I woke up more excited than a kid at Christmas. Today would, hopefully, be the day I travelled to the point which had, in large part, been the inspiration for the whole ride. All thanks to stumbling across this article on the Cycling UK website, and a writeup by Michael Hutchinson about the journey to Cape Wrath:
There is an 11-mile road from the ferry slipway to the Cape. It is not a good road. It was created in the 19th Century to build the lighthouse, and it has not received a lot of attention since. It’s narrow and horribly potholed, it winds and undulates, and sometimes it deteriorates altogether into a patch of gravel. It passes through a live-fire training area for the army, so it gets bombed every so often. You can navigate it on a road bike if you’re careful, and don’t mind getting a lot of punctures, but it’s more a job for a proper tourer, a cross bike or a mountain bike.
Purists by now, about to start their third day into JOGLE, would be anticipating reaching the border with England. But these few, poetic words had spoken more deeply to me – a siren’s call, luring me ever northward before turning for home.
369km – 17 Aug, 07:51 – Glenaladale B&B, Loch Eriboll
Chatting with two other cyclists who had arrived later last night, it seemed I wasn’t alone in being drawn to the lighthouse at the end of the country. On hearing my plans, there was a palpable air of disappointment in their voices when they described passing the ferry point too late last evening to make the crossing. I nudged them gently towards the idea of turning back and doing it today instead, but they were not to be swayed – they had plans to get to Lairg (if I recall) by that evening. I didn’t press them on the issue, but my own plans were to get similarly far south that day. It occurred to me that maybe I’d perhaps been a little over ambitious on how much time I’d need to traverse the potholed bomb track.
Katie’s “full Scottish” was a belly stretching feast – savoured at a decently relaxed breakfast pace. I made a mental note to make time for more of them in the mornings to come. In addition to thanking Katie profusely for the food, and stealing some fruit, we exchanged words about the owner of the café at Cape Wrath. In my original plans I was going to stay at the lighthouse back packers run by Angela Ure, but since COVID they had not been able to re-open fully. We’d swapped a ton of emails in the process, and I was looking forward to meeting her in person. It turned out Katie also knew Angela, although they’d lost touch in the year’s since she moved to take over the café. Katie asked me to pass on hers and her husband Donnie’s regards if I saw Angela later.
Having swapped messages on Facebook with the ferryman, I knew the first crossing was not until 10am. But, as my wife Yoli knows all too well, anything up to an hour or more is acceptably early for me to arrive at any point where timetables are involved. Plus I only had an estimate of how long the kilometres up and around Durness head would take me to ride. So I found myself outside in the garage loading up the bike ridiculously early. It gave me an opportunity to swap parting words with the other cyclists, most of which were about midges. Until they had pointed out the large clouds of them through the breakfast window, I had been totally oblivious to their arrival. A part of me wondered if they only afflicted those who could see them – I was tempted to blame the layer of nasty, miniscule black terrors which now covered me on the fact that the other riders had forced me to see them. Clearly it was time to test out whether a generous lathering of the fabled ‘Smidge’ was as good a protection against their bites as the simple act of just not perceiving them in the first place.
Despite the slight incline, I managed to get up enough speed as I rode away from the B&B to deter the unwanted insectile attention. It didn’t stop a few tenacious ones from clinging onto my jacket sleeves as I cut through swathes of the buggers – or having a few of them lodge under my glasses, helmet, or fly directly into my mouth when breathing hard. I was glad of the breeze kicking in again as the road rose up from the shelter of the loch towards the coastal cliffs ahead. I’d imagined the road would cross the top of the cliffs, but before swinging left towards the town of Durness it took an unexpected dip down towards a tiny beach of wonderful, golden sand. Well before reaching it I spied a couple of small tents pitched on the foreshore, and a camper van or two parked in open spots. I was just about to declare the newspaper reports of massive overcrowding on the NC500 this year due to foreign travel restrictions as rubbish, when the road opened out fully and I spotted the rest of the tourists. A couple of car parks either side of the road packed full of other camper vans, and other cars parked along the roadside. Even so, I didn’t see any of the supposed mountains of trash, or rivers of human waste which the reporters had so liberally daubed across their stories. In fact it all looked fairly civilised and not that much more crowded than you’d expect any idyllic beach to be during summer. Maybe I just didn’t look closely enough, but it felt as though the journos had got a little carried away in their excitement for a story they could relate back to COVID and lockdown.
After the haul back up from the beach, the GPS urged me to turn right down a short steep lane – possibly steep enough to be the one the shepherd-cum-waiter had mentioned yesterday. But the main road at this point offered a gently sweeping loop of fresh, smooth tar around the contour of the land instead. Without any hesitation, I whizzed on and enjoyed the flowing freewheel down and back around into Durness itself. The well-known Sango Sands campsite echoed the story of the beach early – not only was it apparently not overflowing, there seemed to even be open spots here and there. Again, it was just my impression from a distance. Perhaps to those who lived in the town, this was overcrowding to the extent of being unwelcome, but from my vantage point as I rolled by, it all seemed pretty average. Turning left in the middle of the small town, I spotted Mackay’s Bar which Katie had volunteered her husband to drive me too the evening before. It looked a decent spot, but my stomach was sufficiently stuffed to be happy with the decision of the simpler option. Heading out of town, there was just a short stretch of open moor, dotted with small lakes, before the road dipped down to Keoldale and the ferry pier.
I had a rough idea what the ferry looked like from photos on the Facebook page, and as I turned off towards the landing, I immediately spotted a very similar looking metal hulled boat manoeuvring its way across the narrow strait. Except it wasn’t yet 9am, and the first crossing wasn’t due for another hour. As I drew closer, there was little doubt about it though – and on reaching the top of the steep concrete slipway, the ferryman greeted me saying he just needed to sort something out and then he’d be back to help me on with the bike. I was immediately grateful for the extra time this would give me for the journey up to lighthouse and back. I’d already begun to worry about whether I could complete it in time for a return crossing, and how bivvying out on the other side until morning would affect my plans to be home in a week’s time. The extra hour I’d suddenly gained banished this as a likely outcome, barring an accident or mechanical – both of which were still entirely possible, given the likely state of the track.
387km – 17 Aug, 09:00 – Keoldale Ferry
It wasn’t just the state of the track I needed to be cautious over. Negotiating the slippery concrete down to the boat was no small task in itself. I found myself leaning on the bike with brakes applied to prevent my cleated shoes from sending me skating into the water. Once there, a look of concern spread across the skipper’s face as he enquired on the weight of my bike. I may have shave off a kilo or two in my reply, in an attempt to make the task seem easier – although I don’t think he was in any way fooled as we wrestled the rig up the ramp and over the gunwales into the bow of the boat. Our conversation was friendly enough though as we waited for other passengers to arrive, so clearly my lack of absolute honesty hadn’t left any enduring ill feeling. In the course of this, I learned that he played in a local band, along with Donnie from the B&B who also sometimes joined them (I vaguely remember mention of an accordion). By the time we sailed off, the boat was near capacity: two more bikes and riders; and a family who were planning to walk up to the lighthouse (after hearing that the bus was not running this summer). Or at least the husband was planning too, the wife and children seemed keener on something a little shorter than the full 22 miles there and back. All of a sudden my worries about cycling it in time seemed unnecessarily cautious – either that, or this guy was some kind of professional fell runner. He certainly had the beard for it.
Once off the boat, I fiddled and faffed to a fair degree making sure nothing had come loose in the handling, and also checking the luggage was tightly strapped in placed for the bumpy conditions ahead. The first ramp of road from the water’s edge was steep enough to convince me to walk it. The other riders were on mountain bikes with semi-fat tyres and much better equipped for the sharp gradient – or so I thought, until I spotted that the lady (already in the lead) was standing and charging up it on a single speed. “She’s incredibly strong” commented her partner when I remarked on this, before he also disappeared from view. After a handful of meters, the slope lessened to an extent that I could mount up and spin the remainder of the way up. This opening section of track was very pleasant – rutted in places, with a few patches of loose sand and gravel, but generally ride-able without needing so much attention that it stopped me from looking up and enjoying the view. It worked it’s way along the western shore of the Kyle of Durness until reaching the first signs of the military range – an unmissable hut decked out in a mix of black and white chequerboard and yellow facings, with various signs around it outlining the upcoming hazards. A rather less stern note stood nearby concerning the hunting and fishing rights. It seemed oddly out of place amongst the warnings of an imminent and explosive death.
With no firing today, the hut was deserted and the barrier open. Although the likelihood of encountering live munitions suddenly seemed less of a threat than the track, which deteriorated almost as fast as it had swung left and down towards the river mouth below. As much as I wanted to brake and slow down, I knew I had to keep enough speed to roll over the deep piles of loose gravel and potholes between rocks which lay where presumably a road had once been. It was a relief to reach and cross the wooden bridge in the bottom without losing yet more skin from my knees and elbows. Once across the small river, the real work began – a steady slog up the track which was occasionally in better condition than the section down had been, but in many places required surges of speed to get over sketchy patches, or darting across to a possibly smoother rut on the other side. These manoeuvres themselves needed a reasonable amount of care – the middle of the track was overgrown with grasses and weeds that covered their own lurking dangers to an ill judged crossing. I found myself also wishing for a mountain bike – it would have been a blast compared to the dicey conditions on my touring rig. In truth, I could have made life easier with a wider tyre selection than my 33mm Vittoria’s, which I knew at the outset were a compromise that leaned toward the greater amount of on road riding I’d be doing.
The weather alternated between patches of clear blue skies, and low clouds scudding across the open moorland. I swapped clothing at least twice in an attempt to stay cool on the climbs, and then keep warm on the chilly exposed stretches across the tops. After the first of these, I gave up trying to stow my jacket in a bag and just rolled it up and knotted it around my waist to save time. When studying the map, it seemed like just one long hill up and over to the lighthouse, which in a sense it was. But in between were several dips that on the rough road became fairly arduous slogs in themselves. On one these, I encountered a couple of other touring riders coming up from what I took to be the road to the Kearvaig Bothy (in fact I was wrong, I’d actually passed that turning some way earlier with what could have been the unused tourist bus parked in it). Amusingly one of these riders had his dog with him, who ran alongside me for a way. I was impressed the guy had found space for a pet, given I’d struggled to simply get my basics packed somewhere on the bike. They were walking at this point, but I knew we’d probably meet up again at the lighthouse, which felt like it couldn’t be much further ahead.
It wasn’t. The boundary walls, and then the buildings themselves did indeed come into view around a corner at the top of that same climb. Although to call it a “view” would be stretching things. By this stage, the weather had closed in fully – a thick blanket of damp clouds were now racing across the landscape propelled by a vicious wind. I hurried up to the lighthouse itself and attempted to grab something usable as a selfie for validation of my inclusion in the Cape Wrath Fellowship. Luckily some other riders arrived around the same time, and did a much better job than I had managed. They sowed a seed of doubt at the same time though – saying they had read on Cycling UK that a signature was also needed from the lighthouse keeper. It troubled me briefly, before I decided they must have been talking bollocks. I couldn’t imagine Cycle UK would have remained popular for very long with the Lighthouse Keepers Association of Great Britain (or whatever their organising body was called) by insisting every aspiring fellow who rode there go and interrupt the important work of keeping ships safe at sea by asking for autographs. They were kind enough to help photograph my entry though, so I tried not to be judgemental, and took their photographs in return. They also pointed me to the entrance of the café, which being a nondescript door, locked from the inside, and in a seemingly closed building was pretty easy to miss. The door was locked to stop it banging in the wind, something which it did the moment I tried to open it. My judgemental tolerance reached its limit at this point when one of the group of riders broke out into a stream of Yuppee-speak about the wonderful nearby bothy, and how I had to visit it, and that they had “pinned it” (a phrase repeated several times at increasing levels of excitement) so that everyone could find this hidden gem they had discovered. I decided to go inside and meet Angela, rather than risk offence by pointing out that pretty much any guide you chose to read noted Kearvaig as the most picturesque bothy location in all of Scotland.
407km – 17 Aug, 11:18 – Cape Wrath
It took a few moments stood at the café counter for Angela to join the dots with who I was – hardly surprising given the number of visitors that must pass through. It was only by virtue of the ferryman’s band that she was able to figure out which of apparently two Donnie & Katie’s she knew had sent their greeting with me. More pressing in her mind seemed to be the apology that due to some issue (power generators maybe?) there were no fresh cakes, only shop bought. It was an unnecessary gesture since they were tasty and, more importantly, came with a large double cafetière of decent, strong coffee. With no particular hurry thanks to the earlier ferry I sat and enjoyed the company and conversation of the other few visitors who drifted in and out as I was there. One was a group of hikers – a young lad and two girls – who’d spent the last evening at the bothy and were just finishing the Cape Wrath trail. A slight twinge of envy flowed through as we talked about it, but they confirmed that the final section from Sandwood Bay was unrideable, open boggy moor, something my route planning had suggested would be the case. The two guys with touring bikes from back down the track also arrived, and their little dog ran excitedly amongst the long cafeteria tables as they also enjoyed a cuppa. In fact I needed to drain and return my pot so theirs could be made. Apparently the dog had travelled with its owner since being a puppy and was completely accustomed to either running alongside the bikes, or riding in a handlebar bag when conditions or distance didn’t allow. I was struck both by what a wonderful way it was to travel with your pet, and also how versatile a bike could be as transport given a little bit of ingenuity. Their rigs seemed barely more loaded than mine, and they had a whole extra animal to care for along the way.
The door nearly ripped off its hinges again as I left – the wind hadn’t grown tired of ravaging this barren outcrop at the end of the world. It was short lived though. Past the buildings and around the corner in the open countryside again, I dipped beneath the cloud and out of the wind. The 20km to the lighthouse had been bone shaking, and picking lines through the rubble mentally draining. I was on a high thanks to the copious coffee and having reach my big goal of the whole trip. But I’d be lying if I said I was looking forward to more of the same conditions going back. Up may now be down, but down was now up, and all of it was still bloody hard work. Fortunately, the weather was mild, and the scenery hadn’t got any less beautiful while I sheltered in the cafe. The first person I passed on the road was the bearded fell-runner from the ferry, now solo and impressively close to the lighthouse. As improbable as it had seemed, he was not only on track to make the whole round trip, but also have time for a cup of coffee in the process. Not long after I passed the three young hikers, and then very unexpectedly the single speed mountain biker, and her partner just behind. The reason for me catching them again became clear as we chatted – the trip down to visit the bothy had been something of a slog back up. They began suggesting I go take a look, but soon stopped when I pointed to the narrowness of my tyres. Before parting ways again, I did learn that the uber-strong lady rider was called Roberta, and she’d taken part in the Single Speed World Championships a year or two previous. A delightful nugget of detail that I immediately relayed on the WhatsApp group for William – a fellow single speed devotee and former SSWC participant. I also included some photos of her steed, and the all-important statistic of the gear ratio she was running (33×18)
The very last section of track was by far the most scenic. As I rounded the bend down to the small valley with the wooden bridge I was greeted with a glorious vista of blue skies, lush green moor, and acres of pale gold sand where the ocean had been a few hours earlier. It was surprising to see just how far the tide had gone out, even though the ferryman had said that the return journey would look very different. The ugly rough track out of the valley was no trouble with that as a backdrop, and a strong sense of satisfaction came over me as I trundled along the last easy section of track back down to the slipway. I was the only passenger on the way back – it was a smaller boat too, apparently easier to handle with the shallower crossing. We travelled parallel to a long sandbank, dotted with fisherman enjoying the easy access to the water’s edge.
426km – 17 Aug, 14:12- Keoldale
With a last heave of my rig from the boat, and a walk back up the steep ramp my Cape Wrath adventure was done – or rather almost done. After the bouncing and rattling I decided to give the bike some TLC. The first was in the form of a routine tyre inspection and pump up, and as good a job as I could make of cleaning and lubing the chain, with various napkins I had pocketed from restaurants along the way. The second only became evident once moving again. I mounted up and rolled down the road, waving to Roberta and her partner as I passed them sat on the wall of the Cape Wrath Hotel where they were staying. When I re-joined the main road again, the slight downhill gave me the first chance I’d had in 40km to use some faster gears. Or would have, had the front shifter not stubbornly ignored my request to move to the bigger chainring. My first reaction was a dead battery, but the rear shifters were working fine, so whatever the cause was it only affected the front mech. The culprit became obvious almost as soon as I had pulled over – the cable running out from under the bar tape was hanging loose. Rather nastier was why it had pulled out – the sled that held the Di2 junction box to the stem had sheered, and the whole contraption was dangling from its wires. Luckily, zip ties will fix most problems, and were more than up to this small repair job. The only problem was having to unpack the whole front end of the bike to get enough access to do a tidy fix. That revealed another casualty of the potholed bomb track – the makeshift spacers under my handlebar harness had jiggled themselves loose. Last night’s still slightly damp socks once rolled tightly were a near exact fit for the space that had been left, but it was annoying to think I had inadvertently left some litter behind in that pristine wilderness. At some stage during my roadside repairs, a group of touring drivers arrived in Porsches, and at least one other make of high end sports car which is now lost on me. I tried not to smile at my unintentional bit of photo bombing. But it was hard not to picture the scene when they came to study their holiday snaps properly, only to discover not just themselves, their lovely cars and the stunning loch, but in the background some random shabby cyclist with bits of his bike strewn all around.
It’s impossible to find words that can do any justice to what came next. The road south towards Laxford Bridge was utterly divine. Any thoughts that I’d perhaps already experienced the best of the NC500 along the north coast section left me the moment I set eyes on the thin snake of tar, winding upwards into the far distance. At around 200m of vertical overall, the climb was easy enough to really savour the scenery as it rose ever higher up the side of the hill it traversed. Below me a gravel road stretched south-eastward, until it lost itself behind crowded peaks. I had it mapped this out on the GPS as an alternative route section should the road have proved too busy, and it did look inviting. But the cars juggling to get past me in the few passing places were interrupted as often themselves for cars coming the other way, meaning we mostly travelled at the same slow speed up the hill. Of all the wide vans, only one vehicle gave me any real cause for concern on this stretch. A knobhead with an Audi R8 and almost no driving ability squeezed by without even bothering to wait for a passing spot, nearly pushing me into the gutter as he did so. Fortunately, his karma came swiftly – a local in a beat up Astra coming down the pass proved less easy to bully. The comical scene that unfolded slowly in front of me more than made up for the moment of panic the twat had caused. Firstly came his brake lights, as he sat just beyond the passing place he had blasted through clearly expecting the Astra to reverse back up. Then, I presume, dawned the realization that he had much more to lose in this equation. Finally, and I may have imagined some of this part, he stalled the beast whilst looking for reverse, and then I could have sworn I saw him reach into the glove compartment for the instructions on how the gearbox worked. Either way, it was wonderful to cycle slowly past him and enjoy the sight of his wife spelling out just what she thought of him. I’d reached the top of the hill and pulled over for a photo before he passed me again, thankfully for the last time.
The freewheel down from the crest was long, and fast, and fabulous – through a landscape of rocky green, with countless lakes and pools dotted in between. The views were so incredible it was hard to keep my eyes on the road – but it was very necessary I did so. The procession of cars in front was being sufficiently held up by the need to pause for oncoming traffic at each passing place that I almost piled into the back of its tail. Lined up ahead was a slow caterpillar containing many of the vehicles that had been behind me on the way up. With no real need to wait, it was tempting to flash past them, except that would have needed more concentration than riding my brakes at the back enjoying the scenery. Eventually, just before the hamlet of Richonich, the road widened and the traffic dispersed leaving me alone again on the road. I pulled into the turnoff for the Richonich Hotel in the hope of food, a move which proved as fruitless as it had appeared from a distance. It wasn’t clear if the hotel was actually closed, or just unwelcoming. There we no lights on inside, or obvious indications of life, and a sign on the door that bikes were not allowed anywhere near made me think that this was not an establishment that would welcome cyclists anyway, even if they were actually open. It wasn’t ideal. The substantial breakfast, cake, and fruit had all by now long worn off and I was properly hungry. I knew that somewhere along the B road that forked off towards Achriesgill was a local restaurant with a good reputation. But the afternoon was rapidly heading towards evening, and my progress for the day was still well short of where I hoped to be. A long detour for a meal wasn’t going to help – especially when stashed on my front forks were food and the means to cook it. My nominal plan had been to camp this evening anyway, so I swung back out of the turning and continued south-west along the direction of my route.
454km – 17 Aug, 16:27 – Laxford Bridge
Rumbling tummy aside, it’s not like I had any real reason to complain given the surroundings. Laxford Bridge was so idyllic, several vehicles were parked with their occupants splashing and playing in the stream below. As I’d hoped, my turnoff over the bridge proved to be the road less travelled, leaving the wider carriageway and most of the traffic behind as I ventured back onto single track road again. I had a distinct sense of heading deep into the highlands. My direction swung south east and the hills seemed to close in on both sides of me, a narrowing and steepening valley, as the road twisted between surrounding peaks. Initially I followed the course of the river which flowed under the bridge I’d just crossed. At one point I pulled over to use the convenience of a nearby hedge, and also dig out some emergency snack bar rations to keep the engine running. I could not remember much detail of the road ahead but, given the immediate landscape, upwards seemed more likely than down.
Before long, the river became the first of a procession of lochs. Loch Stack got things started, leading to the tiny Loch nan Ealachan at the head of the altogether more substantial Loch More – which I seemed to be riding along forever. I am only aware of these names now, with the aid of a map. At the time they were a succession of ever larger and more impressive bodies of water. I cannot begin to describe the sense of peace and calm which came over me riding alongside these immense lakes, with high green ramps of moors and hills around me. Time was getting on though, and I was literally between nothing and nowhere. I started to scrutinize the occasional barns or outbuildings I passed in the hope that one might prove a workable bivvy spot. But with each new loch, the clouds of midges seemed to grow ever larger and more voracious. The steep sided landscape had killed off most of the breeze, encouraging vast swarms of the beasts to rise from their spawning pools. It wasn’t an inviting prospect to sleep outdoors with them – something I had been warned of by those more experienced in these parts. I did pass through a tiny village along the way, somewhere between lochs, but there was no obvious hotel or B&B that I could see. I do recall failing to stop for a near perfect photo opportunity for Yoli’s dad. Stood in the middle of the mountain stream was a lone fly fisherman, a perfect loop of line stretching out behind him in the orange evening glow. I struggled to shake the words “A River Runs Through It” from my mind, despite being on completely the wrong continent.
The road rose up before crossing over to the left bank of the next loch (Loch Merkland) in the sequence. I pulled over under a darkening sky of heavy clouds, looking out on a small fish farming platform a short way off on the water. It was time to make a tough decision. My original plan had been to turn off between the next two lochs and head across the hills to Oykel Bridge, and from there swing back onto 60km of gravel roads along the Sutherland Crater route. For several reasons though, including the worsening weather and insects, it was seeming a less than attractive option. My greater concern though was another long stretch of dubious road conditions after the battering Cape Wrath had dished out to my rig. It was impossible to avoid the fact that my kit still needed to hold together for another week and 1,200km to get me home. On my evening call home it was decided – I’d push on along this road to the town of Lairg, and Yoli would ring ahead to see if there was a B&B with space. After a long day on the road with limited stops, both my phone and watch were running low on juice by this point, so I stashed them in my frame and top tube bags, hooked up to battery packs to give them a boost.
For a last minute plan, it worked perfectly – although Lairg took me way longer to reach than I had imagined. Loch Shin turned out to be nearly 30km long, almost all of it populated by dense plumes of midges, apart from one short section near the end where the road pulled away from the water and high enough on the hill to have some wind to blow them away. It was difficult to decide whether their biting attention or the cloudbursts that drenched me at random were more unwelcome, but it took a conscious effort to keep myself in the moment, enjoying the still glorious scenery, rather than wishing I was already down the road and finished for the day with a steak in front of me. But with steady effort, the kilometres gradually ticked down – I passed an inviting looking B&B right beside the loch that was sadly still closed due to COVID. Eventually I reached the main road where a crew of workmen were busy with repairs. As we exchanged greeting waves, it was noticeable that locals didn’t fare any better than tourists with the midges – every one of wore a hat with fully protective insect net. Soon after the town itself came into view, and with a bit of fiddling on Google Maps, I navigated my way to the establishment which Yoli had found literally the last available room in town at – the Lairg Highlands Hotel.
514km – 17 Aug, 20:30 – Lairg
Outside were parked a row of vans and cars with bike racks. Clearly another tour was in town which, I discovered from chatting with the crew outside, was another JOGLE charity ride. The staff inside were busy and a tad flustered from having so many hungry riders to look after. Despite this, they still made time to help get my bike safely locked up in the laundry room outside at the back of the hotel, and pour a very welcome pint to help wash down the perfectly cooked Sirloin. I chatted a little with some of the riders. They were on a schedule of plus or minus 100km depending on the day, and sounded to be following a similar route to mine, at least in parts. Rather more worrying was their weather prediction – wind direction shifting to the normal summer south-westerly, with a big storm due to hit on Friday around Shap, in the Lake District. It didn’t take a lot of mental math to realise that I, like they, would be riding directly into it’s path and I could hear my late father warning me of how treacherous the notoriously windy road across high ground could be in gale. I tried to put the thought out of mind as I downed the last dregs of beer, and retired to my room to deal with the more immediate task of studying maps and plotting my way back on track. It turned out to involve a rather simple diversion onto part of the road I had taken out of Inverness, before splitting off again to Muir of Ord to pick up my original route. Rather pleasingly, by that stage I should also be roughly back on schedule too. The only question was which of several road options to take the next day. I mapped out both, leaving the decision to which seemed more attractive when I got to each road junction in the morning.