Sunday, 19 July 2015

Day 16 – 18th July – Dornoch Firth Bridge to Wick

I had stayed for the night at the Dornoch Firth caravan site, and had spent much of the evening in the laundry room using a dryer as a makeshift office for the power that was available!  During that night a Swedish couple had come up to see me Katharina and Cornel, they were in a tent opposite me and noticed my tent was open and it was starting to rain so they wanted to let me know, that is the sort of generosity that you find with tourers!  

In the morning I used the laundry room again to sort myself out before I left and they came in to see me and wish me well and we took a goodbye photo together! I headed out of the caravan park and came to a dead end so had to turn round as I had gone down the wrong road for a hundred meters.
Almost immediately I was turning right onto the Dornoch Firth Bridge which was opened by the Queen Mother on August 27th 1991.  The views from the bridge gave me a great start to the day and despite severe weather warnings I was feeling very positive, although at the back of my mind I was thinking about the climbs out of Helmdale and Berisdale which I had read about as being fairly vicious.

It was wet and windy but I was already thinking about John O’Groats and wondering if the weather would be kind enough to put the mileage in and make it there.  I had decided to get closer to the coast as there was a through road available so I made my way into the village at Embo where I grabbed a coffee and some pictures of the Marketplace with a stone cross where market trading used to take place.  I took a photo of the local church and noticed a chemist so I had my prescription filled there at the same time and popped into the high street for some replacement headphones as mine had died.
I pushed on and along the coast of loch Fleet there is a sandbank that runs in the middle and I could see it dotted with rocks, as I cycled closer I thought I saw one move and thought my eyes were playing tricks.  As I closed in I realised there were about 40 or so seals strewn out along the sandbank and I pulled over to watch for a while and photograph them, with the zoom on full I could make them out fairly clearly.  I had already seen one seal bobbing his head up at Abadour bay but to see so many was a fantastic experience for me!

As I was watching cars began to pull up as people also noticed and, a gentleman pointed out there were two grey herons I could see them but didn’t bother to photograph. He had explained to me as a young child he had seen a heron attempt to eat an eel that it had pecked to death and but tried to swallow the wrong way and had to regurgitate to take the other way.  I related my own horror story of catching one while fishing with my brother when I was about 11 and having it wrap around my arm so that I took the but of a heavy knife and bludgeoned it until it stopped and then lopped it's head off, I didn't try and swallow it however, I took it home and cooked it in milk!  I decided to move on as the solitary moment was lost so I pedalled off at a conveninent pause.

I was rewarded a little further on I saw a solitary heron sitting on a rock and I stopped to photograph it; it must have spotted me looking at it because as soon as I had my camera ready it launched itself into flight.  I put the zoom on full and pointed where I thought it would fly into view, I was very lucky as got two shots of it!

Towards the end of Loch Fleet I saw a lone walker that looked like where’s Wally in the distance.  When I got closer it was a young girl, she looked about 15 (she was in fact 22), she flagged me down and asked where the nearest village was (she had a French accent but good English), I told her about 8 miles.  I could see her face droop a little so I asked her if she had water and she said yes then I asked her is he had enough food and here answer was less committed.  I had stocked up on food so had plenty on board, I asked her if she would like some food as I had lots and she nodded enthusiastically.  

She asked if I had some “Cheddar” amazingly I was carrying a bag of Cathedral City grate cheddar for my baguette!  So I tore half a baguette and poured it full of Cheddar!  She was very happy and began munching away as soon as I handed it to her.  She told me she had worked but didn’t know what to do with her life so she was on this trip to work out what she should do!  We took photos together and she reminded me of La La!

She gave me a hug before we left and I left her a card with my number and instructions to call if she got into trouble!  She asked to visit in Birmingham and I agreed and maybe will meet her again, she was like a tiny little stick in the wind with her pack almost as big as her, so I am sure when she finds her directions she will be determined enough to succeed!
I needed the loo so pulled over to the side to see a mini nature reserve announcing there were otters, there was no one about so I made my way to the edge of a small drop onto water and there were two otters playing with each other, I was transfixed until realised that my camera was on the bike so dashed to get it, but by the time I returned they were gone, I was very disappointed but glad had seen them.

I passed over a bridge and took some photos of a river running through greenery below and continued along passing various places such as Golspie, Brora until I approached Helmdale which I had read about as having a horrible climb, and had caused many a cyclist to get off their bike and push.  I met the climb and sank into a low gear and relaxed my body focussing only on the rhythm of my pedals, to be hones in the gear I was in I didn’t find it too strenuous but maintaining balance on a loaded bike at slow speed with a side wind was an acquired skill!

After the climb out I had an amazing downhill and clocked well over 40 MPH which made a change from the grinding climb.   I pushed on and came to Berisdale which had another long steep 13 degree climb, before I started I pulled over to the side to fill up with water where I met a very old lady walking a small elderly corgi that bounded up to me for a stroke or so I thought, instead it went straight to my front wheel and began to pee at the side of the bike, the old lady didn’t bat an eyelid.  It wasn’t touching my bike so I said nothing and simply asked if she knew where I could get some water she told me a convoluted route that apparently led to some standby taps, she then asked me if I was going up the hill on “that bike” I said yes and she just laughed!!!   

I decided to ignore the directions from the grey-haired old lady and her incontinent dog, instead I knocked at a door and found it was a Jewellery shop, the artist was Patricia Nehmen from Germany.  Her work was very expensive from the price tags, however  I have to say I found her work fascinating and very sinister, she asked me what I thought and I said that her work was beautiful especially a deep red necklace with a kind of twisted red glass horn that reminded me of blood and sacrificial rituals.  I also told her that I found her work very dark and sinister, she agreed and said yes there is a very sinister element but that she was a nice person so they balanced each other.  We both said a cheery goodbye and she wished me luck

I began my ascent out of Berisdale which announced itself as a 13 degrees and twisty, I carried on climbing and eventually emerged at the top where a man got out of a break down truck and told me I had lost him £5.00????  He said he and his co-worker had seen me far back earlier in the day and when they passed me at the bottom of the hill had made a bet that I couldn’t make it up without stopping and pushing.  I laughed at the insult as his friend had more faith in me than he did, he shook my hand and asked to lift the bike which he took two attempts to do.  He said that his friend was a cyclist and had said to him that my pace was very even and steady so he knew I would make it.
It was strange that his friend never got out to say hi but stayed across the road in the truck.  I laughed again at the bet and carried on.   Shortly after a group of cyclists flew past me on unladen bikes and ultra-smooth Lycra, later on I spotted a café and as I got off they were outside and two of them came to greet me.  They were likewise amazed that I had travelled up on a heavy bike and began to dissect the bike – noticing the surly forks and brooks saddle.

They asked where this bike had been built and I told them in my shed!  I went inside and ordered a deserved coffee, they motioned me to come over and join them, they were led by an older guy who had a sort of experienced reverence from his companions, he had done the end to end before and was now guiding his friends.  They were also headed for wick and for a brief moment I was envious of their unladen steeds.

They asked me when I had set out for my end to end and were surprised and impressed when I described my trip but the older leader seemed very off towards me.  They described a friend who had given in that day from a poorly stomach, I may have been out of turn when I said he should have sucked it up and carried on because he was only a day away from finishing.   One of them had said would you have carried on??  I took that as a sort of challenge and let my ego get the better of me, I explained that on my Joggle I had been knocked off my bike on day 3 and had to cycle to the hospital 30 miles away where I had damaged the tendons in my wrist and partially torn the sheath on my Achilles tendon and then cycled the last 800 with a metal wrist brace and a strapped up Achilles and happy pills to help with the pain (I had flashbacks to my happy gear, the only one that didn’t make me want to scream in pain).  

Inside I thought to myself I am glad you’re not my friends, if I had a friend who was ill I would have carried him till the end or just not finished, when you are in a team either you all finish or none of you finish, for me if you don’t all pass the line you have failed anyhow, so short of dying you do what it takes to get you and your team across the line… I guess was kind of peeved at the thought of him being left behind – ok I admit it I was actually very annoyed as I imagined him on his own back wherever even more miserable with his friends who had gone on without him.   There’s an old joke which says: “A true friend is not the one who bails you out of Jail, it is the one who is sat next to you saying, Bugger how did we get into this”.

My position justified the conversation turned a little lighter and they began to poke fun at the last guy in as they said he was no better on the hills than I was with my heavy bike, he was the newest to cycling and could see he was a little embarrassed.  I left quickly with their best wishes, I simply said I will see you very soon as you pass me!

They did indeed soon pass me and one of them shouted you’re a bloody machine when he passed which was a great compliment for number one and two pistons which were firing very nicely!
A little while later their “slower” friend passed me and shouted good luck, I could see he was focussed on keeping up and not getting the pleasure out of it that he could,  I shouted at him “ride your own ride” and “*&^%&*^ them do it in your own time your way”.  He stopped his bike and looked back and shouted “thankyou” his face was beaming and he had indeed slowed his pace a little, good for him I thought, follow your own rhythm.

Note: later I found that a grey van I had seen following at various points was in fact theirs with their girlfriends who were readying meals and putting up tents for them at the end of the day…  Each to their own but for me that is just not a true adventure, you may as well stay at home and sit on a turbo trainer.

I learned a few things today:

  • The top of the hill is never where you think it is so be prepared to keep going
  • There is always a bigger hill than the last
  • That I already knew the first two but the brain has a tendency to fool you into forgetting them for self-survival.

I pushed on the final 20 or so miles to wick, I didn’t realise it was so big and immediately saw a LIDL sign, I thought I was in heaven!!  I stocked up on food for the evening and continued on eventually I pulled into a camping site, which was not exactly on my top list but I wanted a shower.  It was £11.00, they had no Wi-Fi, nowhere to charge your devices, and not a bench in site, the only saving grace was the showers!

The tent next to me housed a cunningly hidden Brazilian, I heard his accent and greeted him in Portuguese “Boa Tarde”, he smiled and we conversed in my stilted Portuguese and English.  His name was Jose and he was going to Findhorn as part of his ecological research, the video below is one of his.

I quickly got my tent up and I cooked myself some fresh chicken breast in a Tikka Masala sauce with some rice and vegetables.   I couldn’t eat it all and I had to throw the rest away something I hate doing.  I met up with Jose again and I told him I was heading for the Weatherspoon’s in town so that I could get some Wi-Fi and charge some things up.  He took this as an invite and we agreed to go together after we had showered (separately not together) Brazilians are friendly but I am not that friendly!!!!

I called Rosana and Jose conversed with her talking about the weather etc...  After we had showered we headed down the river where I took a few photos of Wick at night and then we made our way through the town centre, at almost every corner there were groups of kids hanging around looking like they had nothing to do but cause trouble, of course I had misjudged them, I asked two or three groups which way the Weatherspoon’s was and each one responded with a smile and an eagerness to help, I chided myself for my own stupid prejudices as they were all very nice and polite!
The pub was absolutely packed but we managed to share a table with two other men, I had asked them because they had a plug socket.  It was the county fair, and they explained we had just missed the pipe band which I was very disappointed about as it would have made a nice end to the day.
It seemed like there was a 3 to 1 ratio of women to men in the pub and true to our islands tradition, despite the weather the girls were all dressed in as little as possible and high heels.   Jose was steadily getting merry and eyeing up every girl he could whilst giving me a running commentary between the girls and his work.  He pointed out a very tall girl with long legs and blonde hair and exclaimed she was his dream but he had lost his golden years!

Suddenly an arm came around my shoulder and a young lad had attached himself to me, apparently a relative of one of the men at the table and very very drunk.  By elbow brushed against him and he was all wet at the front, I prayed it was from a spilled pint.   My face must have carried a warning as he looked at me as I spun round, apologised and staggered off.

Jose D’augustino was steadily getting merrier when we finished for the night and headed back to the campsite.  Fortunately I remembered the way and we walked along the river with Jose expounding some of his theories through the alcohol so I was left to guide us and similarly engage in a philosophical look at his ideas of a higher connection between plants and the whole ecosystem.
I helped him back to the tent where got into mine and drifted off to sleep, I turned my alarm off as had decided to have an easy day tomorrow.

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