By this point in the ride, we had got into a rhythm in the mornings. Up, shower, pack, breakfast, leave. However, today was our last day, and a short one at sixty miles so we were in no hurry to make a move. After our final hearty breakfast in the Weavers B&B near Tongue, we started out in the traditional light drizzle we had become accustomed to.
Very early into this ride, we realised it was not going to be a simple sixty miler, with the coastal rode undulating considerably. Every downhill was greeted with dread, knowing that the other side of the valley would yield a horrible climb to be conquered. I don’t think the hills were as bad as Cornwall – but they were close!
We kept up a steady pace, only stopping once we reached Reay – a few miles short of Thurso. A quick refreshment stop saw us back on our way. We stopped again in Thurso at a Tesco, noting a full twenty miles left to go.
It was during this last stretch where my first injury appeared. I had hurt my knee several years back in an adventure race, and since then it hadn’t given me many issues. However, this time it made pedalling painful all the time, so I had to dose up on the ibuprofen and ease off.
The last section seemed to go on forever, with each sign to John o’Groats being checked for an ever decreasing distance.
We finally arrived just as the clouds cleared to find a car park, a couple of shops and a cafe. It was a lot better than I expected, or at least less bad than I’d been told it was like.
It honestly felt a bit deflating arriving there, with a tinge of regret that the trip had ended. While we were both happy, relieved and surprised we’d managed it, I personally wanted to keep going as I had become accustomed to just riding my bike all day.
We did feel smug though, and certainly superior to the daytrippers arriving by coach, as we’d just cycled the entire length of the country in ten days…
We knew this was going to be an easy day, so we were in no hurry to leave. When we’d finally stopped at the shop and cooked our bacon rolls, it was close to 10am so we made a move.
The first ten miles to Lairg were into the wind and uphill, so warmed us up nicely. Brilliant scenery though, and very quiet roads – I’d definitely recommend this over the A9 to John O’Groats.
After Lairg the road splits into the Durness road and the Tongue road. We opted for the latter in order to have an easy day. This is the only A road in Britain to be single track with passing places, so it was understandably quiet.
I have been to many places in Scotland, and have always been in awe of the scenery, but this takes it up a notch. No signs whatsoever of human intervention for literally miles and miles. Even Rannoch Moor cannot compete with this. All we had was the road and nothing else.
Out of the blue, a couple of buildings appeared – the hamlet of Crask. We stopped into the Crask Inn, noting a couple of other cyclists already inside.
Arriving inside, we found these two cyclists to be on a quick two day tour via Durness, and one of them being the writer Cameron McNeish – ie the guy who wrote the Munro book and probably the one person who best carries on Tom Weir’s legacy. Both of them were great company, with the four of us sharing anecdotes about touring, route choices and so on. Definitely one of the highlights of the tour. They were soon on their way and we departed a few minutes behind them. We passed them again soon after Altnaharra, as they were opting for a far more graceful rate of travel to ours.
Continuing on the Tongue road, the scenery once again stepped up again. I stopped a few times for photos, giving James ample opportunity to catch up for the obligatory action shot:
We descended into Tongue, and headed in for some more food. The Village Store had a Segafreddo sign outside, and a small coffee shop in it. Fantastic coffee finished off a great day’s riding, and finishing that we booked into our accommodation for the night and then got some food in the Ben Loyal hotel.
Tongue itself is a lovely little village, with a couple of nice hotels and plenty to do – I think I’ll probably return there at some point in the future.
While the bed and breakfast at Dulnain Bridge had all the hallmarks of good service (clean, loads of snacks, wifi), the breakfast didn’t inspire. A tiny cooked breakfast for starters, served with a cafetiere of coffee distinctly lacking in any coffee grounds. Could it have been Nescafé? Bad move – anyone who has read this blog from inception will know my views on the subject…
Starting at a reasonable hour, we expected this to be a easy day – and it was. A quick spin to Grantown on Spey, then we took the Sustrans again over Sliochd. We stopped in Tomatin long enough for me to get a picture of the replacement of the Telford bridge, a concrete monument that looks completely out of place.
Returning to the A9, the path got a bit rougher, and having experienced a puncture last time we were on that surface, we opted for the A9 itself. This meant the miles flew by, with a final descent into Culloden and then Inverness being free wheeled initially and then finally spun out on the highest gears available to us.
A quick supermarket stop in Morrisons followed, after I realised that we’d need towels for that night’s accommodation. Four face flannels for a quid were enough for me, James opting to get a luxurious hand towel later at Tesco in Dingwall.
We rode across the Kessock Bridge and followed the Sustrans again to Dingwall, and eventually to Tain via a quiet but hilly road – great fun. Tain was avoided and we went back on the A9, by now a mere trickle of traffic, for a stop at a petrol station near Dornoch. Filling up on calories, we made the final slog uphill to our turning for Rogart, and then had four easy miles before arriving at Sleeperzzz.
If you’ve never been to Sleeperzzz, I’d recommend it. Fifteen quid a night bunkhouse accommodation on a railway carriage, with a discount if you arrive by bike or train. It’s not luxury living, but the shower is good and it’s very quirky to say the least.
Pints at the pub across the road, and then I resisted the temptation to sample their amazing whisky collection before retiring for the night. By this point we were in holiday mode, our long days complete so we knew we could afford to spend time in pubs without fear for the next day’s adventures.
Grans are great. We stayed with mine in Comrie and she insisted on feeding us dinner and then porridge the following morning. Traditional porridge – oats, salt and water. None of this new fangled stuff like sugar, honey or milk.
Porridge set us on our way, and the seven miles to Crieff were quickly over. We started up towards Sma’ Glen, and when I got there I noticed no James behind me. His bag had fallen off and had ripped, so he bodged it all together and it was fine again.
We turned off this road just after Amulree, taking the route to Aberfeldy over the hill. This wasn’t too bad despite being about a 300m ascent as it was quite gentle – the descent down the other side was phenomenal though, fast with some nice corners.
Stopping in Aberfeldy for second breakfast, we decided that two more 300m ascents would be horrible so we headed towards Ballinluig and the A9, and got on the Sustrans Route 7. I’ve ridden this route before on my cyclocross bike, with cyclocross tyres, and I’d definitely recommend wider tyres for some sections. However, we got through to Dalwhinnie almost unscathed, the only problem being a puncture on my back wheel.
There are some truly horrible sections of this track that road bikes aren’t suited to, but overall it is an excellent route.
After Dalwhinnie, the route follows some truly sublime Tarmac, very smooth rolling. I discovered a new level of fitness I didn’t know I had, whereby I could hammer it down the road at upwards of 22mph without feeling at all breathless. It may not seem like much but it’s news to me and proves that I’m getting fitter as the days go by.
We crossed the A9 at Kingussie to take the Sustrans via Insh to Aviemore. This was another quick section, and we got to Tesco for fuel soon enough.
Once we had sorted that, we headed out to Dulnain Bridge and our guest house. I’m becoming a fan of guest houses – they’re cheaper than hotels, offer far more for your money and always have breakfasts freshly cooked as opposed to on a buffet. Just don’t expect a guest house to renovate itself to keep up with current fashions like hotels do – there’s just no point.
Anyway, that was a long day but not overly taxing. Only three more short days to go and then we’re done…
I decided to take a book away with me to kill time in the evenings. Having read all of Dan Brown’s other works, I thought I could do worse than this. However, having read this one, I can’t see why he’s so popular as he’s just a writer of formulaic thrillers that reveal themselves very early on.
If you’re writing a Dan Brown book, you need to start with an expert in their field (cryptology, information analysis, symbology…)
You then give them a love interest, equally capable but in a different field.
Add a mysterious society or organisation (CIA, Knights Templar, Illuminati)
Kill, or appear to kill off some main characters
Have at least one main character reveal themselves to be working for the other side.
Bad guys chase good guys
The conspiracy turns out to be a lie
Good guy and love interest get together
In short, don’t buy this book.
First things first – a big thank you to the Dinwoodie Lodge Hotel for last night’s accommodation. On leaving this morning, and after having a chat with the proprietor about my charitable intentions, he handed me an envelope containing a donation! Completely out of the blue and unexpected, but most welcome.
On the subject of the hotel itself, it’s a bit dated but the service is great, dinner well presented and reasonable and the breakfast is awesome. It’s great when you step across the border to find the fryup contains two additional items – tattie scones and haggis. I went for the former, but James insisted on everything. A big breakfast definitely sets us up for the day so it’s most welcome!
Onto the bikes, we took the old A74 as far as Abington. This is a mostly great road in that it’s very quiet but has some appalling sections of Tarmac that are rough enough to shake fillings loose. Other than that it’s good, with a cycle lane almost all the way, sometimes on road and other times on a separate track.
At Abington, we took the road towards Lanark, heading round Tinto hill (incidentally a nice afternoon’s walk with the dog), and then towards Carnwath. A fuel stop in the Apple Pie bakery saw us back on the road to Forth, then on to Whitburn. There followed the first real climb of the day to Armadale, then a few more through California to Shieldhill.
We stopped for a drink here, with my visit into the shop timed perfectly to watch the SFL boot Rangers into the 3rd division – a great day all round!
Coming out of Shieldhill and towards Glen Village was a section I’ve ridden in the opposite direction, and then it was an absolute stinker of a climb. I therefore knew this would be good as a descent – it was. There’s something about flying down a hill on tyres an inch wide that is unbeatable.
Making our way through Falkirk, we joined the A9 through Plean and into Stirling. A quick stop in Bridge of Allan (brake pads), and then we started on what I expected to be a long push up Dunblane. It wasn’t, with the top of the town reached quickly, and we followed the road to Braco. Once again, I’ve ridden this road in the other direction, and I didn’t realise how much of a climb it was until I effortlessly coasted into Braco. From Braco, we took the Langside into Comrie, with the descent being far better in that direction than by the normal route I take. Once the descent ended, the cloud lifted and I saw the splendour of the Highlands unfold before me. We’d covered the Central Belt without even thinking about it, so all we really need to do is get to the top of our island and then we’ll be done.
This was the fast day.
Breakfast at the Ibis was unlimited and thus suited our needs perfectly. Cheap and cheerful hotel, with a comfy room and cheap beer in the bar.
Quelling the desire to pocket a croissant or two, we left Preston and hit the A6 and stuck on it for the next sixty miles or so. We’ve opted for stops every twenty miles or thereabouts, so breakfast is followed by second breakfast (Lancaster for Powerade, then Kendal for Greggs), and then lunch (pub lunch in Penrith), and then a snack in Carlisle, some Coke near Gretna and a final Tesco lunch in Lockerbie.
Shap was overrated – just a slog. The descent was fast though and I’d definitely ride it again. The only thing I didn’t like was the false summit we encountered, but in hindsight it was better than the disappointing summit which is more a plateau than anything.
After a stop in Penrith for a pub lunch, then in Carlisle at an Aldi for some unbranded discount snacks, we made our way to the border. Losing the marked route we were on, we found ourselves cycling through an old RAF air base, now converted into industrial units. After ensuring that we could get out the other side, we rejoined the main route and rode towards Scotland.
Hitting the border, and getting the obligatory photo in Gretna, we made our way to Lockerbie.
We’d finished England, so it now felt like we were back on home territory and that the end of the ride was in sight and completely achievable.
After a stop beyond Gretna for juice and another Tesco lunch in Lockerbie, we finished with a six mile sprint to the hotel.
A big day tomorrow too – off to Comrie.