Wednesday 19th May.
Lairg to Tongue? 39 miles (hilly miles)
What a great breakfast and plentiful too, landlady served breakfast in gold heels and singing Gilbert and Sullivan.
I had my own table Graeme and Colin were on another table as there were other guests so we had to talk across the room.
The other guest was trying to impress that he was a real outdoor type stating he preferred the cool overcast day. Then he asked for the window to be closed as he was cold!
After breakfast we saddled up and ventured forth into the elements. It was cold and wet as we left, this was to be the wild remote day over the bleak hills to the coast it was also to be eventful but we were not to know that at this point.
Leaving the Ambleside guest house
We stocked up with sausage rolls and cheese sticks in the Village Spar shop, Graeme had made up his daily brew of hot chocolate but so far we hadnít need it.
And we rode steadily out of Lairg alongside Loch Shin it was dull andovercast.
As we were at the junction where the A838 and the A 836 split we stopped for a breather only to be swooped upon by 3 Shearing buses all using the same road. In fact apart from Shearing Buses, German and Dutch motor cyclists the Highlands roads are empty.
We took the A 836 North, a single track road with passing places, as we slowly climbed at a place called Dalnessie bridge Graemeís back wheel started making a helluva grinding noise. It had started slightly the day before, after we carried our bikes across the Kyle of Sutherland, Colin checked it over and declared the rear bearing was on its way out, we decided to carry on rather than turn back six miles. So we slowly continued our ride north. Unfortunately the wheel got slowly worse, although it was still turning. As we climbed we stopped for another breather and a furher check of he wheel bearing, in the distance we saw another cyclist heading the same direction trying to catch us up. He came up and stopped, it was the Guy who had been in the Nip inn last night latching onto anyone who would talk to him and generally being a nuisance.
He stopped obviously wanting to buddy up as he was, another End to Ender.
Iím afraid he got a cold reception especially when he said have you come from Landís End? And the reply was well not today! He got the message and cycled on never to be seen again.
Graemeís wheel was getting steadily nosier as we made it to the Crask Inn a remote inn thats miles from anywhere. Crask is an area rather than a place, it has a Pub and smallholding in one plus a cottage.
We stopped and decided to have a brew and reassess what we were to do With Graemeís bike, we sat in the Bar and it was then we met The Saviour Mike Geldart, Landlord of the Crask Inn and a Star, in fact all in all a great bloke. I will spare a separate chapter to this one man and his good deeds.
MIKE GELDART Ė LANDLORD CRASK INN
As I have mentioned we limped into the Crask Inn the remotest part of the ride and we had a crippled bike. We ordered a pot of tea for 3 and as Mike served us we asked do you carry any bike spares? He replied I keep a few tyres and tubes why what do you need? We said A new back wheel What type of Bike is it? Mike asked. A Mountain bike. Hang on he says Iíll just serve some customers Iíll see what Iíve got.
In a few minutes he arrived with the Tea and said Iíll lend you the back wheel off my bike it fits. How much for the loan of the wheel? we asked. Oh I dont want anything for that just post it back to me after you have finished. This man didnít know us from Adam. He then said do you want your tea first or would you like me to fit the wheel.
We drank our tea and by that time we had finished heíd whipped off his wheel and it was ready for Graeme, he was even going to fit it for us, In the middle of cutting and slicing bread and making up sandwiches he was also breaking off to help us fit the wheel. No need we said and Colin had it fitted in second's. Mike refused any payment deposit or anything, he even forgot to ask for payment for the tea till we reminded him.
The holiday was saved...
We called back with the wheel after we finished the ride driving back to the Crask. Saturday lunchtime it was and he was cutting his grass, we stopped and chatted to him for quiet a while in fact we had another pot of Tea with him. He is from Malton North Yorkshire and he has trained as stockman being made redundant several years ago he was looking for some land to farm, he came upon The Crask Inn he bought the farm but it seems that the Inn was attached to it and part of the lease agreement is he and his wife must run the Inn.
He mentioned that his nearest neighbour is 3 miles away and "heís a bit of hermit", Mike said "come to think of it I haven't spoken to him this year yet", well itís only May.
We talked about farming, his adventures, our adventures, running the pub, cricket and his new dubious neighbours who will be 6 miles away.
He has No TV or Computer; he seems content with his lot,
He was one great bloke and we got on really well with him, while we cycled along the North coast of Scotland we heard several more stories of this Good Samaritan and his deeds. Such as one New Yearís Eve putting up stranded motorists feeding and watering them, etc etc then only charging for a meal and their drinks.
If you are ever in the Crask inn area call and see him.
While at the Crask we also had a long conversation about Sustrans Cycle routes.
The locals are amazed Sustrans take the Route fromAltanharra to Tongue which has you making a 5 mile climb over rough terrain, when at Altanharra there is a quieter side road, road which takes you past a lot of historical sites and is down hill 9 miles to Bettyhill, Mike said in his dry wit, I think itís because of the Youth Hostel in Tongue, which he added is closed!
Sustrans !! not every cyclist using your routes are Youth Hostellers and Train Users, some of us are professional people who just happen to enjoy cycling and do not have to rough it come an evening, the modern cyclist has moved on.
Unfortunately we had (well I) had booked accommodation in Tongue and supplied my Credit Card details so we had to suffer the pain of the climb. But at least we were on route. Little did we know we were attracting more pain?
After Mike saved the ride we collected our gear and cycled on to Tongue. Looking forward to the hill, at least from Crask it was a long descent to Altanharra on the way down the sun came out, we watched a herd of deer on the mountainside; we stopped for a picnic by a stream since its Scotland a burn.
Ate our Sausage Rolls and Cheese sticks and drank Graemeís hot chocolate.
It was then a downhill run to Altanharra. The Altanharra Hotel on the shores of Loch Never.Thats what the residents say when they are presented with the bill, we were led again by the locals it is a much overpriced hotel.
They sold petrol at 99.9 a litre. Colin "itís only that because that the highest they can set the pumps".
Altanharra is a pretty village with a few cottages around the Loch.
The road splits here it was downhill to Bettyhill, we climbed over to Tongue, it was a tough climb to a long drag aprox 5 miles, to Tongue. It seemed never ending we rode around the remote Loch Loyal and again a steady climb before we crested the hill and had a view of the Kyle of Tongue in the sunshine and our first view of the sea and the North Coast of Scotland a landmark. Some people couldnít get enough of climbing hills as we were climbing away from Loch Loyal a Shearingís bus was coming downhill Colin had already climbed the hill but turned and chased the bus downhill trying to catch it, "I think I gave it too much of a head start" was the comment "Mad" was our comment . The Bishop Bullet in full flight even though he now had to climb the hill a second time! Once is enough for most people.
A sharp sharp descent into Tongue it was then weíd realised we may have been miss informed by our B and B.
Into the village with hotels and more B and B's then down to the Rhian guest house which was just out of the village in the wron direction. Going up the lane to thye guest house I managed to hit a branch and slightly buckled my rear wheel which started making a noise. We were greeted by even more English accents running the place. Yes it was a glorious location with views of the mountains but I think we were slightly misled and overcharged.
The 3 Choice per course 3 course meal advertised in the brochure and on the website was one choice of Soup, Chicken and vegetables and Ice cream for £17.50p each mmmmmmm
Ok it tasted good but even so.
The annexe rooms were very small, damp and uncomfortable. I have stayed in many many places throughout this world, and I would describe them as basic.
Ah well you live and learn.
We did have a pleasant evening and chatted to a couple who were from Windermere, just down the road from Graeme then we were introduced to Black Isle beer which was very pleasant well Graeme and I were Colin still doesn't drink
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