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1993 Biking Britain

Scotland

From John O’Groats I cycled west across the north coast of Scotland via May, Reay, Melvich, Bettyhill and Tongue to Durness. Then zigzagged south and east to Lairg and back to Ullapool on the west coast. From Ullapool east across the peninsula to Inverness and southwest down the great glen along the shores of Loch Ness, Loch Oich and Loch Lochy to Glencoe. Thence via Stirling to Bathgate and Edinburgh and south then through the Borders towns of Peebles and Melrose and Bonchester Bridge to the English border at Deadwater Farm.

Scotland is varied and beautiful. Caithness county in the northeast is relatively flat, very green and famous for its sheep and potatoes. The Scottish highlands begin further west in Sutherland county where there are only six people per square mile. The treeless hills here are dotted with tiny lochs with strange names and cliffs drop into the angry grey sea.

At Bettyhill, my B&B hostess served me a hasty supper and sent me out to listen to her husband play the bagpipes in Helmsdale on the east coast. We drove through untamed countryside and back after 11pm – encountering on our return journey hundreds of red deer grazing in the light of the setting sun. Outside Durness I met a salmon fisherman with a fruit BBC accent and designer tweed knickerbockers and matching cap who had caught two salmon using a Hairy Mary.

The roads on the whole are single track and untrammeled this far north, but once you reach the great glen you’ll find tourists galore. At the Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Centre I discovered that it would be possible to submerge the entire population of the world ten times over in the waters of the loch – so much for over-population!

From tiny Glencoe, for ten exhausting miles, the road rises gently to the top of Rannoch Moor. Through stunning scenery: peaks where snow still lay trapped, isolated moors, clear cold streams, tiny lakes and waterfalls, thistles and foxgloves a-bloom.

The Borders district is all gentle hills and lovely stone towns and Abbey ruins in pink sandstone. Unemphatic and pleasing. In Bonchester Bridge, I pitched my tent beside a gentle brook and awoke beside a river that had risen over one foot during the long wet night!

And onward then to England!

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