Sorry for the delay on this, my hand injury has meant I've put off writing as it''s such a pain to type with one hand.
So: Aviemore to Alness 3rd August. (65 miles) Probably our hardest day as we first had to find a bike shop to replace Rachel's back brakes (on a Sunday!) which had become worn (the man in the bike shop said this happened when brakes were used in the rain, which we certainly had been doing!).
We set off at 10.30 initially heading to Culrain. Having checked the map, we realised this was going to be a 95 mile day, followed by a 45-mile day. Since we set off so late and Rachel was still suffering with her hand injury, we decided to try and even the days out a bit. After a few false starts (tourist office closed, etc.) we called in the cavalry and Joe's parents managed to find us somewhere in Alness. This made the day a lot more manageable and raised our spirits.
The ride to Inverness was lovely, except that our late start meant we were nowhere near food at lunchtime. We did find a lovely pub in INverness for lunch, with outdoor covering so we could eat (while it rained!) with our bikes.
Cycling through Inverness centre and over the bridge was very wet. Rachel decided she had no more fear of the fashion police after putting on plastic mac, plastic trousers and plastic over-shoes in the middle of a busy Inverness high-street. If it catches on, we were amongst the trendsetters!
An easy-ish ride into Alness once we'd crossed over from Inverness and negotiated some big hills. Very picturesque according to Joe, Rachel had stopped noticing.
4th August: Alness to Tongue (75 miles)
Rachel was now managing her injury well, so this was a smooth day. It was impossible to get lost, as most of the time there was only one road. We've decided navigating large towns/cities was a big slow down earlier in the trip.
Mountains, lochs and bogs all the way from Lairg, although a surprising number of cars coming in the other direction down the single-track A-road! We wondered if everyone was leaving Tongue, and why?!
Towards the end of the day, a strong north wind and rain really brought the temperature down and Joe started to yawn a lot, which worried Rachel, so we peddled all the harder to do the last few miles to the Scottish north coast. We were met by a golden eagle sitting on a telegraph pole and pouncing down into a field.
The local store (Spar, which Rachel had researched ahead of time) was sadly closed when we arrived, so we thought we might have to go without dinner, there being very little around. Luckily we weren't the first and the youth hostel had a small shop and the lady who ran it also baked, so lots of cakes too!
A lovely position, sitting on the water at the base of the steep cliffs around Tongue.
5 August: Tongue to John o'Groats (65 miles)
A sprint start to this day as we were mobbed by midges as we put our shoes on (we had to take them off at the door of the youth hostel). Rachel was absolutely covered in midge bites by the end of the day, though we had got away with it before then!
We really noticed the difference in our fitness levels as Cornwall-like ups and downs were ridden with comparative ease. Anyone who has used the Sustrans route-maps will know the double-arrow underlined symbols means a steep climb, and we managed two of these, as well as many other less severe climbs. We even climbed through a (albeit short-stretch) 1 in 5 slope, with its own 20% sign to prove it.
We spotted a golden eagle again, preening on a tree stump and then gliding off into the distance, while we stopped for a drink.
We aimed to stop in Rae, but couldn't find a restaurant, we then looked to the Dunrae Nuclear Power Station visitors shop, which was on our map and we had been told about. However, things moved fast in the north of Scotland and it was in the process of being decommissioned and there was no Visitors Centre now. However, we headed onto Thurso as we were making good time.
After Thurso, we chomped through the last 20 miles, which were very flat, and decided not to go to Dunnet Head (northernmost point), which had looked short on our map, but which signs told us was a 10 mile round trip. With Rachel's injury not being improved by any further riding, and the sniff of the finish, it didn't seem so tempting as when we had been planning the trip sitting in our living room.
John o'Groats had nothing much to offer, so we bought our postcards, took our pictures and then asked the bus driver if he took bikes (Rachel had read that there were buses with bike-racks from John o'Groats). However, there were no such buses today. However, however, the bus was empty and the nice bus driver let us get on, bikes, panniers, smell and all. So our 17 mile trip to Wick cost us a fiver and only took us 30 minutes and no further damage to Rachel's hand.
Cue our first pint of our holiday.