The Far North

Today I finally saw the Atlantic again as I arrived on the north coast of Sutherland As before it was a day of two halves, split this time by haar. For those that do not know, haar is sea mist or low cloud, caused by cool moist air being dragged inland by warm conditions that causes air to rise. On coasts that suffer from haar (called fret in Yorkshire at least), this means that hot conditions quickly change to cool overcast with an onshore wind.

Inland Strathnaver this morning was stunning. I rode slowly absorbing the gorgeous scenery and hoping to see a golden eagle (no luck on that front – they are around as I saw one last time that I passed this way). The butterflies were out, flowers were blooming and birds were singing!

Altnaharra Hotel, my overnight (very comfortable) stop. Common pipistrelle flying around after dark
Altnaaharra weather station has recorded the lowest temperature in the UK at -27.2C (tied with Braemar). It was definitely not that cold this morning.
The wstern end of Loch Navar looking towards Altnaharra
I am always happy to see insectivorous plants (left is long-leaved sundew, right is common butterwort). These are abundant in the mineral deficient peatlands. I got interested in these plants when I was at school but I could find nothing very much about them, so I wrote to the then head of Kew Garden, Professor Heslop-Harrison who I had found had published something about them asking if he had further information (note the writing, no email in those days). A couple of weeks later back came a package from the professor’s wife with several scanning electron micrographs of the leaves of these two plants, a couple of papers and one of the nicest letters that I had ever got. Needless-to-say, this reinforced my interest and I have remembered the lesson ever since – if asked a question by young folk, do the best job possible in responding, it can only lead to good.
Felling of poorly placed forestry is opening up better views. This view was blocked by the forest when I was last here four years ago
Beautiful day at Loch Navar
For some reason, the road surface nearly all the way down Strathnaver was superb. It is a pleasure to be able to ride without having to look really hard in order to avoid potholes
The kirk at Syre

Eventually the idyllic ride ends as the River Naver empties itself into the Atlantic. The route at this point takes a right turn and follows the coast eastwards across a series of valleys (aka ascents).

Finally the Atlantic again
The route today with an “enjoyable” series of climbs out of valleys on the north coast of Sutherland and Caithness
Still in the Flow Country!
Looking east towards Dounraey – the haar is very evident
Caithness flag walls – easy when the rock splits like this!

My main memory of Caithness is an odd one. I was on board HMS Orkney counting birds when we came into Scrabster one weekend as an honoured visitor (not sure what the occasion was). The ship held a drinks reception at which I drank a little too much (as did most others!). Next morning I learned that I had been volunteered to go on a tour of the archaeological sites of Caithness, driven by one of the local luminaries. Three others of the ships crew had also been volunteered. We were put in a very comfortable, warm car, and set off. We visited quite a few sites, but my real difficulty was staying awake and trying to be interested. I genuinely am interested in your tumuli and standing stones (there are lots about), but my brain was consistently telling me otherwise. Never have I had to fight sleep so hard!

Not only the Romans built long straight roads (and yes, I pedalled to the horizon)
The fabulous Dunnet Bay. Anywhere else in the UK, this would be thronging
Red-throated diver on a coastal lochan
Finally I arrive at the northernmost point of Britain, Dunnet Head. Took a while to get from the Lizard to here didn’t it? Onwards to Orkney tomorrow

Statistics: 119 km today, running total: 2885 km; 1185 m ascent (lots of hills!), 28712 in total. One new live mammal when I rescued an errant hedgehog off the road from certain death under a large articulated truck heading its way.

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