Day 14 - Dingwall to Bettyhill

This was an exciting day. It was my longest, both in distance (83 miles) and riding time (8 hrs and 40 mins). It also contained one of my lowest moments of the trip, as well as the highlight.

As I readied for departure it was raining hard, so I donned full waterproof regalia and set off at 8.35. The first 5 miles were on busy roads, but then at Evanton I could switch onto minor roads. The rain stopped at that point and I changed into my normal riding gear.

Just before Alness I took the B9176, a scenic but desolate road over the top. The rain held off but it was quite cold and foolishly I didn't bother to put on more clothing. When the rain set in again just before the big descent by Struie Hill, I got very cold indeed, and felt quite miserable. At Bonar Bridge I put all my waterproofs on again - quite a palava each time - bought some rolls, and set off towards Lairg. It was raining incessantly, and the road was uphill often into the wind. By the time I got to Lairg I was ready for a hot pie, which I duly found.

At this point, around 1.30, I had done only 37 miles, mainly because of the adverse weather conditions. But then the rain stopped. I took a chance, and removed my waterproofs, getting back into the streamlined cycling gear which makes riding so much easier. I was very fortunate - it did not rain heavily again until 6.30.

From Lairg I set off on the lonely Altnaharra road (the A836, perhaps the least populated A road in Britain? - single track with passing places). 21 miles of wilderness to Altnaharra, a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. It was quite the most beautiful scenery I had yet encountered, and the sun even came out at times. There is a lot of forest on this stretch, great swathes of moorland, and little else. I love this wild country. The riding was easy, as I had anticipated - a gentle ascent to 280 metres (910 ft) - and then a slow descent to Altnaharra which lies at the end of Loch Naver.

Here I branched off onto an even lonelier road, the B873 which runs along the shore of the Loch for about 8 miles before turning north. This lochside stretch was into the teeth of a head wind and progress was slow. But it did not matter because the scenery was so beautiful.

From the end of the loch it was slowly downhill all the way to Bettyhill, following the course of the river Naver. Lots of sheep with their lambs. Some farmhouses. And lots of rabbits. I think I terrorised a significant proportion of the rabbit population of the area, coming up upon them unawares in my yellow jacket. I even had one or two races with baby rabbits for stretches of the road, but they always won. Nature lovers everywhere will be happy to know that I did not hit a single one.

Altnaharra to Bettyhill is 24 miles, and I finally entered this tiny village on Scotland's north coast just before 7, weary but grateful for a wonderful afternoon. So, tomorrow, the last 50 miles to John O'Groats - and crossing the magic 1,000 mile mark!