Sunday 21 July
I set off in good weather at 0800. It was quite warm and partly cloudy. The road was very quiet all the way to Latheron. Just before Latheron a thick mist appeared and remained until I reached Berriedale. I found the going quite hard with the heavy luggage on the bike, I could probably do without half of it. From Berriedale it was mostly cloudy but when the sun appeared it was quite hot.
I met quite a few cyclists heading north to John o Groats most of whom wanted to know if I was going to Lands End. Rather than explain where I was going I just said "yes".
Just before Helmsdale I noticed two hang gliders high above me heading south and moving quite fast.
I stopped at Helmsdale to buy fresh sandwiches for lunch and spent a pleasant twenty minutes in the small Tourist Information car park. An elderly couple, heading north, stopped in the car park. The gentleman just said "hello" but the lady interrogated me with twenty questions. Speaking with a Caithness accent she asked me where I was from, where I was going, how long for, why was I going and many other things. I found it hard work so I left and cycled the steep hill just to the south of Helmsdale.
In Brora I stopped at Capaldis for a delicious ice cream before continuing on to Golspie. The road from Brora southwards is much gentler and I was able to make greater speed. The traffic was reasonable and the weather was good. I stopped at The Mound just south of the Lairg turnoff for a drink of water and saw Peter Thompson and Phil Cartwright from Dounreay driving south to Inverness airport on a business trip.
I arrived at the Trentham Hotel at 1530 after cycling 66.21 miles. I hadnt booked a room but luckily one was available. I was charged only £23 for dinner, bed and breakfast.
Distance Cycled = 66.21 miles.
Monday 22 July
I left the Trentham Hotel at 0850 in good weather. It was warm and sunny with light winds. Just after Tain, the racing cyclists that had passed the day before passed me again. The road between Tain and Dingwall seemed endless but when I eventually reached the roundabout near the Cromarty Firth Bridge there was a heavy shower. The shower eased as I entered Dingwall.
I entered the town precinct and went in a café for a coffee and a sandwich. There was another cyclist in the café and I joined him for a chat. He told me that he was 75 years old and he was cycling from Lands End to John OGroats. In the last five years he had had three heart attacks and had decided to quit smoking and get fit. He had been cycling about 40 miles a day and was on his way to Altnaharra. Good luck mate.
I left Dingwall in patchy rain that became quite heavy by the time I reached Strathpeffer five miles further on. I stopped to buy a sandwich for later at a Spar shop and was charged £1.75. The town is obviously affluent but it seems to rip off tourists.
I met a few cyclists travelling in the opposite direction and each one exchanged a wave, a smile and sometimes a comment.
The road from Garve to Achnasheen was long (17 miles). There was heavy rain to begin with but it died out about one hour from Achnasheen. The last five miles were difficult (but still enjoyable). I had low blood sugar but I ate a full pack of Dextrosol and was OK.
I was glad when I arrived at the Ledgowan Lodge Hotel just on the far side of Achnasheen and was given a single room at £33 a night. I had a good meal at the hotel and noted the whisky display with some bottles priced in excess of £1500.
Distance Cycled = 66.42 miles.
Tuesday 23 July
I left Achnasheen at 0905 in light rain and with slight headwinds. The railway line followed the road most of the way to Kyle of Lochalsh (or Kyle as it is known). The road was gently downhill for most of the 20 miles to Strathcarron. I stopped for soup and a roll at the same restaurant that I had stopped at last year (but travelling in the opposite direction). The service and quality of food were both good. It was cloudy and damp as I left the restaurant to tackle the hilly road to Kyle.
There are many steep sections on this road but the views to the west make it worthwhile. There is also a reinforced shelter on the road, about a hundred yards long, to protect traffic from landslides. I took the coastal road past Stromeferry and Plockton to Kyle and looked across Lochcarron to the Applecross peninsula. The road to Applecross climbs to over two thousand feet and I hope to visit the area some time soon.
I arrived in Kyle at lunchtime feeling quite tired but after I had eaten fish and chips I felt much better.
I approached the Skye Bridge expecting to pay a toll but I was waved through. The road over the bridge was quite steep but there were good views from the middle. There were quite a few people walking across.
It was dry all of the way to Broadford, there were no hills and it was pleasant cycling. Most of the Hotels and guesthouses in Broadford were full but I got a twin room at the Broadford Hotel. The layout of the room was quite strange. As I entered, there was a flight of stairs going down to the room below.
I had dinner at the hotel then went for a stroll along the streets of Broadford before returning to the hotel bar and drinking a few beers.
Distance cycled = 48.86 miles.
Wednesday 24 July
As I approached the top of the hill I was looking forward to the drop at the other side but there was a strong headwind forcing me to pedal hard even though it was steeply downhill. The road rejoined the coast and then followed an inlet leading to the Sligachan Hotel and camp- site. I stopped at the roadside for a drink of water and a sandwich.
The mountains in this area were spectacular and coach- loads of tourists stopped at the roadside to take photographs. One coach full of German tourists stopped at a busy section and moments later scores of people, each with a video camera, were wandering aimlessly on the road oblivious to the dangerous traffic.
It was another nine miles to Portree and the road was uphill with a strengthening headwind. The downhill stretch into Portree was pleasant and I found that the town is in a spectacular setting. High mountains surround the sheltered bay (almost like a lagoon in the Pacific); it must be idyllic in hot weather.
Just before entering Portree I took the A87 to the ferry terminal at Uig sixteen miles distant. The road was quite bleak at times; with the ever-present wind and cool temperature making it feel more like November. I crossed the southern extremity of the Staffin peninsula and dropped back down to sea level where it was a little more sheltered.
The sun and the beautiful surroundings reminded me that it was summertime and gave me an added push to get to Uig before the ferry departed at 1400. It was now 1300 but I was only 9 miles from the ferry terminal.
The road soon started to climb steeply and, as it did so, the wind strengthened considerably. I was struggling and I watched the minutes pass as I constantly expected Uig to appear around the next bend. At 1400 I found myself very high up looking down on a bay with a large ferry just leaving a jetty. I could see the road following the curve of the bay all the way to the jetty about two miles from where I was standing and considered sprinting down the steep hill to the jetty and then flying through the air onto the deck of the departing ship. I then thought Bollocks and gently dropped down to the ferry-less terminal.
I had lunch in a restaurant at the terminal and booked myself on the evening ferry to Lochmaddy on North Uist. I also used the accommodation facility at the Tourist Information office and booked a room in a guesthouse in Lochmaddy.
The ferry cost £9.45 (including £2 for the bike) and the guesthouse cost £17 a night plus £2.45 commission for the booking service
I left Uig in warm sunshine but arrived in Lochmaddy in cool and misty conditions. It took me a while to find the guesthouse but when I did I was impressed. It was the old courthouse where no doubt many people from the island had been tried, convicted and sentenced to death for complaining about the weather. The lady running the place treated me with suspicion but I was a lone male and it was The Old Courthouse.
I had had a meal on the ferry so I didnt have to search for a restaurant.
After I had a shower I went to the local hotel and enjoyed a few beers and enjoyed the walk back to the guesthouse in the calm, clear and cool late evening.
Distance cycled = 45.54 miles.
Thursday 25 July
I decided stay another night at The Old Courthouse and do a tour of the island of North Uist. After an excellent breakfast I left at 0930 in poor weather. There was a strong south-westerly wind and poor visibility but there was little rain.
I took a clockwise route and found that the road was in excellent condition. There was hardly any traffic on the whole route even at the height of the tourist season but I wasnt complaining. As I was cycling I noticed two fairly high mountains (about 1500 feet) to the south-east and wondered if I would encounter any hills on my chosen route.
As I continued I noted much evidence of peat digging but the only people I saw were council workmen maintaining the roads. On a clear day the island must be wonderful but I saw little of what it had to offer. There were many sheep and cattle but there was no sign of crops growing due to the rocky ground.
As I cycled north I caught glimpses of the Atlantic Ocean as it broke on sandy beeches.
Other road users were courteous and friendly as they passed and the occupants often waved a greeting.
Most of the island appeared barren with only a few collections of dwellings. There seemed to be as many holiday homes as local crofts but they must bring in some income to the local economy.
After I had cycled about 25 miles I came across a COOP shop in the middle of nowhere; it was just a building in the midst of a few crofts. The goods for sale were the same as any other COOP on the mainland. The people inside, young and old, were decent and friendly.
This is a scanned image of a postcard showing an example of the views I could have seen on a clear day.
As I cycled along the northern section of the route I came across a large collection of cars at an isolated croft. I soon came upon a funeral procession heading toward the croft. The whole population of the island must have been attending.
In the evening I went to the Lochmaddy Hotel and had a very good meal. A notice on the board advertised a race on the coming weekend up the Twin Peaks to the south of the town. I hope the weather improves for them.
I enjoyed my short stay on North Uist. Everyone was friendly. To live in such remote areas people need to be aware of their limitations. I feel that many youngsters in inner city areas are never pushed to their limits and behave as if they are immortal.
Distance cycled = 35.48 miles.
Friday 26 July
Today I was heading to Lochboisdale on South Uist via Benbecula. Causeways similar to the Churchill barriers on Orkney connect the three islands.
About half an hour after I set off I stopped at a small shop at the first road junction I came across to buy food for the day. The shop seemed to stock everything. It was packed with goods from food to fishing tackle. Every person I met was friendly, always ready to wave and smile.
The transition from N Uist to Benbecula was hardly noticeable. As I was cycling south I saw a quite large aircraft landing on the beach a few miles to the west of the road.
As lunchtime approached the clouds cleared to give strong sunshine but with an ever present southerly wind to spoil things.
The causeway connecting Benbecula to South Uist was narrow but there was enough room for oncoming traffic to pass me without slowing down.
South Uist is much more populated with many modern homes being built. There is a range of mountains climbing to over two thousand feet but the road south is generally level with few inclines. The strong wind however slowed me down to around 10 mph.
I arrived in Lochboisdale at 1520 looking for a shop to buy food but there were none to be found. I could feel my blood sugar level dropping and I had nothing left to eat. I decided to cycle back about three miles where I had passed a COOP. I entered the shop, bought a Snickers bar and immediately ate it outside. I was aware that some of the young shop staff were amused at the sight of me. It was perhaps my white face and confused demeanour due to the low blood sugar. Oh well, Im not responsible for their education. I hope no one has to rely on them.
I returned to Lochboisdale and bought a ferry ticket to Oban for £15.95 plus £2 for the bike. There were no cabins available. The ferry departed Lochboisdale at 2045 to Castlebay on Barra from where it sailed to Oban at 2330 arriving at 0500.
I spent the time, until the ferry left, in the local hotel drinking a few beers and reading.
I phoned home and was told that a murder had been committed in Halkirk, my home village, the day before. They couldnt accuse me I was miles away.
Saturday 27 July
The ferry journey to Oban was not pleasant. I didnt like the attitude of the crew. The below-stairs members of crew were okay, it was those trained to deal with the public that were the problem. They had it down to an art form. They could carry out their duties, serving food, taking money etc, without once making eye contact with a passenger.
I found it impossible to sleep. There was a family group consisting of brainless parents and numerous yobs. They took pleasure in making the journey as unpleasant as possible for other passengers. If I had a machine gun, or better still a meat cleaver, I would have taught them the finer points of getting on with people before I slaughtered the whole family.
Breakfast was available on the ferry at 0445.
I cycled into the quiet streets of Oban at 0505 looking for a cash machine. I had less than £1 in coins. I joined a fairly long queue of people from the ferry at the TSB cash dispenser but I soon got £100 in my hands.
I stopped at Taynuilt some time before 0700 in search of a shop selling substantial food but all I could find was a sweet shop just opening. I bought some chocolate for emergencies then continued on the road as it started to rain heavily.
The A85 climbed for about four miles to the northern shore of Loch Awe and followed the shore for about seven miles. The beautiful loch extends south for about 23 miles. I stopped at a shop in the small village of Lochawe but again I couldnt get the food I needed. A television was on in the shop and the main news was about a bomb that had been detonated at the Olympics in Atlanta.
A few miles further on at Dalmally I found a good shop that stocked everything I needed.
After I had eaten enough food I rejoined the road and started the long climb towards Tyndrum. I managed the climb okay but the traffic became heavy and dangerous. The sound of the vehicles whizzing past was very off-putting.
When I arrived in Crianlarrich I decided to look for accommodation but there was nowhere to stay. Bearing in mind the busy and dangerous roads and the lack of accommodation I decided to phone home and get a lift back to Halkirk.
After looking at detailed maps of Orkney and Shetland I decided to pay a visit.
Saturday 3 August
I cycled the 16 miles from Stromness to Kirkwall in less than an hour thanks to the strong tail wind. When I arrived in the center of the town I met Stuart Tod and joined him for a coffee. There were many groups of bikers all over the town but they were all good-natured and well behaved. I think they all had hangovers.
Stuart had been to Shetland many times attending motorcycling festivals and he gave me a contact for accommodation.
I crossed over the street and went up past the cathedral to have a look at the Bishops and Earls Palaces.
There was a small entrance fee but both attractions were well attended by tourists.
After a lunch of pizza I cycled uphill out of the town to the Highland Park distillery and joined a tour. The tour was very informative and the free sample at the end was most welcome. The well-stocked shop provided ample opportunity to spend money but it was an enjoyable tour.
I then cycled back to Stromness against a strong headwind via the southern coast route. The view across Scappa Flow and the surrounding islands was exceptional. As I continued west the bulk of Hoy dominated the view. I met another touring cyclist from New Zealand; I didnt know it at the time but he was also heading for Shetland.
I booked accommodation at the B&B suggested by Stuart but they could only take me for one night so I used a brochure to book a guesthouse for the next two nights. I also booked a room at the Stromness Hotel for the Wednesday night when I planned to return.
In the evening I had a good meal at the Stromness Hotel then went to the hotel where the golfers were staying. Jim Swan told me that James Henderson was still in with a shout at the golf competition and I later found out that he was runner-up.
At the quayside I saw a long line of motorcycles and at the front there was a Norton Commander belonging to Stuart Tod.
The St Sunniva sailed at 1200 so I had plenty of time to just enjoy the sunshine and chat to Stuart.
I boarded the ferry at 1100 and immediately went for an exploration. It was very similar in layout to the St Ola but was much larger with cabin accommodation available.
This photograph shows much of Stromness with the island of Hoy in the background. The highest point on Hoy is Ward Hill seen here at 1565 feet above sea level.
I embarrassed Stuart and myself by waving as the ferry left Stromness just after 12 noon. The ferry stayed close to the shoreline and I was able to see many golfers on the links course enjoying the weather conditions.
We soon left the sheltered waters of Hoy Sound and first headed south to the Old Man of Hoy to allow us all to get photographs.
After about 30 minutes the ferry headed north towards Shetland. There was a cool breeze on deck but the sun was hot if you could find a sheltered spot. It took three hours to completely clear the Orkney Isles and in the misty distance I could see Fair Isle.
From first seeing Sumburgh Head, the southern tip of the main island of Shetland (Mainland), it took a good three hours to get to Lerwick.
The New Zealander I met earlier was on the ferry and we chatted for a while. He was on a tour of Europe and had cycled an indirect route from London.
I had difficulty finding The Old Manse but after I settled in I went to the nearby Queens Hotel for a drink. As I entered the lounge the first person I saw was Maurice Coghill from Dounreay. He was with a farmer from Wick on the lookout for sheep bargains (whatever turns you on).
Monday 5 August
I was charged £16 for bed and breakfast. I left my panniers in the garage of the B&B and then set off to cycle to Sumburgh Head and back.
I first located the guesthouse that I would be staying at later and then cycled out of the town.
It was quite a climb out of the town and the wind was a strong southerly. It was quite sunny and warm but the wind made it very difficult. The roads were in excellent condition and wide with plenty of room for other vehicles to get passed, although there was very little traffic. My speed was limited by the strong wind to about 10 miles per hour but I looked forward to the return journey.
When I arrived at Sumburgh I found that the airport was very busy with six flights in about thirty minutes. Near the airport the road passes very close to a beach with sand dunes. The strong wind picked up the sand and threw it at great speed to strike anything that got in the way. When I got to the other side there was no paint left on the bike and no hairs on my legs.
Twenty-five miles from Lerwick the road stopped at a small harbour with a few buildings. I stayed for a while and watched a seal swimming around very close to the shore. Hidden between two buildings was a road that headed the two miles south to Sumburgh Head but I decided to go back a short distance to the Sumburgh Hotel for tea and sandwiches. The hotel was packed with a large group of Italian youngsters and other tourists.
After a rest, I set off back to Lerwick the way I had come passed the free sandblasting service. The strong wind was directly behind me and I effortlessly climbed the hill overlooking the airport. I completed the first 13 miles in about 30 minutes.
When I stopped for a drink a very cute Shetland Pony soon joined me. It looked cute but all it wanted to do was bite me.
A car passed and sounded its horn very loudly. Moments later I realised it was Maurice Coghill and his friend in a hire car on their way to Sumburgh airport. I didnt see any sheep in the back.
I was back in Lerwick in no time. After collecting my panniers from the Old Manse, I checked in at the Glen Orchy Guesthouse at 1600.
The room was excellent. The fixtures and fittings were of a high standard with a TV, en suite shower and WC at only £29 per night.
In the evening I walked into the town and had a meal at the only restaurant I could find.
Distance cycled = 55.31 miles, maximum speed = 40.4 mph.
Tuesday 6 August
This photograph shows the view looking down on Dales Voe near Shetland Golf Club. It was bathed in warm sunshine and sheltered from the strong southerly wind.
The road north took me past Lerwick airport at Tingwall and the strong wind soon propelled me a further twelve miles to Voe.
I dropped down into the small hamlet at the head of St Magnus Bay and stopped at the Pierhead Restaurant for a break from the cool wind.
I was very comfortable in the Restaurant and found it difficult to get going again particularly as the climb out of Pierhead was so steep.
I saw a lot of sheep shearing in progress. There seemed to be a lot of young lambs around, only a few weeks old. The sheep are much smaller than elsewhere in Scotland; reared for their wool. Shetland wool products are generally of three colours; white, dark brown and light brown (un-dyed).
The next small group of buildings I came across was at Aith. There was a very modern school and I decided to leave the main road and take a look. I followed a sign indicating food and ended up at a hall. When I entered I found teas and hot meals being served. It seemed very popular with locals and tourists alike.
Aith suffered from severe weather the previous winter. In the hall there was a display of photographs showing the deep snow that left the community cut off for nearly a week.
The going was very difficult from here on with strong to gale force headwinds. I passed a village called Twatt and understood why it was so called.
Shetland is very clean and tidy. Most buildings are of a very good quality and the people are very friendly.
I returned to Lerwick quite relieved to get out of the wind after cycling 51.14 miles and reaching a top speed of 42.9 mph.
Wednesday 7 August
It was a sunny start and the winds were much lighter, ideal for cycling. Too bad I was leaving. Before boarding the ferry, I went into the Clock Shopping Centre. It seemed small from the outside but on entering, a quite large complex was revealed with cafes and many shops.
As I was waiting to board the St Sunniva for the return to Orkney I met another cyclist who had been to Norway. He told me that he took a train up to a plateau at 4000 feet and that the roads were good but with very steep hills. I didnt know it at the time but twelve months later I would do a tour of the southern part of Norway.
The ferry left Lerwick at around 1200 in good weather and it was a pleasant sail all the way back to Stromness where we arrived at 1900. There were very few people on board for the return journey.
Anchored just off Lerwick was a P&O cruise ship. I think it was the Oriana (my other yacht).
Thursday 8 August
The St Ola was 40 minutes late getting in from Scrabster and didnt sail until 0925. It was a cool and showery day but we again got good views of the Old Man and the approach to mainland Scotland.
I completed my trip by cycling from Scrabster to Halkirk and arrived home at lunchtime to find the village just as I had left it as if nothing had happened.