Click here to read Part 1
Once we had cleared up the linguistic confusion and established that I wanted a rubber stamp not a postage stamp, Killiecrankie obliged with a very fine example of the genre and I continued north. There is a lot of north, and, rather like Cornwall, it stretches rather further than you might be led to believe by a London-centric media. There is still a little snow on the mountains, and helpful signs on the A9 encourage courteous driving and overtaking. A friend asserts that courteous driving is more manifest in the north due to the incipient violence in the Scottish psyche making road rage too risky, but I disagree.
After the debacle of the Hunter Stone, I have decided to be strict with myself about detours. I could have headed east for an attempt on the Well of Lecht, which looked straightforward (don't they all!) but would have added maybe 2 hours to the journey, and by this point I'm starting to feel the combined impact of sustained high-mileage days and less-than-totally restful nights. Not helped by the stentorian tones of the Twins who like to start their day at 7.00am (they are on a mission to bag all the Scottish landmarks while up here) and see no reason to whisper while striking camp. So I joined the queue for a photo of Glenbogle Town Hall and headed for the campsite.
I live in London. People assume that this means I am used to things on a large, imposing and possibly even grand scale. But this doesn't mean I don't find the 24-hour Tesco at Dingwall anything less than terrifying. All I want is a citronella candle, some chocolate, and maybe some Primula and Cheddars for a retro tea. I really don't want a plasma TV, a 3-litre jerrycan of citronella oil, a DVD player or a flymo. After several hours I am still roaming the aisles hopefully looking for a citronella tea light. The checkout staff take pity on me and show me to the candle aisle and I leave with something which promises to smell of the ocean. Whether this deters midgies or not remains unproven.
According to the Camping and Caravan Club website, Dingwall is Viking for Meeting Place. Presumably the Vikings brought their own barbeque supplies with them, for Dingwall is not over-provided with eateries. It is well-supplied with honesty, however - "where's the best place to eat?" we asked the local citizen industriously weeding the planters at one end of the High Street.
Day 5 - Still plenty of North to go
The paucity of roads in the Highlands makes navigation straightforward - up the A9 until you run out of road. Stop. You have arrived in John O'Groats. On the way we pass the Ord of Caithness, which sounds like a Dr Who monster. After the stop at Clynelish for a LM photo and a tour, I'm riding with Graham, Graham's granddaughter and Graham's friend from Brora who looks a dead ringer for Bill Bryson. All three of them are on the Wing, which causes a small stir when we pull up for a coffee at the Laidhay Croft Museum. Within 5 minutes we're joined by a bunch of Harley boys who are doing the end-to-end on hardtails and chops - I wouldn't like to be their kidneys! - and I wonder just how much money bikers bring to the tourist economy in remote spots like this.
The lady at the Last House in Scotland seems resolutely unimpressed by this End-to-End nonsense and stamps my form with as little small talk as possible. I buy several postcards in a bid to cheer her up, and then discover that the most northerly branch of Costa Coffee on the mainland is running at a slower pace than is normal for take-away coffee shops - thankfully I'm getting an espresso, not a filter coffee as the filter coffee's only just gone on and will be about 15 minutes...which would have made me even more last than usual at the next meeting spot, Dunnett Head.
I'm still awestruck by the landscapes in the very far north. But the wild and windswept beauty can't be admired without acknowledging that emptiness wasn't its original state and was created at the cost of a great deal of human misery. And then taken advantage of by the person who decided that the north coast was a great place to build a nuclear power station...
Day 6 - the 6th point
We begin the day with another demonstration of maintenance muppetry. The bike hasn't been cornering too well (hmm..workman...tools?), so I thought I'd best check the tyre pressures. Being Bavarian, the pressures are in Bar rather than psi, but the 24-Hour Tesco is not fazed and lets you set the air machine to either. Preoccupied with the kryptonfactoresque puzzle of trying to get the air hose onto motorcycle tyres when little things like the brake calipers, the spokes and the axle keep getting in the way, I set the machine to Bar and set about my topping-up mission. Strangely it seemed to want to let air out of the front tyre instead of put any in, but the ways of technology are strange so I thought little of it. Squirrelling down the roads, I cursed the inaccuracy of free air machines and thought I should find room in a pannier for my own gauge. Then I thought, maybe you need to set it to Bar for each tyre, and not just assume that setting it for the back tyre means it knows you want Bar for the front tyre too.
Thursday, 19 June 2008
Click here to read Part 1