This is Oykel Bridge, nearby is the pleasant little hotel of the same name, "full"

July 12 to July 18 2005 Stornoway to Weymouth

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Day 48 July 12th Stornoway to Ullapool

It is a lazy day for the start of the week with only about 3km cycling. We walked down to the town centre to use the internet which is free in the library and to buy some food for the crossing to Ullapool.

We returned via an information centre set up to promote the windfarm. Interestingly these 234 massive structures have to be lined up beside the road. This is because the centre of the islands has a higher protection status and cannot be touched. It would seem that the status near the road, while still high, is meaningless. That is, where government and big business are concerned.

We suppose in the end that it comes down to whether windfarms are to be preferred to nuclear power. It then becomes much more complex. Economic and social considerations, all of which are subjective, come into it. And that is not even taking into account other considerations. Are there better ways to do it, for example wave or tidal energy? And anyway do we need to use as much electricity as we do. Certainly street lights could be turned off and in many cases removed altogether.

At midday we collected our stuff and cycled down to the ferry dock. The stoker is clearly exhausted by her efforts. She put on her wrist pressure bands to ward off sea sickness and slept for almost the whole voyage.

Ullapool is a bustling place in summer, in a lovely setting well up the loch between steep hills. It was full of backpackers and tourists and felt quite different from the islands. We cycled to the backpackers hostel and were shown to our room in a self contained cottage. We relaxed and cooked our own food and enjoyed a bottle of wine.

Day 49 July 13th Ullapool to Ledmore

It is not far today. We need to break the journey north and then east and there is very limited accommodation. So we slept in a bit and then had a lazy breakfast chatting to an Austrian couple also staying in the cottage.

It may not have been very far but it was very hilly. Fortunately it was a fresh day with a good wind on our backs most of the time. The clouds blew through and it did not rain. We are again in the highland area and it is very different from the islands. The surrounding mountains here are high, towering into the clouds. It was almost the ideal day for sightseeing. Visibility was good and the clouds blowing in gave the view one sees in Scottish calendars.

We were also pleasantly surprised at how little traffic there was. After the unpleasantness of Oban we had expected the worst here. It is after all the main northwest road.

The B&B at Ledmore is the ethnic type. We get the spare bedroom upstairs and share the family bathroom. The owners, like most people here, have several jobs and B&B keeps them going in the summer.

Day 50 July 14th Ledmore to Near Ardgay

Living the "Good Life" is probably only bearable for one night. Mind you, the Management would stay longer if Felicity Kendal were there. As she was definitely not we were pleased to get away from this country idyll.

The sky looked threatening so we made sure everything was properly in the waterproof bags. For the first part of the ride we were on single track road. There was little traffic and the only hills were between lochs. Soon after leaving we passed the Altnacealgach Motel where we ate last night. Next time we come we will stay there.

Once off the plateau we descended to the Oykel Bridge Hotel, again a good place to stay though full of fishermen last night. Soon after this we turned right and crossed the River Oykel and continued downish on tiny forest roads. So far we had only had a few drips of rain. But in the overcast conditions the flies were unpleasant. We never stopped long enough to risk the near fatal midges.

By late lunchtime we were approaching Carbisdale Castle which is a Scottish Youth Hostel and probably the most opulent youth hostel in the western world. It is certainly the most opulent we have seen. The construction of the castle was completed in 1917. Even though it is not old it is both historically and architecturally interesting. But our main interest to start with was to prepare our lunch in the members kitchen.

We presented our membership cards and were checked in as visitors. We were given leaflets about the history and the hostel's ghosts and invited to explore. Being proper cyclists we looked after the inner persons first.

The hostel was bequeathed to the SYHA in 1945. The main rooms of the building do not appear to have been changed. The ground floor entrance lobby gives way to a large hall with stained glass windows, the walls are lined with original paintings and it has nude marble statues in the centre. From this are several other large rooms, each with interesting ceilings and paintings. On the first floor is a ballroom, again with several public rooms leading from it.

The hostel has 189 beds but all the family rooms were booked. We booked a nearby B&B because we will only sleep in dorms if there is absolutely no alternative. Anyway, once people began to arrive at the hostel we realised it is on the backpackers trail. We enjoyed exploring the castle but the trail is best avoided by any discriminating person.

Carbisdale Castle, yes this really is a youth hostel and the inside is equally impressive

Day 51 July 15th Near Ardgay to Cromarty

In contrast to the previous night on a croft last night was pleasant and comfortable. We were, however, about 7km off the direct route up a lovely dead end valley. Or as our hostess insisted, a "strath".

We pedalled down the valley looking for a phone signal as we had plans to book a nice self catering cottage for a couple of nights. It was a complete failure and we went on hopefully expecting to arrive.

As we went on we came across signs for Sustrans route one. We had no idea where it went, as we had sent the Sustrans map back home from Glasgow. Their routes are mostly harmless. But when they are not they cause great trouble and bad temper. Fortunately this one, like most of those in Scotland, just involved signs being put up on minor roads. Of course it would be too difficult for them to say where it goes.

We stopped at Edderton church. The Management was attracted to a structure in the churchyard which looked like a Punch and Judy show on Weymouth beach. We think it is a raised platform for the black crows to officiate at burials. Whatever, true to form, they stay dry while the congregation gets wet.

The Stoker went looking for the Pictish cross in the churchyard. The cross and graphics are very beautiful and carry with them strong feelings of tradition, history and mysticism. We continued on to the pleasant and ancient little town of Tain. We were short on supplies for lunch and stopped at the Co-op but abandoned the idea. The café in the shop did lunch. Not only that but they gave old age discount. The Management presented his Dorset bus pass and it was not worth lighting the trangia.

At Tain we parted from Sustrans until almost the end of the day. Sustrans seemed to involve a large increase in kms and a big hill. We did have to do a few kms on the A9 but it was not all that busy and it was mainly downhill.

We soon turned off towards Cromarty and were then on a flat plain surrounded by high hills. This area has been completely bypassed by the main roads and is very quiet. At Nigg we rejoined the Sustrans route in order to see another even more impressive Pictish cross in the old church. It was of course worth the gratuitous steep sudden climb to get there.

After this we had a fast ten minute ride to catch the Cromarty ferry at 15h45. This is a tiny, square black boat which takes just two cars and a few passengers across the narrow mouth of the Cromarty Firth. This huge natural harbour is home to the oil industry and cruise liners. There are several oil platforms in view and at least a couple of cruise liners come into Invergordon each week. It is a lovely place and if it were in the south would be packed with yachts.

The boy on the ferry and perhaps his boss had the normally accepted view of tandems incorporated into their pricing structure. That is that one of the riders is a passenger. But they don't dare say which one. The charge was £3 for the cyclist and £2.50 for the passenger.

We cycled several times around the pleasant village of Cromarty but had no luck finding a self catering cottage. There were a very few B&Bs in private houses but we had no luck with these either so settled for the pub which is a nice down to earth place to stay. We had also noted the location of the local eat in chippie for later.

Later we walked into the "chippie" without even really looking at it. "Had we booked?" "No", well "yes I think we have a table" etc was not what we had expected. Then we looked around. It was not a chippie but a very nice restaurant and we enjoyed one of the better meals on this trip. And it was all the better for being unexpected.

We also enjoyed meeting Shirley and Mike from Hale in Cheshire and their granddaughter Lucy from Kent. They were dog sitting for their daughter and invited us back for coffee. Their son-in-law is a helicopter pilot for the air ambulance, a service which is essential in these remote parts.

Day 52 July 16th Cromarty to Inverness

Today we decided to test ride the Sustrans route into Inverness. We wouldn't usually risk such a foolhardy thing but it is not all that far from Cromarty to Inverness where we had booked the next two nights.

We followed the signs south on the Black Isle, which is not an island but an isolated peninsular. Unlike most of this part of Scotland it is a fertile agricultural area with standing crops in large fields. But, like much of the north, the hills are high and the route is steep. We climbed to over 220 metres in 7km and then went down and up again. The Management could not complain. He says he would have gone the same way as the Sustrans route if he had planned it. He does have a reputation for finding big hills.

By lunchtime we had arrived at Munlochy and lunched in the playground of the local primary school. We were both surprised and confused by the nearby Sustrans sign. Surprised because for the first time it gave the destination as Inverness. It is usually impossible to find where Sustrans routes are going. But confused because it said it was nine miles when it was more like 9km on our map. We soon found out why.

A little way along the road the route turned right. It seemed obvious to us that it would be better to go a bit further along the road and turn left onto a minor road. We cannot prove we were right because we followed the route. It goes up a pleasant valley to join a parallel road to the now busy A9. The noise alone makes this undesirable. Eventually it joins the A9 itself on a tiny overgrown path for a few hundred metres.

Here the road we would have taken passes under the A9 via a little trafficked newly constructed route. Sustrans uses a steep path through a dubious looking tunnel. From here the route passes along the shore of the Beauly Firth before climbing very steeply indeed to the large Kessock suspension bridge which gives access to Inverness. Crossing this is slightly disconcerting. We were on a path facing speeding northwards traffic, protected only by a narrow crash barrier. The barrier on the water side was low enough to allow us to be catapulted over in a crash. But it was made easier for us as the weather was pleasant and no was one going in the opposite direction on the narrow path.

We soon found the Eastgate Hostel where we had booked two nights. On the whole we enjoyed our route today. It was hilly but we would not hold that against it. One important sign was missing but we were able to confirm our route by looking at the signs going the other way. Being kind to Sustrans we suspect that the bad part of the route leading to the bridge was planned before a more recent traffic scheme. It is a shame that the local cyclists don't sort out both these problems. It would involve very little work and benefit many people.

Days 53 and 54 July 17th and 18th Inverness to Weymouth

The hostel is pleasant and clean. We would have preferred a self catering cottage in the countryside but none were to be had. We did however have our own room, access all day and a good kitchen. B&B would not have allowed us to reorganise as necessary in order to fly home.

Taking stock, the last few days since leaving Stornoway have been great cycling. This was made all the more enjoyable because we had not expected it. None of our route was on roads which could be considered busy. Most was on very quiet roads and the scenery varied from mountains over 700 metres high to flat plains. Accommodation was difficult but not impossible to find. We would go this way again.

So we were able to sleep in on Sunday morning before going out in search of packing for the tandem. We have lightweight bags but acquired some cardboard from the hostel and bubble wrap from Debenhams wedding shop.

In the afternoon we followed the Inverness city trail. It whiled away the afternoon in a pleasant kind of way before the serious work of reorganising the bags for the flight began.

On Monday we left the comfortable hostel and pedalled steeply up the side road. The Management had done a reci yesterday and found the start of the cycle route out of town. We cycled on minor roads to the Culloden battle field. Our schedule allowed us 20 minutes to look around. This was quite enough in the Management's view and less would be appropriate if it were wet, windy or cold. It is a place where an historic battle took place. There is, however, very little to see which has not been put there by our contemporaries.

Onwards and downwards we went to Inverness airport. We broke the tandem down to its three parts then changed from our cycling clothes and did another repack of the bags. It all took a bit longer than usual, 45 minutes, but there was no real pressure to hurry. We were checked in at least 30 minutes before closure. And even the jobsworth who objected to the tandem going as one bike could find nothing in the rule book to stop it. Unfortunately the easyJet was still in Bristol at this time and we left an hour late.

With the tandem and all our luggage squeezed into a hire car and a few odds and ends bought in Dorchester Tesco we were home early evening.

It will take a while to adjust to normal life. It is hard to stop travelling and we don't suppose we will. But we will enjoy the comforts of home for a while.

Anne's Dad on the Crow Road in the 1930s

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