What are the Highlands and where do they begin (and end)? Here is one way to find out.
If you are traveling with bikes from the deep south, take the Caledonian sleeper train from Euston to Inverness. In October 2018 new rolling stock will replace the charming but rather decrepit trains which have been in service since The Wattmeister last spat out his dummy in a tantrum…..(about two weeks ago when a younger rider pinched one of his prized KOMs).
Arrive relatively refreshed and ready to ride but remember to have breakfast in Charlie’s café near the bus station. The quality of sleep is variable, ranging from a comatose slumber to fits and starts of wakefulness as the train’s couplings squeak and groan on the track to a well deserved retirement.
Exiting Inverness city via Sustrans bikepath 1 is a short but humdrum experience which is transformed by crossing the Moray Firth via the Kessock Bridge. To the West it’s possible to spy the Ben Wyvss massif near Garve, and to the East lies the open sea framed by a gently sloping patchwork of fields.
Soon, there is a turn off for Munlochy, a small village in the heart of the Black Isle. Climb, descend and climb gently on a single track road until reaching the telephone mast on Black Eagle hill. The view from this vantage point whets your appetite for the challenges ahead.
If the Nigg ferry is running, descend to Cromarty, cross the Firth and wend your way North via Tain and Dornoch…..otherwise, use the A9 road bridge but soon turn off on a quieter road (B817) towards Evanton, and Ardross, taking in a long steady ascent on the B9176 behind Ben Struie, incorporating a scintillating descent to Bonar Bridge. The views across and down Dornoch Firth are special. Some mountains like Ben More Assynt on the West coast are easily visible even to a hedgehog like The Wattmeister.
Last week, the rocky crags were softened by an abundance of yellow gorse which illuminated the landscape and whose presence could open the hardest of hearts.
Pass through Bonar Bridge and climb once again through the lush farmlands of Migdale to the barren moorland waste surrounding Loch Buidhe. At the summit, take in the view and realise that somehow you have been spirited into the Highlands.