Monthly Archives: June 2013

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. 

Leg 29 – finishing off on Orkney and back to mainland – Bettyhill

About 61 miles, not including the ferry crossing.

29 May 2013

I woke up to a warmer day which was nice, even if it was cloudier. The wind had switched around to come from the north east, so I was surprised it felt warmer. My ferry back to Scratsby wasn’t until 16.30 so took my time packing up, waiting for my tent to dry off a bit. Condensation seems to build up quite badly on the inside of my tent, however this is a small price to pay for it keeping the wind out, just takes a while to dry out sometimes.

I was showered, breakfasted, devices recharged, and ready to hit the road by 10.00. I thought I’d give the Garmin helpline another try, but got the usual ‘Please hold, our lines are extremely busy at the moment’ message. Their lines are always extremely busy, indicating that they have a lot of customers calling in with issues, and that they need to get more staff. I gave up after a couple of minutes but will have to try again later, or email them when I get to a wifi hotspot. Not impressed by them at all at the moment.

I bid goodbye to Hazel and Allan, the campsite wardens, who’d been both exceedingly helpful, specifically of the bike front, and also great to have a chat with. Good luck for everything in the future Hazel and Allan, and thanks again. Thanks also to the ‘Scousers’,  who I waved to on my way out.

Pickaquoy campsite

Pickaquoy campsite – leaving time

I rode down the A964 to Ophir across fairly flat terrain and with only a light wind to contend with. My first stop was the Orkneyinga Saga Centre, a free exhibition that includes the Earl’s Bu and Round Kirk, all about Viking activity on the islands.

In search of Vikings

In search of Vikings – sky clearing


A lot of the sagas concerning the Vikings on Orkney appear to have been written by Norsemen from Iceland, who visited their fellows on Orkney, considering it to be more wealthy, fertile and prosperous than their homeland. They took note of the tales told and later wrote them down, compiling the sagas that were told to generations through the following centuries. With no TV, computers, or radio I can imagine how important this sort of story telling must have been, especially when you heard mention of one of your own ancestors. Apparently a lot of Norsemen (Vikings) were literate, so would have been easy for these tales to spread, but I bet they were known off by heart to many. These sagas are in pretty stark contrast to a lot of the other writings of the time, which were mostly more dull religious texts; Although it should be noted that by this time most if not all Vikings had converted to Christianity, leaving behind the old Norse gods Thor and Odin – pretty brave move if you ask me, seeing as those gods had far more of a vengeful streak, and used hammers and lightning as a matter of course. I think a lot Norsemen yearned back to their roots slightly, when they weren’t so controlled by the church. 

Closest I got to a Viking longship

Closest I got to a Viking longship, design inspired the design of many local fishing boats of the same period and beyond


Loving a bit of story telling I read the various information boards in the centre, and watched the film which told a few of the sagas concerning the Orkneys. There ought to be more story telling that goes these days; you can still go to evenings with professional story-tellers, who are able to relate old tales with passion and emotion, in a bardic fashion. The sagas today seemed to mostly involve Vikings called Svein, involved in various heroic exploits, and quite frequently killing each other in their bid for Earldom in Orkney. There was quite a bit of skull splitting, ale quaffing, the odd poisoned shirt, treachery, escaping, alliance switching, raiding Ireland and Scotland, and general fighting. Not much about what the womenfolk got up to, or normal life. I wonder how much is exaggerated and how much is genuine. 

Apparently the Vikings mostly drank ale from shallow dishes rather than horns which came a bit later. Drinking was taken very seriously, and had to be an equal affair. If you were noticed not to be drinking as much as your companions it could arouse suspicion and cause insult. At least one Svein, a particularly notorious one much loved in the sagas, took at axe to another Svein’s forehead as a result of such activity, before escaping through a skylight.

The site also had the remains of an old round Kirk, and Feasting Hall, pretty unique buildings, dating for the 12th century and which feature in some of the sagas, where the Earl feasted his fellow kinsman.

Round Kirk 1

Round Kirk 1


 

Round Kirk 2

Round Kirk 2 – unfortunately a bit ruined by people in subsequent centuries using the stone to build another church


Also interesting to read that from these Norsemen comes the line of our Royal Family, with characters such as William the Conquerer from Normandy (Norse Land) featuring, post some other Viking who was very tall and for whom a horse big enough could not be found. I forget all the names but many died unnatural deaths whilst out being a Viking, and were called Svein. So the Saga Centre is well worth a visit.

Next I took the road around to the Unstan Cairn, from a far earlier time, dating back to between 2500 and 3000 years BC. It was used in Neolithic times to bury the dead, and was in use for centuries. It must have taken a lot of effort build and was interesting to see even if it now has a modern roof to protect it; still under a grassy mound. I was able to crawl inside though a narrow passageway to get inside.

Unstan Cairn mound

Unstan Cairn mound

 

Inside the Unstarn Cairn 1

Inside the Unstarn Cairn 1

 

Inside the Unstarn Cairn 2

Inside the Unstarn Cairn 2

 

Inside the Unstan Cairn 3

Inside the Unstan Cairn 3 – the way in/out

I cycled on to the standing stones at Stenness which are pretty tall, and again must have taken a fair bit of effort to erect, involving the combined effort of communities from across the island. Must have been a central site for celebrations, feasts and rituals, but no-one knows for sure. There used to be more stones until a tenant farmer decided to dynamite them in 1814 or thereabouts, destroying a few before the locals stopped him. Think he wanted to clear the land but a bit of an archaeological sin!

Standing stones at Stenness

Standing stones at Stenness


Next was the stone circle called the Ring of Brodgar just up the road, a large circle rivalling some of the biggest in the UK. One of the stones had been shattered by lightning – maybe Odin getting angry.

Ring of Brodgar - lightning shattered stone

Ring of Brodgar – lightning shattered stone


 

Ring of Brodgar

Ring of Brodgar


Also passed a swan nesting who obliged with some cool photos.

Nesting swan 1

Nesting swan 1


 

Nesting swan 2

Nesting swan 2

Continuing on my tour I rode back round Stenness Loch to Stromness, finally getting a tailwind on the last bit which was cause for celebration. Covered a total of about 27 miles, however the day was far from done as I intended to ride into the evening post the ferry trip, to try and get within range of Cape Wrath the next day. With that in mind I bought a few supplies (cheese and pitta bread, plus tiffin),  and then had a meal at the Ferry Inn next to the ferry terminal; nice steak and ale pie washed down with a pint of Scapa.

The narrow streets of Stromness

The narrow streets of Stromness

The ferry was on time and I rode on board. Bikes get tied to a padded rail for the duration of the voyage. I was the only cyclist this time so lots to choose from, and I got the faithful Ridgeback a comfy spot, before making my way up to the restaurant for a second feast of chilli-con-carne, with half chips and half rice. I like the Scottish half and half option, not having seen it down south. It generally seems to mean you get more, which is handy when you’re trying to eat between 4000 and 5000 calories a day. Think I’ve still lost some weight, or redistributed it to my legs; it’s really hard to eat so much every day, but quite enjoyable, unless I imagine you get constipated or have a stomach upset, but I’ve been fortunate in both regards so far, touch wood. Bananas help.

I spent a bit of time on deck watching the Orkney’s go by, and bidding them farewell for now. Saw lots of seabirds including a Razorbill, Cormorants, terns fishing, the odd Skua, a puffin flyby, and I think a Gannet which was cool. The cliffs on Hoy were pretty amazing and must provide a home to thousands of birds.

Hoy 1

Hoy 1

 

Hoy 2 - with old man of Hoy in background

Hoy 2 – with old man of Hoy in background


Old man of Hoy

Old man of Hoy

I arrived in Scratsby about 18.30, and trundled off the boat. As I was cycling out of the port, adjusting my bar bag, my front left pannier hit the kerb throwing the bike sideways. Fortunately I was only travelling about 2 miles an hour but I still fell off and grazed my knee, in a similar fashion to how I used to graze my knees as a kid falling over on concrete or gravel. It looked worse than it actually was, with blood running down my leg, fairly superficial really. Luckily I’d already cut the knees out of my cycling bib, for physio reasons, so no damage there. With panniers reattached and knee wound staunched I pedalled on.

Back in Scratsby

Back in Scratsby


From Scratsby I rode along the A836 through and over the Bridge of Forres, and past the old nuclear power plant at Dounreay, which is being decommissioned by the looks of the signs – must take a long time. Dounreay was the first nuclear power station built in the UK according to my Dad, so must be true.

Dounreay nuclear power station

Dounreay nuclear power station


As the evening drew in I rode through Reay, Port Skerra, Melvick (big hill), Strathy and Past the Strathy Inn (another big hill), past Armadale and on to Bettyhilly where there’s a campsite. I stuck to the A836 with the occasional side trek to see a village, a ride of about 33.5 miles I think but I need to check this, bringing today’s total to 61, not bad considering the ferry trip and big hills along the way, or even mountains (Beinns anyway, according to the map). I also had a slight north westerly to contend with, however at least it wasn’t cold for a change!

The hills and wind paled into insignificance versus the scenery I was passing through, which just got more and more impressive. It started off as pretty standard moorland, with the odd patch of forest which was a nice change after Orkney and no trees to speak of. Some nice flowers out along the roadside too, although the daffodils are finally starting to whither now. The countryside started to get more dramatic as I entered the hillier sections, with the sun starting to go down and adding to the vistas. Truly some of the best coastline and countryside I’ve cycled through to date, and I’m not sure the photos do it justice. It was quite an emotional ride with it getting late, and having passed a small field of flowers set aside by Marie Curie Cancer Support which got me thinking about Lu and how much she would have liked it here, not the camping bit but the scenery! I had a pause at the field and took a breather to let my legs recover a bit, plus a whee dram from my hip flask, alone with my thoughts, a few sheep, and the odd red deer.

The road at this time of the evening was pretty quiet, but the drivers I did pass all gave me lots of space. I finally arrived at the campsite at about 22.10, just as he sun was disappearing. I’d seen more and more red deer, even a small herd, as I progressed. Another advantage of the bike is it’s quiet, and as I was downwind of them I could sneak up. If I’d had a rifle I could have been eating venison that evening, but could have been tricky to fit on my back rack. Sheep aren’t so tricky to sneak up on, they either peg it as soon as they see you, or just stand in the middle of the road and then bolt in front of your bike at the last minute, stupid animals, prefer pigs.

The campsite owner had just got back from trying to help a local farmer with a cow that was calfing prematurely. She must be in her seventies but I could tell she’s as tough as the mountains we were amongst. Unfortunately the calf had died; she said it had been a beautiful thing, but such is a farmer’s lot from time to time. In this sort of small community everyone must know each other and help one another out with various things, great to see, and thinking about it not unlike Norwich with my group of friends, just a smaller and closer community with different sorts of hardships. She only charged me £3 for the camp as I was late arriving and probably because I looked a bit of a state, a bargain.

The campsite is fairly rudimentary, but suited me fine with a hot shower and toilets. Bettyhilly is tucked into a valley between the hills that goes down to a cove and the sea, with a beach at the bottom, a lovely view to camp against.

So another great day done and dusted, finishing with a challenging but rewarding ride through the Beinns to Bettyhilly, leaving Caithness and passing into Sutherland.  Tomorrow I planned to cycle on the Tongue and then Durness, before thinking about getting across to Cape Wrath, which would depend on the tides. Nice to have got a couple of texts and emails from friends in Norwich and Newcastle too – thanks. Reception and wifi access is getting a bit intermittent now so not sure when I’ll next be able to iPad a blog post. Will finish with some photos from the last bit of my ride. Note – still haven’t got through to a Garmin, grrrr.

Trees and flowers

Trees and flowers


 

Roads passing through moorland

Roads passing through moorland


 

Bridge crossing

Bridge crossing – getting wilder


 

Field of Hope

Field of Hope – Marie Curie cancer support – stopped for a break and a whee dram


 

Panorama getting stunning

Panorama getting stunning


 

Sun going down illuminating the landscape in colourful ways

Sun going down illuminating the landscape in colourful ways


 

Sun reflected in loch

Sun reflected in loch

 

Arty photo

Arty photo


 

Sun setting behind a hill

Sun setting behind a hill


 

Misty mountains

Misty mountains


 

More moorland

More moorland


 

Getting quite dark now

Getting quite dark now – stopped for a chat to some camper van tourers a bit further on 


 

Pretty wild up here

Pretty wild up here

Nearly in Bettyhill

Nearly in Bettyhill

View from Bettyhill campsite to beach

View from Bettyhill campsite to beach

Bettyhill campsite

Bettyhill campsite