Our final day. The end of a 470 mile odyssey across the Scottish Highlands. And the sun was shining.
We continued to retrace in reverse part of my Land’s End to John O’Groats route in 2002 and 2019. It was an easy downhill to the Falls of Shin, along an eerily quiet road. Yet when I paused at the falls I was amazed to see a crowd of people. Then I spotted the tourist coach… I didn’t linger long, not expecting to repeat my 2019 success in videoing salmon leaping up the falls. I was sad to see the lovely cafe and visitor centre was boarded up, a victim of the pandemic.
I followed Rose to Bonar Bridge, seen above. She set a cracking pace, and my average speed to lunch was far higher than on any other day on the trip. Not far beyond Ardgay, where we had lunch on LEJOG19, I said goodbye to the LEJOG route, glancing up towards the Struie hill viewpoint where I’d taken photos in 2002 and 2019.
Shortly after a brew stop at Edderton we came to the A9 roundabout overlooking the bridge over the Dornoch Firth. We had a couple of miles on the busy A9 before turning off to pass through Tain.
At first, I thought my progress had been blocked as the road through the town was closed. But no one was around so I slowly pedalled past this large lorry – presumably part of the preparations for a Jubilee event. No one challenged me and I was soon out of the town heading into the flat countryside bordering the North Sea. I didn’t enjoy this section of the ride: the countryside was rather dull compared with the previous days and the headwind was making it harder work than the terrain merited. I was glad of Richard’s company.
Before long, though, we reached lunch at Balintore Inn. I was glad to grab an outdoor table in the sunshine and chat. We were plotting tactics as we were not far from the only ferry ride of the trip, across the Cromarty Firth from Nigg to Cromarty. We tried to time our departure to minimise the wait for the ferry, but I’m not sure it made any difference as it turned out!
We also witnessed David panicking as he thought the Peak Tours van had departed with his spare e-bike battery on board. It hadn’t, but the incident showed the need for planning when it comes to taking an e-bike on tour.
As we approached Nigg I was intrigued by a forest of tall structures, seen above. At first I assumed they were connected with the oil industry (I remember seeing oil rigs in the firth on previous visits), but they were actually supports for offshore wind turbines. We had a better view from the ferry.
We had been told we may not all get on the ferry, but happily no one was turned away.
Annoyingly my Garmin ended the day’s ride when I was on the ferry but to my relief at least it saved the ride.
Once off the ferry we cycled through the lovely town of Cromarty before the day’s climbing began in earnest across Black Isle. At one point I was grateful for some shade. As we headed west, I saw the white smoke from a factory on the other side of the Moray Firth near Inverness airport, a sign that we were getting closer to our destination. I was gasping for a mug of tea at our last brew stop, some 16 miles from Inverness. But I didn’t have time to linger long, as I had to hand over my bike to the courier in Inverness by 5pm.
I cycled with Julia, Angela and Lucy towards the Kessock bridge. We were temporarily stumped how to get to the cycle route over the firth, knowing the west bound path was closed. But I worked it out and guided us through an underpass and a residential street down to the Beauly Firth shore. It is typical of the low priority that road planners give cyclists that we then had to climb a very steep lane to regain the height we had lost to get to the bridge, before taking our chance crossing the busy A9.
At this point I was on a mission and went solo over the bridge, picking up speed on the road past Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC’s ground into Inverness. I later apologised to Janet and Frances for overtaking them at 22mph!
I was soon wheeling my bike over the familiar Greig Street footbridge in glorious sunshine. What a contrast with our departure in the rain last Sunday! It seemed a long time ago. I handed my bike over with eight minutes to spare. The deadline meant I missed the finish on Ness Walk, followed by a drink, but I knew I’d have the chance to celebrate tonight.
It was bliss to be handed a cold, fizzy drink by Lorraine, the lovely co-owner of Bruce B&B, to enjoy as I wallowed in the bath. (My first for a week – I’d only had rooms with a shower on tour.) Soon I was walking to our farewell dinner at the Eden Court Theatre.
It was a lovely evening, as we reminisced about our seven day adventure. We were so lucky with the weather – especially as Platinum jubilee celebrations in England and Wales were marked by grey skies and showers. The experience confirmed my view that Scotland is a superb destination for a cycle tour. As always, Peak Tours did an amazing job – both in the run up to the tour and guides Julie, Simon and Wendy on tour. I have already booked my place on the Peak Tours Portugal tour next year. I can’t wait!
The day’s stats
67.8 miles, 2,530 feet climbing, 5 hours cycling, average speed 14.5mph Lairg to Nigg; 12.2 Cromarty to Inverness.