Sunday, June 2, 2013

Day 21: Melvich to John o'Groats

From Melvich I passed Dounreay, site of the famous fast breeder (picture). Obviously, I wore a radiation suit for cycling. After all, can't do any harm, and cycling is DANGEROUS, and the fact that the suit split after I passed the reactor PROVES IT SAVED MY LIFE. I think radiation suits for cyclists should be compulsory. And wearing the suit stopped people seeing I don't wear a helmet.

As I was staying in Thurso tonight, I left most of my luggage as I passed through for the 40-mile round trip to John o'Groats. With a generous tailwind, the north-coast hop was delightful, with some scenic views of the craggy coast such as Dunnet, and yes, I have (picture).

So, I arrived at John o'Groats at noon (picture) - about the same time as two other End to Enders, the right types, who'd cycle-camped it. We shared a bottle of bubbly and cheese sandwiches and swopped yarns for three hours while we waited for the wind to drop, which it didn't. Hello Steve hello Keith if you're reading this.

I went to Duncansby Head to ensure I'd done the northeasterliest point, and slogged back in a two-hour headwind to Thurso. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was that. The arrival in JoG marked the...

Completion of the Scottish End-to-End
and the
Completion of Land's End to John o'Groats
and hence the
Completion of the End to End to End to End.

It's been a fabulous trip. Well done bike: no punctures, no mechanicals, no problems at all. Well done Rob: no injuries, no accidents, no existential crises. Well done tent, mostly, though having spotted the millimetre-sized hole in the groundsheet, I now know why I woke to the occasional puddle by the entrance.

And it was a wonderful cross-section of England, Scotland and Scotland, good bad and average, in three parts - the English E2E, Dunbar to Stranraer, and the Scottish E2E - with some awesome scenery and delightful personal encounters. One of the highlights of my cycling life, for sure.

Miles today: 62
Miles from Mull of Galloway to John o'Groats: 460
Miles from Land's End to John o'Groats: 1368
Miles since starting at Penzance: 1402

Punctures: 0
Midge bites: 0
Pairs of gloves lost: 0.5
Insects swallowed: 6
Nights camped: 12

Best beer: Loch Ness Dark, Loch Ness Inn, Drumnadrochit
Worst beer: Belhaven, rest of Scotland

Best scenery: Tough, but probably Glencoe, then Great Glen
Worst scenery: Dismal outskirts of Winsford, Cheshire

Total money found in road: 26p (20p used to buy campsite shower at Stranraer; 5p reinvested in wishing well outside Dunbar; 1p reinvested in wishing well in Invermoriston)

Best Sustrans cycle path: West Loch Lomond cycleway
Worst Sustrans cycle path: Paisley - full of glass

• Small ferries on Cornwall south coast • Cheddar Gorge • Severn gorge • Night at Si and Sue's • Across causeway to Holy Is • Downhill to Innerleithen • Downhill to Moffat • Wildcamp at Clatteringshaws Loch • Mull of Galloway • Wetherspoons Ayr • Wildcamp at Loch Lomond • Loch Lomond cycle path • Glencoe scenery • Great Glen scenery • Crask Inn, A836 • Arriving JoG

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Day 20: Lairg to Melvich

A wonderful day of cycling experiences, stories, and pleasant encounters - plus a panic with a happy ending.

The A836 north from Lairg (picture) is a great cycling experience: narrow tarmac, gentle gradients if any, little traffic, and going 20 miles across scenic uninhabited landscape. It's more like a Sustrans railtrail than an A road. Except for the bit about scenery.

I spent the first ten miles chatting to a friendly local cyclist out for a spin. I understood quite a lot of what he said. I think he talked about cycling.

Well, I say the landscape is 'uninhabited': there's the 'village' of Crask halfway. Which consists, precisely, of a bothy and a pub (picture: bothy left, pub right). The pub, the Crask Inn, is a must-visit gem, a glimpse into the 1930s - in the nicest way. I must cycle back here soon, I thought. Little did I know how true that was going to turn out...

While at the Crask I talked to a chap (picture, right) who was about to bag his 282nd and final Munro with his pals. To celebrate, he had made some clootie dumpling. I had assumed this was another nonsense invention of Burns, but in fact it is a fruitcake. He gave me some to have with my coffee. Mind you, when he smiled at me and said, 'fruitcake?', perhaps he was implying something else...

Anyway: the panic story. Five miles further up the A836, just after seeing this sign - evidently the sheep are flummoxed by the Germans driving on the wrong side of the single-lane road - I suddenly realised, in a cold sweat, that I had lost my wallet. Had I left it in the pub? Had I put it on top of my panniers and rode off, in which case it could have fallen off anywhere...?

Panting, I hurtled back towards the Crask Inn. It's the fastest I've ever cycled with a fully-laden touring bike. After three miles I saw a Land Rover coming towards me, driven by the landlord, smiling and waving my wallet. The man is a saint. The Crask Inn was already in my top three of Favourite Remote Pubs for Cycling To, along with Yorkshire's Tan Hill Inn and Dartmoor's Warren House Inn; now the Crask is definitely No. 1.

With a lunatic grin and occasional steam-train-like exhalations of relief, I went along the awesomely beautiful, and virtually untrafficked, B873 alongside Loch Naver and alongside the River Naver (picture) - another special cycling experience.

Untrafficked, but that doesn't mean jam-free... in Rosal I was entertainingly held up by these local farmers manoeuvring some sheep (picture). Rosal was one of the most notorious locations of the Clearances, when locals were evicted in favour of sheep. Don't these sheep have any remorse? Don't they know they have blood on their hands? (Feet? Hooves? Sub please check)

Arriving at Bettyhill (picture) meant I'd reached the northern coast, and the scenery took a different turn - as did the wind, annoyingly, which had been a tailbreeze hitherto. It drizzled all the way on up-and-down terrain to Melvich, where there was a campsite in a scenic bay in the garden of a pub with wifi. It wasn't a difficult decision as to where to spend the night.

Sadly, I couldn't find a sign that said 'To Bettyhill and John o'Groats'. If so, I would have added, '...the gift of a son'.

Miles today: 68
Miles since Mull of Galloway: 422
Miles since starting at Penzance: 1340