Friday, 24 June 2011

Day Ten: Spean Bridge to Dornoch

Last night we became aware of a group of hikers arriving at our campsite. They looked a motley crew, bedraggled, unkempt, cold and hungry. Much the same as us really. Gary thought it would be a nice gesture to offer them a beer - we had loads that we never seem to get around to drinking. We walked down towards the shower block where they had made their camp. There were three of them, all dressed in similar, tired, brown cloths. One of them had a net over his head, covering his face like a veil. Another wore a balaclava, the third wore spectacles. They were eating tuna, straight from the can. Gary held up our beer bag - "Would you like a beer?" he asked, in a friendly tone and with a smile. "No" came the answer from the balaclava as he continued teasing scraps of tuna from the can using a knife. We asked spectacles if he would like a beer "I am on medication" was his answer. The netted one just sat behind his net in a surly uncommunicative way. We managed to find out that they were German and walking The Great Glen Way - We considered, for a moment, bringing up the subject of the 1966 World Cup Final - Probably best that we didn't.

It was a beautiful morning. An infinite, cloudless, azure sky with the piping calls of, I think, Oystercatchers, circling around the adjoining field. The stone walls were clothed with ivy and pink and white dog roses. All felt good.

We were on the road by 8.30am and made fast progress, cycling alongside Loch Lochy to Laggan and on to Fort Augustus, the roads are clean and clear with a good surface. There's the delightful whispering sound of tyres moving at speed over tarmac, the synchronicity, man, machine and road is gratifying. Yesterday and today have been my favourites - I mentioned in an earlier post how it seems that so many places these days look and feel the same. The homogenous institutionalised spread of banality is clearly a twenty-first century epidemic, but not here, not Scotland. If I woke from a coma here I would know where I was - It would be impossible to mistake this landscape with anywhere else.

Loch Ness
Now, we're cycling alongside Loch Ness and the Great Glen, this is a particular zenith, it sparkles, cherished by the faithful sun, the vastness, the deep blue colour of it.... this is an iconic place in the journey and captures the essence of classic long distance cycle touring. We push harder now, inspired by the surroundings and the grand weather, we are pedalling through utopia. I feel I don't want to reach the end, I'd be happy for these roads to go on and on. This is truly a place to sooth any wounded soul.

We stop for our breakfast break, after three hours riding we are ravenous. For the whole of this trip our mid-morning hunger has been exclusively sated by none other than 'The Butcher' - yes, him that gave us a sound thrashing at the Mercia Cycling Club reliability trial last January!! But he's a nice chap and, very generously, he donated a big box of bacon, sausage and black pudding for our store cupboard - Thanks Tim! - you'll be pleased to hear that we've munched our way through it - today being the last time that we'll sit back with a mug of tea, a big thick doorstep sandwich and say "I wonder what Tim's doing right now?" Oh well, Cornflakes tomorrow then.

The bridge at Inverness
We set off again with Inverness our next destination, the capital of The Highlands - I got in front of Gary on this stretch and just kept going, It was one of those occasions when everything is just right on the bike, legs feel strong and light, pedals just seem to turn themselves without any effort, the whole thing is perfectly balanced and you seem to be flying...
I got to Inverness about a half hour before Gary and I pottered around. I ended up lying on a grass bank by a stream with my shoes and socks off, just enjoying the warmth and the day as a whole. Interestingly Inverness has an oceanic climate, it has the longest summer days of any UK city and temperatures regularly reach 29C.

Only 109 miles to go!
Soon we are back together and crossing the bridge from Inverness to the Black Isle. The roads here were surprisingly busy with lots of fast-moving traffic. We faced a few niggling climbs but nothing too taxing. Ahead of us lay a bridge, a kind of causeway, and it was here we spotted the first signpost for John O'Groats - 109 miles to go, almost there! - In that moment as I gazed up at the sign and took a photograph I felt a wave of emotion; firstly, could it really be that we'd cycled all this way? - the length of the UK?  Secondly; I didn't want it to end.  Then I slipped on the grass and landed on a thistle, the spiky, hairy, thorns penetrating my lycra shorts and their remnants annoying me for the rest of the day.

The beach at Dornoch
Our camp for tonight is at Dornoch, to be precise 'The Royal Burgh of Dornoch', this is the place where Madonna married Guy Richie. Unfortunately, Skibo Castle was fully booked, so tonight it's a large campsite with a clubhouse, a restaurant, a bar and good facilities. It's situated next to a beach and the sea, just over some sand dunes. The sky is huge and dramatic with amazing cloud formations. We get showered and decide to eat at the restaurant - and this proved the only disappointment to a memorable day. It seems difficult to understand how a supposed 'restaurant' situated in an area with some of the best, world renowned sources of fine, fresh food could serve up the kind of rubbish we were offered tonight. Everything was dull and tasteless, originating from a packet or a tin. What a pity. But I refuse to let that dampen my enthusiasm for the day.

The campsite - Dornoch
Writers tell us, and bands play us the most precious and memorable things we hear, but what of the things we see? - where do they rank in our chart of memories?
These last couple of days have been amongst my most memorable.

Spean Bridge to Dornoch - 101.9 miles
Max Speed: 36.5mph
Time on bike: 7hrs 1 min
Ascent: 3848ft
Calories used: 4629

1 comment:

  1. Great blog guys. As an Inverness lad who has suffered through many an Invernesian 'summer' I find those stats difficult to believe! Glad Scotland is being kind to you, good luck for the rest of the trip. Enjoy!