Friday, 24 July 2009

Tour d'ecosse - stage 6, Achmelvich to Carbisdale Castle

Is that rain? Surely not!?

My friend Trish left before me in her car heading for Durness on the north coast, while I sat it out until 10.30. Finally it looked like the rain was going off.

I took the narrow curvy road that hugs the coastline, and
though slow was of great enjoyment, passing small coves and sandy beaches that had been transplanted here from somewhere far more exotic. This could not be Scotland surely?

The road went on like this for 25 miles before joining the main 'A' road north. The sun broke through, Dire Straights was playing on the ipod, life was good.

The bike rumbled into Durness and I turned left to the day's mission, which was to visit Cocoa Mountain. If there is a chocolate heaven then this is it on earth. I had what could be described as the worlds best hot chocolate with marshmallows, and a croissant drizzled in white chocolate and caramel. If I had been of the opposite sex I would say at this moment the feeling must be close to that of a multiple orgasm.

After a few stop-offs for some picture postcard photographs, I traveled about a mile down the road to Smoo Cave.
A natural phenomenon where the river had broken through the surface and dropped with immense force into the cave far below. It was at this point that I became grateful for the amount of precipitation
over the last 5 days as the thunderous noise of the water as it entered the cave was deafening. A large cloud of very fine water particles rose into the air, and through another opening a shaft of sunlight streamed in, illuminating the tiny droplets. Somewhere a chorus of angels sang an aria to complete the scene.

20 or so miles east I arrived in Tongue and thankfully the fuel station was open as Trigger was running on fumes. Another 10 miles on I reached the junction that now turned me south for the first time in 5 days, and I opened the throttle to cruise down the single-track road across Strathnaver, the area of the worst Highland clearances. Halfway I passed a small white church with a red tin roof
that belonged more in the prairies of Oklahoma than the Highlands of Scotland. As I thundered south I was aware of how desolate and empty the area was, and for 30 miles I only met one or two other vehicles in either direction.

By 7pm I was pulling into Bonar Bridge, and supplies bought, took the turn off for SYHA's flagship hostel, Carbisdale Castle. It is quite something as hostels go, resplendent with a grand hall filled with white marble statues, original woodwork and sweeping staircase. I would say the only down side was that because of it's size it was incredibly busy, and it lacked some of the charm and familiarity of hostels. Even some of the family and minibus groups were more akin to hotel goers as opposed to hostels. My observations told me their behaviour and demands of the staff were equally so.

Tonight I have a twinge of sadness. For the last 4 days I have been spoiled for scenery, with views to the Atlantic that took my breath away, following roads that I have never been on before. I found it hard to believe that it had taken me this long in life to see these wonders. The changeable weather only added to the atmosphere at times, but now I sense that I am approaching areas and roads not unknown, and I know that gradually I will return to the busy world, single-track roads now far behind me, a distant fond memory.

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