The cycling is now complete. Just a couple of miles short of 300 along the northern coast of Scotland from Dunnet Head to Tongue (via Thurso), along to Durness (and a quick non-cycling detour to Cape Wrath), south to disappointing Scourie, to the relative metropolis that is Ullapool and then to the station at Garve to hop onto a train to the Kyle of Lochalsh, over the bridge to Skye, an overnight stop in Broadford before a final, short ride along the Sound of Sleat to Armadale and the ferry to Mallaig where I finished my Highlands cycling journey earlier today.
The weather today has finally been kind. Rather ironic that it was the day I planned to cycle just 15 miles along the southern portion of Skye from Broadford to Armadale but I was thankful nevertheless for the blue sky that was bearing down upon its near namesake this morning as I made my short way from the hostel to a café by the sea for a full, err… English. It didn’t seem appropriate but the black pudding gave it a Scottish/Yorkshire edge. Several people online had warned me about the A87 that is the backbone of the Isle of Skye but my cycle took me along the quieter A851 which was a delight. For much of the journey I played catch up with the Highlands & Islands Council Mobile Library bus. The woman driving the big yellow box would pass me, I would then pass her (as she was waiting for punters but I never saw any of them – surely they’ve all invested in Kindles or iPads, no?), and then she would overtake me once again. It was fun trying to catch her, or do I just need to get out more? I stopped at the Gaelic College, the world’s only higher and further education establishment where all tuition takes place through the medium of Gaelic. As there were no signs in English to explain what it was – I stopped as I suspected it was the place I had read about in my guidebook but wasn’t 100% sure – I asked an employee and we had a nice chat about the establishment and its work. Interesting if a little niche.
I arrived at the ferry terminal in Armadale at well before 11am, bought a ticket and then went to explore the nearby Armadale Castle, ancestral home of the Donald clan. I assume the McDonalds and MacDonalds are part of the family. The castle itself is a ruin, but it has only been so since the 1920s. Comically (although not for the man himself) the last laird of the Donalds was forced to move into the gardener’s cottage after the collapse of the kelp market. It was downhill ever since. The ancestral home is a shell – literally – of its former self. More interesting on the site is the museum that tells the story of the Donald clan and more widely the Highlands and their peoples. Many of the Donalds emigrated in the 18th and 19th centuries to North America and Australia and some of their stories are told. As I made my way from the museum back towards the entrance of the site, a coach load of Donalds had just arrived in their bus. They were from America. I chatted briefly to one of them; he wasn’t a Donald but his wife was; he seemed just a little weary of the whole ‘Scottish’ thing…
A very long break between me writing the word ‘thing’ and this sentence as I’ve just been chatting to a couple of Belgians, a Welshman, a chap from America and now two Italians have walked in to the bunkhouse here in Mallaig. Tomorrow I catch the train to Glasgow for a night in the big city before heading to Cumbria before the end of the week. Expect at least one picture of a statue with a traffic cone on his head.