Friday 22nd June – Day Eleven

Today was the longest ride of the whole trip -106 miles up to Thurso across some of the least inhabited parts of the UK. To gird our loins we had eggs and haggis at the Novar Arms Hotel, was really good!

We were in midge country – James was taking no risks in getting bit…

The day dawned bright and clear, cold but with a forecast of sun later on. I rather unwisely took this at face value and donned shorts and a short sleeved shirt for the ride and was pretty cold for most of it…despite it being just past midsummer temperatures didn’t rise above about 13 degrees all day.

We started today from Evanton which overlooks the Cromarty Firth. This had seven oil rigs parked in it, presumably spares from the North Sea, quite a sight. The views over the Firth were spectacular as we pedalled out towards Dornoch Firth,

The entrance to the Cromarty Firth is guarded by two precipitous headlands (151m and 141m high respectively) which are called ‘The Sutors’ because of their resemblance to shoemakers hunched over their lasts. Sadly our revised route no longer takes us past the headlands. Cromarty Firth is one of the safest anchorages in Scotland and was the scene of the Invergordon mutiny.

The Invergordon Mutiny was industrial action by 1,000 sailors in 1931.  The crews of Royal navy ships at Invergordon were in open mutiny for two days – one of the rare military strikes in British history.  The mutiny caused a run on the pound and panicked the stock exchange forcing the UK off the Gold Standard.  The mutiny was caused by the Government reducing sailors pay by up to 25% as a response to the Great Depression.

We missed out Dunrobin Castle on our revised route as well as the Sutherland memorial. It’s a pity because it’s a massive monument that several (I assume Scotsmen) have tried to destroy in recent years!

The first Duke of Sutherland (George Granville Leveson-Gower) was responsible for some of the most notorious highland clearances. These involved moving crofters (subsistence farmers) off his estate and into coastal villages to make way for sheep production. He is a divisive figure, there is a mahoosive monumental him on the summit of Beinn a’ Bhragaidh built in the 1830’s. It’s more than 30m high and can be seen from several miles away.

An attempt to dynamite the memorial was made in 1994 and stones were removed from the base in 2011 in an attempt to topple the statue. Not a popular man by any stretch of the imagination…

The Sutherland estate was the largest private estate in Europe at that time and the Sutherland clearances are considered the most dramatic and best known removal of families across the Highlands and Islands.

We did however see a number of memorials to the clearances as we cycled up to Bettyhill including one to Mr Macdonalds ‘gloomy letters’.

We headed into the first of the hills – the cycling was good, and although was now a bit slow climbing the hills (my legs are tired, James however seems to be batting stronger every ride, he’s obviously sucking the life force from me!) the riding was easy.

James stopped for a bit of roadside chalking…

We got to a position overlooking the Dornoch Firth and it was a spectacular sight, sadly none of my images do the views justice! Phil the DA tour leader was in the lay-by checking everyone was making good time so was good to see the crew were on top of us…

Then it was a long exciting sweeping descent to Bonar Bridge, we stopped for coffee only to find every other LEJoGer on our trip had the same idea! So far it was bright but very cold so coffee warmed us up.

Bonar Bridge was the scene of an important battle in the Jacobite rebellion. The Duke of Sutherland attacked Clan MacKenzie at the bridge and captured most of the officers and killed the men, the Jacobite army at Culloden therefore failed to be reinforced – it’s doubtful however if this would have made much difference to their comprehensive defeat at Culloden.

In 1812 a dangerously overloaded ferry took on water and capsized at Bonar Bridge and 99 people died…the subsequent fundraising effort built the first bridge there.

Apparently every August the village elects a Salmon Queen.

Joe Strummer’s mother lives in Bonar Bridge – the world is a poorer place without him!

Despite these important bits of history we did not stay long – the next climb began and it was onto Lairg and Loch Shin! Another county!

Lairg was a very prettytown however as we went further on it was clear we were getting further from civilisation -petrol was being billed as the last for 44 miles going north….

Pic of Loch Shin in Lairg- does not do it justice, however at least you can see me in the corner….

Lairg is unusual if not unique in the Highlands in that it is a fairly large settlement (a mahoosive 891 people) located away from the coast. It used to be known as the crossroads of the North – it had four roads! Apparently it’s the site of the fifteenth largest (25 Miles in diameter) impact crater on earth – and I thought there was very little here! It hosts the largest single day sheep sale in Europe (whoop whoop!).

Alastair Bruce of Crionaich K.stJ OBE VR, Fitzalan Pursuivant Extraordinary lives in Lairg…his claim to fame is that he is the historical advisor on Downton Abbey….

Loch Shin is 17 miles long and is, according to my neighbour, rife with midges the size of pigeons! I’ve got a net for my head if I have to stop…James and I held a drill just to make sure we were prepped!

As it turned out the stiff breeze blowing meant no midges! Result! Maurice is covered in bites (I have none – must be immune!). The day clouded over and the wind really picked up.

We left civilisation north of Lairg and the road turned to single track with parking places… it was very bleak (if you have seen Skyfall the landscape was just like where the Bond family seat was located…barren and windswept).

I took pictures but it does not show how desolate this part of the country is…it was hard going, wind in your face and very cold..

It was very hard however respite was reached at the Crask Inn where we had a cup of tea and met about a hundred other LEJoGers all heading to Tongue.

The Crask Inn is a well known stop for End to Enders doing LEJoG and JoGLE. It’s been proving bunk house and bed and breakfast accommodation for many years. It’s recently been sold by the owners to the Church so it’s a place where you can now get a pint and a church service if you want.

The Landlord was miserable as sin though…all we got was complaints he wasn’t expecting us…plainly did not appreciate the trade!

After we had tea we grudgingly left the warmth of the Inn and found to our joy the wind had dropped. Cresting the last hill before lunch we dropped down nice and fast internet Altnaharra and had a chilly lunch on the banks of Loch Never.

The DA crew were working under difficult conditions but soup and sandwiches along with tea revived us no end. The day was gradually brightening and because we headed North west the wind was at our quarter which was slightly easier.

When we were out of the wind it was warm! In the wind I was worried bits were going to snap off. Lunch was only half way and the day started to bite – it’s been a long ride and this last day was really quite hard.

The final century milestone was good to reach….mixed feelings now as the end of the ride started to come in sight…

Finally we reached Bettyhill on the North coast…we were turning right here and then toddling into Thurso…. at least that was what my head was telling me (reality was a bit harder!)

We past the first sign for John O’Groats – 55 miles left…this was a sober reminder of just how far we had come. Some of the team were very emotional seeing this however I have a heart of flint! Actually I was just knackered…think tomorrow will be a good time to finish this ride!

The first glimpse of the sea was awesome… the beach looked idyllic and the sea was a spectacular shade of Azure! We were assured it was not always like this!

The final 25 miles were very hard! Sorry me very steep climbs along the coast which lessened as we went closer to Thurso however I was struggling (James rather disgracefully seems to be thriving!).

Eventually Dounreay came into sight…a massive installation in the middle of nowhere.

Dounreay is the site of five nuclear reactors – three civilian fast breeder reactors and two Royal Navy ones.  The site was used for the development of fast breeder technology and submarine power plant reactors.

The civilian reactors were all shut down in 1994 so no power is now produced.  Decommissioning is going to take until 2058 meaning that loads of people are still employed there. It’s a lonely spot!

There are all sorts of environmental problems with the site.  The operators originally disposed of waste in a 65m shaft that wasn’t designed for this purpose.  This means that coastal erosion is threatening to expose this in 300 years’ time.

Apparently, it was normal for workers to fire rifles into this shaft to sink polyethylene bags floating on the water surface.  Its also not a good idea to go swimming here as there are plenty of irradiated particles on the sea bed.

In 2012 a 2,000,000 becquerel particle washed ashore.  I’m not sure how this would affect your health but 2,000,000 is bad and I for one will not be finding out!

Of more concern for our health was nearly being hit by a driver exiting the site – classic not looking! Fortunately our shrill screaming alerted her to the risk of a manslaughter prosecution and we escaped death!

Finally – desperately tired – we rolled into Thurso…

Thurso is a surprisingly large town of about 8,000 people and has a Category A listed ruined church (Old St Peter’s Kirk dating back to 1125, sadly our route does not take us past it…) It is the most Northerly town on the British mainland.

Old St Peter’s Kirk used to be the principal church for the county.  The church held hearings against criminal activity and determined how those caught should be punished. In 1701, a woman who had a relationship with a Dutch sailor had her head shaved and was publicly shamed, she was paraded through the town by the local hangman (best to stay away from the locals).

Thurso’s history dates back to Norse times and evidence has shown people have been settled here for over 5,000 years.

In 1649 the Irish attacked the town but were chased off by residents. One of the locals killed the Irish Commander Donald Mullach by pulling off a button from his coat, loading it into his musket and firing it at the invader. Best not upset any of the locals that’s what I say!

Linen and fishing were the main industry here until the Dounreay Power station came along and there is also a big BT call centre – jobs for everyone.

Anne McKevitt, the interior designer who used to be on ‘Home Front’ is from Thurso as was Major General John Charles “Jock” Campbell VC DSO MC.  He won his VC fighting the Italians south of Tobruk.  Three weeks after he was promoted to Major General he was killed when his jeep overturned on a new clay road.  His driver was so appalled at what he had done he considered suicide while waiting for medical help.

Final day tomorrow…end of a fantastic experience!

L’Outil D’Or was won by Roly. He had stopped and purchased some Radox bath bubbles to ease his aching limbs only to find out his room only had a shower….

Illuminated Glasses of Awesomeness were won by Debs – 106 miles on practically no sleep (she was dealing with an issue with one of the other riders). Good job!

Enjoying the blog?  Please take time out and sponsor us!  Maurice and I are riding in support of Fresh Start – new beginnings, a treatment service for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  My just giving page can be found here and all donations go straight to the charity (my ride is 100% self funded).


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