Matilda’s Highland Fling!

Highland Col and Di lighthouse 1

Moody skies at Tarbat Ness Lighthouse in Easter Ross.

No rest for the wicked then as after last week’s exploits in Millport we were off on our travels again.

Firstly let me bask in the glory of my Millport blog entry which has been read far and wide across the globe, with hits being recorded from as far away as New Zealand, Australia, the USA and even Azerbaijan. Millport’s diaspora is clearly spread around the world, and it shows the power of repeating a link on Facebook and Twitter. More than 300 people have so far read about the weekend in Millport – which I think makes me something of a global phenomenon!

So before my head gets any bigger let me tell you about my first trip to the Highlands – and my most northerly cycle yet!

Now I don’t know about you, but the very mention of the Highlands makes you think of hills and mountains. And as regular readers will know only too well by now, us girls – that’s the “old gal” and me, the “old lady” – simply don’t do hills. Well we do – but only going downhill.

But the “old git” had reassured us both that his friend Martin – who we were going to visit – had researched some fairly flat routes, and all would be well with the world.

So we headed off full of anticipation of tandeming in a new part of the country – near Dornoch, where Martin lives with his wife Liz. They had kindly invited all three of us up to spend a night at their house in the tiny hamlet of Skelbo Street for an aptly named “Highland Fling!”

It was a glorious drive up the A9 – with a quick coffee and shopping stop at House of Bruar. On past Inverness and we headed for Tain. The meeting spot was the ANTA pottery and Scottish home interiors workshop for a lovely homemade soup and scone lunch.

Just as we arrived there was a heavy shower of rain and the dynamic duo were a little apprehensive about the prospects for the planned afternoon of cycling. But the “old git” had (naturally) checked the weather forecast and soon the rain clouds blew away leaving us to enjoy the delights of Easter Ross.

True to his word Martin had found a great route taking in the Portmahomack peninsula in Easter Ross, starting from one of the seaboard villages called Balintore. So off we headed, with Martin accompanying us on his single bike.

Can I just mention at this point that Martin said the trip was 9 miles each way and totally flat!

Fresh from their exercise last weekend, my trusty duo were soon eating up the miles. Now as the “old gal” well knows, there is no such thing as a totally flat route! It seems it is all about the degree or the definition of flatness however. Lets say it was relatively flat – albeit with a few longish (more than subtle) inclines!

However, in what seemed like no time at all we were cycling downhill into the quaint fishing village of Portmahomack.

Highlands Di and Martin

 The “old gal” and Martin at Portmahomack harbour.

 A quick photo stop at the harbour and we were heading off for a coast to coast cycle, crossing from the west coast of the peninsula to the Tarbat Ness Lighthouse … within a matter of around three miles! And it was an incline up to the lighthouse – but worth the effort, as the views were amazing.

Highland Colin and Di info board

All three of us at the end of the road finding out about the lighthouse.

For the history buffs, the lighthouse was built in 1830 by Robert Stevenson and Martin’s research into his family tree has discovered a family connection – with his great great great grandfather working as chief engineer to Stevenson.

Not sure how they got the stones up to the top as it stands 53 metres (174 feet) high – making it the second highest lighthouse in Scotland.

Highland Col and Di lighthouse 2

It’s along way to the top at Tarbat Ness – and it’s still a working lighthouse.

After a walk out to the rocky promontory we asked Martin to try his hand with the video camera, so he could capture the “old git” and the “old gal” for posterity!  So Martin became Martin Scorsese for a few moments and filmed as we cycled towards him! Check out the dynamic duo’s tandeming skills by clicking on the video:

Time for the cycle back and the “old git” and “old gal” enjoyed a few downhill stretches, and got me fair whizzing – up to 21 mph at one stage – as they pushed up through the gears.

Fortunately the threatening rain held off, until we arrived back at Balintore. But a shower somewhere in the near distance produced a spectacular double rainbow.

Highland Matilda Rainbow

What a picture! Here I am at Balintore in front of a double rainbow!

As I got packed back into Matilda Transport the “old git” checked the trip computer and discovered that that 9 miles each way route had actually added up to 22.5 miles! As I said, it’s all about the interpretation!

But whats a few extra miles between friends when the scenery of Easter Ross was so beautiful?

A short drive over the Dornoch Bridge and we were soon back at Martin’s gorgeous home – in the neighbouring Sutherland – enjoying the fantastic views across Loch Fleet.

A quick spruce up and the “old git” and the “old gal” were soon toasting the success of their endeavours with Liz and Martin over a glass (or two) of perfectly chilled champagne.

The dynamic duo were entertained wonderfully by their hosts – over a very tasty meal prepared by Liz of home-made curry, chocolate torte, and then cheese. Oh and a few glasses of French wine may have been consumed – just to wash down the tasty food! Martin is a first-class entertainer too, and treated the “old gal” to a few Cole Porter songs on his grand piano.

A quick discussion about Sunday’s route was had – with the promise of 11 miles which were “all downhill” – before tiredness got the better of everyone and sleep beckoned.

Sunday dawned with heavy clouds and fairly heavy rain so the plans were pushed back. Timetable rearranged and the dynamic duo headed off into Dornoch for a visit to the town and morning coffee.

The clouds suddenly lifted and there was an obvious weather window. So it was game on,or at least cycle on! Back to the house, a quick change, and we were speeding off in the cars up a winding single track road. Up and up we drove till we reached Lochbui, which sits at 164 metres above sea level.

You know Martin may just have been right with his “it’s all downhill” comment this time!

Highland Col and Di Lochbuie 1

Ready to roll at Lochbuie … and looking forward to going downhill!

Off we set after a quick photo session, and all I can say is the “old gal” had the biggest smile she has had on her face for a while as we enjoyed travelling downhill. She was even heard to say: “This is my (only) kind of hill!”

Even the strong wind which was gusting in exposed spots didn’t hold the dynamic duo back. They were going so fast they even had to apply my brakes a few times to ensure they didn’t career off the road. And they enjoyed wonderful Sutherland scenery – including a spectacular waterfall – on the descent. In no time they had reached the end of the single track road.

Highland Col and Martin end of Lochbuie

Even the “old git” is smiling after that downhill stretch from Lochbuie! 

A short stretch along the A9 then along the side of Loch Fleet to take in the sight of literally a hundred seals basking on the sandbanks before heading back to Martin’s house

I have to say we were all buoyed by that experience, which was well worth it – even if we did then have to be driven back to collect the cars at the top of the hill!

A quick lunch and I was back in Matilda Transport and we were heading back down the A9 to Matilda’s Rest. And as it rained the whole three-hour journey home, the “old git” was counting his lucky stars that they managed to find a break in the weather! You see, as well as hills, us girls don’t do rain either!

So many, many thanks to Liz and Martin for their hospitality and finding the cycle routes. So much for my fears of the Highlands being hilly! All I can say is that this “old lady” really enjoyed her first ever Highland Fling!

Four seasons in a weekend on Costa del Millport

A+J Millport - Craigard Guest House

Ready to roll! Enjoying the sunshine outside Craigard Guest House.

The Sunday of the May bank holiday weekend and the “old git” has booked us all for an overnight stay on “the sunshine island” of Millport – the traditional ‘boot camp’ training ground for Team Matilda when they need to get fit. For those unfamiliar with ‘Costa del Millport’, one of the big attractions is that the island is just 10 minutes by ferry from the mainland at Largs – and it offers a virtually flat 10.25 mile trip around the island on almost traffic free roads. It is a cyclists paradise really.

Well it is when the sun shines! Which it wasn’t when we all wakened up on early on Sunday morning! A look out the window confirmed it was lashing with rain and blowing a right ‘hoolie’ of a gale.

The “old gal” wasn’t impressed and had one of those “I told you so” looks on her face. It didn’t help matters that the “old git” – ever the optimist – was walking round saying it was going to be dry later and bright sunshine all day on Monday.

What he overlooked however was the small matter of the weather forecast until early afternoon which was showing sleet and snow on high ground, with some hail, turning to heavy rain, with prolonged downpours leading to flood warnings. Oh! and the not insignificant matter of 44 mph winds blowing. Just ideal conditions for a ferry crossing and some tandem cycling! NOT!

But the “old gal” knew that mutiny was pointless as the bed and breakfast was already booked, combined with the fact that we were taking good friends Ann and Jack along with us to show them the ‘Millport Experience’! The “old git” graciously suggested a delayed departure from Matilda’s Rest – to 10am instead of 9.15am (big concession eh?!)

And so we found ourselves driving down the A9 towards Glasgow, fighting our way through surface water, while those annoying signs at the side of the road kept flashing: “Warning – surface water and high winds”.

We arrived in the esplanade car park to find we were one of just three cars parked there – which is perhaps not that surprising given it seemed to be the middle of a monsoon! You could hardly see across the water to Millport, which was shrouded by rain. But the good news was – despite the gale force winds – that the ferries were still running. Good old Caledonian Macbrayne!

But as the “old git” isn’t the best sailor in bad weather, we decided to delay the crossing and retire for a coffee and team briefing in Nardinis in Largs. Which I thought was a good plan, as I was still safely tucked up in Matilda Transporter – warm and dry.

The original plan had been to leave the vehicles in Largs and catch a ferry then cycle the four miles from the ferry slipway to the town of Millport. But sense prevailed over coffee, and they decided that the only option was to take the cars across.

An hour later they ventured out and decided to go for it! And so we boarded the ferry for the short crossing, with the “old gal” talking away like a budgie to the “old git” to keep his mind off the rough sea. It really wasn’t that bad a crossing – but driving off the ferry it was still very windy with lots of rain clouds.

We drove round the ‘long way’ round the quiet side of the island to show Ann and Jack the views of Rothesay and Arran … except Arran had disappeared behind some mist! Into the town itself and lunch was the next plan as the weather was due to ease  – with some sunshine expected – by late afternoon.

The “old gal” suggested we all pop into the Dancing Midge Cafe for a bite to eat, having eaten here before. And it certainly didn’t disappoint, with the intrepid foursome enjoying a very tasty soup and sandwich lunch.

Next up, we checked-in to the Craigard Guest House – a relatively newly established business on the island – run by the very friendly and hospitable Janette and Crawford. The bed and breakfast has only been open for a year, but already it is gaining a  reputation for a home-from-home stay. And we could see immediately see why when we were shown to our comfortable and immaculately clean en-suite rooms.

Believe it or not, at this point the wind almost disappeared and the sun broke out thru the clouds. So it was a race to get the cycling gear on and set off on the first circuit of the island.

A+J Millport - selfie

The “old git”, the “old gal”, Jack and Ann – pose for a cycling selfie!

It was actually good to be out in the fresh air – and we were soon travelling at our regulation average speed of 10mph, which meant an hour for the circuit … even allowing time for dodging the big puddles. Never has the saying ‘four seasons in a day’ been more apt – as the “old git” and the “old gal” enjoyed being back on the saddle and clocking up the miles.

It was almost balmy round the more protected side of the island, and Arran had re-appeared again! Although the snow-capped peak of Goat Fell was perhaps testament to the fairly cool temperature!

In what seemed to be no time at all we were cycling back into Millport town, feeling euphoric for having managed to get out for a run. Even the “old gal” was heard to comment that it was an enjoyable experience! I was safely parked up in the garden of the bed and breakfast, with carrier bags over my saddles in case it rained!

Meanwhile it was a shower and change for my intrepid owners before joining Ann and Jack for a meal at The Harbour restaurant. Regular readers of my blog will know that the “old git” and the “old gal” previously found The Harbour to be one of their favourite restaurants – especially the famous seafood platter. It is under new ownership this summer, so it was with more than a little trepidation that they had booked – but those thoughts were soon blown away as soon as they entered.

A warm welcome and a great menu were on offer, as well as a small but good wine list as it is now licensed. They may no longer do the seafood platter, but what was on offer was really tasty and originally presented. The “old gal”, for example, had mussels in a cider sauce, before a build-your-own burger with a blue cheese topping offered in ciabatta bread, finishing off with a chocolate orange torte, and washed down with  Shiraz wine. And all very good value. The “old gal” has already told me we will be back!

Back to the bed and breakfast, and some much needed sleep, ahead of a day’s cycling on the holiday Monday – with the promise of a full day of sunshine!

A hearty cooked breakfast – with all the trimmings including a tattie scone – at the Craigard set the team up for the day. And after exchanging fond farewells to Janette and Crawford – who promised to check-out my blog – we were ready for the road by 10am.

A+J Millport - bikes

Jack, Ann and the “old gal” – with me and those pesky electric bikes!

Now at this stage I have to tell you that Ann and Jack are really cheats when it comes to cycling – as they have a pair of those pesky battery-powered electric bikes. Which of course we all know is not real cycling! Pedal power is the only way! And the “old gits” repeated claims that Millport was an environmentally friendly non-electric bike island seemed to fall on deaf ears!

However during the first circuit of the day, the batteries were hardly required as the island was bathed in what could be described as tropical sunshine. The temperature was not quite so tropical – but the sun was out and the “old git” needed his sunscreen on. The sea was restored to serene calmness and the water crystal clear. Quite a transformation from 24 hours previously! But then it is an island, and you can expect all weathers in the one day!

And on the circular route, Ann and Jack became acquainted with the local landmarks of Lion rock and Indian rock. The circuit was easily completed before a coffee stop at the wonderfully named Crocodeli deli and cafe in the town, named after the famous Crocodile Rock which sits on the sea front. It is popular with cyclists as the coffee really is full of flavour and the welcome is really friendly.

Back on the road – in the opposite direction this time – we headed to one of the quiet beaches just after Fintry Bay. The “old gal” was ecstatic with the sun on her back and a breeze helping push us along. We stopped for a great picnic which the “old gal” had put together, albeit the plan was to eat it the day before! But what a fantastic place for lunch, with wonderful views from the beach across to Rothesay and Arran. And so a toast to the scenic beauty of  Millport was made, before the mini bottles of prosecco were consumed!

A+J Millport beach

 Our private “table” for lunch! Picnic on the beach!

Fed and proseccoed we set off again, enjoying the views as we fair cantered along. And yes, even Ann and Jack were pedalling without electric power at this stage!

The views were so clear and mesmerising that the “old gal” gamely decided to try her hand at shooting another video – this time from a static position. Check out the scenery by clicking on the video:

However as we rounded the headland the wind had picked up again and the “old git” and the “old gal” were now cycling directly into a strong headwind. As for their friends Ann and Jack, they were really enjoying the benefits of their battery power! I am sure I heard lots of muttering under the “old gits” breath at this point, but I can’t be sure, as I couldn’t hear for the strength of the wind!

It was a slower than expected grind back down past the ferry into Millport, where plans for a planned third circuit of the island were quickly forgotten about. And all of a sudden I was back in Matilda Transporter for the journey home!

A final walk along the promenade included a ‘must-do’ tourists-on-holiday-in-Millport photo shoot at Crocodile Rock.

A+J Millport - Di croc rock

The “old gal” scared of the crocodile!

A final coffee at the revamped Garrison House – and a look at some photos of Old Millport – rounded off the day, before we all headed back to the ferry and home to Auchterarder.

Credit must go to Ann and Jack for making the weekend fun and memorable, and for persevering when the weather looked so bad at the start. But I am sure they enjoyed their ‘Millport Experience’ in the end!

And as for Team Matilda, we do it all again next weekend, as the “old gal” tells me we are off up north for what the “old git” has already headlined as ‘Matilda’s Highland Fling!’