84 miles and 4,174 feet ascent.
This is our last full day of cycling and we’re (almost) on the homeward stretch. It was another big day of 84 miles but more than compensated by some of the most spectacular and remotest scenery on our whole route. The quiet road north from Lairg took us past the Crask Inn into lonely Strathnaver, past Ben Klibreck and Altnaharra. I climbed Ben Klibreck in scorching heat a few years ago but to give some contrast, Altnaharra holds the record as the coldest place in the UK where it reached -27.2 degrees celsius in 1995. On reaching the A836 running along the north coast we turned east and followed the road to Thurso. This wasn’t our stop for the night though; we carried on to the Northern Sands Hotel just near Dunnet Head, the first ‘proper’ bed for four nights.
Today’s journey in three words: moorland, salmon fishing, big skies.
What actually happened:
We were glad to leave our campsite in Lairg and look forward to a hotel tonight at Dunnet. The campsite is basic (to say the least !). Suffice to say that after a wet night and morning we de-camped to the laundry room to have our breakfast and pack our bags in the dry.
It was a cold and wet 12 mile ride from Lairg to the Crask Inn. We were cycling into the wind and frequent showers soaked us. My hands were so cold I could hardly get my winter gloves on (remember this is late May) and there were still snow patches on Ben Klibreck and other hills. (Last time I was here climbing the munros and wild camping the temperature was hot and sunny).
Rather than stop at the Crask Inn we pushed on to the Altnaharra Hotel, enjoying a cafetiere of coffee and toast served on a silver platter in their drawing room. The hotel has the air of a sporting lodge; stuffed fish adorning the walls, tartan carpets and an imposing location at the head of Loch Naver.
Strathnaver was certainly one of the highlights of our trip. It’s a remote glen dominated by the Munro, Ben Klibreck, with only a few signs of human habitation. For the most part, the single track road follows the loch or River Naver, beside peat and heather moorlands and fields of sheep. There are many salmon beats along this stretch which obviously attracts wealthy clientele. Vehicles in these parts are either farmers’ 4x4s or expensive cars with salmon rods attached in the bonnets. The farmers are in boiler suits; the fishermen in green tweeds.
After 46 miles we reached Bettyhill on the north coast. By this point the showers subsided and it was a fabulously bright afternoon with deep blue skies, fluffy clouds and warm sunshine. On the north coast the skies are big and on a day like today the views to Orkney and Dunnet Head were great. It also made for a photogenic backdrop to the sights in this remote spot.
After lunch at the Bettyhill Cafe we made good progress eastwards with the wind in our backs, despite the hills along the coast. We obviously passed the Dounreay nuclear power station just as the 4pm shift had ended, as 200 cars (I’m not kidding) all sped past us towards Thurso. Several service buses also carried passengers but most seemed to drive (and by the looks of things, lots of boy racers work at Dounreay).
An ice cream in Thurso gave sufficient nourishment to take us the final 9 miles to the Northern Sands Hotel in Dunnet, passing the 1,000 mile threshold on the way. So in spite I’d a cold and wet start this turned out to be a really enjoyably penultimate day of our journey.
The high points:
- Lonely, remote Strathnaver
- Big skies and views out over the sea to Orkney
- Sunshine and blue skies
And the low points:
- A cold wind and blustery showers in the morning
- Rush hour at Dounreay power station (!)
- 84 miles cycled
- 1004 miles cumulative
- 11.9 mph average speed
- 39.9 mph top speed