Aviemore to Alness
It was raining slightly as I left Aviemore youth hostel at 9.25 this morning. I had had a slightly later breakfast than usual, and had taken my time getting ready, as I didn’t have as far to go today. The hostel manager had suggested I take a road through Glen Kyllachy, as an alternative to staying on the A9.
I wasn’t actually on the A9, as I picked up the NCN route 7, which kept me at a safe distance from the heavy traffic.
I had only had a bowl of muesli and a small roll for breakfast, and with a south westerly wind and a bit of an incline I found the first miles hard going. I wondered if I would be up for the mountain route or not. I stopped after about 10 miles and fuelled up with a not-so-healthy Wispa bar and half a family bag of McCoys crisps. They seemed to do the trick, and by the time I reached the mountain turn off, I was up for it.
It turned out to be the best decision I have made so far this trip. Within a few minutes I had forgotten my tiredness with the beauty of the scenery, and my first sighting of a deer, fleeting though it was, in the trees at the side of the road.
My wildlife sighting tally went up again before too long, when an osprey lifted off from the road ahead of me and flew past me down the bank of a river.
I was a way down the road, and seemingly heading in the wrong direction according to my GPS unit, so I used a map application on my phone to check that I was on the right road. I was, and before too much longer came to the turn off that would take me up the mountain. I was warned of snowdrifts before crossing a cattle grid and gaining height.
I had taken my bright yellow gilet off, so as not to frighten away any wildlife that I may come across, but was forced to put it back on as I broached the tree line and was in open ground, and with no shelter from the blustery wind. Putting up with the conditions was worth it for the views, however, which were stunning. Passing a sign warning of chicks on the road (and yes, I did see grouse chicks and adults), the landscape stretched before me. A land rover passed me going the other way, and I felt almost aggrieved at having to share this beautiful place with anyone else.
Once the road started pointing downwards I was torn between admiring the scenery and keeping an eye on the road surface, as to come off up here could be potentially serious. Before long I was passing the odd house, and civilisation returned, but not before giving me a marvellous view over a hill loch.
I skirted round Inverness with the help of Google maps, and on my way out I passed a Titanic museum. Not only was entry free, but it was on no less than two floors! Time was marching on, so I didn’t go in, but pressed on with another detour, this time going round Beauly Firth. This stretch of road had me battling south west, straight into the wind. I saw a Red Kite on my right, which lifted me, but I was flagging. A caffeine gel and muesli bar perked me up, but I was glad to stop for lunch at Beauly.
Suitably refreshed, I motored round Cromarty Firth with the wind now on my back, and rejoined my planned route a few miles north of Dingwall, which I had been forced to negotiate twice, having fallen foul of the one way system. I had been noticing bilingual signs, and surmised that this area must be similar to Ireland’s Gaeltacht areas, although I have yet to ask anyone if Scots Gaelic is still spoken much.
I lasted on the A9 for about two miles, before mercifully spotting a sign to the NCN 1. Within seconds, I was on a leafy lane, and shortly thereafter at an unmanned level crossing, with old-fashioned white wooden gate. I haven’t seen one of those in years!
Soon I was on a well-surfaced B road, and on the route of NCN 1. After a while the cycle path went off the road, and I was on a gravel track. I wasn’t too impressed with this, so took the road for the remaining few miles to Alness.
The guest house at which I was staying was on the way in to the town, and as it was only about 3.30, I cycled on into the town to look for places to eat later. The first hotel I came to had a ‘Guthrie’s bar’, so the decision was made.
As I write, I have now checked in, been into town for a meal, and am back at the guest house.
One final thought for today. The idea for this trip came to me when I went on a cycling weekend with Denise, Caroline and Boyd in the Rhins of Galloway, and discovered that the Mull of Galloway was Scotland’s most southerly point. Well, a few miles short of Alness I saw a sign to Cromarty, and I started thinking ‘How about cycling to every weather station in the British Isles mentioned in the shipping forecast next summer’. What do you think, Denise? Anyone…?
Statistics for Day 5
Miles ridden: 70.2
Miles ridden of planned route: < 20
Feet climbed: 2483
No. of wildlife species seen: 5
No. of stunning views: Too many to count
p.s. I reached my fund-raising target today, thanks to the generosity of so many people. Thank you, one and all. If you have yet to make a donation, don’t let the achieved target stop you 😉