Back on the bike after my flirtation with car hire, returning home last night from a trip to Burnmouth Cottage on Hoy, and a fact finding mission to the Croft House at Loch Strathy. With the weather initially on my side the Orkney leg was a delight, two nights stop-over with my friend Kate, and a floaty day on Hoy, remembering the far off days of my last visit, when the Old Man was successfully scaled, and our four man team basked in front of the bothy fire, impressing a group of youngsters on a school field-trip with tales of daring do. Then with heavy rain forecast for the next afternoon, I steeled myself for a more challenging proposition, a cycle in to Lochstrathy, simply in order to check to terrain of the 15 miles of track from Strathy East. The morning crossing to Scrabster was hassled free, and then it was a right turn towards Dounreay, and on to the handy unofficial camp-site on sandy cliff top above Strathy Bay. Pitched my tent just as the heavens opened and took a deep breath, thinking the last thing I actually wanted to do was hit the track and prepare for a soaking.
Even in the nagging rain the cycle wasn’t too much of a hardship. I still get a real thrill heading into the middle of nowhere, especially up in the Flow Country where it feels like your on the edge of the Canadian wilderness, the sense of isolation increasingly gripping even though I knew this was a quick round trip. And then I got a puncture. Not a biggie in most circumstances, but I was only half way to Loch Strathy, and the worst case scenario would be a twelve mile jog to the bothy and back, and a head down nine miles pushing the bike to civilisation. Or just abort. No, there was no option. When would I have the time to get back? I had no leeway, schedule locked down with an advanced ticket back from Forsinard the following day. And with a tight writing schedule, there was no chance of a return in the foreseeable. Anyway back to the job in hand. Ray was with me in spirit as the rain started clattering down in an intense burst of spite, and the midges began to hone in. Reluctantly I had to struggle into my waterproof trousers just to keep the blighters at bay, and only then able to concentrate on what is normally a very simple task. Found the hole in the inner tube, patch on, tyre pumped, instant deflation. Bollocks. Inspect inside of the tyre, remove stone which has pierced right through the rubber, and apply another patch. Plus a couple to the tyre itself for some kind of insurance. Pump up tyre again and all good. Right. Back on it. Gingery cycled on to the bothy fearful for a slow release of pressure, but eventually it came into view, and with increasing pace and a following wind I made it to the Strathy Inn before the light faded. Sopping wet I must have looked a sight, but I didn’t have a care, eyed the warm glow of the stove in the lounge, and ordered some soup. Book entry: ‘straight forward to cycle’.