Tag Archives: Loch Strathay

ups and downs

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’.

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Boulders on the beach at Rackwick Bay you just want to hug and take home with you…

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the Old Man…

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Burnmouth Cottage

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chintzy interior

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ferry arriving at Moaness

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proof that the bike did made it to Lochstrathy!

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camp-site above Strathy Bay the morning after..

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Flow Country close to Forsinard

opening salvo

If I was going to start out making a statement so the thinking went, I might as well start with a bang. So I bought a train ticket to Oban, hopped onto the ferry to Barra, and for thirty quid I was in the pub in Castlebay with a whole bunch of cyclists, all setting out on the classic tour up the Western Isles. I know your going to say that this isn’t the most efficient way to start hoovering up my list, but bear with me. Part of the motivation was certainly because I’d always wanted to do this trip, and now I was on the bike it seemed a natural thing to do. More crucially though, Usinis, one of the most high tariff of the MBA bothies, is situated on the east side of South Uist. Having been adopted for a couple of days by a staunch family of cyclists, and surviving a winter storm (in the middle of May!) holed up in the Gatliffe Trust Hostel in Howmore, I made the bothy in reasonable style, walking in round the coast and accidently disturbing a pair of nesting sea eagles on the way. Usinis really is the most magical spot and really has a truly wild feel. Even the local seals seemed more curious than in other supposedly remote spots I’ve been to, as though you are an off the beaten track tourist in their yet to be developed country.

Sunrise on Vatersay Beach

Sunrise on Vatersay Beach

Bike posing at Barra Airport

Bike posing at Barra Airport

Bike posing on the edge of Benbecula

Bike posing on the edge of Benbecula

The Graham's, staunch biking family...

The Graham’s, staunch biking family…

Usinis bothy

Usinis bothy

Now I was onto the more ambitious part of my itinerary. Having arrived unscathed in Stornaway, I got the ferry to Ullapool and headed north, hoping to sweep up all six of the bothies found in the far north west on the way to Durness. First off was Suileag, found under the watchful eye of Suilvean in Assynt and then onto Glendhu and Glencoul.

Suileag bothy

Suileag bothy

Sun setting over Suilven

Sun setting over Suilven

Glendhu bothy

Glendhu bothy

Glen Coul bothy

Glen Coul bothy

Next I headed up to Oldshoremore, and had a fantastic walk in blistering heat to Strathan and Strathcailleach. This is where a hermit lived for twenty odd years back in the 70’s, collecting his pension every two weeks in Kinlochbervie, and in the winter slowly working through the peat bog found behind the bothy.

Footprints on the beach at Oldshoremore

Footprints on the beach at Oldshoremore

Strathan bothy

Strathan bothy

Peat stacked up outside Strathcailleach bothy

Peat stacked up outside Strathcailleach bothy

So far so good, and I wandered up to Durness in fine spirits. I was now off to what I imagined was going to be one of the highlights of the trip, a visit to Kervaig, which loiters quite casually close to the far north western tip of the mainland at Cape Wrath. And it didn’t disappoint. I shared the sunset with a slightly crazed guy who had just crashed through the wilderness, and was completing the Cape Wrath Trail. We toasted the occasion with the meagre supply of red wine I had imported in, and had a unspoken race back to the ferry in the morning, me limping along with a duck tape fix to the wall of my front tyre.

Kervaig bothy

Kervaig bothy

Sunset on Kervaig beach

Sunset on Kervaig beach

The next part of the trip was the one I was most looking forward to. I had arranged to meet a posse of friends somewhere in the vicinity of Altnaharra, who were celebrating a 40th birthday with a cycle tour of their own. I had been out on my own for two weeks now and however much I was enjoying my adventures, it was great to be with familiar people for a couple of days. And on the way I stopped off at Strabeg, and spent a couple of nights with a very wired estate sub contractor in the bothy at Achnanclach. In the end I spent a three timeless days with the birthday girl Sarah and the team, at Torrisdale beach by Bettyhill, with a miracle supply of driftwood and some beautiful sunshine.

Strabeg bothy

Strabeg bothy

Achnanclach bothy

Achnanclach bothy

Campsite at Torrisdale beach

Campsite at Torrisdale beach

Now came my last planned objective before heading south to Inverness. This was a march across the bog to another obscure bothy called the The Loch Strathy Croft house, which sits in splendid isolation on the edge of the Flow Country. And I have to say I was really chuffed when I got there, and even did a mental back flip in the stylie of a goal scoring premiership footballer, and gave a little fist pump. In terms of the project, efficiency is the key, and I knew that it would take an almighty effort to get back up to this area if I’d had to duck out of one of my prizes.

Loch Strathy bothy, The Croft House

Loch Strathy bothy, The Croft House