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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!