06 July 2013

Scotland Tour Part 2: Inverness - Durness

We were stocking up in a large Tesco on the outskirts of Inverness when the skies opened up to give us our first rain of the trip. We decided to shelter under an awning of the store and eat a leisurely lunch. The rain had stopped by the time we were done but it had also become late afternoon without us realising it. We knew we wanted to carry on out of the built-up areas around Inverness to find a place to wild camp so we decided to get started.

No sooner had we gotten into Inverness proper than we had to stop again. We passed by Velocity cycle cafe and felt we just had to go in for a coffee! They were really friendly in there and we discussed our tour and the dreaded midges that we were sure to encounter. It was worth the stop but it was nearly 7pm by the time we were actually rolling out of Inverness and across the Kessock Bridge.

We cycled through the Black Isle and then up through Dingwall, which was full of rude drivers. A long, gradual downhill then took us to Evanton where we stopped at the Co-op for a snack to fuel us on  for a few more hours. We all craved sugar but made the rookie error of stuffing our faces with sweet treats -- as soon as we were on the bikes again we all started to regret it and it was a bit of a struggle to keep our stomachs under control.

Ill-advised wild camp spot
We were having trouble finding somewhere to camp as everything seemed to be farmland. Finally we found a wooded area -- sure to be full of midges, and the ground wasn't exactly level, but beggars can't be choosers and it was 10pm so we decided to set up camp. We cooked dinner in our midge hats and got in the tents as soon as possible. Alberto and I had pitched our tent on top of a (invisible) large depression in the ground which meant we kept rolling in on each other. On top of that,  rained overnight which always wakes us up. It wasn't a great night's sleep.

There were a few midgies left the next morning so we boiled some water for coffee and tea, headnets still on, and then packed up and got out of there as quickly as possible. We were headed for a trail that Alberto had spotted on google maps before the trip, which would take us to Croick.

On the trail to Croick
We had 25km off-road to Croick, along an old dirt road. It wasn't as fast going as the road but the scenery was so rewarding. Apart from one section where boulders had been put in place (presumably to stop cars from being able to navigate the path) the trail was relatively good.

Climbing over the boulders blocking the path
As we pulled into Croick it started raining slightly, so we made our was to Croick church where we sheltered and ate some lunch. Croick church is a minor tourist attraction in the highlands due to the messages that the tenants of the surrounding glen scratched into the window glass on the day of their eviction as part of the Highland Clearances. I was glad we got a chance to see it.

The rain had mainly cleared up and we headed back onto a trail after Croick, another 20km or so leading to Oykel Bridge on the A837. This one hadn't been planned ahead of time but we could see the trail on our GPS and it would save us quite a few kilometers, so we decided to give it a go.

The trail conditions were not as good as the morning's ride, with more loose rocks and other obstacles, but again  the views were spectacular. Still, I was really ready for tarmac after a few hours on those trails.

More trails on the way to Oykel Bridge
At Oykel Bridge we stopped in a hotel to fill our water bottles. We had hoped to maybe have a coffee after so many hours without the comforts of civilisation but didn't find anyone there to ask. Shortly afterwards, the rain started again in earnest, and when we rolled past the Altnacealgach Motel at around 5pm we were happy to come in out of the rain and have soup and a hot drink.

Walking into the motel bar we were made fun of by the other patrons -- they suggested we save up and buy a car! The owners were friendly and made the soup especially for us. They also told us about their bunkhouse and offered us a special price on it, seeing as it was quite late in the evening and no one had booked in yet. After a bit of deliberation we decided it was worth it--it was still very windy and rainy outside and besides, the next day was my birthday!

As if the prospect of a warm shower and a dry bed wasn't good enough, the owners gave us some fresh trouts, literally caught in the loch that day, that we could cook in the bunkhouse! I'm not big into fish but Alberto and Mateo were thrilled beyond belief. We enjoyed the relative luxury of the bunkhouse and drifted to sleep with the wind still howling outside.

Fresh trout from the loch!
We had a birthday treat of a full English breakfast the next morning and reluctantly got bundled up to head into the wind and rain which had not abated overnight. It was a tough day on the bike. Fortunately the wind was mainly behind us as we turned onto the North & West Highlands Tourist Route -- although every now and then we would turn a corner or hit a descent and be hit with a sudden gust of crosswind. It was one of those full-soaking kinds of rain.

All bundled up!
We made it to Scourie Bay by early afternoon. On the way into town we passed a sign advertising home-smoked salmon so the boys stopped in and bought some from an older gentleman who smoked it in his backyard. We then found refuge in the bar of the Scourie campsite where I treated the boys to lunch and we dried out our clothes for a bit.

A rare moment of dryness
We knew we'd have a strong tailwind the rest of the way to Durness so we decided to continue on. Lo and behold, the rain stopped just as we rolled into town and we were able to pick up some food from the Spar and search out a wild camp spot that had at least some shelter from the wind. The high winds ensured that the midges were nowhere to be found and we cooked up a nice dinner of local sausages.

Durness wild camp spot

The beach near our campsite
I was sorry the weather meant that we couldn't enjoy the scenery as much as we would have liked, but it was a spectacular day's ride nonetheless.

(to be continued!)

1 comment:

  1. Inspiring account and great photos.....despite the weather. Some would say you're nuts celebrating your birthday out on the wet trails of Scotland.......