Just as I was navigating my way out of Inverness I spotted Jez and Sarah (from Sheffield it later emerged) on their bikes at an intersection pondering the same problem. A local man on a bike stopped and amusedly gave us good directions, including via a bike shop for me to buy another spare gear cable (just in case). He tailed us knowing we’d get it wrong and ended up escorting us on his bike out of the city.
Jez shared with me his climbing background around Sheffield and everywhere else overseas that mattered. He even knew Jim Curren, author of the book ‘;Middle Aged Mountaineer’ and assured me Jim was an amusing fellow.
Jez and Sarah were planning on taking three days to get to John O’Groats via an inland route, and I was planning on taking two days straight up the East Coast, so after morning tea together I sped off ahead.
The journey along the A9 was unmemorable apart from the heavy traffic and head wind. The only breaks in the bleak countryside were the close up views of the oil rigs ‘roosting’ and a notice for the Tain pipe band planning on performing on the street on Saturday night. I was sorry to have to miss that, the first real sign of Scottish culture I’d come across.
I reached the Helmsdale Youth Hotel to find it mostly empty but so clean and cosy with a wood fire going burning. After foraging though town for food supplies I returned to the hostel followed by mother and daughter End to End cycle team Maog and Shannon. Mother had been dragging daughter Shannon around the local pubs to sample their whiskies before settling in to the Hostel for the night. Maog confessed to having had such a bad day of rain and delays in recent days they’d decided to take the train for a bit to make up time. I promised them I wouldn’t tell anyone.
As I sat outside doing some ‘preventative maintenance’ to my bike (cleaning and oiling brake and gear cables) the midges attacked. So I decamped with bike to the hostel common room. Just as I did four more cyclists arrived for the night and they were heading south. I spent the evening alternating between bike repairs and listening to their adventures.
One of the party agreed there was little Scottish Heritage left to see, Scotland having been always so poor most buildings had been poorly built and not survived. What a pity though he did'nt mention Dunrobin Castle just north of Helmsdale and on my route. I passed it by thinking I was pressed for time. Being clan Sutherland for all I know I could have a claim on the place, which is one of the most impressive Scottish castles I’d seen (in the brochures at least).
When I put my bike to bed in the bike shed I noticed it was 11:30pm and still light.