I think in recent years I have become too accustomed to cycling in kilometres. Prior to this little jaunt across Scotland, I had changed my CatEye cycling computer to show me everything in miles and obviously all the road signs are telling me how far away things are, but I’m still thinking in kilometres, not miles. I don’t suppose this will make much sense – I find it a little curious myself as I am a very numerate person – but I hear the number 50 and I think ‘yep, that’s not too far…’ because in kilometres, it isn’t. In miles, it is. It’s 80.5km. When I cycled across Europe (twice) the average number of kilometres I pedalled was just over 100. So 80km shouldn’t be too stressful on my first full day of cycling around Scotland. Alas, it was quite a hilly climb, certainly the second half of the day and it was also into a headwind (which people had warned me about) so all in all in was a challenge. My European averages are flattered somewhat by long cycles on the flat. I can’t imagine there were many days on the continent when I cycled so many horizontal metres while ascending so many vertical ones. Apart from that, Scottish cycling day 3 was great!
After spending a good amount of quality time soaking up the windswept solitude on the sands at Dunnet Bay (see previous post), the first half an hour or so was taken up with retracing the steps that I had made predominantly by van from Thurso yesterday afternoon. Upon arrival in the coastal Caithness town I had two breakfasts; number one from a café / bakery that didn’t have wifi and then a second at one by the estuary that did. There was a nice atmosphere in the place; a mixture of locals, tourists and travellers desperate for a bit of Internet connectivity (well there was just one person in that latter category but…).
The cycle as far as the nuclear complex at Dounreay was undulating, not much more than that. Dramatic views of the coastline to my right, fields, farm buildings, houses, wind farms, the occasional industrial unit to my left. Not quite as desolate as I had imagined it would be. Perhaps prior to the arrival of the Dounreay plant in the 1950s it was. I paused to take in the iconic view of the large sphere and numerous outbuildings all guarded behind high security fences. A chap in a fluorescent jacket walked past and I asked him if it was still producing electricity. Not since the mid 1990s apparently (he was keen to blame ‘Maggie’ Thatcher: ‘have you heard of her?’ he asked and I explained that I had, once or twice…). Since then, decommissioning has been taking place and 2,000 people still work at the site doing what needs to be done (as well as related work for other nuclear sites around the country which are the process of shutting down). There are 200 policeman guarding the place he explained; two shifts of 100 officers at any one time. ‘But the biggest threat is not from a bomb being planted, it’s from a suicide bomber infiltrating the place.’ Should he be telling me all this? Perhaps he was a policeman himself, undercover, trying to flush me out.
I made a point of taking some pictures with my camera and its telephoto lens from a distance just so that suspicions might be raised a little more. Perhaps a trained marksman had his gun pointed at Reggie and me as we climbed the hill away from the nuclear ball and towards Tongue. He never took a shot (or if he did, he missed…).
After Dounreay the scenery became much more remote, wild and mountainous. As a pictures speaks a thousand words, I’ll let the ones below do just that. I finally crawled in Tongue and the hostel at the end of its causeway at around 6pm, just in time to eat some microwave heated chilli con crane and rice. This is a hostel that ticks every box you might want a hostel to tick; comfortable, friendly, a few other interesting guests (and wifi!). The only thing I could fault them on is not having a roaring fire in the communal area where I am currently sitting. Perhaps I should put a jumper on instead. It is, after all, still August, albeit one in the north of Scotland.
Tomorrow I almost finish my quest to the west by cycling to the campsite at Durness. From there, on Friday, I will travel on two feet, ferry and minibus to Cape Wrath before resuming the cycling journey along the west coast of Scotland on Saturday morning.
(It wasn’t crane I was eating of course but ‘carne’. It’s quite an amusing thought however so I’m going to leave it in.)