This was the hardest day of the tour. Harder than the Bealach na Bà day. And all because of that cyclist’s curse: a headwind.
Yet it started well. The 1,000 feet of climbing over the first nine miles from Ullapool that sapped my morale yesterday proved easier when repeated today. And I was looking forward to seeing Assynt and cycling over the stunning Kylesku bridge.
We had a lovely stop by the shore of Loch Assynt with Ardvreck castle in the distance. The sun was shining, it was warm and we had a stunningly scenic day ahead.
We were soon climbing away from the loch but the ascent was manageable. This was the first day that I’d cycled with Angela, Julia, Lucy, Lucy. Angela compared our climbing styles: I was a hare, racing on then taking a rest; she was a tortoise, slowly but steadily making her way uphill. It was a perceptive observation.
I really enjoyed the descent towards lunch with views of Loch Glencoul ahead. We had the excellent Rock Stop cafe overlooking the loch to ourselves as Peak Tours had reserved it for us. (We felt sorry for two cyclists we saw turned away by cafe staff – we encountered them several times on the road to Durness during the afternoon.) The cafe was part of the North West Highlands Geo Park, which explains the geological story of the region. I noticed a few Geo Park information panels near Ullapool yesterday.
As I departed the cafe, I found it a struggle to make progress because of a combination of incline and headwind. But before long I was crossing Kylesku bridge, which looked as stunning in reality as in photos. Opened in 1984, it features V-shaped piers and a gracefully curving deck to fit the landscape. It is now officially called Drochaid a’ Chaolais Chumhaing, its name in Gaelic.
The afternoon session was a slog. The landscape was as stunning as ever, with sea lochs and mountains to admire, but the headwind slowed progress – even downhill. On one hill, I gained temporary respite when a council van overtook me and shielded me from the wind while the driver waited for the chance to safely pass Angela and Julia.
There was one lovely moment when I waited for a flock of sheep to pass down the road in the village of Scourie.
I’m sure the final stretch to Durness would have been relatively easy without that pesky headwind. We had a long but not very steep incline, but the northerly wind made it so much harder. I kept telling myself that I should be grateful that the sun was shining. Eventually we started the descent to the Kyle of Durness, but there was no chance of coasting. I was grateful for company from Angela and Lucy on this section. I was less impressed by some of the drivers who were far too impatient to wait in the passing places on this single track A road.
It was a pleasure to see a broad estuary ahead of us – the Kyle of Durness. We had almost reached the north coast. But my day’s cycling was not over. There was another hill and a couple of miles to Durness itself. And my B&B was another mile beyond this scattered village. I kept checking my instructions to make sure I hadn’t missed a turn. I have rarely been so relieved to get off the bike at the end of a day.
We had a sociable dinner at the Smoo Cave Hotel: just what we needed after a tough day. Afterwards, I walked the mile back to my B&B marvelling yet again how late it remains light in the far north.
The day’s stats
68.5 miles, 4,718 feet climbing, 6 hrs 5 mins cycling, 11.2 mph average speed