Friday, August 30, 2013

" Savage Clans and Roving Barbarians"? Inverness to Tain

Monday 24 June, 2013

Get back on your own side of the road! -to the head of the Firth -  a horrible experience - Tain 

Get back on your own side of the road!!

We woke in a bedroom as festooned with washing as an overworked laundry. And the clothing was dry! Gloves, shorts, shirts from which we had washed grimy sludge last night were warm and fresh. Thank you, Waterview Hotel for installing chunky radiators with the drying capacity of a blow torch.

Today we're going to Tain. The guide-book suggests a much longer distance, to Lairg but we want to draw out the pleasure of exploring this raw and enticing country and have planned four more days riding to John O Groats, only 192 kms distant by the shortest route but this on A roads, likely narrow and snarling with traffic.

The last few days of the trip. Tain, our destination today is half way between Inverness and Lairg.
The first two kilometres today took me along the banks of the Ness towards the shore of the Beauly Firth. My navigation was disgraceful. The road was narrow, the river on one side, cars packed solidly on the other. The traffic hogged the middle of the road, forcing me to the side. I saw pitying, head-shaking looks from some drivers. Then I understood why. I was riding the wrong way along a one way street. I apologise to the motorists of Inverness for my stupidity. I do love your city, though, so please don't take this matter further with the local traffic authorities.

To the head of the Firth

I stopped at the edge of town, beside the eastern entrance to the Caledonian Canal, to calm my agitation and because I love canals. And this canal is a beauty, running 60 miles from the bridge on which I was standing to Fort William on the west coast and allowing smaller craft to avoid the, at times, nasty sail round the north of Scotland. Lots of this 60 miles is through lochs, including Loch Ness, so it is scenic, too. I hung around, wanting to see two yachts flying German flags traverse the locks but it was still early and the crews were in the cockpit eating their bratwurst.

The entrance to the Caledonian Canal at Inverness. From here, the canal
 runs right across Scotland to Fort William on the west coast.

Here's a summary of the morning's ride.

  • Busy traffic along the Firth. Flat riding beside a muddy, shallow body of water, the tide low to uncover a rocky bottom snagged with long filaments of green seaweed.

    Looking back to the Inverness Bridge over the Firth of Beauly.
    Many cyclists cross the bridge and take the short route north along the very busy A 9.

  • After 8 kms, the road swung to the south, and I had to stop to check my route, fearing a missed sign. All well. Be patient and the right turn will turn you 120 degrees, taking you north and bringing the wind behind. Aaah!
  • I passed over the river Beauly, through Beauly, Muir of Ord, Connon without stopping. Lots of new housing and an industrial air. New 3 bedroom houses starting from 149 thousand pounds. One or two lovely old buildings, not more.

    Cromarty Firth outside Dingwall. Today we rode along the shores of three firths. The bridge from Inverness is behind the bushes on the bank behind the little row-boat.

  • Late morning after easy, level riding, I stop in Dingwall, more traditional, take a detour down to the Cromarty Firth ( shallow, tidal) then back into town where I am directed by a tourist.

    Me: “ But this looks like a one way street!”
    English tourist: “ Oh sorry, I put you wrong.”

    I didn't tell him about my foolishness earlier that morning.
A horrible experience

As I ride along the peaceful shore, I see a huge bridge ahead and on my right, teeming with traffic taking the direct route from Inverness. Five kms from Dingwall, I merge with the traffic from the bridge and immediately the mood of the day changes. Calm to anxiety.

This route, the main highway north, is the A9. It is narrow, streaming with traffic in both directions and, worst of all, on my left side, there is a concrete lip which means that I am forced to ride on the carriage-way, there being no verge. I hated it. Cars and buses and trucks brushed close. I kept as close to the left as possible but had a gruesome vision of hitting the concrete raised verge, capsizing and being thrown onto the roadway to be minced under a bus.

Worst 4 kms of the trip. Then, relief – a sign offering a diversion to Evanton. I turned  off the highway from hell and the traffic disappeared. So did the tension.


Lunch in Evanton, a village unruffled in spite of the roar of the motorway down the hill: stone buildings and little evidence of the dolls-house modern construction I had already seen on the road from Inverness.

I got talking to Mary, Evanton resident for 20 years and a recent convert to cycling. Her son had bought her a bike and today she was on her second-ever ride. She rode with me on off-road tracks towards Alness, pointing out the hill climb which shortened by half the distance to Lairg, cutting a corner and avoiding Tain. It's a route taken by riders in a hurry. I wasn't.

For the next couple of hours into Tain, I climbed gently along a lane of roadside flowers, mansions discreetly concealed behind woodlands and distant views of the oil rigs and cruise ships in the Cromarty Firth. And, of course, the droning procession of impatience on the A9 closer to the water.

Distant view of the Cromarty Firth from the quiet road to Tain. Just visible are oil rigs in for repair and cruise ships. The exceptionally traffic-laden A9 is between me and the water.

Tain is a hill town overlooking the Dornoch Firth, larger than the little village I had imagined it to be. For many whisky enthusiasts, Tain is most vital as the home of the Glen Morangie Distillery.
The Glenmorangie Distillery at Tain.

Whisky-flavoured condoms. The Scots love their whisky however it is served up.

We settled in at the Heatherdale B and B on the north end of town. I got talking to Duncan, a genial man until I mentioned that I had spent time walking on Culloden. Duncan's face paled, his eyes gleamed.

I'm a peaceable man but some of the things the English have done to the Scots..... Do you know about the Clearances? Shameful. They've always looked down on us.”

He suggested I read “No Great Mischief” about the Scots moving overseas where opportunities seemed brighter. The book quotes Doctor Samuel Johnson who described his northern neighbours as “savage clans and roving barbarians” so it's little wonder so many Scots them took their chances in Canada, Australia, New Zealand. And the title is a quote by General Wolfe, the conqueror of Quebec who sent Highlanders to storm the cliffs leading up to Quebec, saying: “'tis no great mischief if they fall.”

Weather – mostly fine with occasional spits of rain. Wind ahead at first till we changed direction.

Distance Today Average Speed Max Speed Riding Time Trip Odometer
77.93 16.9 40.2 4h 20m 1464

Later in the afternoon, David drove us out to the coast east of Tain. This lighthouse was designed by the grandfather of author Robert Louis Stevenson who often accompanied his grandfather on visits to lighthouses all round Britain.

David on the coast near Tain.

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