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Saturday 8th September: "Berrisdale breakdown"

It took the best part of the first day simply to reach the start of the route so I only managed to squeeze an hour’s cycling in during the evening. Due to delays with buses and sorting out the hire car at Inverness we didn’t really get going until 11:30am. On paper the journey from Inverness to John O’Groats is 120 miles, which should take about three hours on a reasonable single carriageway road. However, the roads in the Northern Highlands are anything but reasonable, which is why we didn’t reach John O’Groats until 5:30pm. The A9 beyond Helmsdale bears greater resemblance to an assault course than a trunk road!

Whilst climbing one very tricky 13% gradient at Berrisdale on a U-bend our Fiat Punto squealed and stalled in a very precarious position so we had to call for roadside assistance. Surprisingly it only took 20 minutes for a recovery vehicle to arrive and the problem (a flooded engine) was solved very quickly by carefully reversing the car back to the bottom of the hill driving it back up again. Red faces all round!

Beyond Berrisdale the landscape changed from rugged coastline to bleak, flat, windswept moor land. With a leaden sky and cold wind this place felt very inhospitable.

I set off at 5:45pm after Nichola had sternly told me not to cycle too fast round bends in the rain this time. With only 90 minutes daylight left it was only possible to cycle to the next provincial town, which was Wick. I managed this in just over an hour hitting the highest average speed of the whole journey.

In spite of its inevitable grey setting, Wick was a pleasant place to stay for a night. The Bed and Breakfast was well priced and we had the pleasure of being in town during a marching bagpipe band festival. In such stereotypical Scottish setting it seemed only right to try haggis, neeps and tatties that night in the local pub, which was quite delicious. That said there is no escaping the edge of the world feeling this place has. Wick feels like a town under siege from the elements and I couldn’t help noticing how pale the locals were.

Ride Statistics

Started: 17:45 hours
Finished: 18:55 hours
Distance: 16.92 miles
Cycling time: 1 hour 06 minutes
Top speed: 25.5 mph
Average speed: 15.3 mph
Odometer: 16.9 miles

Me at John O'Groats
Breakdown at Berrisdale
Bagpipe band in Wick
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Copyright © John Collins