Well there was blue sky when we got up but by the time we’d got the bike out the shed and loaded up, it had gone. The climb away from Farr Cottage was a hard start to the day but it was a small price to pay for the hospitality we had enjoyed and the mesmerising view of Farr Bay and the coast beyond.
Drizzly rain blew across the high ground and, as we were now running along the coast it would be a bit of a roller coaster ride for the first part of the day, long climbs up over headlands followed by fast descents. Each time we got up high the drizzle was waiting and, as we pulled off the road to put waterproofs on again, we got our first puncture in over 1140 miles of cycling. This meant unloading and overturning the Beast. 20 minutes later we were rolling again – downhill fast and taking the bends sidecar style, hanging out to try to keep the bike more upright so the stand and low bags didn’t drag on the road. So glad we didn’t get the flat there!
This first part was quite bleak but every now and then we caught glimpses of the sea and the towering cliffs of the Orkneys. At Melviche we stopped at the pub to get some lunch. By now the weather was starting to clear a little and as we refuelled, blue patches of sky appeared over the sea, heading our way. Conversation in the car park as we readied to leave: “where y headed today then?” “Thurso today, John O Groats tomorrow.” “Och, that’s downhill all the way then.” “I’ve heard that one before!” (looking and pointing at the long climb over the other side of the valley). “Oh we’ll, there’s a wee climb there but you can see the top and then there’s the one past Dounreay, but otherwise it’s downhill all the way.”
The Scots seem to have problems with discerning up from down, and their sense of distance is often a little erroneous too. On our ride to Inverness, we passed road signs over the course of six miles that insisted it was 26 miles, then it went to 24 and back up to 26!
The climb away from Melviche was long, but at least it was easier than those we’d tackled in the morning. The landscape had changed from steepish, high headlands to lower, long rolling hills. The sun was finally shining. Now we could see the huge orange box and white dome that forms part of the Dounreay nuclear facility. Why orange? It sticks out like a sore thumb! As we cycle past, about 3.00 pm, a shift must have been finishing. There was an almost constant blast of cars bombing past on the dead straight road. It seems there must be some kind of time trial that most of the workers are involved in… Maybe the prize for the first back to Thurso is an even bigger, noisier exhaust for their type R or souped up Nova. Interspersed was the odd soul who slowed and gave us a considerate amount of room as they passed. We pulled up the long slope, leaving the plant way behind and the traffic flow stemmed, then we crested the rise and Thurso and the bay lay ahead, the coastal cliffs rising out of the grey-blue sea stretching away to Dunnet Head. With a wonderfully long sweep that curved down and into the town, we hardly needed to pedal the last couple of miles.
I’m writing this at breakfast after a broken nights sleep. An earlier coffee and bar music till gone 12 didn’t help. Today we make our way out to Dunnet Head and then on to John O Groats. Weather forecast for the week ahead?
Sun. Someone’s havin’ a larf!!