Sutherland log of the audax serjeant

Day 1

Drumnadrochit-Loch Ussie-Loch Shin

1000hrs Depart Drumnadrochit
1220hrs Arrive Loch Ussie
1500hrs Depat Loch Ussie
1745hrs Sprint for Bonar Bridge
2000hrs By the banks of Loch Shin
Dinner: Pasta in red sauce, Cheese, Wine, Tea.

The midges were fierce, but by dint of throwing sprigs of heather, ferns and green wood on our beachfire we were able to avoid the worse. Later we filled the tent with the aroma of damp wood burning and drank tea.

Day 2

Loch Shin to Durness

Sean wins this morning's cycle deportment prize for his 6mm seat post adjustement. Under competition conditions he might have had to use his own key, rather than borrowing my Topeake 21 function top tool. It was at this point that I took the call that my webserver had crashed 1000k away.

1700hrs. Durness. A rocky cove, a steep sandy beach with waves that excite. I wade in with pleasure up to my ankles but it chills to the bone. Should I swim? My eyes smart from the toxic smoke we generated to deal with the midges this morning.

Day 3

Durness-Cape Wrath-Durness

Left campsite about 1015hrs and cycled in a leisurely fashion, 4 strong for the first time, to the ferry.

We got there at 1030hrs and stood around for 10 minutes in bright sunshine. "The ferry doesn't go for 20 minutes. I'm going back to the hotel and see if I can get some breakfast," said I.

I rode off. The distance from the ferry to the hotel was not insignificant: about a k. There was nothing doing at the hotel so I thought, "O well, I'll just go to the village. It'll only take about 10 minutes if I put it on the big ring."

A nine minutes to eleven I stumbled sweating and breathless into Durness General Stores, surveyed the stock of white bread, picked up some pitta breads, a plastic wedge of Roquefort and some "honey roast ham." I was delayed a further 30 seconds by a fruitless enquiry about wholemeal bread ("Goodness Hamish, whatever will these tourists ask for next?") pushed past someone who was trying to avoid queueing by dint of individually fetching each item individually from the shelves, and placing them in a basket by the till.

I chucked the food in my bar bag and tanked off up the hill out of Durness. There is a stunning descent to the Kyle of Durness. To my right, with my eyes watering with the windspeed I could see the ferry pulled up to the jetty and people getting on it.

I looked at my watch and decided the last k of my journey would have to be conducted at warpspeed, but the Enterprise failed to appear, so I put it on the big ring, felt the burn, avoided the gravel at the centre of the road on the long sweeping left hander--a warning of what was to come.

Breathless and sweating and braking sharply at the top of the jetty, I rode down it and onto the waiting boat.

The road to Cape Wrath is trafficked only by a single minibus, and perhaps military vehicles, supplies to the lighthouse keeper. It can't decide if it's a track or a road. Thick grass sprouts up along most of its crown. I caught my pedal a couple of times in the verge at the side but I didn't come off.

Dave punctured twice. I gave him my spare tube. The second time he simultaneouls punctured front and rear tyres so we stopped to repair all three. Unfortunately Dave knackered the valve on my spare tube in the process. The net effect of this was that I'd given him a tube at 1130 and he handed it back to me fully trashed before 1300. How we laughed!

The roughness of the road allowed Sean to shine on his otherwise utterly unsuitable fat tyres.

We stopped for 15minutes on the cliff and ate stale pitta bread and watery Roquefort, then rode back merrily to the ferry.

Day 4

Coldbackie to Lairg

Woke up. Porridge from the haybox (newspapers) was something of a disappointment. Should use less oats and more water. Wasn't too hot either, nor was it cooked come to mention it, and I earned Sean's admiration for nevertheless eating a hefty bowl of it (on top of an hors d'oeuvres of chocoflakes). It was fine with a bit more water and reheated for a couple of minutes on the Trangia.

Fortunately we had eaten so much that the near vertical climb back to the motor with the gear was quite as bad as I expected.

I tarried a while picking random clumps of moss and tiling neatly over the rather large scare we had charred on the face of the field.

Breathing heavily, I was please to see no trace of our site was visible from the road. The ride was easy: two 30k hops to an official campsite. Nothing too vertical. Would be fantastic recumbent country, particularly facing the bluffeting headwind and rain as we did today.

We ate venison sausages for lunch wrapped in typically low quality Scottish bread.

At Lairg the sun came out; we took tea in the Crofter's Cafe; sat out quite contently, and then walked slightly stifflegged around the campsite, after a conversation with the proprietor. She gave me a brochure for a static caravan. I resisted the urge to ask her to show me round one.

We had a long conversation with the proprietor of the Sutherland sporting outfitters, a certain type of Edinburgh Scot: he had once engaged in a pyramid selling scheme for water filters.

In the tent cooking, have moved the Land Rover to shelter the tent from the westerly wind.

Day 5

Lairg to Nigg Ferry

Spanked merrily down the road in bright sunshine and a light tailwind to just outside Tain. Here I parted company with Simon, Dave and Sean who were reluctant to cycle on the A9, and had things to do to in Inverness. So they drove off. I cycled happily into Tain and stopped at the chippy for lunch. The proprietor engaged me with a discussion about her plans to be an an aromatherapy masseuse. She is doing a correspondence course with a college in Wiltshire. I encouraged her to use the internet to find materials about anatomy and physiology and her my email.

Tain to Nigg was made very easy--despite the tailwind. I was overtaken by a large tractor and trailer rig going about 8k faster than me into the wind, so I drafted it for a couple of miles before it turned off.

The peninsula in Nigg is covered with alien installations of the oil business. As you round the bend you can see the drilling rigs spread out along the length of Cromarty bay like spaceships that have just landed.

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Copyright Douglas Carnall 2002 All rights reserved