I didn’t know what was in store for me when I left the campsite in Scourie. I was glad to be leaving; despite being listed in the Cool Camping Scotland book that I had bought prior to the trip, the only cool aspect of the place (and here I’m talking not just about the campsite but also the village in general) was the view to the sea which was, admittedly, spectacular. It rained off and on all night and I slept off and on all night. I know this because I had numerous dreams (none of which I can now remember of course); it was proof that despite the wind and rain battering the sides of my little home, slumber did take place.
I had a short conversation with a cyclist who knew what he was talking about (I somehow still don’t feel that I am in a place to lecture to others about cycling, despite having twice cycled across Europe, I still consider myself to be a novice). He explained where he had been and where he had come from with an authority that should really have given him a documentary series on BBC2. I nodded as if I was at his cycling level but I clearly wasn’t. He too was heading south although had the intention of turning away from the main road to explore the Assynt peninsular at some point. After leaving Scourie, I never saw him again. He was probably following from a safe distance, taking notes for feedback later.
I was immediately delighted to feel the wind behind me rather than against me. So it was to be for perhaps 95% of the remainder of the day and turned what would otherwise have been a second day of hell into one that was, at times, heavenly. The rain stopped and started; on occasions it was torrential but I was in a much more positive mood than I had been yesterday and despite its best efforts, the rain would not be putting me off my cycling stride. I paused to admire the concrete bridge shown below (it was impressive as far as concrete bridges go). A German coach had also stopped in the small car park and after a few minutes, one of the occupants walked across to where I was standing and gave me a plastic cup of coffee. It was a nice touch. At one end of the car park was a small memorial to the men and women who had been killed during top-secret submarine experiments during the Second World War on the loch beneath the bridge. It made the gift of coffee from the German man doubly touching and it gave me hope that one day perhaps even the Israelis and the Palestinians might sort out their differences. Perhaps over a cup of hot coffee.
Much of todays’s cycling was through empty expanses of quintessentially Scottish landscapes dusted with a purple coating of heather. Just beautiful beyond description (which is a cop out as it gives me an excuse for not doing so here). At Elphin I stopped for lunch in a well positioned but remote café; hot soup, a scone and more coffee. I spent must of the half an hour I spent inside chatting to a man from Leeds who was on a motorcycle tour of the Scottish highlands. There are many such bikers and it was interesting to be able to assign a character to at least one of them. He had escaped his wife for two weeks; the trade off was that she would be ‘allowed’ to go to Spain with her friends later in the year. Perhaps it’s a biker thing.
There was a kick in the tail of the day with a sharp climb before I arrived in Ullapool. What a metropolis it is after the backwaters of northern and north-western Scotland. I booked myself in at the youth hostel on the harbour – a busy place! – and after a short walk I have settled in to a window seat at the Ferry Boat Inn (highly recommended – it serves Black Sheep beer from Masham, North Yorkshire) to write up this account and plan for the remainder of the week.
So here is the plan…
Monday: cycle from Ullapool to Garve (32 miles) then catch the 14:26 train to the Kyle of Lochalsh. Does this give me time to cycle into Skye and the youth hostel at Corry? Or should I just find somewhere near the end of the railway line?
Tuesday: cycle across southern Skye to Armadale. Catch the ferry? Probably not as there is another hostel in the town.
Wednesday: ferry to Mallaig, the end of the ‘Harry Potter’ train line to Fort William and Glasgow. Could I get as far as Glasgow where I would book into a hotel?
Thursday: explore Glasgow(?)
Friday: train to Carlisle / Penrith to meet my family and do very little for a few days.
I will worry about getting back to Reading once all that is done. That’s the plan, kind of. Here are today’s pictures…