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11 Thursday, 24.6., Bergen - Lerwick (Shetlands)

This is the day of the final farewell. Terje accompanies me down to the next bike shop. At last we will buy a new rack for my bike to make things perfect. Then we say Adieu, we will get to know by Email what will happen in the future. When we will be retired once upon a time we will ride to the North Cape together, that's for sure.

The ship will leave at 3 pm so some hours must be killed in Bergen and the drizzle. I toddle around in those backyards but then go to the quay and watch as my ship comes in. Eventually the passengers for today arrive. The cyclists collect at a waiting booth, but there is a toilet with a bad smell. I meet a German cyclist, who seems to be somewhat tight-lipped. At last he comes out, that he has done Sicilia - North Cape and now wants to go to Iceland. On the other hand he is perfectly shaved, brandnew equipped and looks like just coming out of an outdoor equipment exhibition. We other cyclists tend to look like vagabonds and did not start at Sicilia. Things are strange sometimes. Then there is a couple from Norway, they only want to go to the Orkney Islands, which are famous for their rich archeological heritages. Another German cyclist has a trailer behind his bike for all the stuff of his rolling hotel. He has retired from the army 5 years ago and now he is one year younger than I. Things are strange sometimes.

Our cycle group is dispatched very late this time (usually they are the first), so we are somewhat cold. But on board of the Norrĝna one can warm up. After the ship's cast off  and in open waters already they perform some strange manoeuvres. At first a pilot boat comes alongside. Then the machines are stopped and thereafter even go backwards. May be there was a novice at the rudder and had hit a blind alley? May be I tell you nonsens.

Above the sea ahead there are no clouds at all. So we leave Norway in the mist and at sunset time the cameras around produce their clicking concert. I have prepared my place for the night already. There are so called "Couchettes", simple three-stored couches without any bedclothes. I even find a room for my own because the ship is not fully booked. About 1 pm the ship arrives at Lerwick. We have won 1 hour meanwhile for here is the Westeuropean Summertime. As we leave off a motor biker asks a deck worker for the youth hostel at Lerwick. He doesn't know anything, but I can help with my first Sustrans map. Moreover he has booked in advance, so there is some chance that they still let us in. I should have booked for myself, but there are always things you ought to do and don't do...



This time as usual I roll off as one of the first and soon I find the youth hostel in the dawn. It is really open. I pay 11 £ and get a bed in a sleeping room. "Crazy Time" the warden says. But one should give a high credit to him for he awaits the passengers from Norway at this time once the week. When the motor biker and trailer cyclist arrive I am nearly asleep.

12 Wednesday, 25.6., Shetland Mainland Circle, 89 km

Before breakfast I must go out and get money and something to eat. Now there are the first imprssions of this remote islands. Lerwick is a nice town with grey Victorian houses and a nice little harbour. I find a minibank, get my money and then are legalized to buy some rolls, tea and cheese in a shop. Then I enjoy the breakfast at the youth hostel. Soon the motor biker and the trailer man join me. Another guest affirming as Dipl. Ing. for Mining Sciences from Austria is highly interested in the Scottish youth hostel and castle with it's own ghost. I can help him: Carbisdale Castle near Bonar Bridge. All over his life he has wanted to go there - he says. We make a sign on my Sustrans map.

The motor biker will spend the day in efforts to find out the best exchange rate for his Norwegian crowns. It is to be said, that he has worked in Norway and now lives from this money. The trailer man has to build up his tent which is still wet from Norway. On the other hand his luggage would be too heavy to cycle in hilly areas - he says. So I am the only one starting for a look around.

We have a fine weather and I try something that I call the "Mainland Circle" (Lerwick, A970 to the north, B9075 to Laxo, B9071 to Twatt, A971 back to Lerwick). At the beginning it is undetermined, how large the diameter of this circle may be, so there is much to calculate on the ride. It is determined to reach the ship at 6 pm otherwise we would have to wait two more days.

The landscape of the Shetlands is stunning, not only due to the hills. Just in the outskirts of Lerwick behind the guard rail I find a field of orchids (Early Purple Orchid) like nowhere else. In the ditches there are those yellow flowers which was unknown for me for a lonng time (End-to-End 1999): the Monkeyflower (Mimulus luteus). Sometimes I watch a bird with a long beak and odd shrill cries. No, it is not the oyster catcher, it is the Curlew.

Rest at the Gonfirth Church

So I ride along green meadows seperated by grey stonewalls. A wide view to the horizon where the land, the sea and the sky melt together. At Laxo a ferry boat from one of the outer islands comes in. But - calm down - this one is not for me. The B-roads are single track roads and there is nearly no traffic. The villages are only a few, sometime picturesque, houses. Old houses are nice, new ones mostly not - that may be the same all over the world.

The rest places aside the road are so beautiful, one could spend the day sitting there. Especially I enjoy the view at the Gonfirth Church at about the most northern point of today. The way back is into the wind and some pretty hills have to be passed. So I must resign to absolve the additional stretch via Scalloway with a couple of attractions. I feel the day's work when I come back to the quay at Lerwick. May be it had been easier if I would have left the panniers behind.

When the ship leaves "we three meet again" (a phrase of a ballad, let's talk about it later). The Norwegian couple gets all of our remaining crown coins and is very pleased about that. We dare to order one or two beers after the shocking prices in Norway. We chat all the time so at once about 11 pm we arrive at Kirkwall, Orkneys. We say farewell, the motor biker stays on board for Aberdeen, the trailer man looks for the campground. Now I must find an accommodation as well, and it is late today. A backpacker guesthouse is full. The next elegant hotel is booked. But the chief is so friendly and phones up a couple of places, but nobody wants a "single" at midnight. They say there is a festival at Kirkwall just now (St. Magnus 2003, 15-25 June). That's my favourite situation all over the years: come to a town and find full guesthouses etc. everywhere due to a special festivity...

This time there is a proper solution, that I can win a day but the Orkneys lose me. There is a ship from Stromness to Scrabster on the Scottish mainland about 4 o' clock in the morning. If  I ride the 28 km from Kirkwall during the night I will feed some time and can start in Scotland tomorrow - no today meanwhile - morning. So you find me on the road in the middle of the night without any light gear. I trust in the big reflectors at the back of the panniers, but there only are about a handfull of cars during the whole way. And it never gets completely dark, so you always can see the road ahead. At 1.15 am I arrive at Stromness, cool and damp by the nightly air.

Arrival at Stromness


Cliffs of Hoy

The old Man of Hoy

It is an excellent idea to keep the office and waiting hall of the North Link Ferry company open all over the night. I can purchase my ticket and then retire into a remote corner of the waiting hall. There I consume the rests of my food and drinking stuff. Then I lie on a bench, the rucksack under my head. I think it all over but then I must have fallen asleep. As the ship is waiting the friendly clerk of the office comes along and wakes me up.

I cannot find out, why this ship runs off at this time. There is only a clerk with a brief case who immediately sinks down for sleep on a bench. Then there is a freezing couple clamped together in the breeze to watch the sunrise. I get a photo as well and you will not see my tiredness on it. Moreover I see some wild cliffs steaming with lower clouds and then -- look there: The Old Man of Hoy, what a sensation! And that is all what I saw on the Orkneys. I sit in a chair and once again in this night find a cap of sleep.

13 Thursday, 26.6., Thurso/Scrabster - Altnaharra, 98 km

Up up and away into a fresh Scottish morning! And - guess - I have been here already 4 years ago. I had a nasty headwind at that day. Today we have the same wind - but I go into the opposite direction. The road is flat at first, we pass the memorable nuclear reactor madness of  Dounreay, some innocent cows in front of it. The first shop at the road is closed yet. And now the hills come ahead. The sun shines high above meanwhile and suddenly I am struck: I have nothing to eat nor to drink in my pockets! And I don't find any shop at Reay nor Melvich nor Strathy? I had liked to perform a trip to Strathy Point and the lighthouse there, but now I don't dare awaiting a hunger collapse, dehydration or something like that. And now 10 miles more to Bettyhill across the hills. 10 Miles can be a long long  stretch. And finally I hit on the signpost of Bettyhill, so beautiful that it is worth for a photo, and the magic word is Shop! The shop itself is worth for a photo as well. And then I sit with 2 L Fanta, rolls, bacon, sausage and cheese under a sunshade. The locals rumor: "What a nice day".

Some Cattle at the Atomic Station Dounreay

At Last Shopping

The Shop

Two cyclists come up and sit on the table aside. "End-to-Enders?" I start a conversation between experts. "Yes on the last day up to John O’ Groats". Then I ask for an accommodation in the highlands behind Tongue. If I had missed to ask, me - and you perhaps - would have missed a great opportunity. There is a B&B at Altnaharra, they say, a nice one with views to the Loch Naver. Sounds good, though it is said, that the highland stretch from Tongue to Lairg is one of the most lonesome all over Scotland. My distance for today would fit exactly with this place.

Mouth of the River Naver (Bettyhill)

Kyle of Tongue

You can imagine that I am in a high mood, starting again, strong and full of expectation. And we have a Mediterranian sun, unbelievable colours. And this is Scotland, many visitors may have a reminiscence of grey in grey (may be because they visited this or that distillerie at the Whiskey Trail too often...). I absolve the last stretch with tailwind to Tongue. Only a short distance to Loch Eriboll from here - where I once had my Shangrila... May be I have a new Shangrila today - I do not know yet.

At Tongue we leave the coast and turn south. This is the official and more scenic route. You can choose a shorter road from Bettyhill. Now we go into the wind, something new. The traffic on this single track road is very low, all drivers are considerate and stop or overtake at the passing places. All wave a Hello and so do I. We ride along the Loch Loyal.

There is a real sea disturbance caused by the strong wind. So I must rest somewhat more often, mostly in the shelter of a bridge or balustrade. At the end of the loch a last bridge, another tourie comes from ahead down the hill and flies back where I have come from. Now I must climb this hill. Moorland around, wide views, let's have another rest and just look. At the edge of a forest there is no wind but warm sunshine - another rest. And then I roll down to Altnaharra. What's about the B&B?

Ah, there is the sign, and there is the house, and there is the open door. I shout "Hello". And someone comes around the corner and laughs, and this is Mandy, and I laugh and I am Martin. But I am more, I am somewhat exhausted and I am extremely happy to have an accommodation after the last two short (or long?) nights once again, and such a nice one moreover. Now Lindsay comes in, Mandy's husband. And then we sit at a cup of tea and talk. And I am promised to get an evening meal tonight.

B&B at Altnaharra

View from the House

But now the shower bath,  and then a short stay on the bed is not recommended, the eyes immediately turn inside. So I better go for the evening meal: soup, Codpie and icecream, I feel wonderful. I can phone at home and we even have a look in the Internet and my tour reports. Of course I promise to advise their sweet home and I think I have done this meanwhile.Of course they have a key position at this trail far away from other occasions to stay overnight. Except the hotel on the other side, which will be more expensive or the Crask Inn some miles ahead.

The Bed and Breakfast, Mandy & Lindsay Smith, email info@altnaharra.net, Tel. +44 (0)1549 411258

In the evening sun I make some photos of the nice views and then we sit in the veranda and I learn a lot of the area. Mandy and Lindsay live here to let the busy world behind. Moreover it is not so far to the Ben Nevis for winter- and ice-climbing. Meanwhile a German couple has come up in addition, they use to climb one mountain after another each day. I soon retire and find a calm sleep. It is silent hereabout, in a circle of 5 miles there live about 30 people.

14 Friday, 27.6., Altnaharra - Inverness, 120 km

At breakfast, the first full British (better not say English - we are in Scotland) breakfast we sit together as we knew each other for a long time yet. We are glad to have Email, so I can report of the continuation of my tour. Lindsay must go shopping today and Mandy writes the list. I say Farewell and set off. After I have passed the summit towards Lairg someone overtakes, jumps out of his car and makes a photo. This is Lindsay, who now continues to ride to Inverness, a distance for the whole day for me.

The rest of the route to Lairg is downhill all the time. Now the route follows the picturesque river Shin. And something like the Shin Falls is announced. From the parking lot a small path leads down to the falls. There are a lot of excited people with cameras and binoculars. What's that about? I assume something, and this is right: they look for jumping salmons. After I have completed my photos all crie: "There is one, did you see it?". Yes, I saw a tail fin and now am very proud of it. And at the next bridge I lean over and have a proving glance - be careful not to get mad of it.

Shin Falls

Now another peculiarity follows. This is the rail bridge near Invershin. In former times this bridge was crossed illegally to spare some miles via Bonar Bridge to the "Ghost-Youth-Hostel" Carbisdale Castle on a hill on the other side of the river. Meanwhile they have flanged a passenger bridge to the columns of the bridge, and this can be passe by bikes as well. After a narrow path with stinging-nettles we end at the road to the castle with the ghost. But I never saw it! We continue along the railway line.

My hosts have recommended to ride the road named "The Struey" (B9176). This passes a last hill and gives a last impression of the highlands. Near the summit there is a viewpoint above the Dornoch Firth. I speak to a cycle couple from Holland, they will go to Lairg today. Then a bus comes up and there are signs: End-to-End Runners. But where are the bikes? Aha, there is another way: they run. One at a time, 30 minutes, 18 hours the day. So they manage to absolve the End-to-End within 9 days. As usual there is a charity background: Home for Children or something like that. Behind the next bend the acting runner comes up, accompanied by a cyclist for security. "Round the bend they are waiting for you!" I shout out. And then I cannot get it out of my ears:  ... down in the courtyard the’re waiting for me... ( Tony Christie: I did what I did for Maria).

The road leads down all the way to the Cromarty Firth. There are a couple of oil-riggs. A long bridge leads across towards Inverness, a shortcut but a busy traffic. But after I have passed Dingwall there is no other road than the 4 lane A835. But soon we can leave the traffic again and reach Inverness across the Kessock Bridge. Inverness is busy, I find the tourist information some minutes before 6 pm and get a booking: Cuchulin Lodge Hotel, the oldest private hotel at Inverness. This sounds rather expensive but it is not. But I pay 8 £ provision, OK, a part of it  is repaid by the hotel later on.

In the evening I enter a Chinese Restaurant  in the Academy Street. I am not so enthusiastic about this. At the table aside a family of China enjoys their meal by chopsticks. But now and then something falls off as well.

Back in the hotel I have some laundry and find a forgotten pair of quality Scottish socks. They take share of the laundry and will come with me as souvernirs.

Chapter 4: Inverness - Edinburgh
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