45.47 miles Cycled
3409 ft of Climbing
I awoke in a slight haze after my nightcap of local whisky, looking out of the window it was raining. On my 20th it was the first time I had awoke to rain. I enjoyed my stay at the Crask Inn, great hospitality in a unique place
After checking out and retrieving my bike from the secure shed, I attached my panniers and set off. Straight away I noticed the National Cycle Network Signpost opposite the Crask Inn, John O’Groats 90 miles.
After a short uphill the road North gently ascends towards the North Coast, I had looked forward to the brief remoteness of this part of the ride but in reality, it was not remote at all. The A836 is a single track road it is often busy with traffic.
Forestry trucks, delivery vehicles and locals travel at speed and at times I had to keep my wits about me. The added bonus of the construction of the Creag Riabhach Wind Farm which is situated just to the North of the Crask Inn completely destroyed any feeling of remoteness. As I neared the construction site the hillside was awash with heavy plant vehicles and workers busily constructing yet another wind farm to blight the Scottish landscape. While I am very much in favour of alternative energy, the sheer amount of wind turbines in Scotland is mind blowing.
After a few more miles I reached Altnaharra, a very small settlement close to Loch Naver. For some reason, I thought that there would be a shop of some sort but I was wrong. Just a few houses, farms, and a hotel. The traditional route seems to carry on due North but the route I was taking turned right and followed the shoreline of Loch Naver.
This road was even narrower than before and at last, this place felt remote. I stopped off along the way to enjoy the countryside, the wind was still strong and kind of in my favour so progress was good. I then came across a small caravan site on the shores of Loch Naver which was a surprise in such a secluded place. The Altnahara Caravan and Motorhome Club Campsite had a small shop so I stopped to see if I could get a coffee, unfortunately, they didn’t sell coffee.
Cycling on the Loch Naver turned into the River Naver and the road got busier, it was clear to see that the River Naver was a popular salmon fishing river. Every layby was full of expensive cars with rod holders attached to the bonnet. I came across a memorial to Donald Macleod and later found out it was in memory of two tiny croft houses that were burnt to the ground during the Highland Clearances.
The road carried on North over the odd cattle grid which in this ride I had always taken with care. I’ve never been a fan of cattle grids and on a wet and windy day like today, I was not going to risk it. As usual, as I approached each one, I got off the bike and pushed.
Reaching the North Coast of Scotland, Yet Another Milestone
Today was hard going, the end was in sight but the weather was no longer on my side, I still had the odd tailwind but the drizzle was not good. After what seemed like miles, I reached the north coast of Scotland which was yet another millstone. I crossed the River Naver and climbed up into Betty Hill where I stopped for some lunch at the Store Café. The wind was even stronger and I was not looking forward to the next 20 miles or so. The road along the North Coast was busy all sorts of traffic, after cycling virtually traffic free roads for the last couple of days this was a huge contrast.
After refueling I set off again, the headwind was unreal and soul-destroying, and after a short climb out of Betty Hill I came across another memorial. At the Betty Hill viewpoint there is a drowning memorial for many local seamen that have drowned in Kirtomy Bay in 1881 and 1910. One thing that stood out was the surname Mackay, in two tragedies 29 years apart, 7 members of the Mackay family perished.
Pushing on with the wind in my face the day got harder and harder as I slowly ate up the miles. My destination of Melvich seemed an age away and I navigated the busy road, cattle grids and the undulating A836. What was a relatively short day of only 45 miles became a slog and a race against time. My destination of Melvich had very little in the way of facilities and my only option to eat was the local shop which closed at 5pm.
The last few miles were up and down and eventually, I arrived at the sign to Melvich which was a welcome site. I quickly checked in to my Airbnb and headed to the shop which I got to in the nick of time.
After a microwaved dinner I headed out for a walk around Melvich, I walked the mile or so down to the beach which was stunning, despite the wind. I also paid a visit to yet another drowning memorial. This time it was a memorial to those “who perished within sight of their homes”. Again, the memorial highlighted the huge losses to single families in the Portskerra Drownwings.
On reflection I did not enjoy Day 20, the wind, rain, and hills of the last 20 miles or so had taken its toll and I was ready for bed!