Day 1 – The North Highlands

Today started with, as the forecast promised, steady rain and a fairly strong northerly wind. After having a huge fry-up breakfast at the excelleny and friendly Pentland Hotel, we headed west, climbing a number of hills, with glimpses of empty golden sandy beaches and cliffs on the north coast, interspersed with low cloud. Although the rain eased a bit, it wasn’t a day to hang around and we got to the 50km mark without any significant breaks, having passed around 20 cyclists in all on the way to John O’Groats – all more heavily laden than us.

We decided at Berridale to take a more direct road to Altnaharra, saving 4 hills and 9km near Tongue. The shortcut, through the now empty Strathnaver (which suffered greatly from the Highland Clearances) was suprisingly pleasant. Unfortuantely the Altnaharra Hotel, our backup lunch stop, had gone bust, so there was nothing for it but a further 12km up the biggest hill of the day, to the splendidly isolated Crask Inn, arriving at 3pm and the 100km mark, to find a roaring log fire and hot soup – just what we needed.

Finally it was just a long descent down to Lairg and Invershin, stopping at the bizarre gift shop (a Harrods outpost) at the Falls of Shin, where the sun came out, and crossing the firth by a spectular footbridge – not the one pictured. Then it was through the gates and a final climb to Carbisdale Castle, with its passageways and marble sculptures, for another massive meal and a game of pool.

136.5km in 6h25 moving time.

Tomorrow, Loch Ness! Hopefully it will be a bit drier.

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