So, folks, just a few more entries to make, I guess. I have decided that the final day deserves a post of its own and then, after I get home, I will throw together a definitive route and share that, along with a few post-ride thoughts, so that makes just 3 more to go, including this one. Once again, I have linked you through to the short day from Evanton to the Crask Inn.
So, a day off at Nethy Bridge, to relax in the sun after the mammoth 84 miler. I was sure nothing would come close to that distance, as I had my schedule well planned: 73 miles to Evanton, 55 miles to Altnahara, then 60 miles to Dunnet Head, and finally a short 10 mile hop to John O'Groats. Funny how the best laid plans, etc etc...
I phoned ahead to Altnahara Caravan park, hoping to book in, but was told they don't take tents at all as they don't have shower or toilet facilities. This meant I had to find a short-notice alternative, and the Crask Inn was it. I'd heard about this place, it was apparently quite well known to the End-to-enders, but it was about 15 miles closer to Evanton, and therefore 15 miles further from John O'Groats, changing all my carefully shared out mileage, and stacking things rather heavily on the day to Dunnet Head. I was now facing a 40 mile day followed by a 75 mile day. Still, needs must and all that.
The ride from Nethy to Evanton was pretty easy. Lots of places to stop for refreshments, no unpleasant climbs, and some more amazing scenery. The only dampener (literally), was the weather closing in a bit once I left the Cairngorms, and becoming both cold, breezy and a bit damp for a while, necessitating the use of my flourescent waterproof for the first time since entering Scotland. Disappointing, but also short-lived, as I was stripping off the layers an hour or two later as the sun won out in the end.
The Evanton Bunkhouse proved very luxurious and well placed, with a pub just up the road, so that was the creature comforts looked after. The 73 miles wasn't too bad despite the long day earlier, but I was glad in retrospect that the following day was to be only 40 miles - a distance that was now in the "easy day" category - and I knew it would allow me a restful afternoon at the Crask Inn.
From Evanton, I was cutting inland to the very centre of the the northern most part of the Highlands - apart of the country I'd had a taster of back in April when I'd visited Lochinver, and I was keen to see more of it. The weather continued to hold, and the ride up was easy, traffic free and thoroughly enjoyable.
|So small it doesn't even have ONE horse!|
I admitted I hadn't a lot of experience, but knew which end the milk came from, and that seemed good enough to get me a job helping him tag and release the ewes and lambs from his holding pens. One pair of overalls, a container of drench and a drench gun, and a tin of bright green Dulux gloss paint and we were ready to go. We shepherded the sheep from crofters holding pens in batches into a narrow channel, blocked them in, and my job was to grab the lambs, lift them up on to the gate so Mike could identify their role in life, before stamping them on the hip (ewes) or ribs (rams) with a big painty 'T'. Most of the boys already had a castration ring in place, but one or two needed that fashionable accessory added, and then the ewes needed to be drenched and released, or moved to another pen if they didn't have a lamb. He was keeping these back to use as a training aid for his younger dog.
In all, I grabbed and hoisted 87 lambs, pushed and shoved about the same number of eves, and earned myself the admiration of a hardened hill farmer (OK, this might only be my imagination), a couple of pints and a discount on my stay all at the same time. Mike was funny bloke in a totally unintentional way - he seemed kind of shy and not that keen on people, so running a hostel/inn was an awkward choice for him, but he'd come from farms in Yorkshire via Evanton over the years, and enjoyed the remote life that Crask had to offer. The food at the inn was fantastic home made roasts, and very plentiful, and I met my first other end-to-enders that evening, who were finishing off the next day. On chatting to them, I realised it would be better to finish with a roar than a wimper, so I resolved not to stop at Dunnet Head, but carry on right to John O'Groats, and changed my route again. Now, the next day was to be the last, and was to be an extra 10 miles in to the bargain - another 85 miler, right at the end!
With an early breakfast under my belt, or at least my lycra waist band, I shook Mike's hand, and bid him an emotional farewell and thanked him for the enjoyable afternoon the day before. "No, no, thank you for your help. I'd have never got it done without you, Andy," he replied. Classic Mike.