Tuesday, 16 August 2011
Thursday, 16 September 2010
Finished. 23.65 miles, total distance 1224.1, max speed 27.5, av speed 10.3, time 2:16:27, total time 3 hours.
Left the hostel at 8:30 and found the road out of Thurso. Lots of the roads round here are dead straight and very long - often a mile or more.
Castletown was interesting. It was once a centre for making flagstones and there are a lot of ruined buildings to look at, as well as a fantastic beach ( the surf today was incredible; the sea was nearly all white).
The wind was still very gusty and about half way I saw a rainbow. I was beginning to dislike seeing rainbows, as it means that if it isn't raining yet it soon will be - and so it proved.
Fortunately I'd decided to follow the official bike route instead of my planned coastal route, which I think helped to keep me out of the worst of the wind. My planned visit to Dunnet Head was off - it was far too cold and far too windy to even consider it. All I wanted was the nice snug cafe at JOG!
Had a bit of bad news which put a damper on celebrations - Andy drove up yesterday but today the car broke down in Inverness. So what with waiting for the AA and a hire car, he wasn't able to be here to see me finish, and that's why you have yet another picture of the bike. As soon as he arrives, I'll get the official pictures and post one of me at the signpost.
Funny how I was so worried that I couldn't do it ( no aches or pains to speak of) that the bike would break down ( nothing other than a few loose nuts and bolts and not a single puncture) and in the end it was the car that failed...
Thank you for reading, for your prayers, comments and general encouragement. I hope to edit and improve the blog and add lots more pictures, but otherwise - that's all folks!
Love - Ruth.
Wednesday, 15 September 2010
There didn't seem a lot of point in rushing out this morning, with only 40 miles to go, so had a leisurely breakfast and visited the beach and causeway at Tongue before getting on the coast road towards Bettyhill and Thurso. Decided to give the gps the day off - after all, the only thing to bear in mind today was to keep the sea on the left!
The first order of the day was to take a minute to turn all my brake-blocks upside down, a little trick Dad taught me when I had my first Dawes bike for going to school... I know it's not ideal, as these are curved, so when upside down may scrub the tyres, but the back tyre has had it anyway, and at least I can be assured I will be able to stop!
Met Lisa, my roommate from Tongue Hostel at Bettyhill and we had an early lunch at the cafe there and visited the Farr Stone, another carved stone monument on the 'Pictish Way' dating from the 8th/9th century.
The weather overall was an improvement on yesterday; there was a really hard shower in the morning which was cold and soaking, and I had wet feet for most of the day. The thing about waterproof socks is that if the water gets on the inside (and it did) it stays there. It was still very windy, but the wind died down somewhat in the afternoon, and with the sun out, it could even be said to be pleasant. The scenery was absolutely marvellous, with the steep cliffs, sandy beaches and fantastic surf. I really wanted to go swimming - but I think it would require a very good wetsuit!
The roads were a little more challenging than of late, with a particularly long climb up to Bettyhill and some ups and downs thereafter, but the downhill into Thurso was great. With such scenery to look at though, it was no hardship to get off and walk occasionally.
Went up the road at Strathy to take a look at the lighthouse, but contented myself with looking at it from afar, at the end of the public road - the wind at that point was terrific and it added about 6 miles just doing that bit. Strathy is so isolated and the houses so spaced out it's hard to imagine living there. It's a village created from the Highland clearances, where the refugees from the crofts went when their landlords got rid of them to make way for sheep.
Lisa stayed at Durness the other night, and said that the ferry to Cape Wrath wasn't running; partly due to the rough weather, and partly due to a MOD exercise (which apparently included bombing - the hostel at Durness was shaking!). So it seems that I couldn't have made it to Cape Wrath this time even had I wanted to, which makes me feel a lot better about not making it!
Thuso is a lot bigger than I imagined; it must be the biggest town on the coast. Stayed at the backpacker's hostel, which is above a fast-food shop (I didn't succumb - there's enough food in my panniers still). The traffic from Douneray (nuclear power plant) was quite heavy coming into Thurso too, which was unexepcted.
So here now and all ready for finishing, which is sad on one level, but a relief on another. Hopefully the weather will be nice to give me a good photograph at the signpost!
Tuesday, 14 September 2010
Stats: 74.0 miles, odo 1152.0, max speed 34.4, av speed 10.0. Time 7:24:33, actual time 10.5 hours.
Left at seven and just managed to get the tent packed away before the first lot of rain. Hopefully the next two nights will be in hostels and then I'll be done, so it's good to have a dry tent.
It was a very cold morning and didn't improve much through the day. Kept the leg warmers on, as if I get to a hostel they can be dried. Also waterproofs and gloves, though they got so soaked they weren't very warm!
Had a morning of sunshine and showers. The showers were intense, freezing and accompanied by gusts of wind, and then it all stopped, the sun came out and I'd start to dry out and warm up before the next batch of rain. I've never seen so many rainbows in one day.
Towards the end of the Dornoch Firth the bike route went to a railway viaduct bridge and I was faced with two flights of metal stairs. I couldn't quite believe it and had to re check, but it is right. Off came all the luggage, I trotted up and down with panniers, tent bag and bike, walked over the bridge and had a further flight down at the end. Saw two cyclists after me carrying their bikes on their shoulders - good if you have a lightweight bike and no gear...
Visited the Falls of Shin which were in spate ( all this rain has to be good for something) then went to the visitor's centre for coffee and cake. This turned out to be very well timed as I managed to miss a particularly heavy downpour.
Lairg was a pleasant place and the last town before the long road north. Although classed as bike route 1, there is no separate bike lane though it is a quiet road. It's single track with passing places and I have to admit to getting annoyed with drivers who didn't give any indication of thanks when I pulled in to let them pass. A raised hand - what does it take?
It was extremely blustery, often wet and very cold so I was glad to see that Altnaharra had a hotel, and stopped there for a cooked lunch and coffee ( thus neatly avoiding another heavy downpour). The staff were polite but they were there for the high spending fishermen who had flown up for their sport, so I was not made particularly welcome.
Maybe it's because this is coming to an end or maybe I've had enough, but the feeling of discouraged alienation was hard to shake. The mountains have a bleak and austere beauty, but I prefer the wildness of Cumbria and don't feel any great urge to want to return here. It's almost a shame I can't get Cape Wrath in this trip and get it over with!
Despite the often harsh weather, progress was surprisingly good, given that when the wind was really gusting I had to get off and walk. I'll be doing that a fair bit now, not just because of the wind but my brake blocks are so worn down!
Got to Tongue with enough time to get a transit stamp at the Post Office and some ' Dark Island' Orkney beer to go with dinner ( very nice) before finding the Youth Hostel, which is on the Durness road near the causeway. Given that it's rained since I got here and the wind is still high, I'm very glad that I and the bike are under cover.
Should be a very easy and slow day tomorrow, heading for Thurso. At a stretch, I could finish tomorrow, but I need to wait for my welcoming committee to arrive.
Picture is of the Falls of Shin.
In the Highlands, some of the street signs are in Gaelic as well as English, and it was interesting to see that 'church' reads ( approximately, as far as I can see) as 'heglise' which is as close to the French as you could wish and brings to mind the Welsh word 'eglws'. It would be so interesting to know how and when the word entered the language; from Latin- speaking missionaries in the Dark Ages, or the French speaking Normans in later ages.
Monday, 13 September 2010
From: Ruth Fitch <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Mon, Sep 13, 2010 at 9:44 PM
Subject: Day 16: Slochd to Tain
To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Stats: 68.01 miles, odo 1077.9, max speed 30.5, av speed 10.3. Time 6:35:34, total time 9.5 hours.
When I get back and have more time I hope to do a full review of Slochd hostel, because it was really lovely and I can't recommend it highly enough. Left at 7:30 and went past the first distillery of the day at Tomatin ( the 'a' is long as in tomato ( unless you're American of course)). The weather was holding out; it was grey and blustery, but dry. Had a really great start; one of those days where it goes really well and you don't want to stop. Did screech to a halt to see the Clava Neolithic tombs but still managed 12 miles in the first hour and ten more in the second, which is a record. Ill apologise now for the fixation on facts, but sometimes there isn't a lot else to think about!
Came through Culloden (a modern looking little village) into Inverness and thanks again to the excellent bike route markers, made it in and out of the city with little hassle, only stopping for second breakfast on the way. Croissant with jam, a bacon roll and coffee in a cup so large I think you could cheerfully have washed in it.
Also found a shop that did Mountain House trail rations, which should mean - with any luck - that I never have to have another Pasta 'n' Sauce again.
Took the Kessock Bridge out and met another cyclist coming the other way, and was truly amazed when he called me by name - it's the first time I've met a blog follower! So hello Gavin, it was good to see you, and I hope you have a very good journey to Land's End!
After that, the grey weather became a bit more solid and this greatly turned into a not- quite rain, but still quite wet. A mizzle, perhaps.
Bike route 7 had now given way to bike route 1 - the last one for me as it goes to ' The North' as you keep seeing on signposts. To be beyond the Cairngorms and yet to still see that on signposts makes you think they should expand a bit ' The Utter North' perhaps?
Stopped at Dingwall for a bit of shopping and pressed onto Allness, where you can see oil rigs in the Firth, and then to Tain, past the second distillery of the day, Glenmorangie.
Met quite a lot of cyclists going the other way, in particular two Dutch ladies, on heavily laden mountain bikes. We stopped to talk ( remarkable because cyclists don't like to stop and lose momentum) and the reason for all their gear became clear - they are doing the North Sea Route which is apparently 6,000 kms. They wanted a hostel so I gave them a number for one at Evanton, and wished them luck.
As for me, I think I'm nearly there. After discussing the finish date with Andy I've agreed to leave off going for Cape Wrath this time ( fruit for another challenge, possibly) and to finish on Thursday. I'm going to aim for Tongue tomorrow and Thursoe the day after, but it depends on terrain. The going has been a lot gentler recently - or I'm just getting used to it.
Picture was taken from the campsite across Dornoch in a rare moment of sunshine.