Lands End to John O’Groats 1997 Part 10…J O’G

The final day was one of the grandest days The Wattmeister has ever enjoyed on a bicycle…not because the finish was in sight…rather due to the splendour of the Scottish Highlands. We stole across the Inverness to Thurso single line railway bridge just north of Bonar Bridge and advanced towards the beautifully appointed village of Lairg, which used to be known as “the Crossroads of the North”, and which sits at the southern end of Loch Shin.

In retrospect, Lairg was the gateway to a wonderful wilderness filled with wild ancient mountains, untamed moorland, serpentine brooks hidden in the heather, stony bridges and an abundance of sheep due to the forced displacement of tenant farmers in the 18th and 19th centuries. Perhaps the landscape’s magnificence was augmented by its history, tinged with gloom. We were but two dots inching our way across this majestic desert as we approached the Crask Inn and descended to Altnaharra Lodge, nestled in the lee of the southern flank of Ben Klibreck.

If Carbisdale Castle was a surreal experience, then we were not really prepared for this fishing lodge set in a depression between the two northernmost munros Ben Klibreck and Ben Hope. Huge stuffed salmon  hung on the walls of the posh hotel as.we waited politely and patiently for our coffees. It had stopped raining, but unbeknownst to us at the time, the lowest UK temperature of minus 27.2 degrees Centigrade had been recorded at Altnaharra some eighteen months before our visit.

We resumed our push towards the north coast, but the weather was nothing if not consistent. A strong wind attempted to slow our progress up Strath Naver, even the sheep had made themselves scarce. With the hamlet of Bettyhill in our sights, and desperately in need of some sustenance, we hauled ourselves up a final steep incline before flinging ourselves at the mercy of the bar staff in the Bettyhill Hotel.

There was a raging fire in the hearth, it was the 2nd of July, midsummer for all intents and purposes. The bar resembled a Hollywood film set. A gathering of weatherbeaten gentleman sat at a table in the corner. The conversation went something like this:

“Ach Hamish, will ye noo have one for the rooood?”

“Weeelll, I must be gettin’ on m’ way”, replied Hamish to the assembly.

“Ach, come on man, just a wee dram”, came the encouragement.

“Ok, just a wee dram, then I must be going”, surrendered Hamish sociably.

Ray and I drank Guinness, fantasised about staying the night and finishing the ride on the morrow. Somehow, but after quite a while, we headed out into the wind along the coast passing Dounreay power station en route to Thurso and our final stop of John O’Groats. It had been a tough day with over 95 miles in the saddle into a fierce headwind, the type of conditions which would become a trademark of The Wattmeister’s future rides.

A life changing experience in so many ways, we had travelled a long distance both physically and metaphorically from that first outing from Barnet Odeon. A highly recommended adventure.

Some statistics:

1012 miles cycled. On the road: 13.5 days averaging 73 miles per day. Dry days: none. Windy days (headwind): 13.5. Ghosts seen: not many. Sheep seen: Lots. Punctures: 2. Broken Spokes: 1. Enjoyment: Unbounded.

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