Norman – the final week

We left Peebles on Saturday morning, cycling on the main Edinburgh road, until we turned off on a quiet B Road, with a rather cheeky climb.  We then rode between the Pentland and Moorfoot Hills towards Edinburgh, where we stopped in an underpass under the Edinburgh ring road for our morning break.  On then into Edinburgh, across the Meadows and over George IV Bridge, and the Royal Mile, which was hotching with people as it was the Edinburgh Festival in full swing.  Across Prince’s Street and on to Chambers Square, where we could not find the snicket we had to go through as it was concealed by a bus.  Along by the West End and we were confused by the tram tracks.  Eventually we cycled along a dead railway and came to our lunch place between the Road bridges and the railway bridge across the Firth of Forth.  We rode over the old bridge on the cycle track, through Inverkeithing to Kinross.

Sunday we rode 40 miles and only 600 metres climbs on to Perth.  We rode through the Burgh and visited the Palace of Scone., which belongs to the Mansfield family (who built Kenwood)  It is too ostentatious in its decor with some very odd collections, such as French papier maché vases.   On up the gentle valley of the Tay to Blairgowrie, with the hills on either side getting higher and on to Bridge of Cally, a small highland settlement where we spent the night.

Monday, our sixteenth day of cycling was our toughest day and took us 59 miles and 5000 feet of climb of climb.  This was through the Cairngormss up a river valley, with a good tail wind, until we started to climb up the Pass of Glenshee (the highest in the Highlands).  The wind pushed us up the slope and I found it not too difficult to manage the climb, and we stopped for tea at the col, where the Devil’s Elbow used to be, before it was straightened.  A great descent down to Braemar and past Balmoral.  No Queen visible.  We had lunch and then rode down to Crathie and over a small pass down and up a hill with some extremely cheeky bits.  One was so steep Team Franklin pushed me up on my bike until the gradient lessened.  The next two steep bits I walked and used the throttle on my bike to help pull me up.  This was probably the worst moment for me, as I feared I would not complete the ride, and have to go in the van.  After reaching the summit, we descended to the little village of Tomintoul, where we stayed in a B and B and had a marvellous breakfast (unlike those who stayed in the local hotel).  Tomintoul has a few shops and a pleasant green in the middle of the village.

Tuesday, Day 17  We set out over a couple of passes (one very cheeky, but I managed) to Grantown-on-Spey, but we did not stop at any distilleries.  We stopped at Ducie Bridge to admire the bridge and the ravine the river had cut.  On to Cawdor Castle, where Tom stopped to look and said it was very boring and he did not go in.  Outside I was surprised to see a notice “Links Fahren” which I would have expected at Dover or Hull.  One can imagine busloads of earnest Germans studying Macbeth.  We caught glimpses of the land north of the Moray Firth from there.  Down to the big railway viaduct that carries the main line from Inverness (single track)  Very spectacular and with a considerable gradient to get the trains up over the pass.  We stopped for tea to look at Clava Cairns, a Bronze Age 2000 years BC group of burial cairns with no roof but carefully graded stones, one with cup marks,  On to Inverness a surprisingly large city where we stayed in a hotel on the river,

Wednesday, we set out from Inverness through industrial suburbs to cross the bridge over the Moray Firth, in wonderful weather where, like at Queensferry there is a special track cantilevered out from the suspension bridge.   Good views south, inland, and then when we had left the bridge we dropped down a very steep bank to the road along the shore.  Good views along the Beauly Firthand on to Muir of Ord and along a mainish road to Dingwall. where we left the main road to climb along a quiet road with views across the Cromarty Firth to the very green Black Isle.  We then turned inland and across the grain of the country to Bonar Bridge on the Kyle of Sunderland and just in that county, where we stopped for lunch.  The first bridge was built in 1812 as a result of a ferry sinking with 100 casualties.  After lunch, we rode along the Kyle and turned off our route to look at the falls of Shin.  There is a viewing point above the falls where we could watch salmon trying (and usually failing) to leap up the falls.  On then to Lairg having inspected and crossed a rickety pedestrian suspension bridge which is a short cut to Lairg station.  And then to Lairg where we spent the night.  The railway to the north detours inland to Lairg because there was no bridge below it across the Kyle of Sunderland and Dornoch Firth.  It is also the most northerly inland town in Britain.

Thursday, we set out along Loch Shin and turned North and across the “flow country” a desolate high level moorland full of pools streams and bogs and surrounded by mountains.  We stopped at an isolated pub for our morning break, the Crask Inn, where we had a warm welcome.  The pub was left to the church, which looks after it, and it is the only centre for miles around.  Down the strath for about 7 miles to a hamlet called Altnaharra where we road along Loch Naver.  At this point it began to rain, and I put on over-trousers, but this did not prevent us from getting soaked for the second time on the ride.  (The first was on our second day near Launceston.)  We stopped for lunch at a cemetery and the rain ceased.  We also stopped to inspect butterwort and sundew, both insect eating plants.  The plants had chosen a good spot with plenty of midges, which soon repelled us.  On the road were a lot of information points about the Highland Clearances, and the brutal Patrick Sellar who was the factor for the Duke of Sutherland.  We continued our descent along the Naver River to Bettyhill (called after the Duchess).  Up a sharp hill to our hotel where we spent the night.  There was an extraordinary end-of-term feeling that night as we were only one stage from John O’Groats.

Friday our last day , we descended from our hotel down a steep hill and up one opposite.  There were a couple more hills still in Sunderland.  We had a morning break at Melvish, and then went into Caithness.  It is astonishing how different the two counties are.  Caithness is populated with isolated farms, growing cereal, and grass, with cattle and sheep in plenty, while Sutherland is empty, probably thanks to the clearances.  We reached Thurso for lunch.  It was school coming-out-time and the road was crowded with school and college students, and buses to take them home.  On again a fairly level road but Tom and Sam diverted to Dunnett Head the most northrtly part of the Mainland.  There were good views of Orkney, in bright sunshine; first Hoy then Flotta and South Ronaldsay, which Tom and I had visited in June.  Finally we arrived at John O’Groats and gathered the whole party for a ceremonial descent to the signpost, where we were duly photographed, and consumed whisky and jagermeister.  Tom, Sam and I then rode to Duncansby Head, the most Northeasterly point on Britain, but were driven off by clouds of midges.  After a convivial dinner, we were taken by coach to Inverness  to catch trains back home.

One thought on “Norman – the final week

  1. Sue Dumpleton says:

    Very well done! Interesting to read some of your descriptions and see some photos.

    I’m full of admiration for you all.

    Sue x

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