Today was a long, tough ride and I am glad it is over. It was great in many ways to cross the Isle of Skye, and the scenery was at times spectacular. But the wind was strong, in my face and unrelenting. It also brought with it passing showers that punctuated the sunshine and produced some quite dramatic skies. These made for a nasty weather combination if you got unlucky, which mostly I didn’t. But even my luck ran out around 9pm when I was just a few miles away from my destination. When it got too hard to ride through, I was afforded respite in this fairly barren place in a rural bus shelter complete with comfy wooden chair and flowers! And it was worth the effort when I finally reached the end of my journey. But more of that later. Or perhaps even tomorrow, because (1) I’m really tired tonight; and (2) tomorrow is a rare rest day, giving me time to catch up.
The fact is l should and would have been finished much earlier in the evening if it were not for our Scotrail friends, who decided once again that my booked train was superfluous to their “emergency timetable”, setting me back a good couple of hours. So instead I had a leisurely morning, during which I discovered that Dingwall, a quiet unassuming and historic highland town, has a branch of Wimpy! I know! They were all the rage in those halcyon 1970s days before McDonalds came along. I remember it being quite a treat to visit the branch in the Arndale Centre in Doncaster. But when was the last time you saw a Wimpy? Pleasing to know that the brand survives in these more remote corners of the country, even if I’m not predisposed to actually make a purchase. Back then, they advertised that they had the “Greatest burgers under the bun!” And who knows, perhaps they still do. A mystery that I am happy to let remain unsolved.
Dingwall station has the distinction of having both a pub and a posh tea room on its platform. I enjoyed a latte in the warm sun while I waited for the train. 3 other cyclists turned up, which worried me; but when the 2 carriage train for Kyle of Lochalsh arrived, there were 4 (FOUR) empty bike spaces; so despite the cancellations, all was well.
This is one of the classic train journeys of Britain, and I was anxious to try it. I also needed to get as far west as possible today, in my pursuit of map 18. The train was almost empty, so we cyclists spread ourselves across 2 tables and chatted. They were up from London, a mother and her daughter and boyfriend. The scenery got seriously good from Strathcarron onwards, with big impressive mountains to the north across the waters of Loch Carron. We all took pictures through the train windows and ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the best bits. At Kyle the train ends where there was once a ferry link to Skye. In its place stands the controversial Skye Bridge, a high arched structure spanning Loch Alsh at its narrowest point of about 500m. It opened in 1995 as a toll bridge with tolls 14 times (per metre) that of the Forth Bridge. Some locals refused to pay and there were long running court battles. In 2004 the Scottish Government bought it out and all tolls ended.
I rode up and over the steep bridge, Skye’s famous and dramatic mountain skyline looming before me. The mountains were in full view and – so far – the weather was turning out better then the rather alarming forecast. I found the first 9 miles relatively sheltered, arriving in one of the main settlements, Broadford, in decent time and ready for lunch. Skye is much bigger and busier than the other Hebridean islands. It has almost become a victim of its own popularity. A couple of years ago the police had to send out warnings to stay away unless you had confirmed accommodation. The island was full. It must be getting close to that again. Everywhere was showing “No Vacancies” signs. The A87 main road between the bridge and the island capital, Portree, some 35 miles away, takes a lot of traffic; but it is the only real option for the cyclist, too. I knew to expect this; but I didn’t like it. Despite the amount of traffic and number of visitors, domestic and foreign, refreshment opportunities are limited, so you stop when you can. I had a delightful late lunch in Broadford to set me up for the tough ride to come. It was also here that I managed to dodge my first rain shower. Timing is everything.
I will describe the rest of the ride tomorrow. That will have to do for now. I need sleep! And I’m not setting an alarm.