Our brief sojourn in Inverness had come to an end, and we packed up on a chilly Sunday morning, a little treat for breakfast was the ‘butteries‘ that cousin Mo had brought for us. These are a highland delicacy, sort of a croissant dough which is baked in a kind of splat rather than rolled into a neat crescent. For us Scots now south of the border, they are the most requested supply package item, delicious warm with marmalade; guaranteed waistline enhancer!
We bid farewell to Barbara, and peddled towards the bridge across the Moray Firth heading for North Kessock, halfway across we got a toot-toot from Barbara as she headed off on her journey back to Raasay. The weather was not promising, with a chill and grey sky, but it was early yet and as we pressed onward toward the Black Isle the sun began to make an appearance and more and more blue sky revealed itself. The countryside was lovely, the agriculture here is more towards the arable and the area appeared clothed in soft green velvet as the still unripe wheat and barley softly ruffled in the breeze.
We were heading up towards Cromarty through the still sleepy Munlochy, hardly seeing another soul. The route to Cromarty is roughly split into three sections on the map; the first being easy going initially until a bit of a climb and turning left then right to continue on hugging the contours, then a right turn where we fair flew down towards Rosemarie, before almost doubling back on yourself for the final leg to Cromarty. Much as we love the joy of covering the distances with a rip roaring freewheel, it is always tempered by the possibility of a harsh payback to recover lost height. And so it was on the final leg, with a steep double back before an 8km constant climb; the views were lovely but the going was tough.
Not far outside of Cromarty we were caught up by a fellow cyclist, David who has lived on the Black Isle all his life and cycles at the weekend to keep himself fit. We peddled along a while chatting, David extolling the attributes of Orkney and enlightening us as to the rigs in the Cromarty Firth and repurposing of what was the oil rig maintenance warehouse to now assemble offshore wind turbines. We bid adieu to David and headed through the town towards the ferry point, finding a collection of cars, motorcycles and cycles waiting. On further investigation, it transpired that the ferry was docked up on the beach, but the tide was too low for the cars and motorbikes to use the slipway. Walking down to the ferry, further enquiry gleaned that he was waiting on the beach for foot and cycle passengers; the lack of communication seemed to have resulted in foot and cycle passengers waiting at the cafe for the ferry. On sharing the information, there was then an exodus of those willing to wheel over the beach to the waiting ferry, and off we chugged to Nigg (which always makes me think of Monty Python for some reason).
By this time it was gone 11.00hrs, on looking at the onward route there did not seem anywhere suitable for a coffee stop so we paused on Nigg beach and sat atop a WWII gun emplacement wrapped up against the wind, though the sun shone bright. On making a move to continue on, we found ourselves chatting to a fellow cyclist who was interested in tandeming – we as ever, were evangelical in our praise of the tandem life.
Peddling on we were headed for the Hilton of Cadboll before turning inland towards Tain. The countryside was not so soft the further up we went, the verges and hedgerows throughout our trip through Scotland have delighted us with their abundance of wild flowers, as well as ones you would not readily consider as wild, such as honeysuckle, which has been widespread throughout our travels; surrounding us with the sweet scent on days where we have had a warm breeze. Today though was not a warm breeze day, the cool wind was our constant companion whilst on the road, only allowing the warmth of the sun to be felt in sheltered spots. At Hilton of Cadboll we found one such sheltered spot; stopping to read the information on the standing stone, we decided not to make the short trek out to it after realising that it was not the actual Pictish stone but a ‘superb replica’. Somehow this did not have the same appeal. Instead we took some time to enjoy the sounds of nature around us, sat on the soft grass in the shelter of an old dry stone wall. It would have been easy to remain there with the warm sun on our faces, but we still had some way to go to make Tain so on we pushed.
We were delighted to come upon a group of llamas in residence at a free range chicken farm, they though were not interested in us. Nearer to Tain we noted a number of buildings that looked like they were what remains of an airfield, and sure enough further along the road we came across a memorial to the Tain Airfield.
We were on the home stretch now, and though it was on a slight downhill trajectory, the wind in our faces meant that we had to consistently peddle to keep up any speed. There was one final trial for our legs with the small escarpment to get into the town itself. As it was still early to check into our lodgings, we sought out the station to familiarise ourselves with it’s location and discovered the station building conveniently had a lovely cafe/bar so we settled down for some tea and cake on a cosy sofa.
Our lodgings for the night was a well rated guesthouse and I confess I was looking forward to a little less utility in our accommodation, having booked the king sized room with a sea view, the Springfield did not disappoint, providing elegant comfort and a magnificently torrential shower. Having refreshed and had supper, we decided to take a stroll down to the shore and were rewarded with a spectacular sunset. Tired we returned to our room and slept like kings, waking to a glorious morning. Having been booked in the previous day, given all the requisite information about our stay and assured that the continental breakfast would be available from 07.00hrs, we then had not seen anyone else, staff or guest in the house. We did indeed find a fine selection of comestibles set out for a self service breakfast; so we helped ourselves. Still no interaction with staff or guests – we are not keen on over attentive service but there was a slight unease that things appeared with no person seen or heard … perhaps Dobby is alive and well and running a guesthouse in Tain?!
We had decided to take the train from Tain to Thurso to allow us to spend a week with Mr V’s brother Matthew on Orkney. The two and a half hour journey saved us the equivalent in days that we could spend exploring the islands. We were at the station at the time that Mr V had stipulated, dismantling Twolula ready for her to be strapped in to her allotted space. It was a lovely journey, made the more beautiful by the splendid weather and a veritable feast for the eyes with mirror calm lochs, winding burns and every type of countryside, topped off with a shoreline stretch. Despite the excellent night’s sleep though, the rhythmic clitter-clatter of the train wheels had a positively soporific effect and I found myself drowsing along the way despite the views.
Reaching Thurso, we reassembled Twolula and peddled the short distance to the ferry port at Scrabster and had coffee whilst we waited to board the ferry, passing time chatting to a couple touring on their motorcycle who were from our neck of the woods. Small world.
Though we could not have asked for better weather for the crossing, there was still a considerable swell that could be felt on the boat. The short sail of about 90 minutes took us past Hoy and it’s famous Old Man. Reaching the classic port town of Stromness at about 14.30hrs, we were today commencing our peddling at the time we would usually be finishing! Saddling up we sought out Route 1, making sure that it was the right Route 1 as there is only Route 1 on Orkney!
During our chat with David the previous day he had commented that one of the reasons we would like Orkney was that it was not too hilly. We think that David’s idea of hills and ours may differ significantly. We had the added issue that Mr V had noticed that Twolula’s front wheel was a little wobbly, and during the course of our 20 miles to Kirkwall the wheezing rasp it was emitting was becoming more pronounced. Having read a little on the possible issue and assuring me that the wheel was on tight, Mr V was concerned that the bearings on the wheel were failing. This would not be an easy fix given that we had forked out a pretty penny to have an integral dynamo on the front wheel and the bearings are inside the sealed unit.
Our destination could not come quickly enough such was the concern for the further damage that may be brought, and spotting a shortcut to Matthew’s house, we took Clay Loan, but quickly realised why the cycleway went around it; man it was steep! We did it though and were soon gratefully at our journey’s end, with a plan to call the bike shop where Twolula was made the next day to seek a solution to the problem. But now we just wanted to freshen up and have some tea.
Having moved up to Orkney last year, we are Matthew’s first staying visitors and he had ensured that we were looked after, even spoiling us with new fluffy bathrobes. Matthew is the family’s Mr Fixit, and it is a long standing maxim; if something is broken and Matthew looks at it and puts it down, then it really is broken. After lamenting our front wheel woes, Matthew had a look at it, got out his Alan key and it was no longer broken.