coast in the fog to Smoo. The road probably looks quite dramatic in the the light of day without the fog, who knows. I could hear the waves crashing against the shoreline quite a long way below but couldn’t see them. Stuck my head torch on for good measure, although the visibility on the road actually wasn’t too bad. Pretty exciting ride along what looked like some sheer sided cliffs, but couldn’t really tell.
I stopped at Smoo to look at Smoo Cave, climbing down the steep path to the cove. The origin of Smoo is the Norse word for cave I think, and this one has been used for several thousand years by different groups of people. First there were the Neolithic hunter gatherers, whose midden heaps of hells are still in evidence, then on to the Celts, not sure if the Picts stretched up this far, the Norsemen certainly did giving the place it’s name. More recently it’s been used by fishermen, but looks like it’s always been used for shelter, homes, workshops, or storage. You can go on a boat tour to get deeper inside, but these had stopped by the time I arrived. I still managed to have a good wander about and see a waterfall cascading down into the cave; got some good pics.
They have to be quite careful on the tours as the water level can rise quite quickly, a result of rainfall which can have occurred miles away – the river which runs out into the sea here, and created the cave network, has a large catchment area. The last thing you want is a load of trapped tourists, tricky to rescue and not good for the local tourism industry!
I arrived in Durness and found a large campsite, costing £6.75, and right next door to a pub/restaurant which was a bit of a bonus considering I was a bit chilly by now. I had abandoned plans to get all the way to the Cape today long ago – the weather was too adverse and the ferry would have stopped by now anyway. After de-rigging the bike and setting up my tent I had a quick shower to warm up. There were a lot of motorbike tourers in, most from Germany by the looks of it and I had to stop myself from whistling Deutschland Deutschland repeatedly. There were also lots of camper vans in from all over the place – I spotted UK, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. It looks like Cape Wrath is a popular destination for many; I thought it much more worthwhile a place to visit than John o’ Groats and I hadn’t even visited it yet.
The campsite has a campers kitchen which is pretty good, equipped with gas burners you can use free of charge. There were some Germans cooking up what smelt like goulash in there – smelt very good. They had Wurst too, I was getting hungrier by the minute. I chatted to one of them for bit, not sure what his name was but we’ll call him Klaus for the sake of argument. Klaus had ridden up with his posse earlier today, taking a route through the centre rather than along the coast. Sounded like a nice ride and must be good fun with a large group of bikers. I’m tempted to go motorbike touring myself sometime, in Europe has always been an ambition, but I’ll need to save up again, and pass my test etc etc. Still prefer my bike and moving under my own power at present. Less noisy, polluting, and you see more, even if it does take longer.
Post chatting to Klaus and then the campsite owner (she agreed sheep are indeed stupid animals, with a death wish on the roads), I retired to the pub next door and consumed their mix grill, with new potatoes as I was getting sick of chips. Not a bad mixed grill, but not the best black pudding I’ve ever eaten. I decided to have an earlyish night in preparation for Cape Wrath tomorrow – it seemed fitting to be going there exactly one month after leaving Norwich.
I’ll finish with a general health update – of me and my bike:
– Bike running well but might have to adjust the gears a bit as they skip around sometimes. New wheel seems sound. Could do with a clean at some point! Front right pannier fix still holding admirably.
– When I started this tour I was about 12 stone, and whilst I don’t have access to scales I reckon I’ve lost weight. My waistline has shrunk a bit, however I’ll have put weight on in my legs which are much stronger, and probably my arms and shoulders which also do a fair amount of work on hill climbs. I’ll try and find some scales soon.
– No chafing to report, which may be down to frequent use of chamois cream, and the fact it’s been too cold to sweat much. I also sometimes use Emu oil on tired and aching muscles at the end of a hard days ride, which seems to help. Probably need to do more leg stretches as usual, as my muscles sometimes feel a bit stiff and tight in the morning, before they loosen up with some gentler spinning to start off with.
– Shins still pretty battle scarred from pedal hits and scrapes, takes ages to heal properly.
– No knee problems to report, and haven’t needed to use the Biofreeze Gel for ages, even if it does smell nice. Posterior also surviving long days in the saddle, thanks to padded shorts and just getting conditioned to it.
– Tan lines looking a bit dodgy on the legs due to my modified cycling bib. I cut the knees out to stop them pulling my kneecaps over slightly, which was causing pain after long rides and lots of revolutions. It’s because I have a slight pronation and the physio advised I try this; cleared up the anterior knee pain a treat. Face pretty tanned, or should that be weathered. Arms not tanned as I’ve been wearing long sleeves. Sun needs to come out more often really.
– The cold weather can get a little draining, especially if it’s windy too which it has been on several occasions, damned headwinds. I’ve been left feeling a bit frazzled sometimes. Apparently it has been the coldest spring for years, something I can attest to. Not had too much rain recently. Would be really good to have a few warm days, with no wind, to raise morale. Would also make camping and cooking in the evenings easier, and thus be less tempting to retreat to a pub which gets expensive – I have a generous but still limited budget.
– Emotionally fine, even if I do have a lot of time to think which inevitably means my thoughts turning to Lu – good thoughts and memories as well as sadder ones. I haven’t been lonely at all as always seem to be meeting people to have a chat to, and generally have good mobile reception on Vodafone so get texts and emails, and can keep in touch with friends and family.
– I do need to wash some clothes again pretty soon. Running out of outfit changes, and whilst it’s easy to wash socks regularly, cycling bibs and tops take more effort. No-one has commented on me smelling bad…yet.
Brilliant pictures, great update – just looked up where you are & found http://bit.ly/ZH5vq8
Loving your updates James – can hear you ‘speaking’ as I read them! Great photos too, perhaps I’ll have to venture North to see the views for myself, not sure I’d go on two wheels though! Love Em x
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