Tuesday 24th April (rest day)
Today I needed to order a new front derailleur and get it delivered to someone who could fix it. Next day delivery up here doesn’t exist so I made a plan to order it to somewhere days ahead and cycle there on a limited number of gears – this place would be Inverness. I was struggling with limited WiFi and phone signal so my dad found a large company online who could deliver it quickly. Six hours later and they emailed him telling them that it was actually going to be a two week dispatch! What a waste of time!
I needed to get the quick link off the chain in order to take the front mech off. This looks easy in YouTube videos where people show you how to do it without any tools. My fingers weren’t strong enough and I’m not carrying a pair of pliers! No one in the Youth Hostel had any so I got a lift for the one and a half miles into the village and went to the pub. I had lunch and a drink and figured out what to do. There were a couple of locals playing pool, I thought they looked practical and would have some tools.
They were very willing to help. So I showed them a video and Norman, John and I headed down the hill. They had a go without and then with the pliers with no luck and then held the chain for me to show them how I think you should do it with the pliers, success! With the pliers and someone holding the chain, we did it!
Thanks Norman and John! This means I can cycle to Thurso tomorrow. I can sort out ordering what I need there.
Wednesday 25th April – Tongue to Thurso
The plan was to set off at 6am to reach Thurso before heavy rain was forecast and to meet Mike in Bettyhill on the way. I cycled up the hill out of the village in what was now my lowest gear, towards the sunrise. My favourite time of the day!
I was so happy to be on the move despite leaving a little late I made up time and met Mike in Bettyhill a little after seven thirty. Mike was a little tentative at first to cycle close enough to have a chat but it didn’t take long for him to realise that it’s not too dissimilar from cycling along next to a bicycle. At the first hill, it was his turn to have a front derailleur issue and he had to hop off his bike to manually change it. I carried on to wait at the top.
We chatted about a huge range of topics and Mike pointed out anything we cycled past of interest from the large amount of local knowledge he has built up. It was great to have a cycling companion, again the time flew by along with the undulating hills.
Mike told me about his hip replacement surgery and his struggle with Lyme disease some years before and that this was a personal challenge of his own as, although a keen cyclist, he hadn’t cycled this far since his surgery. You would definitely not know this! We had planned to stop in Melvich, the last stop off before Thurso but as we approached the Halladale Inn, it was clear we were too early and it wasn’t open. Just as we were leaving the owner came out and welcomed us in for a cup of tea. I asked if there were any snacks to be told his chef was in the kitchen and did we want bacon sandwiches – yes please! They were busy turning the room next door into a cafe and bistro with a gin bar! So had we been a week later they would have this open. Mike has definitely earmarked this as a place to come back to.
Back on the road I had finally reached a new county – Caithness, I had spent so long in Sutherland and it’s beautiful scenery that I was sad to leave. But new adventures lie ahead!
We continued towards Thurso and stopped at the top of the hill over Dounreay. A nuclear establishment built in 1955 that is now being decommissioned and a large workforce still remains to help with the cleanup of the site.
In the lay-by we came across a walker, Chris Elliot who is walking sections of the coastline in stages, I had been told about what he was doing and what a coincidence that we had stopped at the same place!
It started spitting as we headed into Thurso and we reached the bike shop just before a downpour. ‘The Bike Shop’ in Thurso were very helpful and contacted a bike shop in Inverness to order the parts I need. It’s been quite tough to liaise sorting out parts knowing that I would need to replan my schedule. This has interrupted my routine of eating, sleeping, cycling, writing my blog and meeting others, all of which is exhausting and time consuming and adding extra chores on top of this was getting a little too much. Mike cheered me up with a cup of tea and two slices of cake!
The plan tomorrow is to head over to Orkney and cycle across Mainland to get the ferry back to Gills just before John O Groats. This means that I will miss out a small bit of coastline that includes Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of mainland Great Britain. So Mike drove me out to the point. There was a clear view over the the Orkneys and I could see where I would be headed.
(The Orkneys in the distance)
We returned back and Anne cooked us a fantastic feast of fish pie and lots and lots of green vegetables! Absolutely delicious and I filled up on my quota, I wish I could eat like this every day.
Anne and Mike have really been here for me during a difficult time and for that I am very appreciative. Unfortunately I haven’t taken a photograph of us together but they are going to cycle with me for a few miles on Friday evening when I get back onto the mainland so I will be sure to get one then. I will always remember the help and kindness that have shown me.
Thank you Anne and Mike!