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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.