Stage 157, 24th August: Durness to Hope Bridge
After my cross-country adventure rounding Cape Wrath and Feraid Head, it was sorely disappointing to have to get back to road walking. So to up my spirit I gave myself a small early departure from the tarmac and dropped down to have a quick look inside Smoo Cave. Sadly the photogenic waterfall chamber was closed due to a storm damaged walkway. Bertha was beginning to annoy me now, so I climbed my way back to the road and made my way South along the banks of Loch Eriboll with a metaphorical cloud over my head.
In truth the cloud wasn’t metaphorical at all. The sunshine that was forecast to dominate the day looked as if it was doing just that back in Durness and ahead on the other side of the loch. Instead, I had a nice heavy grey cloud hanging off the hill due West of me and the light wind was nudging it my way. It nudged a bit and stopped, hanging over me like a ‘cloud of doom’ whilst sporadically delivering its contents at intervals just big enough for me to consider removing my waterproof coat.
Coat on. Coat off. Coat on. Coat off again. After four or five occasions, any trust I had in cloud judgement deserted me and as I made my way North up the other side of the loch I took to regularly peering over my shoulder to try to time precisely when the next shower would arrive. I got quite good at it and could give myself a good two-minute warning to batten down the hatches and make sure I stayed dry underneath.
Sure enough, by the time I reached Hope Bridge the cloud had gone and it was as if it had never been there. I suspected that Mike, sitting waiting for me in his shorts, might not believe that I had a rainy day.
Stage 158, 25th August: Hope Bridge to Bettyhill
Today felt like my first fully dry day in August, even if it wasn’t. Checking back in my records I knew that it hadn’t rained on the 1st, the 5th and the 14th August. Apparently that’s a dry month in these parts. So it was another road trip along the A838.
With a slight tinge of disappointment at failing to find a good route to round the headland at Melness, I made my way up and over the pass taking as many old-road offshoots as I could to keep myself entertained. Much of the old road was overgrown and flooded in places and this is when I discovered that the pair of boots I was wearing no longer had any waterproof qualities in anything more than a shallow puddle. The uppers had now departed from the sole in a few places and I vowed to keep these boots aside for dry road walking days only until they fell apart completely. It looked as if two pairs were now assigned to the bin unless I could cheekily convince Salomon that their two-year warranty would get me some free replacements.
I dropped down to the short bridge and long causeway over the very pretty Kyle of Tongue with its grand views inland towards Ben Loyal on one side and the softer winding channel with wide sand banks heading out to sea on the other.
I stayed on the road to briefly meet up with Mike who was shuttling his car and Snickers by cycling back and forth along the route. By halfway he called it a day and left Snickers at the roadside for us to pick up later.
The road consisted of one slow climb and drop after another. Each one felt steeper and tougher than the one before. In truth they weren’t, but for some reason I was clearly tiring. The scenery had lost its rugged edge and the number of “wow” moments had fallen back as cultivated fields and gentler crags with low boggy moorland hills took over. By the time I arrived in Bettyhill I was already missing the West coast and this area also seemed to have lost its appeal to the band of tourists who had kept me company for the last month or so. The end of the holiday season was nigh, but I also felt that the beauty was diminishing too. It was a shame for Bettyhill because the estuary was utterly beguiling and Torrisdale Bay could easily have doubled for a tropical resort if it wasn’t for the lack of palm trees and a chill East wind on my face.
Stage 159, 26th August: Bettyhill to Reay
The journey East along a sunny coastline with very few accessible coast hugging routes continued. Hence more up and down road was my company for another day. The routine was becoming familiar as five long slow climbs took me over hills and down to another estuary with its understated rural hamlet. But very gradually the road was becoming busier and the terrain flatter.
From Strathy I was often passed by trucks delivering concrete to a new wind farm under construction nearby. I couldn’t help but think just how much fossil fuel was getting burnt in the making of the concrete, the delivery of it by truck and in the fuel tanks of the cars of the construction workers. It all seemed a bit barmy to me that, as a nation, we seem to spend a fortune blighting our landscape with ugly wind farms which are highly inefficient, unlikely to last and which will probably cost a fortune to maintain after a few years. Yes we live on a windy island, but we also live on a very wet one with huge hydroelectric potential. Plus, if I should forget, we also happen to have rather a long coastline with a fair few waves and two tides per day with huge power potential. I just cannot fathom why on earth we haven’t put more effort into options that might be a little more complicated to engineer than shoving up another dozen concrete housing estates for Windy Miller and his family. The environmental lobby seems to have created a knee jerk political attitude to renewable energy which I suspect will be a complete waste of time and money when we look back in twenty years time. See….I told you my mind wandered when I get bored with road walking.
At least I got an excellent view of the nuclear power station at Dounreay. It was probably lucky that I got this view at the end of the day as I approached my first open shop for ages. It sold ice cream and a Magnum Infinity was much more attractive than a one-sided debate on the merits and failings of nuclear power.