Chapter 5: Middle Scotland from Ardgour to Ullapool
Back to the index
Land's End to John O' Groats

Chapter 6: North Scotland from Ullapool to John O' Groats

14. Day, Friday: Ullapool - Durness - Loch Eriboll
8.00-18.00, 121 km trp, 15.4 km/h avg, 55.3 km/h max, 1750 km total

This day begins with fun for I may push up the steep ramp once more. But fresh in the morning, motivated for the day, this is no problem. Instead of that a little observation: The milkman puts his bottles at a gate of a nearby property. And a small dog is waiting there and then happily barking runs to his home to announce that the milk has come in.

Especially interesting on this morning is the question, how long I yesterday had to ride to find an accomodation. The answer: just as far as from Ardmair back to Ullapool. "B&B, Evening Meal available" is to be read there. I now got another problem: the derailleurs will not work correctly. So I shorten the cables for some amount and now it works again. For some miles... then a clicking noise in the left switch and the cable of the front derailleur is broken. This is not too bad, for I still can ride uphill with the small blade. At downhill or plane sections I only can play the "High Speed Pedailleur" or better stop pedalling. Of course you never reach the average speed like before.

At a telephone box I find a piece of newspaper "Inverness News" or so. There is a story of an accident which happened at "Strathy Point, near the Lighthouse" . I will come along there so I'm interested what is written. A woman has walked with her dog near the cliffs. The dog then fell down and sat helpless on a small platform. The woman tried to save the dog, fell down the cliff herself and died. When the coast guard saved the corpse they saved the dog as well - it was unhurt.

So let us turn to the landscape again. The hills, mountains, highlands and coastal regions always have their own character. It's good that I am unable to describe everything, so the reader keeps motivated to go there himself.

From the roadmap we await the village Ledmore where three roads meet. There are three houses as well. Then up to a pass and down again to Loch Assynt. At a small island there is the ruin of a castle named Ardvreck Castle. The same question as yesterday: what did they do in former times at this lonesome area? We should better study some history or watch the movie "Braveheart".

At next (after some hills) we pass a narrow bridge at Loch a' Chairn Bhain and some time later (after some hills) a high bridge named Laxford Bridge. In former time here was a ferry. An older couple gets chairs and picknic stuff out of their car and I prefer to head on. Some time later I stop for a photo at a cattlegrid where I see a heavily loaded biker approaching from the horizon. The rolling hotel turns out to belong to a woman from Suisse, who had come by flight from Zürich to Glasgow, went by train north to Thurso and visited the Orkney Islands. Now she goes back to Ullapool to get the connection of the civilized world. We agree in the beauty of Scotland and she says it's her favourite country. "Sometimes I think, when I once have to die I can be so happy to have seen all these beauties" she says.

Curly River

Prick of Peat
So we part in opposite directions. This is the A838 now leading to the last section at the northern coast of Scotland. We climb up to 180 m height again and have the highlands pure. At some places they dig for peat (Torf) and put it on heaps to dry. At last there is a sign: "Blind Summit" - so be careful to go up there. For there is something behind - and this is the first sight to the sea at the northern shores of Scotland. And don't forget that you have started at Land's End. For now this is the moment when you have crossed the country. Why to go to John O' Groats? We will see...

Now the English speaking folks declare at such a moment: "I did it". May be I behave somewhat ridiculous because during the downhill I shout out: "I did it I did it I did it!!!". So we reach the Balnakeil Bay.

Nearby there is the Cape Wrath as the outer north west tip of the country. But I reach Durness to end for today. But as I told before, I would prefer to continue again, though there is no proper village ahead and we have 5 pm already. I decide to go on and don't know why. There is the Loch Eriboll and the road leads all around this deep cut of the coast. I can calculate to reach the next place for an accomodation around 10 pm, and this would be Tongue. But the weather is dry and warm, if necessary I could spend the night from 11 pm to 4 am in the shelter of a bush.

Remark: Now I must insert a seperate chapter, for something unexpected occurs. And remember: I completed it at this very evening - the coast to coast from south to north.

The evening at Loch Eriboll

OK, I run out of Durness and see cliffs similar to those at Cornwall. So this is not the destination of all, it was the tour itself to represent the goal. Up and down again towards Loch Eriboll, at the other side of the Loch you can observe the same road leading up the hills to the east. It's about 1 mile from here, but to get there you have to ride about 15 miles all around the Loch. The next named place at the road map is Laid and there are three houses (as usual). And a sign: B&B, Evening Meal available. I stop and decide not to leave this place whatever happens (like at Dumfries after the rain).

Ruines at Loch Eriboll
We find a new built house, the door is open and a young man comes along to offer some rooms and of course we choose the room with the view to the Loch. This is not so important, the main thing is: I have reached the north after all and can await a reflective evening to think it all over. In front of the house there is one of these fire red telephone boxes again - may be this is the most beautiful on earth?

I prepare for a shower bath but cannot find the right pipe connection, so the bath tub does it's purpose. But this is not so important. My host - the young man with an elegant stomache - looks like a favourable animator or diving guy as known from touristic places at other sites of the world than Northern Scotland. We discuss the evening meal and I get a huge tomato soup and a Beefsteak - great. Then he suggests that I should go down to the shore, it all belongs to his own land. Down there lies his ship, but unfortunately "without engine". This turns out to be a former ferry boat.

And now I sit on a rock at the shore, watch the bubbling waves, the colours from the sunset, enjoy the silence. What's about this tour, is it a dream or reality. May be I got wet eyes once more? So due to some mosquitoes I retire after a while.

The name of my host is Hugh. His mother once was a teacher. And his grandmother was a source of local tales and stories. So they managed to write a book about this and the title is:

By Catherine Mac Kay

Folklore Tales and Reminiscenses
of the West Side of Loch Eriboll
between Rispond and Faolimn

I take the book with me, lay on my bed and don't stop reading for the rest of the evening. They tell of former times, when in the year 1841 the mighty Landlords forced the inhabitants to settle at other places, for they wanted to use the land for sheep farming. This period was called "Clearances". And the poor people have cultivated their new lands, cleared it from the heather to grow potatoes and vegetables. Once there were 40 children at the shool, today we have 10 persons remainig.

So at those times there was real life, salesmen were riding around with horses or donkeys or carrying their products on their backside. Original persons are discussed and set a monument by this book. There were emigrants as that one who went to Australia, and came back with a big nugget of gold but never got rid of the ghost of a robber whom he once had to kill. There was a music player at Fresgill House who lost his bride at his youth, he himself got old, but after he died himself the music was to be heard over years at Fresgill House. And so on and so on...

May I tell the fate of Hugh? He once was a seaman, got a wife and children but now after divorce lives alone with the children up here. And he loves his home and country. In the morning I ask Hugh to write his address into my papers. This is:

Hugh Mac Lellan,
Rowan House, 90 Laid Sutherland.

In the evening before I wrote at the same sheet: "The best evening of the tour". May be, Hugh read it and was pleased about this. So if you come along at Loch Eriboll: have a visit at this place.

15. Day, Saturday: Loch Eriboll - Tongue - Thurso
8.30-18.30, 105 km trp, 12.6 km/h avg, 51.8 km/h max, 1855 km total

The last stage is waiting and the last full day to ride. I am eager to ride along the northern coast of Scotland from the west to the east for one can be sure by nearly 100 % to have a tailwind. I say farewell to Hugh and then start to surround the Loch. To the southern end I am going into the wind but on the way back I'm be blown up the hills. Finally a nice view to the small Island Eilean Choraidh and Rowan House  at the other side - and now say farewell to Loch Eriboll.

And this is a steep hill. Up there I see a couple living in a tent and they shout some cheering words. Then a man comes out of his car, a can of beer in his hand, crosses the road towards me and says "This is for you because you climbed up the hill". I am dumbstruck, but then remember that "I did it" and answer "It's not for this hill, let it be for the whole country". But he is not impressed, may be he doesn't believe in it. So I had to wait two weeks to have this pleasant experience.

Now I ride down to Hope at sea level again. And now I recognize that my calculation concerning the fine tailwind was wrong. We have a rough and strong wind from south east! Today I have to pay for the luck until now. But don't think, that I am angry about that - it would have been unthankful. But so I have one of the hardest days at all. And this is not only caused by the wind, but the road turns to lead up the highlands and down to sealevel for several times. It's awful to look from above to the winding road at the other side of the next valley.

At the coast there are nice views to the cliffs and the sands. We cross a bridge and reach the village Tongue and past the next "highland tour" we reach Bettyhill. Up at the height I once hear a loud rattling noise and look for an aeroplane. But this noise comes from a pin wheel which hastily turns around aside of a water reservoir. So you can imagine the strength of the wind today. Another time a flock of grey goose inclusive their tumbling brood cross the road. All drivers are very careful. At another high point I see the lighthouse of Strathy Point where this accident occured some days before. Ahead I see big buildings of an industrial site and think they belong to my destination Thurso already. But I am wrong, it's the "Dounreay Nuclear Power Development Establishment" (I got a comment on this institution). I prefer to turn to the cows at the meadows again.

Now at last there are no more hills. But the road leads on and on straight ahead into the wind and will never end. Everything ends within a finite space, so finally I hit the sign "Welcome to Thurso" and this is worth of a photo. Though the colors of Thurso seem to be grey and grey again I like it, for it is the last town in the north. I ask some passengers in the following order: "Is there a Chinese Restaurant, where is the railway station, where will I find B&B?". Everything is available within some 100 mtrs. My hosts are Jean and Bill Brown, 26 Sinclair Street. I book for two nights. Bill says to me "You are the first German cyclist doing end-to-end who comes here. We always had crazy Englishmen". So from now on I am the "German cyclist".

Some time later I go out and imagine they just hold a backpiper's parade to my honor. The players wear fur bonnets and kilts as it should be. But at first I must phone at home to announce my happy arrival. On the way back to the parade I have an excellent idea: I could transfer the Scottish sounds and music from a telephone box nearby to my wife. I spend another coin and just at the moment I got the connection the players stop and pack the instruments into their containers.

Not to say where I end today.

16. Day, Sunday: Thurso - John O' Groats - Dunnet Head - Thurso
8.45-15.30, 80 km trp, 14.6 km/h avg, 40.0 km/h max, 1935 km total

What I have to do today is nonsense, but I must do it, for everyone does it, to say "I did it". And this is to go out to the official end point of the End-to-End at John O' Groats. They say, out there is nothing to be seen - this is true. On the other hand I saw a lot this day and will not miss it.

Dunnet Head

Old Mill
The wind is the same like yesterday. This means: go out hard and return easy - you will know this is a fundamental law for one-day-trips. Today the weather is grey, you do hard to recognize the Orkneys contrary to yesterday. Once the sun is shining and I take a photo of Dunnet Head with yellow broom flowers in the foreground. Something to laugh about: at a meadow a small bird sits on the back of a sheep, may be he tries to warm up his feet. And in the ditch of an old mill I find the secret yelow red-spotted flower I met near the Lake District hundreds of miles ago.

Behind the village Gills there is a sign explaining the geographical conditions, culture and former life at the Island of Stroma. From this place you can watch the waves foaming up the cliffs over there. Today no people live at the island, once there were more than 300. At the era of sailing an additional income was earned by pulling the vessels through the sound for there are dangerous tidal currents up to a speed of 10 knots.

 While reading these informations three alert cyclists pass by, I follow and meet them at John O' Groats - yes, I am there now! I have come in and the three just go out for Land's End. I don't want to change now. So we make photos - you will see the one and only photo of the "winner". For there is not much to be seen - as stated before - I give you the information I've read about: the name of this place has come from a certain Jan de Groot, who had a ferry at this spot during the 15 th century.

He just came in...

They just go out...
I say farewell to the three bikers and give the address of my (unwritten) tour report: "You must write it in English" they say - well this is done now, I hope it is readable. May be we hear about each other one day... So they go ahead for the whole British Island while I only have to go back to Thurso with tailwind now. This would be too easy so I enter a tiny road at the coast and cliffs and then let the wind blow me up to Dunnet Head. Everyone knows that this is the northern tip of Britain and this would be a more honorable end of the tour than J.O'G. As well Land's End is not the most southern point due to Lizard Point at the other side.

Lighthouse of Dunnet Head

The most Northern Cliffs of Britain
Now look around at Dunnet Head. There are wide slopes of brown heather, some orchids aside the road and the lighthouse at the top. There is an information sign again and you can read, that the storms and waves are able to throw stones up here to the height of 105 m, which are able to break the window's glass of the lighthouse. I now have the opportunity to get known to the uncomfortable Scotland for it starts raining. I do not care - it's my last day. Down Dunnet Head I have the last and nice meeting with a Highland Bull, which I had looked for all over Scotland and found none for a photo.

I go back in the rain on the road known from before and - laughter - the small bird still - or again - sits on the back of the sheep. As I return I hear "You must be soaked wet!" from my host and this is true. Change of clothes and dry the wet ones on the heated towel-rail, no problem.

But the discussion with my host how to get back to England and finally Germany is embarassing. At first I must enter the train at 6.30 next morning. "But if the conductor doesn't want you with your bike, you better come back!" they say. I feel curious. It is usual to book a bike in advance but this is not possible here because we have Sunday and the railway station is a big building site without any office now. Then they say I should get rid of my Scottish money before I return to England. What's that, yesterday I proudly got 100 L from the Royal Bank of Scotland. My hosts can change the pound notes into those with the Queen on it as it should be.

So for the end let us meet at the Chinese Restaurant, have a nice meal and think it all over once again.

Chapter 7: The Way Back Home
Back to the index