Grim. One word sums up quite well the experience of cycling today from Durness on the north coast of Scotland to Scourie on the west coast. When I woke (ha! Woke?) this morning, the campsite in Durness had been transformed overnight from one of Scotland’s most stunning to one of Scotland’s most weather beaten. I had specifically chosen to pitch my tent at the top of the cliff for obvious reasons if you look at yesterday’s pictures. Alas that also put me in a very exposed spot and dismantling and packing away the tent in strong wind and horizontal rain probably looked quite comical. I actually did a pretty good job by leaving the four corner pegs in the ground until the very last stage of folding and then rolling the tent. It was of course sodden but that was the least of my worries; cycling in the same conditions to those battering the campsite would be no fun. But at least, I reckoned after consulting the detailed Ordnance Survey map on the wall of the campsite reception, the cycle would be a flattish one. Well, yes, there were no excessively steep gradients but there was a considerable number of contours to cross, albeit gradually. In the first 10 miles I experienced some of the worst if not the worst cycling conditions I have ever had the misfortune to battle through. The wind was fierce and heading north (I was heading south of course), the rain almost constant. The saving grace was the temperature; it was never cold although only very fleetingly warm when, on one or two occasions, there was a break in the cloud and the sun shone. Was I not being passed every couple of minutes by a car or a camper van, I might have been worried. As it was, should I have been blown off the bike, my rescuers would have been on the spot quite quickly. At one point, only perhaps 5 miles from Durness, I did stop and shelter next to a van parked beside an isolated house. Should I hitch? If the person in the house came out, should I offer to pay for a lift to Scourie, my destination? Should I turn back and sit out the weather in Durness? After a few minutes, the rain stopped momentarily and the sun made one of its brief appearances. I set off up the long gradual climb once again…
The single track road had its challenges; the drivers would usually use the frequent passing places to wait and let me pass. Others seemed to have little comprehension of the effect that strong wind might have on a cyclist laden with four pannier bags on a narrow road and pushed past regardless. Fucking morons. One prime candidate for highland village idiot of the year approached me at speed in his red Peugeot 205 – I was expecting a 20 year old behind the wheel – so I indicated with a gradual hand movement that he should slow down as he approached. He did, slightly, but was clearly annoyed that he had to do so as when he did pass me, he stuck two fingers in my direction. At least my hand gesture had been polite. He was in his 60s.
The total distance of the ride was only 25 miles but it took me over four hours. Probably nearer five. The downhill stretches were almost as difficult as the uphill ones as the wind was such that it would have been suicide to attempt them at any kind of speed. I arrived in Scourie at around 2pm and found the campsite very quickly; there isn’t much here to make locating anything too problematic. I quickly erected the sodden tent so that it would dry and headed off to the warmth and dryness of the bar/restaurant. Another two cyclists were already tucking into their food. The older guy was chirpy beyond reasonableness and invited me to sit with them. His son – just 10 years old – was reading his Kindle avidly (just like many of you no doubt although I didn’t think he was reading up about my adventures along the Mediterranean…) and said little. They had already cycled 25 miles heading north and they planned to continue as far as Durness by the end of the day. They did have the wind assisting them but they put me to shame.
My journey south will continue tomorrow despite the predicted weather conditions. The silver lining is that I have just seen that there is a radical change in direction of the wind; it will be blowing from the north. Alas that will bring with it some decidedly lower temperatures. Courage!