Monthly Archives: June 2013

Leg 36 – to Skye via Bealach-Na-Ba

Time to take on the highest pass in Britain, going to be a tough ride. Here’s he route showing the 2000 foot ascent – http://connect.garmin.com/course/3799903

05 June 2013

Post a late night trying not altogether successfully to catch up on my blog, I had a lie in until 08.30 – felt pretty decadent. I still wasn’t sure if I was going to have a rest day or not, but post a breakfast of two baguette batons, ham, cheese, tomatoes and a banana I felt raring to go, so I packed up my stuff and prepared to tackle to tackle Bealach-Na-Ba, which translates to ‘Pass of the Cattle’, or ‘Cow Pass’, over Beinn Bhan. I had a decaf coffee at the restaurant first, just to warm up, and spent a while chilling out in the sunshine which felt wonderful. It really smelt like summer had arrived, with the birds engaged in large amounts of vocal activity, and bees buzzing about. Unfortunately the pollen count was also on the up so I broke out the hay fever tablets for the first time.

I was about to leave when Ewan and Ian appeared (sorry if i’ve spelt your names wrong guys), who I’d met briefly the night before. About my age, probably younger, they’re both keen cyclists, and Ewan was looking to tackle the Pass today too. Ian unfortunately couldn’t due to having broken his hand mountain biking recently. We agreed that most injuries of a sporting nature usually happen when you’re doing something slightly stupid! He did offer to carry my panniers over for me however I declined, figuring that would be tantamount to cheating.

My fully laden Ridgeback was going to be a lot slower than Ewan’s much lighter Condor road bike, so I set off whilst he got ready, and agreed to meet up en-route or at the top, depending on how things went.

I’ll have to give Applecross a return visit at some point as it’s a lovely spot, and the campsite with its on-site restaurant is ideal. It has good facilities, friendly staff, and I could charge stuff which would be a key consideration until I could get a replacement cable for my Power Monkey solar panel. The village has some lovely walks signposted, and a garden you can visit, as well as an Inn down in the village itself.

About to leave Applecross, great weather

About to leave Applecross, great weather


Having built myself up for the climb I set off in a fairly low gear, intending to pace myself, and started easing my way up the hill. It’s another single track road, but with lots of passing places. I had to pull over a few times to let vehicles pass, but could generally just keep pedalling, and pedalling, and then some. There were quite a few posses of motorbikes tackling the pass, mostly German again by the looks of it, as well as a few classic cars – several Caterhams and one a Rolls Royce, and the odd camper van which was a bit naughty as there was a sign at the bottom of the hill saying the road wasn’t suitable for them. I also had a bit of a shock to encounter a couple of coaches, however apparently they’re local drivers who know what they’re doing, even of the road is pretty narrow and precarious in places.

Going up Bealach-Na-Ba - ominous clouds gathering

Going up Bealach-Na-Ba – ominous clouds gathering


 

Bealach-Na-Ba - ascent looking back towards Applecross

Bealach-Na-Ba – ascent looking back towards Applecross


The climb took me about an hour I think, but can’t be sure as I’d forgotten to check what time I set off which was a bit of an oversight on my part. I stopped a couple of times to take photos, which gave me time to get my breath back, but generally just kept pedalling, amazed at how well my legs were coping. Obviously the previous weeks of hill climbing around the country to date had paid off.

Bealach-Na-Ba - panorama of ascent

Bealach-Na-Ba – panorama of ascent

There are some pretty steep and long bits to the climb, with no real flat sections to speak of, just 2000 feet up to the top. There were a couple of those moments when you think you’ve reached the top, but you turn around the corner and there’s an even longer and steeper section to go, which can be a bit dispiriting. You just have to grit your teeth and push on. I found it easier if I broke it up into sections, setting myself goals of making it to that post, or the bush another 200m on, or focussing on counting pedal strokes. Not far from the top a few groups of cyclists passed me whizzing down the other way on their sleek and unladen machines, going at quite a pace – I’d have hit the brakes by now, however I had a far longer stopping distance to contend with. As they passed, over the course of a couple of minutes, I received shouts of encouragement, or promising comments about it not being far to the top now, which spurred me on somewhat. Mostly I didn’t want to be seen to be pushing my touring bike up a mountain in front of them, which gave me a boost.

I felt a great sense of achievement on reaching the top of the pass, having not had to get off and push at all. Scotland still hadn’t defeated me, unlike Yorkshire, however the gradients were steeper in Yorkshire and my legs weren’t as strong back then; I might be able to take the hill up from Boulby now. I’d made it up the highest pass in Britain, wahey!

Bealach-Na-Ba - at he top, a bit on the warm side

Bealach-Na-Ba – at the top, a bit on the warm side


 

Bealach-Na-Ba - view from the top 1

Bealach-Na-Ba – view from the top 1


 

Bealach-Na-Ba - view from the top 2

Bealach-Na-Ba – view from the top 2


I stopped for a rest at the top, and to admire the view which wasn’t all that bad. Even though the mountain goes up a bit further, to a communications mast, it felt like the top of the world after that climb.

The top of Beinn Bhan

The top of Beinn Bhan


I didn’t see any Golden Eagles soaring about which was a little disappointing – Dad had seen some here when he visited many years ago, and there were still eagles in the area apparently. Whilst waiting for Ewan I gave my parents a quick call to let them know I’d made it up, and that my bike and I were in one piece still; I needed to share the moment. To be honest if anything I was more worried about the descent anyway, and my brakes and wheels holding out all the way down.

Feeling a bit low on energy I ate a couple of bananas and some Haribos, whilst chatting to a couple of local cyclists from Lairg. They’d come up the other side which has some even steeper sections; ‘Oh good’, I thought, this was going to be interesting on a bike weighing over 100 pounds. They’d done the pass several times, it being her favourite route, and were in training for their forthcoming tour in the Pyrenees and France which sounded like it was going to be fantastic – 3 weeks in pretty much guaranteed good weather, and great landscape to cycle through. This got me thinking about other potential tours again, and how cool it would be to cycle around the Mediterranean. Admittedly some of the a North African coast could be challenging, but I’ll have to add it the list of possibilities – from the souks of Morocco all the way around to Spain and Portugal. It could take a while, especially if you go all the way around Italy. My list of possible adventures by bike is starting to grow now, with the New Zealand idea, as well as Cape Wrath to Sicily.

Wishing them well they zoomed off down the hill as Ewan arrived at the top, having taken around 53 minutes to make it up. He was slightly annoyed with himself for having to put a foot down due to a close encounter with a car, but wasn’t up for giving it another go today! He’ll come back and do it again with Ian, once his hand is mended, and no doubt succeed in a flawless ascent. Flawless for me was just not having to push, I didn’t mind that I’d stopped for a breather a couple of times. We chatted for a while before I put on another layer and set off down the other side of the pass, after arranging to meet up in Kishorn at a bar for a beer.

The descent was dramatic to say the least, with lots of hairpins to start off with, and a really steep section that left my brakes practically smoking. I could smell the pads getting hot, that slightly acrid smell of burning rubber, or whatever compound Aztec brake pads are made out of. In any case they held out thankfully, and didn’t fall off. A nice group of tourists took my photo for me just at the start of the descent.

Bealach-Na-Ba - about to start the descent

Bealach-Na-Ba – about to start the descent

 

Bealach-Na-Ba - hairpins

Bealach-Na-Ba – hairpins

 

Bealach-Na-Ba - impressive cliffs

Bealach-Na-Ba – impressive cliffs

 

Bealach-Na-Ba - looking back up

Bealach-Na-Ba – looking back up

 

Bealach-Na-Ba - a lot of down to go yet

Bealach-Na-Ba – a lot of down to go yet

I plummeted down the pass, in a mostly controlled fashion, brakes screeching and trying to force myself to relax. A one point I realised my teeth were clenched tightly shut which was beginning to hurt. Mind you quite a few things were tightly clenched as I hurtled down, really not wanting to lose control of the heavy bike, but also enjoying the rush of the speed, and the adrenalin pumping winding road.

Eventually I reached the bottom section, turning slightly north into a cold headwind which helped slow me down so much I actually had to start pedalling again. I was very glad I’d put on the extra layer at the top as it was suddenly pretty cold. There was a sign at the bottom suggesting the pass may be impassable in wintry conditions; I can well believe it and wouldn’t like to tackle it in snow, ice or high wind.

I made it around to Kishorn on somewhat tired legs, with the Seafood Bar appearing just in the nick of time. Ian turned up in the car, shortly followed by Ewan on his bike, and we ordered a couple of beers and some food to celebrate making it over Bealach-Na-Ba. Their seafood platter was slightly more impressive than my smoked salmon baguette, so I ordered a steakwich to follow up, still being hungry. We chatted for a bit, them telling me about their Lands End to John o’Groats ride which sounded like a lot of fun, covering over 1000 miles in 10 days, with some interesting antics along the way. Not something I have a great urge to do, although I’m effectively doing a Jogle at the moment, just the long way.

With 30 miles left to do I had to head off, bidding goodbye it Ewan and Ian. I expect I’ll bump into them again at some point. I pedalled off to Loch Carron, dealing with another big climb. For some reason I’d got it into my head that the rest of the day was going to be flat, I was wrong. I stopped in Loch Carron to buy some chocolate, feeling a bit low on energy. The first bit of the ride around the loch was fairly flat and enjoyable, getting some quick miles it to Achintee. I passed through a tunnel and then had to deal with a steep ascent before Attadale, where there are some nice gardens apparently.

Road alongside Loch Carron

Road alongside Loch Carron


There followed another flat section, before what felt like an endless climb up to Stromferry, on tired legs. I made it to the viewpoint at the top and stopped for a rest, chatting to a group of German tourers in their motor home, rather than a motorbikes this time. More Caterhams roared past, they seemed to be everywhere today but I still hadn’t seen ay rally signs, maybe they were just lost.

Loch Carron

Loch Carron


At Stromferry I turned off the A890 and took the minor road to Plocton. It’s a lovely road, especially in the sunshine, passing through woodland and rhododendrons, even the hills seemed mellower. I did nearly lose control at one point when rapidly descending one hill, where there were loose stones and gravel in the middle of the road which I wasn’t expected. A few tense moments as I bounced through, not daring to brake.

Road to Plocton 1

Road to Plocton 1


Road to Plocton 2

Road to Plocton 2


Road to Plocton 3

Road to Plocton 3

I made it to Plocton by about 18.00, and found it to be a picture postcard of a village, perfect for break. Packed with tourists I stopped to talk to French group who wanted to know how heavy my bike was and how far I’d cycled. I hadn’t come particularly far today, but they seemed impressed, and it was good to practice some French again – I’m very rusty.

Plocton - castle across the bay

Plocton – castle across the bay


Plocton panorama

Plocton panorama


Plocton front

Plocton front


Plocton front 2

Plocton front 2


Plocton panorama 2

Plocton panorama 2


I decided to stop for dinner in Plocton, at the Plocton Inn, and had grilled chicken with a pesto and chilli sauce, very nice. There isn’t a campsite in the village so had to press on pretty quickly, pedalling back out of the village and down the coast to Drumbuie, and on to Kyle of Lochalsh, a small town just before the bridge over to Skye. It felt weird with the countryside getting gradually more populated, and more villages and shops appearing. There was even a roundabout in the town – I hadn’t seen one for a while! I stopped to buy a few supplies in Kyle of Lochalsh, from the Co-op, before taking the Skye Bridge over to the Island, quite a steep bridge incidentally.

Skye Bridge 1

Skye Bridge 1


 

Skye Bridge 2

Skye Bridge 2


 

Skye Bridge 3

Skye Bridge 3


From the bridge I rode along the mostly flat coast road towards Broadford, stopping at a campsite next to Breakish – Ashaig Campsite, which is fairly basic (has a compost loo, as well as more modern facilities) but allows campfires, and had everything I needed. I found the warden Mel, who showed me around and suggested a pitch which would be mostly midge free. It’s only £5 a night and has a caravan you can retreat to for a sit down, and where you can recharge stuff, very handy for journal writing. I was tempted to stay another night, but the site only has that crappy Highland wifi and I needed to get to the bike shop in Portree anyway.

Ashaig Campsite

Ashaig Campsite

Ashaig Campsite 2

Ashaig Campsite 2


I finished the day with a beer and a few snacks, and had a quick chat to a motorbike tourer who was English rather than German! It had been a great day covering 49 miles, having met far more cyclists out on the road, including a few I’d met before. The bike had held out well too, with no more loose spokes I could find. Roll on the rest of Skye.

Leg 35 – to Applecross

04 June 2013

I awoke to a beautiful morning in Big Sand, with the sun chasing away the last of the overnight cloud. It looked like it was going to be a hot one so I made a mental note not to forget to put on sun cream. The cuckoo had kept going practically all night – I’d woken up at 1.30 and it was still being vocal, unless I dreamt it.

The campsite has excellent and fairly new looking facilities which I took a advantage of, having a shower post breakfast, then packing up. There’s also an onsite cafe which served breakfast, but I’d forgotten about that and already eaten by the time I passed it leaving. Before departure I had a quick walk down to the beach again, and checked on my back wheel which seemed fit for purpose.

Nice view in the morning across Loch Gairloch

Nice view in the morning across Loch Gairloch


From the campsite I rode back down the rode to Gairloch, stopping in the village for second breakfast, despite having only done 3 miles – I’d smelled bacon. I met the German biker couple coming out of the village shop armed with bacon rolls, as I went in to purchase the same – said goodbye and wished when well on their trip up North. I munched on a great bacon and egg roll, before going across the road to the Mountain Cafe for a decaf coffee, it was going to be a slow start to the day apparently.

The Mountain Cafe

The Mountain Cafe – Gairloch


The Mountain Coffee Company, using its proper name, is a great little Indie cafe with a bookshop attached to it. It has lots of interesting nooks and crannies filled with curious books, including some on cycle touring, expeditions etc, as well as lots of Bhuddas dotted around the place. I spent an hour there writing my blog and relaxing, before cycling off down the road to a nearby restaurant which the cafe owner informed me had a wifi hotspot I could use to upload a post.

Post a quick lemonade at the restaurant, I prepared to get back on my bike but realised I was missing a rear brake pad, my temporary fix having broken. I had to cycle back to the the coffee shop scanning the road in an attempt to find it, figuring it had probably fallen out when I manoeuvred my heavy bike in the car park there. I was lucky to find it there, with the help of the keen eyed cafe owner, and duly slotted it back in. It won’t fall out unless I apply the brakes whilst rolling backwards, at which point it slides out because the grub screw is missing; another thing to keep an eye on until I can get a new screw. Whilst reinserting it I did a quick spoke check again, all good.

Loch Gairloch with Gairloch on the right

Loch Gairloch with Gairloch on the right

 

Gairloch Village

Gairloch Village


I finally got on the road properly about 12.30, and cycled down the A832 through Charlestown to Loch Maree, up quite a long climb before a nice flattish ride alongside the loch.

Harbour at Charlestown

Harbour at Charlestown

The road alongside the loch stretches on for several miles, ending in the Beinn Eighe National Park. It was a lovely ride through more forest consisting of silver birch, ash, beech, pine and a few oaks, amongst no doubt lots of other species I didn’t identify immediately. As usual the sound of cuckoos accompanied me down the road, and I even spotted one sitting on a telephone line.

Loch Maree

Loch Maree

 

Loch Maree 2

Loch Maree 2


I stopped for a break in the National Park and chatted to another cycle tourer who’d been on the road since mid March, after quitting his job. In his early 60’s he was touring around the UK stopping whenever he saw something interesting, sounded like a nice plan, although he’d had some pretty bad weather back in the earlier months. He was averaging about 35 miles a day rather than my 65 so got to see a lot more, but I had to get back to Norwich by the end of July so didn’t have that luxury.

Beinn Eighe National Park

Beinn Eighe National Park

 

Beinn Eighe National Park and Loch Maree

Beinn Eighe National Park and Loch Maree


It was a bit strange at the national park, with a coach load of Japanese tourists hovering about, and lots of cars and minibus tours, with people taking pictures. It felt like I was heading back into civilisation and busy roads, and I wasn’t sure I liked it, despite the allure of more shops and pubs! A least the weather was getting warmer which was a good trade off.

I rode on to Kinlochewe where I turned right on to the A896 to Torridon, riding down Glen Torridon and making good time on the gently undulating road. The road runs roughly alongside the river, though some impressive mountains, and is single track for the most part so there was a bit of stop-starting in passing places as camper vans and lorries trundled towards or past me. It was quite a busy road with lots of motorbike tourers again, as well as quite a few hikers and fishermen about. Thankfully drivers were still being careful around me and my wide load; I aught to get a wide load sticker somewhere!

Ride down Glen Torridon

Ride down Glen Torridon


 

Ride down Glen Torridon - Beinn Eighe mountains

Ride down Glen Torridon – Beinn Eighe mountains


I met a Hungarian cycle tourer riding down to Torridon too. She had a penant flying off the back of her bike which I was slightly jealous of. She was cycling around the Highlands for a couple of weeks raising money for Cancer Research, and we had a quick chat whilst riding along – apparently Hungary is a lot flatter, and she’d covered a lot of the same bits of the North Coast I had so we compared notes before I pushed on to Torridon. 

I had a quick look around Torridon and a toilet break, before taking the road to Shieldaig and nearly getting flattened by an impatient delivery truck driver at one point, my first case of dubious driving in a while.

View of Upper Loch Torridon, from Torridon

View of Upper Loch Torridon, from Torridon


As I rode around the coast to Shieldaig the territory got progressively more hilly and leg taxing, but I’d had a fairly easy day up until then so didn’t feel too tired. Shieldaig is a lovely village and very picturesque. I stopped at the hotel bar for a drink and hopefully some food. They weren’t serving food until 18.00, so I settled for bag of crisps alongside a pint of cider, the warm day making me want something cold to drink.

Shieldaig village

Shieldaig village


The bar was being run by a New Zealand medical student on a gap year, touring around Europe. I think it’s a universal constant that wherever you go they’ll generally be a Kiwi bar person in the vicinity. I did a quick mental check to see if I had any injuries I needed advice on, but everything was working correctly, although my shins still looked a bit battered from pedal hits. He’s from Christchurch where an Uncle of Lu’s lives, so we talked about the recent earthquake there, sinking houses and cardboard cathedrals, as well as travelling. He warned me about the danger of ticks, his brother having picked one up the day before in the area – he was touring too but working elsewhere. A couple of Australians turned up shortly after I’d arrived and joined our conversation. They were touring down the West Coast by car, and flying back to Oz via Bangkok in a few days time, which sounded like an attractive proposition. I left after 45 minutes needing to push on, and as the conversation turned to sport, rugby and Aussie rules football, with associated New Zealand v’s Australia rivalry emerging. A nice stop and weird running into more antipodian people than natives in a remote Sottish village.

Shieldaig Bar

Shieldaig Bar


The road definitely got steeper after Shieldaig, with some challenging hills but fantastic views on the way to Ardheslaig. The Kiwi barman/medical student had told me there were sea eagles in the area so I kept an eye out, but didn’t see any. I broke into song a few times to help get up the hills, mostly Queen tracks today, which are quite vocally challenging incidentally. I’m sure the sheep appreciated my efforts although Barcelona may have left something to be desired, and probably kept the sea eagles away.

Looking back to Shieldaig

Looking back to Shieldaig

 

Another small inlet on the way to Ardheslaig

Another small inlet on the way to Ardheslaig


With slightly aching legs I rode past Kenmore, Arina and Fearnmore, on a road that wasn’t built until the 1970’s, before turning south and leaving Loch Torridon behind. The gradients got a little less steep as I rode alongside the Inner Sound between the mainland and Raasay and the Isle of Skye, although there were still plenty of ups and downs. The sun came out again giving a great view over to the Inner Hebrides, somewhere I hoped of be in a couple of days time. As I rode, and prompted by the earlier conversation in Shieldaig, I pondered what an adventure it would be to cycle all the way to New Zealand, through Europe, Turkey, the Middle East, India and Asia. I’d have to rent my house out and work out a way to fund it, writing maybe, or sponsorship, or stopping to work along the way, but it would be amazing to cycle all that way through such a diverse range of cultures and landscapes. One to ponder some more; one thing for sure is that I’d need a new back wheel before embarking on such a journey!

View across Inner Sound towards Skye

View across Inner Sound towards Skye

 

Another great view

Another great view


Sand dune running up to cliff

Sand dune running up to cliff


Applecross Bay 1 - cool clouds

Applecross Bay 1 – cool clouds


Applecross Bay 2 - sunshine extraordinaire

Applecross Bay 2 – sunshine extraordinaire

I finally turned the corner after one last significant ascent, heading East into Applecross Bay, with Applecross’ white buildings gleaming in the sunshine at its far end. As I rode down the hill towards the village, a large bird of prey flew over and landed in the grass further up the mountain. It had the right wing shape and was the right colour to be a golden eagle, but didn’t look big enough, so I thought it was probably a buzzard. I later learned that there were some juvenile eagles in the area, so maybe that’s what I saw.

Applecross

Applecross

Applecross panorama

Applecross panorama

I arrived at the campsite at about 19.30, having covered around 67 miles which I was pleased with, and that doesn’t include going backwards and forwards at one point. I’d got into the zone more today, so the miles had seemed to pass more quickly despite some long climbs with fairly steep gradients, thinking about expeditions in foreign climes, books and movies, and wondering what was going on in Norwich, and very briefly at work. The climbs were all good practice for tomorrow and the dreaded Bealach-Na-Ba, which was going to take some effort. I was glad my back wheel had held out, with no more loose spokes I could find, although it was a bit wonky.

Me looking pretty hot

Me looking pretty hot – sweaty that is


Applecross campsite is great, with an on site restaurant called the Flower Tunnel where I had chilli and nachos, followed by a large pizza; I was mega hungry and needed to carb load for tomorrow. The staff are really friendly and helpful, and let me charge up my mobile and Power Monkey battery pack that I still need to get a new lead for, to connect to the solar panel. I planned to order one online and get it delivered to Loch Melfort, where my parents have a time share, although I might just be able to find one in Fort William.

There was no mobile reception to speak of at the campsite, so I decided to try buying Internet access via the Highland wifi network. It’s a bit expensive so not something I want to do very often, but it worked fairly well, despite logging me off the network frequently and then not letting me back on until I reset my browser. It allowed me to catch up on emails and do some planning, as well as have a quick FaceTime call with my brother and sister-in-law, but it wouldn’t let me transfer photos off my phone onto my iPad as I could only have one device logged in at a time – I can see why but it was a bit irritating.

Given the superb weather and location I considered having a day off and resting up. I’d ridden over 2,000 miles so was nearly halfway, and hadn’t had a day of absolutely no cycling since setting off from Norwich over a month ago. I start to feel slightly anxious if I don’t progress even a small way each day, so I put off a decision until the morning, retreating to my tent to get away from the midges which were starting to appear now. I realised I’d have to careful of sunburn as well as insect bites, having noticed a few slightly burned patches on my legs – sock line. Itchy insect bites and sunburn would be a pretty bad combination to endure.

I’d received an email from a friend at work, with a poem I thought I’d include to finish today. As always great to receive encouragement and know that people are finding my blog interesting, or even inspiring to a degree, so thanks Dave.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Leg 34 – to Gairloch and the Big Sands Campsite

A 59 mile stint, despite a late start.

03 June 2013

After a slightly hazy start to the morning due to the whisky consumed the previous evening, I had a quick breakfast and got down to the business of the day, which first involved mending my rear wheel.

I had to take the wheel off again, remove the tyre and find the spoke nipple, before reattaching the whole thing, a messy job. I then spent about 30 minutes carefully trying to straighten the wheel without over tightening the spokes. It’s a tricky job but I managed to get it vaguely straight without anything going ping, and the wheel rotating without rubbing against the brake blocks, a result in my books. I’d still need to find a bike shop to get it professionally straightened and the spokes tightened, however the next shop I’d pass wasn’t going to be until Portree on the Isle of Skye; even if I diverted inland there were none closer. My administrations would just have to suffice for the time being.

Having spent a while on the bike, then getting a shower and packing up, I missed the 10.30 ferry to Stornaway. On reflection I decided this was probably a good thing, as I wanted to get further down the coast with a lot of Scotland left to do. I could always catch the ferry from Oban across to Barra at a later stage, depending on how I was time wise. I had a quick trip to a supermarket to restock on a few supplies, having run out of shampoo for starters but also needing breakfast stuff, then had a ride around Ullapool, which is well worth a visit even if you’re not catching the ferry.

The ferry I just missing, leaving it's berth

The ferry I just missed, leaving it’s berth

 

Rowing skiff out practicing in the bay

Rowing skiff out practicing in the bay

As I rode along the seafront a couple of Tornados roared through over the bay, practicing some low level flying by the looks of it – almost another Top Gun moment.

Looking out along Loch Broom towards the Hebs

Looking out along Loch Broom towards the Hebs

 

Bike post restocking at supermarket

Bike post restocking at supermarket – banana and baguette accessories

Before leaving Ullapool I had an early lunch at the Ferry Boat Inn, who serve a great sausage bap. Food photos are for my Japanese readers to give them an idea of ‘traditional’ Scottish fare, although I’m not convinced that usually involves salad.

Ferry Inn - sausage bap

Ferry Boat Inn – sausage bap

 

View from Ullapool across Loch Broom

View from Ullapool across Loch Broom

 

The Ferry Boat Inn

The Ferry Boat Inn


I hit the road south at 13.00, with at least a 55 mile leg in front of me which I hoped wasn’t going to be too mountainous. I wasn’t too worried as it stays light so late, and would be alright as long as I didn’t encounter any significant wheel trouble. 

From Ullapool I cruised down the A835 alongside Loch Broom. Aside from the traffic, which consisted of some big lorries, it was a nice ride through woodland with bigger trees for a change. This section ended with a big climb up the Corrieshalloch Gorge, with the weather deteriorating I turned on to the A832 to follow the coast.

Riding up towards Corrieshalloch Gorge - bigger trees

Riding up towards Corrieshalloch Gorge – bigger trees but weather deteriorating


I stopped at the Falls of Messach, and walked down to the gorge and Victorian suspension bridge. The gorge is startling, and the bridge over it wobbles quite a bit when there’s more than one person on it. I decided not to bounce up and down as I didn’t want to upset anyone, or cause them to fly into the depths of the gorge.

Road bridge over the Gorge, before reaching the falls

Road bridge over the Gorge, before reaching the falls


 

Falls of Messach - Victorian suspension bridge

Falls of Messach – Victorian suspension bridge


 

Corrieshalloch Gorge

Corrieshalloch Gorge


 

Falls of Messach - looking down on them from suspension bridge

Falls of Messach – looking down on them from suspension bridge


In a fit of enthusiasm I ran back up the path to my bike, something I’d no doubt pay for later. With the rain closing in I progressed up a gradual but on reflection long climb in the shadow of Meall An T-Sithe – I don’t know if that means anything specific but it sounds cool. 

View back towards Ullapool

View back towards Ullapool


 The roads takes you up pretty high, and I passed quite a few patches of snow further up the mountain – they weren’t that much further up the mountain.

Road over the top - snow on mountains

Road over the top – snow on mountains


 

Low cloud and rain ahead, was going to get wet

Low cloud and rain ahead, was going to get wet


I felt like I was on the road to Mordor at this stage, with the fairly bleak landscape and weather closing in. At least it wasn’t winter when this road must get closed by snow fairly regularly. And at least the weren’t any Orcs or Uruk’hai chasing me, although couldn’t be absolutely sure of that. A lot of the place names around here sound very Tolkien, and surely provided him with some of his inspiration.

Having travelled upwards for so long there followed a remarkably long descent down to Dundonnell, that seemed to go on forever, but did take me down into more verdant territory, with the first flowering rhododendrons I’d seen this year providing a stark contrast to the trees and mountains. I free wheeled down most of the way, at quite some speed, just hoping my back wheel held out. The downhill section was only slightly marred by another cold shower, however I didn’t bother putting my waterproof on as it was protecting a couple of baguettes I’d bought earlier and attached to my rear rack cargo net. I’d rather have gotten wet than be eating soggy baguettes later. As it was I was pretty much blown dry by the time I reached the bottom, and the sun came out.

The descent to Dundonnell

The descent to Dundonnell


 

Rhododendrons

Rhododendrons

I stopped outside the Dundonnell Hotel and ate a pork pie and some fruit I’d bought earlier, as well as some chocolate, chatting with the only other cyclist I’d seen all day; a lone tourer on his last couple of days around the Highlands. He was about to go home before packing his car and going to the Isle of Skye where he had a cottage for the week. He was staying at the bunkhouse just up the road from Dundonnell, and hadn’t been camping, hence had a lot less kit. Got me thinking I ought to try the occasional bunkhouse. We agreed the hills around here had been an ‘interesting’ challenge before parting ways, wishing each other the best of luck and the wind at your back etc etc.

Continuing along the coast there followed another long climb up to Gruinard Bay, with Gruinard Island in the middle of it. The  island was the site of Anthrax tests during the Second World War, both with a view to dealing with such an attack from Germany, or launching an attack versus them. Happily neither occurred but the island was contaminated for years afterwards, not being declared safe until 1990. It’s safe now, but uninhabited aside from sheep, who haven’t keeled over. Apparently the original owners were able to buy it back for £500 once it was declared safe, the price agreed with the government during the war.

Gruinard Bay and Island

Gruinard Bay and Island


There followed another long climb out of Gruinard, the steepest of the day. I made it up despite my chain slipping off at one point; I wonder if I’ll need to replace my gear cassettes soon too. I rode on passing through Laide and Aultbea as the narrow road dipped and turned, past more great scenery including deserted beaches, cliffs and patches of pine forest.

Road around to Laide

Road around to Laide


 

Passing over more mountain streams

Passing over more mountain streams


 

Deserted beaches

Deserted beaches

Aultbea is quite a sizeable village, with the Isle of Ewe in the centre of the bay – Loch Ewe. There looked to be houses on the Isle as well, probably farms by the looks of it. The sea was flat calm today and it had been lovely riding so far, despite the hills and occasional shower. I put it down to there being no headwind, which really makes a difference to your morale as well as your speed. I’d also only had to tighten one spoke so far so must have been doing something right.

Loch Ewe, with Aultbea on the right, and the Isle of Ewe in the centre

Loch Ewe, with Aultbea on the right, and the Isle of Ewe in the centre

 

Aultbea

Aultbea

 

Poolewe

Poolewe

I rode on to Poolewe, where followed another long ascent before finally riding down into Gairloch. I stopped at a general store to buy some Branston Pickle that I’d started craving for some reason, before turning right up the B8021, through Gairloch itself, and on to Big Sand where there’s a campsite. Gairloch is a nice looking town and I thought I’d stop at one of the cafes on the way back through tomorrow.

The ride alongside Loch Gairloch was really magical, with the sun coming out, the sea flat calm, no traffic to speak of on the gently undulating road, and no headwind. Sitting up in the saddle I relaxed and rode the last 3 miles admiring the view, but forgetting to take any photos, accompanied by the odd cuckoo and a few ducks out on the water, and only interrupted from my reverie when I rumbled over the odd cattle grid; they always worry me as they rattle my wheels around.

The campsite at Big Sand is set right against the seashore, amongst the dunes covered in Marram Grass. It was really peaceful, it not being the school holidays, and I had plenty of space to find a spot for my tent. Having arrived at 19.30, covering 59 miles in the end, reception was closed so I’d settle up in the morning again. 

With my tent set up I proceeded to feast on baguettes, Crowdie cheese left over from yesterday, ham, pork pie, Branston pickle, tomatoes, a banana, two cookies, a twix and some peanuts…I didn’t think it excessive. Just about sated I went for a walk on the beach and sat with a beer on a dune for a while, just letting the calm atmosphere wash over me. It was a great spot just to relax, gazing out across the slightly misty loch towards mountains in the distance. I hoped to see some dolphins or a whale, but there were only seabirds out on the water as far as I could see. I walked down to the waters edge thinking how much Lucy would have liked it here, so I built a small cairn near the dunes to mark the spot for her.

Big Sand and Loch Gairloch

Big Sand and Loch Gairloch

 

Dunes covered in Marram Grass

Dunes covered in Marram Grass

 

View back to campsite and my tent

View back to campsite and my tent

 

Beautiful view across loch towards mountains of Skye

Beautiful view across loch towards mountains of Skye

 

Low tide at Loch Gairloch

Low tide at Loch Gairloch

 

Waves gently lapping on the shore

Waves gently lapping on the shore

 

Pebbles at Big Sand

Pebbles at Big Sand

 

Cairn to mark the spot for Lu

Cairn to mark the spot for Lu

 

With seaweed attachment for artistic purposes

With seaweed attachment for artistic purposes

Wandering back to my tent I met a German couple touring by motorbike – one of the many sets of German bikers I’ve passed up here. We had a good chat about our rides so far; they’re off up north to Cape Wrath, with me heading south. Karl had been there before and agreed it was much more impressive than John o’Groats. They also informed me they had a friend who was a local whale watcher, who says that the whales and dolphins weren’t coming in yet as there’s little in the way of plankton due to the late spring and it being cold for longer. This means for example the fish the dolphins feed on (mackerel) haven’t come in, as they in turn haven’t got as much to feed on, all part of the food chain. We also had a chat about the relative state of the economies in both countries, Karl reckoning that things weren’t as good as people think in Germany, with a lot of people on very low income jobs (400 Euro jobs); he was certainly concerned about what would happen if he lost his job, being nearly 50 which does make a difference to your employability, despite it not being supposed to.

Turning in for the night I chilled out listening to some music for a while (Abney Park). The cuckoo I’d heard earlier still going strong at 23.30 when I fell asleep. It was so peaceful I could have stayed for a while, but I needed to make my way down to Applecross, before crossing over Bealach-Na-Ba (pass of the cattle) and on to Skye.

Sun going down at campsite

Sun going down at campsite


Sunset at Big Sands

Sunset at Big Sands – the colours were actually much more dramatic than this picture shows


Sunset at Big Sand 2

Sunset at Big Sand 2

Thanks to Nigel and Rich for the texts today, helped get me up some big hills!

Leg 33 – to Ullapool

Getting to grips with these hills now, or so I thought.  Check out the route here and the elevation changes – http://connect.garmin.com/course/3779409

02 June 2013

Ferreting around in my panniers I realised I needed to buy more breakfast stuff, but it was Sunday and all the shops were closed in Scourie; I keep forgetting most shops close in Scotland on Sundays, or are only open for a couple of hours, but I kind of like that. Luckily I still had some cheese and flapjack left which was more than adequate and set me up nicely for a morning’s pedalling.

Beautiful day in Scourie

Beautiful day in Scourie


Feeling a lot more buoyant than yesterday I gave the bike the once over, and finding no further faults I hit the road about 10.00. I knew today was going to be a tough day, with some big hills on the coast road, but also some fantastic scenery which would hopefully help distract from the leg pain and straining lungs.

Up for the days ride

Up for the days ride, albeit with spikey hair


From Scourie I rode down the A894 to Unapool, accompanied along the way by the sound of cuckoos. I think there must have been some kind of cuckoo-off going on. I’ve never heard as many cuckoos as I have on the West coast of Scotland, where they are certainly not rare. It was nice riding along more forested roads (Duartmore Forest) of pine and birch, especially in the sunshine which brought everything to life.

Moving towards mountains I'd be passing a bit later

Moving towards mountains I’d be passing a bit later

Just before Unapool I passed out of Mackay country and over a large bridge between two lochs.

Bridge leaving Mackay country

Bridge leaving Mackay country

I stopped in Unapool for a break at a roadside cafe/gift shop where I had a pot of peppermint tea and a fruit scone, very civilised. Chatted to a couple of other touring cyclists on their way North, as well as the elderly owner; the latter spoke rather quickly and a lot, so much so it was hard to get a word in edge ways, but she was lovely and we agreed that the roadworks in Inverness were challenging. I think we agreed that anyway.

Post Unapool I turned right on to the B869, where the hills really started, and judging from the little chevrons on the map they were going to persist. Still, at least there was no headwind to speak of so all good in my books. I have a theory that the terrain and hills in particular are honest, even if they are haggis humping humongous hills, whilst the weather is dishonest, the wind changing direction all the time and more often than being in your face. The weather in Scotland can also change quickly, in the mornings being all sunshine and smiles, but by the afternoon the clouds have rolled in bringing the rain and a chill.

After a feisty 8 or 9 miles I arrived in Drumbeg, having ridden over some fairly dramatic hills that even the touring motorbikes were straining on. I was glad I cycled down the 25% hill.

25% hill!

25% hill! Glad I was going down this 


 

Coastline pretty stunning in places

Coastline pretty stunning in places


 

Challenging climbs at times

Challenging climbs included in the package 


 

Hidden harbours

Hidden harbours 


 

Pigs on the road warning

Pigs on the road warning – sign may be one of a kind 


 

Could almost be the Med coast at times

Could almost be the Med coast at times – but too green

I stopped in Drumbeg at a tea shop that doubled as a pottery and soap shop. It smelt lovely and I realised I probably didn’t. I chilled out in the tiny but completely sheltered garden for 20 mins, enjoying a hot chocolate and slice of carrot and passion fruit cake – got to keep the carb loading going. The garden, scented by the lavender bushes, was tranquil and warm, and I could have sat there for ages reading a book, or playing with the cat that turned up expectantly. If felt like summer had finally arrived in that garden, after the cold weather of previous weeks, with bees busy buzzing around the flowers.

Drumbeg hot chocolate stop - lovely garden

Drumbeg hot chocolate stop – lovely garden

Dragging myself away from the garden I rode through the rest of the village, stopping at the general store/deli to buy a baguette, some Crowdie soft cheese, and a packet of dried bananas for emergency energy boosts. Post eating the whole baguette and most of the cheese I rode on, stopping at the viewpoint where I briefly chatted to a couple touring by car; I’d see them several more times during the day.

Drumbeg viewpoint

Drumbeg viewpoint

I rode on past Oldany Island to Stoer, with the worst of the hills done, then around to Clachtoll, past numerous sandy beaches, inland lochs and sheep. The terrain was by no means flat, but at least I didn’t have any more 15% or 20% leg breaking hills to pedal up in the immediate future, or so I hoped. This was truly the hilliest leg I’d done to date. Coupled with that there were sheep and lambs strewn across the road at times, often just lying there enjoying the sunshine, and frequently nearly causing accidents. Despite shouting at them long before I got close they often refused to move until the last minute, and then were completely random in the direction they’d choose. “Stupid animals” I thought, not for the first time.

Deserted sandy beaches

Deserted sandy beaches – probably surfable in bigger swells


I stopped around Rhicarn at the viewpoint to check on my spokes, and for a break. A couple more spokes needed tightening, confirming my theory this was going to be a bit of a constant job. I was going to have to be careful not to over-tighten them though, and screw the wheel. It looked like it was likely to buckle anyway and I’d need to find a bike shop and a replace it at some point; it’s too lightweight for touring. There were a couple of German cycle tourers at the viewpoint who I had a brief conversation with, although their English was limited and my German worse. They had trailers which I admired them for, heading as they were the other way towards the hills I’d struggled up earlier. They waved me off and I wished them good luck.

Rhicarn viewpoint

Rhicarn viewpoint


I careered down from the viewpoint waving to a group of cyclists pedalling up it from the other direction, that I thought I recognised from some other stop on the tour. They seemed to recognise me anyway saying “hello again” from their sleek and unloaded road bikes, although I noted that they were struggling slightly up the hill; the disadvantage of only using your bike for short day trips and transporting it around on the back of your camper van the rest of the time, less stamina. It was a nice ride down to Lochinver along the windy road, through patches of trees and moorland. As I was riding alongside the harbour I heard a car horn beep and waved to the couple who I’d been running into all day again, think they might have been stalking me.

Lochinver

Lochinver


Despite there being a few attractive looking eateries in Lochinver I pressed on, still having quite a distance to ride to Ullapool. The hills started again as I pedalled over to Inverkerkaig, with its wide shingle bay. I stopped to admire the view and eat some Tangfastics to get some energy back – still slightly addicted! Had to tighten yet another spoke too.

Inverkerkaig

Inverkerkaig – Tangfastics break


The one track minor roads continued, complete with oblivious sheep, as I rode through lots of scrubby silver birch, past lochs and alongside mountain streams carving their way through the landscape. It felt like a remote and wild location to be cycling through, and I was slightly nervous my rear wheel was going to break leaving me stranded and having to walk out. There were a few people out wild camping with their kayaks so I could have just hooked up with them for the evening, and probably had a great time, however the wheel continued to hold out.

Riding past mountain streams

Riding past mountain streams


 

And mountain moorland

And mountain moorland with gorse in bloom


A one point a small herd of red deer ran out in front of me, crossing the road and leaping the fence on the other side. I think we startled each other and they soon disappeared up the mountain. Passing close to Lock Sionasgaig, and up another big ascent, I then free wheeled down to Loch Bad a’ Ghaill, where I turned left back towards the main road that would take me to Ullapool. I was tempted to turn right and go up to Rubha Mor and Reiff, with the Summer Isles off the coast, but it was effectively a dead end, and whilst wild camping would have been great up there I was still worried about the bike. I’d probably get to see the Summer Isles from the ferry to the Outer Hebrides if I decided to go that way, depending on time available.

I pedalled alongside the loch, under the looming presence of the Stac Pollaidh mountain, stopping at Loch Lurgainn for another Haribos break where I chatted to a couple visiting from Lanarkshire. He was thinking of climbing Stac Pollaidh, which he’d painted a few years back, and we spoke for a while about places visited and still to see. You meet some great people on the road.

Stac Pollaidh

Stac Pollaidh

There were a few people wild camping alongside the loch again, with small campfires and the enticing smell of barbecues. It looks like a great spot to spend the night. It’s such a shame you can’t legally wild camp in England, but I guess it would result in parts of the countryside being ruined by irresponsible individuals; mind you such individuals shouldn’t spoil it for everyone else. England should have the same right to roam rules as Scotland.

Loch Lurgainn

Loch Lurgainn

 

Loch Lurgainn and Stac Pollaidh

Loch Lurgainn and Stac Pollaidh

With my sights set on Ullapool I pedalled on, turning right on to the A835. On tired legs I rode down to Ardmair, and then on to Ullapool, with a couple of large hills that nearly finished me off. I’d have climbed them easily earlier in the day, but both my bike and I were creaking by this point, and you can only go so far on Haribos. 

Coast off Ardmair

Coast off Ardmair

The final descent down into Ullapool was a welcome sight, and I gently free wheeled down resting my limbs. I passed a really helpful sign at the bottom of the hill, which in my tied state started me giggling. It wasn’t going to help me find the campsite but a considerate passerby pointed me in the right direction, obviously slightly concerned at my apparent hysteria.

Helpful sign

Helpful sign

I arrived at the Broomfields campsite, where reception was closed but I’d settle up in the morning. They’re often closed by the time I arrive. It’s another nice campsite with views out over the bay, and was quite busy, I guess because of the ferry over to Stornaway.

After setting up my tent I checked my bike and noticed another loose spoke, where the nipple had disappeared inside the rim. After a small amount of cursing I made the strategic decision to mend it the morning, requiring food above anything else right at that moment. I had a wander round Ullapool, along the seafront, where there are several pubs and restaurants to choose from. I ended up at the Seaforth Inn as it was the most convenient and looked busy, always a good sign. It was also boasting award winning seafood. I had the soup followed by smoked haddock and black pudding risotto, which was delicious. I felt slightly guilty for not cooking again, I dare say I could of but felt knackered, and with such fine cuisine and ale nearby couldn’t resist. I was briefly joined at my table by a couple of students studying geology up here – good place for it. We chatted for a bit, them ordering the cheap but tasty burger option – student budget and all that.

Smoked haddock and black pudding risotto at the Seaforth Inn

Smoked haddock and black pudding risotto at the Seaforth Inn

Post dinner I adjourned to the Arch Inn to write up my journal, plus I really had to get a blog update done and needed to find a wifi outlet to transfer the photos from my phone to my iPad. The Arch Inn was fairly lively, showing the England versus Brazil game which I think ended up a draw, a decent result. I was somewhat distracted having bumped into a group of Irish gentlemen, out hill walking from Dublin for a few days. Whisky ensued.

Somewhat unsteadily I made it back to my tent after a challenging but great day’s ride. I was satisfied I’d made it up all those hills without having to push, and covered around 65 miles, but annoyed about my back wheel. I’d check it in the morning and then make a decision about the Outer Hebrides.

Night sky in Ullapool

Night sky in Ullapool – still not really dark at midnight 

Leg 32 – to Scourie

The journey South begins.

01 June 2013

I had one of the best nights sleep of the tour so far at Cape Wrath, whether that be down to the peaceful location or really spongy grass I had as a mattress I’m not sure, probably a combination of both. I’d got up once to photograph the lighthouse in operation; no shipwrecks to report so looks like it was working. There were still deer around, grazing on the lush grass around the lighthouse.

Cape Wrath lighthouse

Cape Wrath lighthouse by night

 

Steep cliffs!

Steep cliffs next Lighthouse

I was up early as I wanted to make sure I made the 09.30 ferry, although I suspected it might be a bit later today because of  the tides. Not wanting to risk it I was packed up and on the road/bumpy track by 7.30, allowing enough time to deal with any punctures picked up en-route. This was after settling up with John and buying one of the Ozone Cafe/Cape Wrath t-shirts – my first sourvenir of the tour. Big thanks to John and the Ozone Cafe for the excellent hospitality and very tasty salmon dinner, and look forward to a return visit some day. Also bid adieu to the enthusiastic Spirnger Spaniel patrol.

 

Leaving Cape Wrath

Leaving Cape Wrath

I rode back down the track to the ferry contemplating what it must be like living a the Cape permanently. Reckon it must be a hard life but rewarding. There’s no mains electricity or water, no mobile reception, although there is a landline. Despite the lack thereof I can see the attractiveness of being cut off from all the crap the rest of us encounter via the media etc, living slightly more on the edge, but in a beautiful spot.

Passing the track down to the bothy I hoped Iain and Angus had had a good night too, and had a safe kayak today – http://www.coldwetwater.blogspot.co.uk Good luck around the rest of the Scottish coast.

Back through moorland to the ferry

Back through moorland to the ferry 


 

Bridge over rocky stream

Bridge over rocky stream 


 

Wild landscape around the Cape

Wild landscape around the Cape 


 

One of the better road sections down to a farmstead

One of the better road sections down to a farmstead


 

Panoramic view of sandy kyle

Panoramic view of sandy kyle


I made it in good time back to the slipway to wait for the ferry, without any punctures, but with three completely loose spokes I had to tighten. The combination of a bumpy road, heavy bike, and a back wheel not really built for a touring bike had obviously take its toll, and was something I was going to have to keep an eye on. I was very glad I’d packed a spoke tightener, but will have to be careful not to over-tighten.

Whilst waiting I had a second breakfast of flapjack and contemplated putting a brew on, but then saw the ferryman arrive on the other side of the kyle and start loading today’s visitors into his boat. The ferry duly arrived bringing a full minibus load, and several cyclists on three separate trips, so John was in for a busy day at the Ozone Cafe. I bid good morning to everyone, extolling the virtues of the Cape, before they trundled off and I lifted my panniers and bike on-board the boat, the only passenger heading back this morning. 

I chatted to John the ferryman on the trip across, who said the tide was only just high enough to allow easy access to the pier for my bike on the other side. I was glad I wasn’t going to have to wade ashore! John ferries visitors back and forth most days, with his dog on the prow. The weather can change very quickly around Durness, and if it looks like it could turn John either won’t run the ferry, or gives people fair warning that they might get stuck on the Cape. It’s happened a few times – people cross at their own risk and sometimes get stuck there for the night. John confirmed that there are Golden Eagles in the area, but I hadn’t seen any unfortunately. 

Bidding the Cape a final goodbye, I reattached my panniers and cycled off down the A838, travelling south for the first time on the mainland in ages, which felt a bit strange. Of course I had a headwind, but it was fairly mild, and I was soon distracted by a long hill climb. It felt like quite a long stretch to Rhiconich, past the odd loch, and between mountains. 

Road to Rhiconich - fairly bleak landscape

Road to Rhiconich – fairly bleak landscape


 

Road to Rhiconich - mountains abounding

Road to Rhiconich – mountains abounding


There were some handy public toilets in Rhiconich, which came as a welcome relief – they’re right next to a rather remote and lonely looking police station. Post toilet break I turned right, wanting to head up towards Sandwood Bay a bit, although I didn’t think I’d make it all the way up there – it’s a dead end and I wasn’t sure about the state of the roads/tracks anyway.

I rode up the road alongside Loch Inchard to Kinlochbervie, passing through villages with names I had trouble pronouncing such as Achriesgill and Inshegra, although Badcall was easier. Most of the information notices, signs and town names are in Gaelic as well as English. I haven’t heard any Gaelic spoken yet but I’m sure some locals mix in a bit with some of their sentences to confuse me sometimes. 

Narrow entrance to Kinlochbervie harbour

Narrow entrance to Kinlochbervie harbour


 

Kinlochbervie harbour

Kinlochbervie harbour

Kinlochbervie is a small town built up around the harbour which has an active fishing community by the looks of it. I’d passed what looked like a few salmon farms on the way up the loch, at least I think that’s what they were. Could be wrong as they might have just been channel markers in this instance. A largish fishing boat was just returning to port with its catch, which was duly unloaded and packed in ice. I was passed a bit later by fairly fishy lorries transporting the catch off elsewhere, no doubt to restaurants and factories.

I had lunch at the hotel in Kinlochbervie, wanting to get out of the weather for a bit which was turning showery and windier. Great cheeseburger and chips, followed by a chocolate brownie sundae just to keep the carbs topped up. Taking advantage of the free wifi I also had a quick FaceTime call with my Dad which was nice. Mum was out somewhere but I’d no doubt catch up with her later.

Shoreline in Kinlochbervie

Shoreline in Kinlochbervie

 

Fishing farms or channel markers?

Fishing farms or channel markers? Or nets? Thinking channel markers.

 

Clouds closing in still

Clouds closing in still

Post an email catchup the weather had improved somewhat, so I hit the road again continuing up towards Sandwood Bay. I made it as far as Oldshoremore, before turning around and heading back down the loch to rejoin the main road south. There were a couple of quite significant hill climbs, so I was glad I’d consumed the chocolate brownie sundae, although I was getting irritated by the headwind as I pedalled towards Scourie, my destination for the evening.

I passed through some nice countryside, occasionally shouting at the still persistent headwind which was making hill climbs twice as hard. Shouting didn’t stop the headwind but it made me feel better, and there was no-one else around to alarm, just the odd startled sheep and deer. There might have been the occasional haggis too but they were staying well hidden.

Road to Scourie

Road to Scourie

I passed through Laxford Bridge, and then turned left on another detour around a minor road circuit that would take me past Handa Island. I’m not sure what possessed me to add on the extra miles, when my legs were already tired. I had a feeling it was going to be fairy flat, I was wrong.

Tarbet detour 1

Tarbet detour 1


 

Tarbet detour 2

Tarbet detour 2


 

Tarbet detour - loch which I thought I recognised from a film

Tarbet detour – loch which I thought I recognised from a film with Vikings in, chasing Arthur and his Slavic Knights – King Arthur with Clive Owen, but there are lots of lochs like this about in this neck of the woods


To begin with there was a sign warning about ‘the bull’, but I didn’t encounter any aggressive bovines. I spent quite a bit of time wondering what I’d do if I did encounter a bull and it decided to chase me. I did have red panniers after all, and previously bullocks had got quite excited when I cycled past them in fields. I decided the best course of action if I couldn’t out-pedal it would be to abandon the bike to its rage and climb up a tree or boulder. I cycled down the narrow undulating road through Foindle, and Fanagmore, then around to Tarbet. There were some pretty steep climbs and descents which got me huffing and puffing a bit. 

I stopped in Tarbet and had a look at Handa Island, which is one of Northern Europe’s biggest seabird colonies, home to Gannets, Razorbills, Skuas, Fulmers and all sorts of other birds. Porpoises, Orcas and seals are also seen in the area, along with other whales and basking sharks from time to time. The ferry to Handa Island wasn’t running today, and I didn’t see a lot aside from a large bird of prey quite high up, which might have been a golden eagle, or maybe just a buzzard. It definitely wasn’t a pigeon.

Handa Island

Handa Island


There’s a seafood restaurant in Tarbet, the Shoreside Inn, that looks like it’s worth a visit, but I decided to press on to Scourie. The whole circuit is worth a ride if you’re up for a challenge, even though it’s effectively a dead end. The road is narrow, undulating, with steep sections you can whizz down and get most of the way up the following hill. I was lucky as I didn’t meet any traffic, but I imagine it can get busier when the ferry is running and it’s the holiday season. There’s a massive 15% hill out of Tarbet which got me going again, even if my chain did slip a couple of times and one of brake blocks slid out when I stopped; the grub screw holding the pad in had fallen out, but luckily I found the pad and slid it back in, okay as long as I don’t slide backwards with the brakes on. I’ll have to temp fix the brake pad until I can find a new screw, which could be a while considering the lack of bike shops around here.

I made it back to the main road, again not encountering feisty bovines, and turned right to Scourie straight back into the headwind which was really starting to p*ss me off now. It was a slow last couple of miles to the campsite, bringing today’s total to 52; it felt like more. Having arrived I had a pint at the on site bar to recuperate before pitching my tent in a nice spot right next to the sea. The campsite is situated in a great spot, laid out in tiers with lots of room, great facilities, and the on-site bar and cafeteria which are a nice addition – lots of locals in the bar too so must be alright!

Scourie campsite

Scourie campsite


After a hard day I really just wanted to eat some food and collapse, but I noticed two more loose spokes on the back wheel, the Mavic. One of the nipples had also disappeared inside the rim, so I spent the next 30 minutes taking the tyre off, finding the nipple, reattaching it to the spoke, then putting the whole thing back together again and back on the bike and pumping up the tyre. I could see this was something I was going to have to regularly check.

Feeling very grimy post the ride and bike fix I grabbed a shower before heading in search of food, and free wifi with any luck. I ended up at the as Scourie Fisher Hotel which had the food, but not the wifi which was only available to residents unfortunately; seems a bit silly seeing as I would have stayed there longer if it had been open to touring cyclists. Still the haggis was nice, as was the fried chicken, and good ale.

Feeling tired and irritable I decided to have an early night, post writing up my journal. I had a check of my maps before turning in; there was still a lot of Scotland left, and that was without including the Hebs, Skye and Mull, which I wanted to visit if time allowed.

Dusk at Scourie campsite

Dusk at Scourie campsite

Leg 31 – to Cape Wrath

A short but bumpy ride…

31 May 2013

I woke up with my fingers crossed that the fog had disappeared overnight, it had, although it was still overcast and cold with a moderate south westerly bringing with it rain. I showered and had a shave, wanted to look my best for the Cape, then had breakfast of cheese and pitta bread, before packing up. I had to shake off my tent quite a bit which had gotten wet due to overnight rain. I stood there with it billowing around me as the German bikers roared off somewhere, I must have looked a bit strange but my tent was mostly dry after the vigorous shaking.

Beach next to Durness campsite - another grey day at present

Beach next to Durness campsite – another grey day at present


I had seen a sign that said the ferry ran from 11.00 each day, so I aimed to get there in plenty of time to ensure I didn’t miss it. I pedalled from the campsite through Durness, to the Balnakeil Craft Village, before taking an old track back to the main road. It was marked as a road on the map, but wasn’t really, turning mostly into a field full of sheep at one point who weren’t entirely pleased with my intrusion.

Post extricating myself from the field and its malcontent occupants I rode down the hill to the ferry slipway; I was going to say ferry terminal but it was nothing so grandiose. Unfortunately the sign there said the next sailing was at 13.00, the first having been at 09.30, d’oh. I made a mental note not to trust information notices again. 

East Kiodale Pier - no ferry in sight

East Keodale Pier – no ferry in sight


So I rode back up to the Balnakeil Craft Village where I’d seen a promising cafe earlier – the Cocoa Mountain Cafe. Getting out of the rain for a bit was a welcome relief, and my spirits were further bolstered by one of the cafe’s Mountain Mochas (decaf in this instance). The mocha did not disappoint being one of the chocolatiest things I’ve ever drunk, but balanced by the coffee so it wasn’t too sickly. They make their own chocolates too but I abstained, being a bit chocolated out after the drink.

Cocoa Mountain Cafe - Mountain Mocha

Cocoa Mountain Cafe – Mountain Mocha


I spent a bit of time at the cafe chatting and writing up my blog, before cycling back through Durness to meet the ferry at 13.00. I use the term ferry here quite loosely, it’s a motor boat with enough room to accommodate about 8 people, plus the ferryman John and his dog. It’s perfectly adequate for getting people across to the minibus waiting on the other side of the narrow kyle, and has enough room to fit bikes in too. It cost me £8.00 for me and my bike. If you’re taking the minibus too it’s another £10.00, so I was glad I had alternative means of transport.

The East Keodale Pier

The East Keodale Pier – and some nice flowers


 

The Ferry Boat Dog

The Ferry Boat Dog, en-route across the kyle


 

On my way over with fellow passengers and another dog

On my way over with fellow passengers and another dog


 

The other side of the kyle

The other side of the kyle


I was slightly worried the dogs might have a disagreement but the voyage passed peacefully, and I had a chat with my fellow passengers – thanks for helping with my panniers, and for the encouragement!

Having disembarked I loaded everything back on to my bike I set off on the circa 11.5 mile ride to the Cape Wrath lighthouse and Ozone Cafe. I quickly lost sight of the minibus as it steamed off ahead, but didn’t envy the passengers with it bumping around all over the place; they needed padded shorts like mine for the journey! 

Entering the MOD firing range

Entering the MOD firing range


The road is in a pretty poor state but passable on my bike. There are quite a few hills so was hard going when you throw in the bumps too. I didn’t want to go too fast for fear of damaging my wheels or tyres. I passed several cyclists going the other way back to the ferry, who’d got the 09.30 boat. One of them had a puncture which he was mending – he was on lightweight continental tyres so not that surprising on the puncture front. I also passed through the MOD firing range, thankfully no naval bombardments were going on today, although it would have made for a more interesting blog chapter.

The road passes through moorland for the most part, with bridges crossing the occasional stream, a few herds of sheep and the occasional farmstead. Not many if any trees up here – probably too exposed, or they get eaten by the deer.

Road through moorland to Cape Wrath

Road through moorland to Cape Wrath


 

Looking back down the kyle

Looking back down the kyle


 

Exiting the firing range

Exiting the firing range


 

Lighthouse finally in sight

Lighthouse finally in sight


I finally made it to the lighthouse and Ozone Cafe after about an hour and 45 minutes’s ride. The minibus was still there having not set off on its return leg yet, so I said hi to a few people before it left. I met John who runs the Ozone Cafe, who pointed me in the best direction of somewhere to pitch my tent, down next to the high stone wall where I’d be sheltered from the wind. I pitched my tent then went back to the cafe for a cold beer, a welcome beverage after quite a tricky ride; it’s quite mentally tiring to be constantly on the look out for potentially wheel damaging or cyclist injury obstacles on the potholed road. John told me the council patch it up every summer but it’s getting worse, eroded by the harsh weather especially in the winter, not to mention the frequent minibus tours – must play havoc with the van suspension. John also said he could supply dinner for me which I quickly agreed to – salmon being a better option than pasta.

Tent set up in the lea of the wall

Tent set up in the lea of the wall


Two walkers arrived whilst I was enjoying a beer at the cafe, having trekked up from the bothy a few miles away. It turned out they had kayaked around from Sandwood Bay this morning, and were staying the night at the bothy. Iain, the older of the two, is attempting to kayak around the whole Scottish coastline, no mean feat, and had been joined by his son Angus for the week. As with me, but probably more so, they’re really effected by the wind, as well as the tides and currents, so it can be slow going some days and really quick others. Pretty extreme kayaking around the coast of scotland – I’ve seen how quickly the  tide can rip through some of the narrow channels, and the weather can change pretty quickly. Iain said the maximum he’s  travelled in one day is about 50km, pretty impressive in my book. You can check out his blog at http://www.coldwetwater.blogpost.co.uk

I spent a while chatting with them over a beer, good to swap stories. They’d kayaked into a few of the sea caves down below the cape, which you can only get to from the water, sounded amazing. It must be a completely different perspective from sea level. The sea bird colonies are also a lot more visible from down there; they’d seen hundreds of gannets – I still really want to see them fishing. Iain and Angus (McBride) left after an hour or so leaving me pretty much alone to walk around the cape and take a few photos, which I’ll include at the end of this post.

The area around the lighthouse is wonderful, a harsh environment to live in when the weather is bad, but beautiful on evenings such as this, with moorland, sheer cliffs, seabirds and grazing deer. On other days you might have seen a whale or dolphins off the coast, but I didn’t spot any today. I think this was the furthest point from home I’d get to on the UK mainland, but will have to check that, it certainly felt like the most remote.

The tranquility was at one point shattered by the barking of a pack of dogs, and a group of five enthusiastic springer spaniels careered around the corner of the lighthouse buildings to come and see me. They turned out to be search and rescue dogs that John keeps, and once having found me the barking stopped, with a few wet noses checking me out. They bark because that’s what they’re trained to do when they find someone, but they were very friendly.

I retreated to my tent for a bit and promptly feel asleep it was so peaceful, waking up about 18.00 in time for dinner. I popped back up to the cafe and dined on wild Atlantic salmon, with new potatoes, peas and carrots, with butter. Absolutely delicious. I chatted with John for a bit, who’d caught the salmon himself, it was much nicer than the farmed stuff which he is fairly critical of, the fish being full of chemicals. In the past he’s worked on a salmon farm, and talked to divers who’ve been underneath the salmon enclosures where there are piles of waste which nothing touches, sounds horrible. 

John confirmed it can get pretty fierce up here in the storms and high winds, but it’s a stunning spot, with shipping slowly cruising past on the horizon. Apparently you get naval ships moored up close by during exercises, and they often leave John some of their supplies at the end of their stay in the area. He’s kept busy all the time with maintenance and looking after visitors. The Ozone Cafe is effectively open 24 hours a day, all year, to cater for anyone that might turn up at any time. Hikers can arrive at any time of the night completing the Cape Wrath trail. John has been here 5 years, with visitor numbers gradually increasing. I hope more people visit but not too many as to spoil the feel of the place – I don’t think that will happen given its remote location.

The lighthouse, built by Robert Stevenson again, was constructed in 1826 post great demand after 3 ships were lost in one night alone on the treacherous coastline. The Stevensons built a total of 96 lighthouses around the coast of Scotland, a pretty amazing legacy, and also advised and built similar structures abroad, as far away as New Zealand and Japan.

A lighthouse is certainly needed at Cape Wrath, even though it’s unmanned now as so many are. John says he has to go and reboot the lighthouse computer for the Lighthouse Service frequently as it crashes, so sounds like it would benefit from a keeper still! It’s a shame there are less lighthouse keeps now. They provided a valuable service to the coastguard, keeping an eye out for people in trouble, and providing real time weather reports which were also invaluable. They also used to record details of the wildlife in the area, providing great information to naturalists. Unfortunately some of the lighthouse out buildings are in a bit of a state of poor repair now with no one around to upkeep them.

Cape Wrath is a apt name haven the location and weather that can hit the area. The name actually originates from the Norse words for turning point (area called Am Parth in Norse I think) as this is where the Norse ships turned East to go back home on their trading or being a Viking voyages.

The Ozone Cafe and Cape get quite a few visitors, either people who’ve come over on the ferry and minibus, hikers doing the Cape Wrath trail, or kayakers! It’s a must visit spot if you’re in the area, and had been on my list from day one so I was very glad to have made it, and that it wasn’t foggy. I felt quite exhilarated by the whole experience, and certainly slept well that night. If you’re cycling the road across to the lighthouse you’ll definitely need padded shorts though! Be warned there are no toilets at the moment, fine for me but could be tricky for some.

There was a cool poem on the wall of the cafe that I thought I’d include, written by Sir Walter Scott, one time commissioner of the Northern Lighthouses, in 1814.

Far in the bosom of the deep

O’er these wild shelves my wrath I keep

A ruddy gem of changeful light

Bound on the dusky brow of Night,

The Seaman bids my lustre hail,

And scorns to strike his timorous sail.

Cape Wrath Lighthouse and Ozone Cafe

Cape Wrath Lighthouse and Ozone Cafe

The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse


 

Cape Wrath foghorn

Cape Wrath foghorn

View from hilltop down to Lighthouse

View from hilltop down to Lighthouse

Another lighthouse shot

Another lighthouse shot

Cape Wrath - dramatic cliffs

Cape Wrath – dramatic cliffs

Cape Wrath - dramatic coastline

Cape Wrath – dramatic coastline

Cape Wrath - sun going down

Cape Wrath – sun going down

Cape Wrath - Red Deer coming joint me for the evening

Cape Wrath – Red Deer coming joint me for the evening

Cape Wrath - Swallow or House Martin?

Cape Wrath – Swallow or House Martin?

Cape Wrath - Deer silhoutetted

Cape Wrath – Deer silhouetted 

Cape Wrath - Sunset

Cape Wrath – Sunset

Cape Wrath - Sunset 2

Cape Wrath – Sunset 2

Cape Wrath - Lighthouse on

Cape Wrath – Lighthouse on

Cape Wrath - Spring spaniel patrol

Cape Wrath – Spring spaniel patrol

Ozone Cafe - wild salmon dinner

Ozone Cafe – wild salmon dinner

The Ozone Cafe

The Ozone Cafe

Too many pictures!

Too many pictures

Leg 30 – to Durness via Tongue

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.

View from my tent in Bettyhill

View from my tent in Bettyhill

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.

Beautiful day on the way to Tongue

Beautiful day on the way to Tongue

 

The long and winding road

The long and winding road

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.

On route to Skerray

On route to Skerray

 

Skerray Harbour

Skerray Harbour

 

Skerray Harbour 2

Skerray Harbour 2

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.

Roadside break before Tongue

Roadside break before Tongue – Rabbit Islands in background


 

Me with hair sticking out of helmet as usual

Me with hair sticking out of helmet as usual


 

View from Tongue, sea fog rolling in

View from Tongue, sea fog rolling in


 

View from hotel - the other way

View from hotel – the other way

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.

Road around Kyle of Tongue

Road around Kyle of Tongue


The road around the kyle reminded of Greek countryside, which was a bit weird – scrubby trees looked a bit like olive groves.

Road around Kyle of Tongue 2

Road around Kyle of Tongue 2

 

Road around Kyle of Tongue 3

Road around Kyle of Tongue 3


 

Road around Kyle of Tongue 4 - bridge and haar rolling in

Road around Kyle of Tongue 4 – bridge and haar rolling in


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.

View from top of hill back towards Kyle of Tongue

View from top of hill back towards Kyle of Tongue


 

Moorland and whispy clouds

Moorland and whispy clouds


 

Clear blue lochs abounded

Clear blue lochs abounded

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.

Bridge at Loch Hope - fog rolling in

Bridge at Loch Hope – fog rolling in


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. 

In the sunshine for the time being

In the sunshine for the time being – Loch Eriboll


 

Loch Eriboll - beautiful view

Loch Eriboll – beautiful view


 

Loch Eriboll - salmon farm I think

Loch Eriboll – salmon farm I think


 

End of the Loch - nice photo

End of the Loch – nice photo


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.

The Haar drawing in

The Haar drawing in


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.

Smoo Cave Cove

Smoo Cave Cove


 

Smoo Cave 1

Smoo Cave 1


 

Smoo Cave 2

Smoo Cave 2


 

Smoo Cave 3

Smoo Cave 3 – waterfall


 

Smoo Cave 4

Smoo Cave 4 – me at waterfall


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.

Another signpost to various destinations

Another signpost to various destinations

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.