While I was loading Leonardo this morning, a man was delivering beer to the hostel. He facetiously said I would now be staying instead of leaving as there now was more beer. The real origin was the rain coming down. The day before, a CalMac had made a comment to the effect that it was a pity it was raining but that's the West of Scotland for you.
Heavily garbed in rain gear including Gore-Tex socks, I set off up the road. My original plan had been to follow the coast up and around to Thurso, but a shortage of accommodation obliged me to divert inland and indeed across Scotland. My destination was the town of Lairg whose principal distinction seems to be that it hosts Europe's largest one day agricultural sale each August during its annual sheep sale.
The road wound up and unfortunately down various glens and ridges. Thankfully, the wind was essentially helpful. I stopped at Knockan Crag where there was an interpretative centre that Pappy would have either enjoyed or dismissed as it was about how the cliff above had resulted in progress in the science of geology as the rocks above had been found to be older than the rocks below, contrary to conventional thinking. It also had a note about how these mountains were the same as the Appalachians and illustrated it with a picture of Mount Washington!
As I was leaving the site, I saw a sign advertising the Elphin Tearoom a few miles ahead. This was admirably positioned for an elevenses. After a nice downhill run through the wild countryside, I rolled up to the establishment. As I was finding a suitable wall to lean Leonardo on, I was surprised to see six other cycle tourers also turning into the establishment! Inside, it came out that they were not one party but two! It was an odd coincidence as each party rolled at different speeds. I spoke mostly with one group, a pair of Englishmen. The other four were older and from their accents, I would guess they were from Glasgow. The Englishmen were traveling very lightly and had bare legs. I was surprised they weren't cold. I latter wondered if they more used to the cool weather as my body had acclimatized to Montreal's hot summer. They were going to follow the coast up to Lochniver, then ride to Lairg tomorrow to catch the train.
We set off at about the same time. They outpaced me a shade to Ledmore Junction (think Minton) where they turned left whereas I hung a right. Unlike the proceeding road which I would describe as a mountain road, the one I was on followed a gently rising glen which widened as it went. With the wind at my back, I climbed easily to a height of land between the West and East Coasts of Scotland. I rode down along the Oykel which was in spate to say the least. Almost exactly on cue, the Oykel Bridge Hotel appeared in time for lunch.
There was an older couple taking a break for lunch from their motorcycle trip and a family of five with a spaniel, possibly a Brittany. The woman motorcyclist promptly informed that the coffee and sandwiches being served were wonderful and that she wasn't being paid a commission! This set the tone for a rather lively lunch. There was some talk of roads being flooded, which led to the family mentioning their wish to see the Falls of Shin. At that point the name meant nothing to me. I had a great toasted sandwich (cheddar, pepperoni, onions and peppers) and coffee for lunch.
When I got back on Leonardo, I checked my map and saw that the Falls of Shin was just below Lairg and if I took the A837 at Rosehall rather than the A839, it would add only about nine miles to a short day. Also, my read of the map was that it would be a flatter route. Also, the rain had mostly stopped.
After lunch, the land spread out and became very civilized with mature stands of trees (rather than forestry commission monoculture) and old farms. As expected, the route was fairly level. At Inveran, I turned onto B864 which was in the process of having the brush trimmed back which gave the road the lovely smell of freshly cut vegetation.
The Falls of Shin were impressive with the tea coloured river running in spat causing foam to accumulate in one eddy. Among the throng of sightseers was the family from lunch! I thanked them for having inadvertently let me know about the place!
It was then only about 4 miles to Lairg which seemed out of place in the nominal Highlands. However, it was there as was the Lairg Highland Hotel. At a guess, I would say it was built between the wars as it has a suggestion of Art Deco to it's exterior, the interior being the result of recent and ongoing renovations. My room is just about the right size. Furthermore, their menu hit the spot with a starter of pan fried mushrooms in creamy garlic sauce, followed by roast lamb (something I had been having a hankering for seeing those wooly creatures bounce around) and then sticky toffee pudding. There were other things on the menu, but those were things that I particularly like.
Lairg is evidently not a smokeless zone as the smell of burning peat is in the air and is enticing me to go down to the bar for post-prandial single malt.