Graham's End to End - Part 2
GRAHAM’S GREAT BRITISH JAUNT – NORTH BRITAIN (STILL)
The next four days on paper looked to be easier. Looking at the map for the route to Helmsdale I noticed a spot called Swine, an apt word as it summed up my feelings of the previous day. My diary records that Sunday was sunny, but still a hard day with two rests for food from my own rations. There was a midday break for coffee at Golspie in the Sutherland Arms, but to many Scots the names of the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland and Patrick Sellar (their land manager) from the 19th century are abominated. People were forcibly cleared from the land and replaced by sheep as sheep were more profitable than rents. This was an early example of ethnic cleansing: many settled on the coast, emigrated or just died. After one long climb I enjoyed a tail wind as I entered Bonar Bridge to continue to Carbisdale Castle, surely the grandest hostel of SYH. The food was excellent, and it still had the same paintings and statues (young naked ladies if you want to know) as on my previous visit in 1958 with a party of North Roaders.
A downhill start with a tail wind and in a better frame of mind as by some unknown tinkering I got all the gears to work. Tain was reached and followed a National Byway into some fen like country before returning to the main road now into the wind to reach Invergordon, where soup, rolls and coffee warmed me. An earlier phone call to Roger MacHaggis let him know that I was on my way and required some back wheel. Coming out of the café we met by chance, but it was a struggle to keep on his wheel into a fierce wind blowing off Cromarty Firth. My legs hated the ride to Alness and still hated the uphill miles to the shelter of the Dingwall home of Pam and Roger. After a first class dinner and breakfast, rest and sleep I was ready for the next day.
Roger kindly agreed to escort me for a few miles, but we were separated by a huge lorry even before we had reached the centre of Dingwall. I pressed on, Roger returned home as he feared that I had punctured my board hard tyres (great pump, Roger, as I have not had to pump them since!). Roger soon caught up with me along with Susie, a club mate,and after Beauly we stopped for elevenses and postcards. They took the main road to Struy whilst I took the minor road up Strath Glass with the promise to meet me on their return ride on the minor road, which I had long wanted to ride to Cannich, my overnight stop. We duly met although I was delayed by a climb up a cruel hill. This is a beautiful minor road even with intermittent rain, and after lunch at the Slater’s Arms at Cannich I had finished for the day. This area has many Munros within easy reach, but there are others more distant requiring very long days and nights away in the wilds. I know the area well so it was good to be back in familiar countryside.
Sunshine and helpful wind took me to Drumnadrochit at Loch Ness where one can have the full treatment about the monster! I turned off before Urquhart Castle which is a major tourist attraction.
Very unlike the scene from the 1950s when I visited the area. A long walk on a minor road along the Great Glen Way took me high above Loch Ness meeting several walkers and two cyclists. Eventually I was able to ride gradually downhill to the end of the road, where I took to a rough track and footpath through native trees and then into spruce plantations. I could hear traffic on the A82 by the loch below, so cut down through the woods to reach tarmac. Sunshine had long given way to heavy rain so there was nothing like a main road with little traffic. Lunch at Invermoriston helped me to dry my clothing, but it rained all the way to Fort Augustus. Here I was under a deluge so quickly fled to Morag’s Lodge, a private hostel, which I had booked when planning the ride. This was a good overnight stop spoilt by noisy youngsters, smoking and talking in the open long into the small hours. Graham Thompson