For the last few years a group from Adventure Out has been working its way north along National Cycle Route 1. This year was the final leg on the British mainland, from Inverness to John o’Groat’s.
We gathered at Inverness station on the Saturday morning, before heading through the industrial estates of Inverness , over the Kessock Bridge and onto the Black Isle – and noted that the Black Isle is not an island, and nor is it as flat as one participant had thought. There were some black clouds though, and they delivered some distinctly cold showers. A wait for the Nigg ferry provided an opportunity for coffee, scones, cream and meringue.
Over the Cromarty Firth to the flat(ish) farmland of Easter Ross and we had a late lunch at Tain. We resisted the temptations of the Glen Morangie distillery, and paused at Iain Shand’s grave in Kincardine. This is still close to sea level, and our beds for the night were 233 m above sea level, so the afternoon was basically steadily uphill. Farmland soon gave way to heather moorland, there was a head–wind, and it was raining again. At last the Crask Inn appeared in a fold in the hills. This is one of Britain’s most isolated pubs, without mains electricity and very iconic. However, it had lots of heat, and venison or wild salmon for dinner. Extremely welcome. The owner wishes to retire and it’s for sale, if anyone is interested.
On Sunday we soon split into two, a hard core of three following NCR 1 past Ben Loyal to Tongue and over Borgie Hill, and the majority taking a short-cut down Strath Naver. The one has rugged scenery and the other is verdant, heavily populated before the Highland clearances. We met again at Bettyhill, which, despite a hotel, two shops and a café, proved to be a difficult place to get lunch. From here the road runs east along the coast, and it is hilly in the tradition of coast roads. We stopped for necessary tea and cakes as we passed my house before continuing onto our accommodation in Thurso. We were much pleased by our waiter at dinner at a nearby hotel that evening.
Monday morning dawned bright and sunny, albeit with a chilly east (head) wind. We stopped at Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on the British mainland, and had coffee chez HRH the Duke of Rothesay at the Castle of Mey (he wasn’t at home). From there we headed across the flat farmland of east Caithness and up a little hill to Duncansby Head, famous for its sea stacks and the furthest point from Land’s End. From here it is just a short ride back to John o’Groat’s and the famous sign. The ride back to Thurso was pleasantly swift, with the wind behind our backs at last.
<2>Next Year's Plans
There are a couple of options for continuing the trip next year; one of these is to continue NCR 1 onto the Orkney and Shetland Isles, the other is to continue the route southwards from Newcastle (where we started the route in 2011). Hopefully at least one of these options will come to fruition for next year.