Saturday, 18 July 2009

Not to be out done.

As you may remember from some of my early posts, it has been my intention to meet with churches along the way to discuss with them what they do with the teenagers in their area, if anything of course?

I had thought that this was a night off, even though I was staying at a host home. Well how wrong was I?

No sooner had I finished shaking the hands of other cycling teams that had finished at about the same time as myself and swapped a few short stories, than this lady in a nice car asked me if I was Steve Lee and if so would I like to follow her to her house as we only had three quarters of an hour before the meeting that she had set with some interested people from the area.

It was quite whirlwind, but a brilliant way to end my trip.

It has been about meeting like minded people up the length of Britain as much as the scenery and raising money for the Teenage cancer Trust. Not to mention the need to eat twice my own bodyweight in food each time I stopped!

Did I mention that I have been interviewed by Park Radio about seven times for 5 minutes a time? And that I had my picture in the Sennen local newspaper close to Lands End!

I think I have had my 15minutes of fame don't you?

All in all quite thought provoking!

Today I have been blessed by Jenny , who has allowed me to eat her food, drink her tea and use her computer to fill in the blanks from the last few days.

Tomorrow I meet my family for the first time in 17 days, I can't wait.......

The last leg and there will not be a lap of honour thankyou!

The last leg held as much excitement as the first day, but I have to admit that I was quite tired from climbing the Monro the day before at Crask Inn!
The weather was good as usual in the morning and held strong until just before Thurso the largest town on the North coast that boasts a railway station and is a usual end stop for LEJOG'ers although the thought of adding on another 20miles to get back to it could be quite terrifying I should think?
I stopped for late lunch of Orkney herrings and salad washed down with more Irnbru (good and sweet, and fits my sugar needs nicely!)
I met a German couple that are riding a similar route around Scotland as myself as part of the North Atlantic cycle route that runs through countries that sit on the edge of the North Atlantic, and includes countries like Germany, Norway and Sweden... seems even more insane than my little trip?
The cloud continued to build through the afternoon but thankfully never amounted to anything, although it did add quite a chill in my opinion and cut down sight seeing visibility to just about nothing.

Passing the Dounreay Atomic powerstation was slightly interesting, but I gather the furore caused when it was understood that it will take over 5o years to close down was interesting to see.

On a possitive note though, it will give some people a life times work! Wether or not they will be Scottish though, I couldn't say? At last, long last the actual sign post to John O'Groats sat in front of me indicating 1/4 mile to go, whoop, whoop!

We what can I say? It is of course full of tourist junk, but as I was getting my last LEJOG proof of passage stamp from the kiosk the passenger ferry that was run by John DeGroot many years ago to the Orkneys came in, full filling it's reason for being I guess!

You can't be in the Highlands without Highland cattle!

Bettyhill in the sunshine is actually quite pretty!

How the sunshine and the prospect of
my last good day in the saddle can make you feel so much better than the night before!
The beautiful little beach is only accessed by foot and is off the purest, clean sand. If the council have to ship it in or clean the beach every night there is no sign of their works. It would seem that there is somewhere that isn't poluted by us tourists?

Apart from the fact that this is the North Sea and that the sun is not likely to be out for very long this is a perfect gem of a beach and a treat before my 60 mile last leg today.

Bettyhill, what can I say.......

This is the moment that I knew the inevitable was going to happen and so I leant on my handlebars and ate my mars bar in as leisurely fashion as possible before putting on my we weather gear and pushing off in race of the rain!
Of course that was never going to be a race that I would win and so I became engulfed in the absolutely worst weather of my whole trip.
Two and a half hours of torrential rain soon gets inside your clothes, and totally damps your spirit and bodies willingness to keep going!
Although that of course is just what you have to do.

Those miles were never so long, and the imagined beautiful scenery of my planning when in Totton, totally washed out!
Every move was cold and clammy, and every mile proceeded in slow motion....

By the time I got there I had lost all the excitement that I had been holding on to for so long. And the sight of the North Sea and the idea of flinging myself into it held no appeal at all!
I found my digs and unfortunately they did not raise my spirits in the least. To be honest that was the closest I came to walking out and looking for somewhere else.
Old and tired is the nicest description for this place.
A totally grubby and useless shower did nothing to mellow my mood, the idea of going out to get my dinner was the only light at the end of my little depressed tunnel!

Possibly the whole of Bettyhill, which isn't very big is just as old and tired, because the hotel was little better that my B&B, but I did spot what looked like some half decent food on the plates so I stayed.
Vegetable soup and bread, Chicken fillet and chips with bacon and melted cheese and finally spotted dick and custard washed down with Scotlands own soft drink rival to Coke,
I got talking with a bloke on holiday in the area and had a good laugh... at last!

Mt Kilbreck the Monro out the back of Crask Inn

You can see the name if you squint hard!

Several hundred years old the Inn was built just after the infamous land clearances of the Scots by the English to make room for the very profitable wool industry and of course the sheep that went with it. Designed and built as one of several to service the new passing trade of the stock men on their way to and from market I suppose?

As we were eating our 'Stovies' I got talking to Mike and Helen a couple that were planning to climb the Monro in the morning before moving on to their next Monro in the afternoon. A Monro is a mountain of which there are 275, surveyed by Sir Hugh Monro who died in 1909.

I had been very hopeful of this day for many months and so could not believe my luck when waking up at 6.30am it was beautiful bright sunshine with not a cloud in the sky.
We packed our things and I went across for breakfast. Proper runny Scots porridge, followed by a farmers fried breakfast and toast. Mike made me some sandwiches and packed a slice of his wife's cake.

We went by car down to the start point and set off across the inevitable bog, climbing always toward the first much lower summit that would take us onto the ridge that led to the foot of the conical ascent.
All the time unbelieving that the clouds were not just about to form up and shroud us from the views.
Hard work, but oh so worth the effort, the view from the top was as if we could see the whole of the Highlands, and maybe we could? We could see the North sea, the Atlantic and some of the Orkney islands.

Six hours round trip including our lunch stop at the top. What a treat!

Just what the Doctor ordered, a change of use of muscle sets. My contracted hamstrings and achilles got to stretch in a different direction and boy did they let me know it wasn't really what they thought was good for them!
Six hours later and we were back down and ready to set off on the next leg of our respective journeys.
I had 32 miles to ride in glorious weather down hill along the side of a small loch and river into Bettyhill for my first sight of the North sea!

Crask Inn, where's that then?

Well wherever it is this tourist honey trap has been set and successfully and snares them regularly into the cafe above these falls, which to be honest is better than the falls themselves. How cynical, but I can say the Falls of Shin have great toilets! And of course good looking cyclists every now and then. This was a lucky day for them obviously!
The day started out early as I had to get to Dingwall a town about 18 miles along my my journey, but by nine o'clock'ish, as George had booked me in for some front brake therapy. Having an oil filled disc brake system I had thought, naively, that once the brake pads had been replaced before the trip that there would be no more to worry about! Well that didn't acount for a slightly loose nipple that let oil out and air in. So they very efficiently bled the brake and topped up the oil and adjusted my gears at the same time. I dilligently went to find a cafe and filled myself up with as many calories as I could manage!

As usual the day started beautifully with a slight freshness to the air, clear sky and sunshine. Unfortunately none of this helped me up the incredibly long 15% hill just outside of Drumnadroichit and into Glen Convinth. Where the clouds were below me weaving between the hills. I truly thought this was the hill that would beat me and make me have to admit to walking some of the way. The jacket came off, then the helmet, zips were unzipped and light headed out of breath stops made. But I did make it in the end although not in one go. (More training needed on this hill me thinks!)
Any way ducking around as ever with my stories I met three other lads that I had last seen at the Kendal YHA. they passed me as I was talking a photo, they had many too many miles left to achieve though to be able to stop quite as often as me. They were on their way to Tongue on the North coast, a distance of about 100 miles! Much too yuk for me! But we were able to share a very, very wet down pour into Bonar Bridge, a place I know nothing of to my shame, except that they have a very nice cafe sited right on the junction where the bridge crosses the river. And that it served me very well to eat more food and dry off a little. Three lovely old chaps came in just as I was leaving, they knew Southampton as they had embarked from there to Europe during the second world war. They were a little worried for me when they discovered that I was going up in to the hills across the bleak wilderness of Strath Tirry. I explained that that was the very reason for my journey today and that I was fully prepared, not least that I only had to go half way as I was stopping at Crask Inn the only building for several miles in any direction.
Another great little treat, Crask is owned by a farming couple and is more of a family home that welcomes passers by than a business, although I am very sure that they are quite wise and shrewed!

I slept in the cottage bunkhouse across the road from the Inn, very different to the one at Lochness in that it is very rudimentary and basic and so attracts only those happy with the great outdoors I would think?

That night they were expecting a bus full of families from a village down the road, Lairg on a 'mystery night' evening out! 60 or so people crammed into the bar with some games outside for the kids, although how anyone could expect anyone else to spend any time out there at all is beyond me as the midges were patrolling in hunting packs and showing no mercy!
The Céilidh (sort of like a barn dance) was supported by two musicians playing the accordian (box) and a guitar. Lots of laughter, too much drinking, some tears and lots of unruly, mischievous kids running amock all filled up with plenty of 'Stovies', kind of like shepherds pie but with less finess.
It was great for me to hear them play music by a Scottish band called Runrig live, it seemed all very authentic. They are quite a favourite in our family.
Anyway enough is enough and I went to bed, more than happy to leave them to it as they were planning a late night!