The Road to Hope. Cycling Far NW Scotland

Earlier this year we did some sea kayaking on the north coast of Scotland.  

As we drove the road from Lairg to Tongue, listening to the Eurovision Song Contest on the van radio, we both remarked what a great road we thought it would be to cycle.

So given a couple of days of good weather and no work, we headed back there in the van.

We parked beside the filling station / shop in Lairg where, I was told, vehicles are often left overnight.

We had our normal road bikes which don't take panniers.  But that was no problem.  

We'd only be out for one night, and we'd booked a room in the Lazy Crofter Hostel in Durness (£16 each).  The twin bunk room is possibly the smallest bedroom I've ever been in!  We'd also booked dinner at Mackay's restaurant next door - the vegetarian option was very good indeed.

So all we needed would fit into one very small rucksack each.  I'd not ridden any great distance of a road bike with a rucksack, but it was no hindrance at all.  Mind you, the extra weight made my arse hurt more on day one than day two!


You can see our route, roughly 65 miles each day, on the GPS track below.  (Click the map and it should enlarge)  

We had planned to ride to Tongue, but in Altnahara, decided to turn left and travel up the even smaller road past Ben Hope, the most northerly Munro.  

Literally, the Road to Hope.

The first advantage of this choice was that we saw just two cars between Altnahara and the North Coast.  We seemed to have the road, and the wonderful wide open space of Sutherland to ourselves.

It also meant we passed this Broch, Dun Dornaigil. Buildings like this are among Scotland's most impressive prehistoric buildings. 

The stone round houses date from between 2,300 to 1,900 years ago.  Even though this double-walled building belongs to Historic Scotland, it has never been excavated.


The best reason to choose this route though is that it cuts the amount of time spent sharing the main, single track coast road with massive campervans from all over Europe. 

We're both well use to riding single track roads - most of our riding around where we live is on single track.  

But up here the road is very narrow and the campervans excessively huge.  

They occupy and, in some cases, overhang the sides of the carriageway.  

Some of the drivers simply do not like to share the road.  On several occasions, wing mirrors whistled past my helmet at forty miles and hour.  Now, I'm not saying one country produces less considerate drivers than any other.  But look at the road sign. 


Day two started with a first-breakfast of porridge, followed by a second-breakfast of sheer temptation.  Barely two miles from Durness, and well signed, is Cocoa Mountain.  

From the outside it's not very impressive.  It's a white, flat roofed building on a mini-industrial estate of flat-roofed buildings, which somewhat optimistic describes itself as a 'Craft Village'.  

Inside, however, they make heavenly chocolate.  

Fresh croissants, drizzled with runny chocolate and two cappuccinos went down a treat.  And gave us something to ride off during the rest of the day.  I now understand people come from all over the UK to sample their hot-chocolate drink, but I couldn't face that early in the day.

It's a haul up the main road out of Durness, but pretty soon we were at Laxford Bridge where we've often launched our sea kayaks.  A short distance down the road we turned south east and headed back to the van.


Yet again, this was a long largely deserted road that showed the wide open spaces of Sutherland, except this time there were lochs.  

Pretty soon we realised we'd crossed the watershed, and as the day wore on, the surrounding mountains started to give way to a flatter, gentler panorama.  

Rolling back into Lairg, we had a late lunch / early dinner in The Pier Cafe before heading for home.  

It was a super two-day ride on great roads.  

We find ourselves staring at our wall map of Scotland looking for another two or three day loop, with accommodation and food en route, so we can go again before the summer ends.  

Any ideas?

5 Comments Here:

David said...

Well ... I'm a fan of 'leaving the car at home' so how about Kilchoan - Tobermory - west coast of Mull (Iona optional) Fishnish - Loch Aline - home. Some tourist roads unavoidable but plenty of side trips possible.

Simon said...

Hi David

Good to hear from you and thanks for the suggestion.

I sometimes do the Kichoan / Tobermory / Fishnish / Lochaline route as a day ride.

http://simon-willis.blogspot.co.uk/2010/07/one-great-ride-two-ferries.html

I admit, I hadn't thought of extending it into a 2-day ride with an overnight on Iona perhaps.

Good one!
S

David said...

Having cycled quite a bit 'up there' I'm envious of your location - Hampshire does not do the same for me.

BTW I seem to note few comments to your blogs recently and I wonder if it's in part due to the images that one has to decode and which I find close to impossible.

Simon said...

Yes, we're in a great spot. Took a while to get here though...

I'm not sure what you mean by 'images one has to decode'? Do you mean I ought to add captions?

If so, that's a good idea I guess, and thanks for the suggestion.

The blog is still getting a satisfactory number of daily hits I'm pleased to say, if few comments.
S

Simon said...

Ahh - or do you mean the 'lambs' photo? ;-)

S