Friday, 21 September 2018

Day 11: return from Evanton to Inverness. 28 miles, 895 feet

Our Scottish ‘le grand boucle’ - the North Coast 500, finished with a celebratory flourish of clinking coffee mugs in Morrison’s cafe, Inverness! Well, all good things must come to an end. (It seemed longer than eleven days since we had departed from the SYA hostel just down the road).
The last day’s ride was from Evanton, on the Cromarty Firth via Dingwall, and Muir of Ord, and of course a re-visit to our favourite cake shop, the Bad Girl Bakery. We were in Inverness before midday, soon to go our separate ways south.

In all, it was a very successful and enjoyable trip. We worked well as team. The weather was challenging, (only one dry day!), but maybe it provided a greater sense of achievement. Also no mechanicals/punctures over 450 miles.

We each had personal highs and lows, impossible to summarise. Suffice to say, we all want to cycle in Scotland again. Next time we’ll take the weather with us. Suckers for punishment!


Thursday, 20 September 2018

Day 10 photos

Day 10...After Storm Ali, Helmsdale to Evanton, 58 miles, 2736 feet of climbing.

After our encounter with Storm Ali yesterday, we finally made it to our overnight stop at the Helmsdale hostel, which we discovered we had to ourselves for the evening. Ged indulged us by setting a roaring fire, and in the warm and cosy surroundings of a newly-renovated hostel, over food and a few drinks (obviously required to revive our spirits), we examined what awaited us in the morning. All of the forecasts suggested high chance of rain for much of the day and continued gale force winds, so we steeled ourselves for more of the same.

Except, it didn't quite turn out like that.

The morning brought blue skies and relative calm.....the wind was only around the 25mph mark! The riding was hard work into a constant head wind, and it's not often that you have to pedal to go downhill, but the rain, whilst constantly threatening never quite managed to put in an appearance.

Mike decided to do his own thing and explored every harbour and community along the route, so if anyone wants to know about Helmsdale, Brora, Golspie, Dornoch, Tain or Invergordon, then Mike is your man.

The landscape and scenery along this stretch of coast are much less dramatic than earlier sections of our route, but diversions to Dunrobin Castle, Glenmorangie distillery and the oil rigs lined up in the Cromarty Firth kept us interested.

Much of the NC500 route follows the main A9 trunk road, and as it gets further south the traffic gets much heavier, so south of Golspie we diverged from the main (car) route and followed roads less travelled. An unexpected highlight of the day on these minor roads was watching grey and harbour seals basking in the sun in Loch Fleet...we enjoyed the moment and the reminder of one of the reasons why we all get out on 2 wheels and put up with the Storm Ali's of the world.

We finally arrived in Evanton for the last night of our tour and realised that this was the very first day with no rain...

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Day 9 photos

Day 9: Thurso to Helmsdale with Storm Ali: 55 miles, 3320 feet climbing, 55 mph gusts of wind

We searched all the weather forecasts to see when Storm Ali would arrive. Sure enough he arrived - with headwinds and driving rain, before we had barely cycled 15 miles. Leaving the Queen Mum’s old pile at the Castle of Mey the heavens opened, and by the time we reached John O’Groats we were well and truly soaked. Still it was a well deserved elevenses before venturing out for the obligatory photo-call at the very windswept JOG signpost.

Replanning was needed. Mike opted to be cycle courier for the afternoon, fetching and carrying bikes and riders from Wick to our Helmsdale guesthouse over 30 miles away. Dave and Ged battled into a ferocious headwind for 12 miles before being blown off the road by 55mph blasts and having to be being rescued by Mike. If this is regular Scottish autumn weather we all look forward to a Wayfarers English winter. Chichester must have been a doddle!

Once the wood-burning stove at the hostel was fired-up we began to feel normal again Bob Dylan’s ’ Blowin in the Wind’ was obviously the most requested track on Mike’s playlist that night.

55 miles in the most testing conditions was Storm Ali’s best attempt to unseat NC500 Wayfarers. We were up to it.


Hurricane Ali

Today we are promised lots of rain and a strong winds.  Great.

The worst of the wind will pass south of us, but we are still forecast headwinds of 30mph average, with gusts up to 50mph this afternoon for our ride from Wick to Helmsdale.  

As I write this, it's very and calm outside.  Up to now the forecast hasn't been totally reliable, so we will make a decision based on how it turns out.  If it's really bad, we can get the bikes in the car, or even get the train to Helmsdale.  Let's see.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Day 8 photos

Tongue for breakfast ... Day 8: 47 miles, 3405 feet of climbing

...Thurso for tea. It was supposed to be an easier day with less miles and fewer hills, but as we ate our normal sumptuous breakfast in the Tongue Hostel and Holiday Park, aka Tongue Hostel and Building Site, we realised the weather wasn't co-operating.  While I was riding, I composed a little sonnet for you:

Oh, Scottish weather, shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Perhaps not
Well what about an autumn day's ride to Chichester with ye olde Midweek Wayfarers (22 degrees and sunny)
Definitely not.

It might need tidying up a bit, but it's not bad for my first ever sonnet.  Let's just say, the forecast was for the usual cool weather, with a northerly wind, and rain all day.
The morning turned out better in the weather department: no rain but low cloud and mist: consequently no views either.  It was worse in the hill department too, with a series of big hills and no view as reward.

At elevenses at Bettyhill, we met the German couple who seem to have been shadowing us on our ride.  We asked them to take our picture at the top of Bealach na Ba on Day 2, and we've seen them several times since.

From lunchtime it rained steadily for the rest of the ride.  At one point we passed a forestry commission sign to "The Unknown".  I imagined a conversation with a local: 

"Where does that track go?"

"Dunno, nobody's ever come back."

As we approached Thurso it was evident we were arriving Somewhere.  The biggest, and perhaps the only town since Inverness.

We arrived in our well-appointed B&B dripping all over the plush hall carpet. What's worse, the landlady insisted we bring our sodden, filthy bikes into the hall too, as there was nowhere outside for them.  If we had been testing the limits of her hospitality, she would have passed with flying colours.

Durness Youth Hostel - Bike Shed Special

If you"ve ever visited, (and who hasn't?), you'll know the Durness bike shed is, well, a shed, held down against the wind by thick steel cable guy ropes.

From our Raasay correspondent;

The official SYHA history has this from me:

I think I can date the (Durness) bike shed. It’s had its fair share of knocks. I arrived at the hostel at noon. ‘Where’s the bike shed?’ I asked the warden (a Glaswegian carpenter?); he pointed to pile of wooden panels.

Later on he suggested that we assemble them. It soon became clear that they’d arrived ahead of the warden. So for several hours we sweated, swore, pushed and pulled, and eventually four sides were bolted together. My bike had a bed (if not a roof) for the night. On the radio was Scotland v England at Hampden Park; Steve Coppell scored the only goal so the date of birth can only be 20th May 1978.

Any chance you could re-stage the hostel photo to include the shed and (I presume) the manager?

Monday, 17 September 2018

Day 7 photos

Day 7. Durness to Tongue with plenty of Hope! 44 miles and 3000 feet of ascent.

Well, that was a very Scottish day!  ....  As we were in Durness we walked in morning sunshine to Smoo Cave and then to the John Lennon Memorial Garden  before setting off for  Loch Hope  and a bonus ride along the Hope valley to the start of the climb up Ben Hope.    .... it was all going so well. .... we had a lot of Hope!  Al fresco lunch was organised from the back of the  car and spirits were high as we set off along the valley ...... 8 miles later the weather was starting to deteriorate and there was dissent in the ranks, suffice to say that the ride leader (me!) was out voted by three to one and we turned back!  .... okay,  it was a good decision especially as it hammered down for the final ten miles of the ride and we endured the worst climb of the tour!  .....

Happy to be sat by a peat fire this evening but the forecast for the next two days is not good!  .... it was however another great day of cycling and we are looking forward to tomorrow's challenges!
.... and so to a little bit of administration.... having regard to my well deserved promotion to Ride Director, I thought it made sense for me to appoint an assistant RD. (You can never have enough managers!)  ... so I interviewed what I can only describe as three old men who quite frankly were not up to the job either individually or collectively.  Fortunately there was one other candidate and I am delighted to say that I have been able to make an appointment.   .... to be honest,  she had me at "Hello ".

Pictures to follow!


Relive 'Morning Sep 17th'