We thought we might still go to Orkney after our delayed departure but after much debate at the Crask Inn and lots of looking at mileages we decided what we needed to do was get some fitness back doing some longer days cycling before heading to Iceland in mid-June. So those of you checking out our Facebook page @twobikesandatent will have noticed that we have been heading across the north coast of Scotland over the last week.
(By the way, this is a public Facebook page so anyone can view it without being signed up to the behemoth.)
Back in January 1997, the coldest winter for a long time, Jerry and I camped at Dunnet Head whilst on a car road trip around the north of Scotland. It is the most northerly point in mainland Scotland, being over two miles further north than nearby John O’Groats. This time the sun shone and when we got out of the cold wind beside the old lighthouse keepers’ walled garden it was positively balmy. The entrance to the walled garden was blocked by a pile of old tyres, perhaps to prevent toilet use, but peering in we could see the rhubarb was growing strong. Risking stings from the copious nettles, I climbed over the tyres and picked my way gingerly over to the rhubarb patch and selected four tender stems to twist from the plant base. Chopped up and stewed gently on our petrol stove, they went down very well with our strawberry Greek yoghurt, so well in fact, we took some more stems with us the next day.
Lighthouse keepers’ rhubarb
Earlier in the day we had called in at Duncansby Head, the most northeasterly point, and hatched a new scheme to cycle across the north coast all the way to Cape Wrath, the most northwesterly point. Cape Wrath is a 100 square mile tract of moorland that is often closed to public access as the MOD like using it for target practice, particularly from frigates bobbing around off the coast. Luckily for us it reopened for public access in the second week of May, and the summer passenger ferry to cross the Kyles of Durness had started running. We set off from Dunnet head in high spirits to begin the roller coaster cycle along the northern A roads. Not far out of Thurso we ran into David Jones, a baritone on a JoGLE (John O’Groats to Lands End) with a difference. Besides cycling the whole way on a folding Brompton cycle, he is performing eighteen concerts en route to raise funds for Live Music Now, a charity bringing live music to care homes and youngsters with disabilities. On of them is in our home city of Perth on Friday 25th May 2018 at 11am in the Concert Hall. He is calling his trip Song Cycle. You can find out more on his website www.song-cycle.com
. (Update – David is currently heading down northwest England)
A day off in Bettyhill provided a good opportunity to wash ourselves, our clothes, the bikes and carry out some essential repairs to our tent and my silk sheet sleeping bag that has been slowly ripping down the seam.
Washing day at Bettyhill
We were keen to climb the most northerly munro (Scottish mountain over 3000ft -914m) called Ben Hope as a small side trip, however we were in a mobile data blackhole and unable to get a weather forecast. Maybe it would be better at Tongue the next day. I tried on the Moors heading over, but to no avail. Tongue proved to be a complete mobile signal blackhole so we headed out across the causeway that cuts across the Kyles of Tongue and saves drivers a ten mile detour inland. At the other end, I had signal but no data. So while Jerry phoned his mum to wish her a Happy Birthday, I texted my sister to get a forecast. Her reply was rain all day and poor visibility. Mmm… that didn’t seem quite right, I could see the top of Ben Hope from sea level spot and it wasn’t raining. After further investigation, it turned out my sister was talking about the next day. We had better get a move on, cycle to the bottom of the hill and get up and down it that afternoon.
On the summit of Ben Hope
We awoke the next day to a noisy tent. Rain drops pattering on the outer, and outside misty murk up and down Glen Hope. A miscommunication between us, where we both thought the other wanted to pack up and ride, meant two hours later we were peddling our way west along the north coast in pouring rain, soaking wet and trying to avoid being hit by traffic on the single track roads. After several close shaves with cars squeezing past between passing places we adopted a strategy of riding in the middle of the road and offering vehicle drivers the option of hitting us directly or stopping and waiting. Luckily for us, they all chose the latter option. I think we annoyed a few drivers but at least we are alive to tell the tale.
After 30 miles of wet riding we were ready to stop and chose to stay on the Durness campsite next to a warm, dry pub with some very generous Dutch travellers who plied us with beer. (That’s my excuse for this blog being late.)
So to catch up to date, here are some photos and comments of what we’ve been up to for the last week. We’re now camped at Plockton on the Scottish west coast.
The cinema’s in town
An evening out at the cinema to watch a local film courtesy of the Screen Machine, a touring cinema that brings the movies to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
Cape Wrath lighthouse – the most NW point
We achieved a long held ambition to catch the foot ferry and cycle the 11 miles of rough track out to the most northwesterly point in mainland Britain, Cape Wrath. Day 1 of heatwave.
Waiting for the ferry
A birdwatching trip to Handa to see the huge colonies of nesting guillemots and Razorbills. We caught sight of a few puffins, lots of Bonxies (Great skuas), terns, arctic skuas and a pair of black throated divers.
Suilven standing proud
The hilly roads of Assynt with their plethora of arrows (steeper than 12%) kept us sweating on days three and four of the heatwave and also rewarded us with white sandy beaches, golden eagles and stunning mountain views. We ate a whole litre tub of Mackie’s honeycomb ice cream in a vain attempt to cool down.
Friends, sun and cake in Aultbea
Continuing our journey south past Ullapool we reconnected with Alan and Karen who we first met at the Crask Inn. They were renting a holiday apartment at Aultbea and we joined them for a couple of nights and lovely day out touring the area and visiting Inverewe gardens. Karen cooked amazing meals, we took them to a small café with delicious cake and Alan treated us to a meal at the local inn. So we are restocked for our continuing journey. We chatted loads and loved hearing all their tales of adventures and escapades on travels around the globe.
Wild camping in the Torridon hills
Day seven of the heatwave, and we were into prime midge country around Torridon. We camped on a very windy knoll to chase them away and enjoyed clear views of lochs and mountains. Next morning two Slavonian Grebes fished in the bay in front of the tent. We’re reminded of Portuguese heat and are now seeking the shade for our breaks.
Seeking shade at Attadale gardens
Pottering southwards, we enjoyed a smooth ride down Torridon to the sea at Shieldaig and a resupply at the village shop – Ardennes paté, juicy oranges and biscuits. That afternoon, seeking more shade, we called in to Attadale gardens and enjoyed their collection of Meconopsis (Himalayan Poppies) as well as a water garden, vegetable plot and a rhododendron glade. We left around 5pm to find a camping spot. We’d cycled another 14 hilly miles to Plockton before we found somewhere flat enough to pitch. Luckily, it also had hazy views of the Cuillins on Skye.