…was our longest day and also our highest day. We started off pretty high, having woken up overlooking Loch Naver and eating a hearty Hunter’s Breakfast, and immediately started climbing even higher.
The scenery continued to be spectacular, despite the on/off drizzle, and we following a soaring buzzard up the road for ages. Our first goal was The Crask Inn, which we mistakenly thought was at the summit. Anyone who has even looked into doing an End-to-End journey will know of The Crask Inn. It is the only hostelry for a long way, especially if you are going North so most travellers will stop there. We had arranged to meet the others there for mid-morning refreshments, so when we got to the top we were expectant. It is not at the top, however, so we didn’t find it until heading downhill for some way.
We were met in the yard by a friendly dog who showed us into the warm, firelit pub which was today being hosted by a friend of the owners, who were on holiday. They don’t seem to have a menu, they will just make whatever they can so a quick chat about what we would like led to drinks and cakes arriving. As I think is common, we met some other cyclists heading north. One was on her own as her husband had realised he has lost his gloves and had gone back for them, potentially 15 miles back from where she left him an hour or so ago! They had been on their End-to-End journey for a few months, taking a very indirect route. They always met up in the same place in the evening but apparently rarely cycled together along the way- different paces and different interests!
It was then downhill all the way, pretty much. A few times we wondered whether we would be able to roll most of the way to the coast. It may well have been possible, but we were keen to get there quicker! We stopped for some lunch in the shelter of a small woodland and then continued to descend, passing the guy who had lost his gloves about 10miles down.
The long downhill meant good time and we arrived in Lairg fairly quickly. We now had to choose between the main straight road or the more scenic windy, rolling road. There was really no contest for us especially since there were waterfalls promised on the scenic route! The drizzle continued but failed to dampen our spirits and we soon arrived at the Falls of Shin. We found a brand new visitors centre, built in the shape of a fish, to highlight the annual spectacle of the salmon run, where the salmon return from their migration out at sea to the riverbed where they were spawned- despite having to climb massive, fast-flowing waterfalls!! Shin Falls was one such place and at certain times of the year, sadly not whilst we were there, you can witness the great leaps of the salmon up the falls. Even without the salmon, the falls were spectacular and well worth a stop.
The others, however, missed the turnoff for the scenic road. Instead, they got to visit Europe’s largest sheep market!!
We continued downhill, now following the river, and loving the beautiful surroundings. Over old bridges and through quaint villages. We stopped briefly at Bonar Bridge to snigger like schoolboys, which made us miss Keith, a past cycling companion who would have loved the name!
The last stretch, along the Dornoch Firth, was the only slog of the day. As we left Bonar Bridge the sign said 12 miles and by that stage that seemed too far! We put our heads down and pedalled, into the wind, as it seemed like dusk set in. Keeping my eyes peeled for dolphins on the firth was to no avail, though.
The plan was to camp and we had identified a campsite on the coast. However, my Mum had some friends in Dornoch, who also ran a guest house, so she was planning on staying with them. They had gone ahead and found the campsite, even paid for a pitch, so we headed to meet them there.
By the time we got there, finding no one to check in with, we used the facilities and got cold waiting for our stuff to arrive. After a while, it did, along with the news that the guests expected at the guest house were not going to arrive tonight so they had a whole guest house free!! Jonny has started feeling ill and the wind had picked up, so we jumped at the chance.
We left the windy coastal campsite jubilantly, heading for the luxurious Wester Winhill Guest House. Joan and Jerry obviously love being hosts and they are great at it, we were made to feel so welcome. After showers and rest, they took us on a tour of Dornoch then cooked a massive meal. So many stories to tell and knowledge to share about the local area and beyond. By bedtime, we were as mentally exhausted from being entertained as we were physically exhausted from the cycling!
The short walk across the driveway treated us to the night sounds of the birds on the coastal flats and shadowy views of the hills.