07.08.2011 - 10.08.2011
I took the coast route to Ullapool, via Gairloch. The weather was wet again, no wonder Scotland is so green. I had recovered well, but the riding was quite hard. My cycle computer had stopped working, although it is made in Germany it was not designed to withstand the constant wet drizzle of a Scottish summer. On reaching Ullapool, I just wanted to stay somewhere dry, I went to the SYHA, but there was no room. I then tried some guest houses and hotels. All full. I cycled around the whole of Ullapool and every B&B had a No Vacanies signs in their window. I eventually found one without a sign, so I knocked. A lady answered and said sorry we are full we just don't have a sign. My shoulders dropped and I went off to the pub for some food. After eating I got back on to my bike and was heading to the campsite to erect a wet tent when the lady from the B&B said there he is. She was walking with her partner who owned the B&B that they were renovating. Alan and Jane offered me the front room, it was a slate floor and no bed, but they said I could have a bath. Wow what luxury, you really appreciate the small things that are normally taken for granted when doing something like this. And the generosity of people is also amazing, Alan even cooked me breakfast in the morning and would take no money from me, so I did the washing up.
More bad weather leaving Ullapool, it was windy and raining and very hilly. All the elements to make it a hard days riding. I got to the top of a hill that had a cut through the rock, this channelled the wind making it even faster (as according to Bernoulli's equation), I had to stand up to pedal downhill!!! With all the weight I was carrying I found that so incredible that I had to laugh, otherwise I would have cried. I stopped later on and two cyclists stopped and said hello. They were from Austria and were on racing bikes with ten litre backpacks on. We set off together and slipstreamed on another, taking it turns to take the lead. This made it all so much easier, but I decided to stop at Scourie when the two Johanas's were booked into a B&B. It was only 42 miles that day my shortest day by far as I was using so much energy battling the wind. I stayed in the camp site which was an incredible £9 for my micro tent, it was still £9 for a large tent, they wouldn't even charge my phone. I had a something to eat and a beer with the two Johanas's.
The route from Scourie to Durness is like no other part of the UK I saw on the whole trip, this was truly an ancient landscape. The wet weather prevented me from taking any photos and its almost impossible to describe. There was not much vegetation apart from short scrub and heather, farmers did not even keep sheep up here, although there appeared to be evidence of deer. The mountains looked like tall magma chambers from ancient volcanoes and were so steep that little vegitation apart from lichen or moss stuck to them. There were no trees at all in the area and it gave an impression of being in the wilderness. The winter months must be very difficult to survive without good food and fuel stocks and as I climbed up onto one of the moors there were some strange looking tracked vehicles parked up. These were to drive across the boggy land and collect the peat that was cut to dry out for fuel to burn. The hill dropping of the moor was extremely long and it was nice to be able to freewheel and take in the view.
At Keoldale there is a ferry to go across the estuary and then a twelve mile track to Cape Wrath, which is the furthest North West part of the UK. I did not take this path as I was told the track is quite rough and with the weight I was carry could cause damage to the bike if the weather had been kind I may have risked it, but I didn't fancy an extra 24 miles in the wet. On this side of the moor there were sheep, it was like coming back to civilisation, and the roads were single tracked. I noticed that the motorists would happily slow down and give plenty of room to the sheep but would not give me the same courtesy, one person towing a caravan even ran me off the road.
It felt like a huge achievement reaching the top of Scotland and it was well worth the ride. I spoke to an Italian motorcyclist who was saying that people call him crazy for riding his bike in this weather and terrain, then he said "when I see you guys on your bicycles I think you are the crazy ones." I didn't argue, just smiled. When I got to the Kyle of Tongue there were roadworks and the road was closed with a twelve mile diversion. Luckily it was okay to take my bike through the road works, the causeway and bridge that was being repaired is an amazing sight and well worth the trip. I stopped that night near Armadale, it was the most remote place on the whole trip and I camped in one amazing spot next to a river. It had even stopped raining.
The temperature on the 10th August in the very North of Scotland was 8 degrees centigrade, it was also raining. I only had fingerless gloves and lost all sensation in my fingers. I cycled past a van with a gazebo set up at the back, a man wrapped in the warmest looking blanket asked if I wanted a cup of tea. On chatting with them I found out they were a band who were doing le jog (Land's End to John O' Groats). All the band members were cycling and they had a support crew carrying kit, including their instruments. It had taken them 17 days and they had performed 10 gigs on route. I forgot to ask the name of the band, but they gave me a box of fig rolls, which became a favourite snack food of mine for the rest of the journey. Next stop was Thurso, I had received some bad news via email and wanted to post a letter so set off looking for the post office. I asked a couple for directions and the woman said "Steve, what are you doing here!!!" At first I did not recognise Kylie as she was covered in waterproofs, what a random meeting, if I didn't want to post that letter I would not have asked and it could have been anyone I asked. I had not seen her in over 6 years when we both lived in Plymouth, she now lives in Newquay, Cornwall. Kylie and her husband (Simon) were travelling around Scotland in their van. I was feeling cold and miserable, but changed into dry clothes and went to a cafe with Kylie and Simon to eat and chat. This really raised my spirits, its funny how the universe provides, having a friendly face to share my troubles with was very much needed. Thank you Kylie, Simon and the universe.
Feeling blessed by the chance meeting and with a slight improvement in the weather I headed for Dunnet Head, the Northern most part of the UK. The nature reserve on the trip to the headland with the tall cliffs and masses of sea birds and the view of the Orkney Isles make this a truly magical location. I spent about an hour here and should have maybe camped there, but I was trying to meet up with the band I met earlier to catch them if they were playing a gig at John O' Groats. So I travelled the twelve miles to the furthest North East part of the UK, and saw the most fantastic sunset, but didn't find the band. The hotel I ate at had the largest selection of single malts I have ever seen, must have been over 100. Camped right at teh end of John O' Groats.