It was cooler than I thought last night, and I ended up putting the duvet over the duvet cover for warmth. I really don’t know why, but I still didn’t sleep well, despite being exhausted. I was in bed for ten hours, and was thankfully feeling fuller of energy than I had been yesterday. The sun was already shining in a cloudless sky as I went for breakfast at 7.40 am, and yesterday’s northerly wind seemed to have dropped.
I was away before 8.30.am, and made my way east towards Loch Eriboll. I had heard of this loch many years ago, as there had been an article in the Saturday magazine of, probably, The Daily Torygraph. Alan Clarke MP had a 20,000 acre estate round the loch, and the photos that accompanied the piece stayed with me.
Seeing the loch in person did not disappoint. I kept stopping to take photos, each time saying to myself that it would be the last, as I really needed to get a move on. I took so many photos that I think I will put them in a separate gallery.
The loch finally disappeared behind me, and I made for a place called Hope, where I was to turn on to the Strath More road. As today was such a big mileage, I had decided to break it down into more achievable chunks.
As Hope approached, a sign warned of a 15% gradient. I stopped, ate a banana, beathed in deeply, and set off. Now either my turning off left was before the worst of it, or I have got considerably better at hills since I started, for it felt, if not easy, then comfortable. That boded well for tomorrow’s ascent into the Cairngorms, I thought.
The Strath More road was about as populated with moving vehicles as the Pentland Road on Lewis. I saw a few cars parked at the start of the path up Ben Hope, but in 20 miles of road, only four cars passed. I passed another broch, and stopped for a look, but curtailed my visit when word of my arrival reached the clegg population.
At one point I saw something of which I couldn’t make sense. It almost looked like patterns in stone, like some alien landing strip. I then spotted some remains of trees that had been harvested and realised that what I was seeing was the detritus left after the harvesting of a forest.
My next goal was Altnaharra, where I had had a very expensive sandwich last year. This time I just had a Coke while I charged my phone.
As I had descended the gravel into the hotel car park, the bike had slid a little. I thought nothing of it at the time, but when I set off again, I could hear rubbing. I stopped and checked the front wheel – nothing. The rear wheel, however, was rubbing badly. I soon found the culprit – a broken spoke. Thankfully it was on the non-drive side (the side without the cogs), as otherwise I would have been unable to fit the spare I had taped to the pannier rack. It still took over 20 minutes to do from start to finish, and simply by plucking the spoke I was able to get the wheel fairly straight, certainly good enough to ride. It had held me up, however, on what would probably be my longest day.
Ten miles later I stopped at the Crask Inn for another Coke, as it was getting pretty warm by this stage, and a bowl of soup with bread. The chap wasn’t quite sure of the flavour, and neither was I, but we both agreed that it was very tasty. I talked to the young lad serving behind the bar more than the owner, which was a shame, since he had several interesting musical instruments in the house behind the bar, which could be seen as I popped to the loo. The Crask Inn is in the Land’s End to John O’Groats guidebook as the place to stay the night before the final push northwards, and he had had a dozen or so camping the previous night.
I bade him farewell, and made for my next port of call, Lairg, 10 miles away. This was almost all downhill from Crask, so the miles went in easily. I stopped at the Pier cafe where I ate last year for a Coke (seeing a pattern here yet?) and two lemon tray bake things which were very sweet, but which hit the boost on my legs. The waitress said that it was 28 celcius. No wonder I was wanting so much to drink.
Fuelled by tray bakes I was flying onwards to Bonar Bridge, where I bought my last Coke of the day. Then began the last steep climb of the day, over Struie Hill, a short cut that saved 14 miles on the journey to Inverness. I stopped at the viewpoint to take a photo, and then continued onwards.
I wasn’t too conscious of the time as I reached Alness and joined the A9. What I was then conscious of was the volume of traffic. What would have passed me in a hour yesterday was going past every minute here. Most gave me plenty of room, but one car passed pretty close. I raised my right arm as if to say ‘What the heck?’, and was greeted with a one-fingered salute from the phallically-challenged sub-species humanoid who was driving a Boxster. For those who don’t know, a Boxster is a model of Porsche for people who can’t afford a proper one.
The miles along the A9 were grim, but the road surface was good. There was a long drag uphill for 2.5 miles after the Cromarty Firth bridge. then, finally, Inverness came into view.
I had been given a print out of a Google map showing where the hostel was, and assurances that it was well signposted. Well, it took me half an hour to find it. When checking in, I recognised the warden as the same chap who had been in Broadford on Skye. He acts as a relief warden, and goes all over Scotland. Tomorrow he will be in Aviemore. Had he been in Braemar, I might have asked him to take my panniers!
I waited around for a good while to get my washing done, and then went to Morrisons. I came back with a three course meal for two, and ate the lot!
On the way back I found a hotel with free wifi, so was finally able to get yesterday and today’s routes off the phone. I am now down there typing this up with a pint beside me, although I should probably be in bed, as another hard day beckons tomorrow.