Monday August 12th : Melvich – John O’Groats (60km)
A sunny day today with a gentle tailwind, and on top of this a day that began with a generous donation for Cipriano!
After Melvich, I had to overcome one more quite long ascent, and then all at once the scenery changed from hills and vast peat bogs to a softly undulating rural landscape. A real relief for my legs, but much less photogenic than the dramatic hills and lochs. It could have been in Northern France, apart from the stone walls, which do not consist of boulders here, but of large flat flagstones that stand upright.
During the second part of today’s ride, past Thurso, I photographed some seascapes. It was a bright day and the islands of Stroma and the Orkneys a bit farther were clearly visible.
I was lucky today that I came across a relatively large town like Thurso, because yesterday evening something strange happened. The bluetooth mouse I had been working with all evening suddenly disappeared after I had gone to the bar to order another drink. There were only a few people left in the café. We looked everywhere, but could not find it. The person who cleaned the bar this morning did not find it either. The only thing that might have happened, I think, is that young kids took the mouse upon leaving the pub without their parents noticing it. Without a mouse, I cannot do much with the tablet, but fortunately I found a computer shop in Thurso.
In Castletown I passed the ruins of a flagstone plant dating from 1825. It was the very first flagstone plant in County Caithness, which in the 19th century became one of the largest flagstone producing regions of the UK thanks to major road works as a result of the industrial revolution. With the introduction of concrete roads following World War I, the flagstone industry collapsed and by 1920 all plants in Caithness, which at a given time employed more that 1,000 workers, had gone out of service. Many workers emigrated because they could hardly find any employment in this region.
As a matter of fact, the flagstone workers were not paid decent wages by the plant owners, and they were obliged to buy their food in the plant’s store. The ships that transported the flagstones to England, returned laden with foodstuffs and other merchandise that were sold to the workers at a nice profit for the plant owner, who thus made a double profit at the expense of his poor workers. A story of double exploitation that was very widespread in 19th century capitalism.
When I had finished pitching my tent on a small farm campsite just before the village of John O’Groats — the north-easternmost village of mainland Britain — it started raining over the ocean, which resulted in an impressive evening sky.
Tomorrow morning I will cycle another 5 km to the northernmost point for the picture for our sponsors, and afterward I will head southbound to Kingston upon Hull, where I will take the ferry to Rotterdam. Another 900 km to cycle in Britain, and then 100 or so flat kilometers from Rotterdam to Antwerp.
After having cycled West-, North- and East-bound, the end of my trip is coming closer now that I am heading down South. My journey has flown by, and this results in an ambiguous feeling: on the one hand the luxury of being at home, one the other the joy of always being on the road…
Tuesday August 13th : Duncansby Head – Dunbeath (64km)
Lighthouse and cliffs/stacks
Duncansby Head is the northeasternmost spot of Scotland. It is located some 3 kilometers beyond the village of John O’Groats. The lighthouse is nothing special, but the cliffs and the majestetic stacks off the coast are very impressive, in particular in combination with threatening skies and windswept showers…
50 kilometers cycling in the middle of nowhere via a fantastic local single-track road, refreshed by two serious rain showers, and 10 kilometers along the coast via the traffic-laden A9.
In a forrested area — where I enjoyed the smell of pine trees — I noticed the ‘Camster Cairns‘ at a slight distance from the road. They include one rounded cairn with a single entrance, and an oblong cairn with two entrances. Unfortunately, I could not visit them because I had to cycle another 20 km and it was nearly 18 Hrs.
I felt quite tired when I arrived at the campsite, probably due to the alternations of wet – dry – wet – dry. It was only 12 degrees, which results in fast cooling down when wet. Fortunately, the campsite had a dry room, so I am sure all my cycling cloths will be dry in the morning. And the sanitary building was heated as well, which was very nice.
Wednesday August 14th: Dunbeath – Brora (42km)
All day cycling along the busy A9, there is no alternative road here. And tomorrow again… I had to overcome one long and nasty ascent with a gradient of 10 to 15 percent today, which I had to divide in three stretches to get all the way up.
I passed along the ruin of Badbea, a village built on the verge of cliffs by poor crofters who had been evicted from their glens during the land clearances in the late 18th and early 19th century. Large landowners had come to the conclusion that large-scale sheep raising was more lucrative that renting their land to small-scale crofters, and they simply evicted them from their cottages, burning them down in case the crofters, who had no rights whatsoever, were unwilling to leave.
As of 1793 some 12 families and their cattle lived in Badbea. Sometimes the winds were so strong that they had to tether their cattle, hens and even their young children to stop them from being blown over the cliff.
Many families decided to emigrate, predominantly to Canada and Australia. By 1903, Badbea was completely deserted. A son of one of the emigrants returned to Scotland and had a memorial tower built on the site in 1907 in honour of the former inhabitants of Badbea.
A few kilometers further, in Helmsdale, stands a statue for the emigrants that, as far as emotions are concerned, reminded me of the monument in (London)Derry. Heart-breaking stories caused by profit-seeking humans to other, less wealthy people.
Thursday August 15th: Brora – Evanton (62km)
Due to heavy rainfall I could not go to Brora beach in the evening, but early in the morning it was dry.
However, when I wanted to depart by 8:30, it had started drizzling again and I had to pack my tent wet. Fortunately, the ride was fairly easy and rolling with few steep ascents, and by noon the weather cleared up.
Just beyond Golspie I passed by Dunrobin Castle, a mastodont with no fewer than 189 rooms, a falconry and a Versailles-like garden. This was probably the humble abode of the landlord who evicted the poor Badbea crofters from their cottages in the early 19th century. Since I had still many kilometers to cycle, I did not have time to check this out.
In Tain, a beautiful heritage village, I paid a short visit to the memorial church dedicated to Saint Duthac, who reportedly was born here around 1000. As a child, Duthac was endowed with extraordinary qualities and later on he went to Ireland to study. The church became a pilgrimage that, in 20 years’ time, was visited18 times by King James IV.
In the graveyard, I also came across the Ardjachie Stone, an engraved Pictic Stone, but the engraving was very worn out and only visible when sunlit, the museum warden told me.
Past Tain I could continue my ride on a single track local road. I was very relieved that I could quit the busy A9.
Friday August 16th: Evanton – Inverness (38 km)
Not much to be told today… No breathtaking scenery, only one wee shower that started right after I had swallowed the last sandwich of my lunch on a cosy bench at the waterfront of River Ness, and cycling across a quite long and very windy bridge into Inverness. I added some short explanations to the pictures that pop up during the cycling route.
I did not have a strong cycling spirit today, therefore I decided to stop and camp at Inverness. This evening I will go into town for a change 😋. It will do me good to do something else than cycling and updating social media….
Saturday August 17th: Inverness – Aviemore (50 km)
The scenery during today’s ride was again more exciting. The initial 15 kilometers out of Inverness were constantly uphill and quite boring, as is usually the case when leaving a large town.
The rest of my ride via National Cycling Route 7 went through hillish woodlands, swamps and rolling meadows. The highest point was the pass of 454 metres near Sloghd Summit. Then followed a very long descent until Aviemore.
In Carrbridge I saw an old bridge dating from 1717. The lady who took a picture of me before the bridge told me that a few years ago, after 4 days of heavy rainfall, the water of the river had risen very high, touching the highest part of the arch. This must have been quite a spectacle! We are lucky that the bridge survived the pressures exerted by the swollen river.
Sunday August 18th: Aviemore – Newtonmore (30 km)
I had to go to the village this morning to look for a nut and bolt to replace one that had gone loose and lost from my rear panier. At the same time, I had my brake pads and cables replaced for the final 700 homebound kilometers. I did not mind this unexpected delay, because rain showers followed one another at very short intervals. Not really inviting weather to jump on a bike for many hours…
Due to these multiple showers, I preferred staying the night in a hostel again, so as to be able to properly dry my wet cycling cloths. The only option was a hostel in Newtonmore, because 95 km to Pitlochrie was to far too cycle in only an afternoon.
I passed the ruin of the Ruthven Barrakcs dating from 1717. They were constructed to police the Highlands in the wake of the first (Roman Catholic) Jacobite uprising in 1715 against Protestant Willem III, Prince of Orange, who had deposed Jacobus II from the throne in London. The barracks could accommodate a garrison of 120 men, divided over two blocks opposite of one another, and 18 horses.
Tomorrow I will have to cycle a longer stretch to Pitlochrie. I hope the weather will be a bit better than today.