I find it difficult to describe the Crask Inn & it would certainly be a dilemma if you were asked to recommend it to anyone, without the fear that they’d think you were a lunatic for either recommending it or not recommending it dependent upon their own personality. I met a friend in Jersey, before we left, whose partner had done End to End a couple of weeks before & he describes it as the best pub in Britain. It’s seriously isolated, it’s in a rundown state, it’s not had a makeover since sometime in the 50’s, there’s only an isolated chance you’ll get hot water & the local Health & Safety Inspector must be the owner’s brother in law. When asked about WiFi, Mike, the owner, said ‘he’d heard about it’ On the other hand, there’s huge charm in its age & eccentricity, it’s dramatic in its isolation & we were served a fabulous meal of pork or salmon, (with a white tablecloth) & with Chateauneuf at £18 a bottle & Chablis at £14, we had a fabulous evening in the company of a whole host of very interesting people, including the two guys (Tom & Alex) who we’d offered coffee & snacks to some days ago & who were looking in very fine spirits.
This area of Scotland is popular with walkers & climbers, many of whom look to climb the various local peaks, referred to as Munros after Hugh T Munro who died in 1919. This gentleman published the ‘Munro Tables’ after a meticulous study of locations & heights of all Scottish mountains in excess of 3,000 ft. Thereafter, all mountain summits & associated peaks over 3,000 ft became known as ‘Munros’ or ‘Munro Tops’ respectively. Mike told me that it’s only in the last couple of years that he’s seen cyclists coming through but that it’s now very popular.
We made a plan over dinner to start our final days cycling at 6.00am, as we were aware of the 82 plus miles we had to cover; the 3 to 3 ½ hour return journey to Inverness & the desire to have a final dinner, meet friends in Inverness & say our goodbyes. We made a huge bowl of cold ‘Pam’s Porridge’ the night before & everyone was around at 5.30 getting themselves prepared. Driver Tony declared the porridge ‘like stuff you stick wallpaper on with’ but nevertheless tucked in. The weather looked dire. This place is forbidding looking at the best of times, but with huge black clouds, a fierce wind & temperatures that had dropped to around 12 degrees, it was not inviting. We made a sorry sight as we snaked, one after the other, up the hill away from The Crask. However, as we crested the hill, we were faced with a run that wended its way around Loch Naver in a gently undulating way, single track, with the occasional marked ‘passing place’ (I think Ken had been reading these as ‘pissing place’ & thus his stops, every ten minutes). We flew! All was fine & dandy, until we hit a corner at about 25mph & met a cranky farmer who wasn’t stopping for anyone. The dreadful scrape of tyres on gravel & anticipation of a crunch from behind, but somehow Rodney managed to get between the truck & me & we survived. We still flew after that, but maybe a little more cautiously! Whereas the approach to the Crask had seen us in countryside probably 50 miles wide, we were now in a much smaller valley, possibly only a mile wide in parts, with occasional farms & lots of sheep grazing. Everyone was of the same mind; what must this be like in winter? Or as Tony put it more succinctly, ‘this is where men are men & sheep are nervous’. As we made our way further north, the countryside took on the appearance of an overgrown golf course with gently rolling hills, broom, heather & the very attractive cottongrass in abundance. We were all willing the sea to be over the next rise but this wasn’t to come until about 30 miles when we arrived at the attractively named, Bettyhill & Pentland Firth. The beaches, as you hit the north coast, are simply stunning & would do credit to any Caribbean island & there were many more as we turned right & started the final 50 odd miles of the trip. The run along the north coast was alternating steep climbs & fast down hills. On the odd occasion we met the wind head on we blessed the fact that it was largely favouring us or at least coming in from the side. It was still cold & I was somewhat underdressed, but the need to keep warm was a help in peddling hard & we blessed the fact that, once again, the rain had held off. Our sympathies went out to the few End to Enders we saw coming the other way, at the start of their ride. One of the primary reasons most do this journey south to north is that the prevailing winds are usually favourable & also the first three days probably have the most climbing.
We agreed to have lunch at 11.30 & therefore stopped at the Melviche Hotel (45 miles) at around 10.00 to pick up sandwiches. Rodney’s bike was back onto the stand as Tony tried once again to fix a problem with this nearly new bike. Rodney also learnt a little about the mechanics of bikes i.e. don’t put your finger in the wheel when it’s spinning (that lesson comes quite early in the ‘Duffers Guide to Bike Maintenance Manual’ apparently) We really were motoring & had done 62 miles when we stopped for lunch at Thurso, even though that included some quite steep climbs along what is a very attractive coast with good road surfaces & very little traffic.
As previously agreed, we met Tony 7 miles out from John O’Groats & rode those last few miles in a state of some excitement, down into the car park where we found the support van, but no Tony! Momentary panic, until we realised he was around the corner, camera poised. We then made our way to the famous sign post, which I seem to remember reads 874 miles to Land’s End whereas we were recording 1006.35 miles as of course we’d come via the Peak Tours scenic route which we had blessed each & every day for 14 days. We also realised we’d averaged over 15 mph over the 82 miles today, a real achievement which put us well ahead on our day’s schedule as it was barely 1.00pm. We did the photographs, drank the champagne (courtesy of Rodney), phoned home (how emotional was that!) & generally acted like daft kids for a while. We also received a donation from a kind lady who refused to leave her name. We then met up with a sparkling new mini bus that was to take us & our bikes back to Inverness. We have contracted with John O’Groats Bike Transport in Inverness who will service the bikes & courier them back to Jersey. Rodney is to take his on the train & he’s viewing this prospect with some trepidation as it involves about three changes & of course he also has luggage.
Dinner in Inverness was great & we met beforehand with a couple of mates of BVCC member Nicky. Vonny is Fundraiser for Marie Curie & recently did the length of Ireland ride with Nicky. A lovely, vivacious lady & I can see why she’s so effective for this great charity. There was just the minimum of speeches, mostly to thank Tony & to receive a certificate from him (that’s got to go on the wall hasn’t it!) plus a bottle of champagne (thanks again Tony) & a bottle of whisky (thanks Ken’s brother in law Andrew), which we had to polish off (it would be rude not to wouldn’t it)
So there we have it – Job done!
I will find out the total raised for Macmillan Cancer Support (Jersey) Limited plus the 50% of Rodney’s donations that will go to the Stroke Association & post those figures on this site as soon as possible. I’m really, really hoping that we can make the magic £20k, so if you’re mindful to benefit either of these wonderful charities, we’d be both grateful & delighted.
Awards of the Day
Callum, 16 year old grandson of our support driver Tony, who has been selected to represent the South East of England at the Tour of Flanders in a couple of weeks time. How can he not thrive & prosper as a competitive cyclist with a Manager/Trainer/Grandfather like Tony. Good Luck Callum!
All of the riders on this End to End quite simply for doing it, but more importantly, for enjoying it
Philosophical thoughts of the day
Comments from the participants, at dinner in Inverness;
Paul Davies. Lejog, an iconic ride in memory of my brother-in-law, who died recently of cancer
Paul Rebours. I was full of trepidation when invited to join this fantastic group, but all the training paid off as I thoroughly enjoyed the 14 days & saw parts of Great Britain I’d never seen before. Great organisation by Tony & Steve.
Ken Simpson. What a great trip, wonderful scenery, great cycling, good company, what next?
Tony Hillsden. I’ll dine on this for years! Was our longest day 120 or 125 miles? Top speed 54mph? Temperature 40 degrees?
Rodney Binley. Fitness is just a frame of mind; it’s getting the body to agree that’s tough.
Brian Frith. The perfect storm in a positive way. Perfect weather, fabulous route through the very best of Britain, impeccable planning from Steve & Tony & a great group of guys brought together by a love of cycling & lots of mutual respect.
Vital stats for the day;
|Time riding **
||5 hours 23 minutes
|Cumulative Climbing ***
** I should make a point this is time actually riding, not time out on the road
*** That’s almost 11 times the height of Ben Nevis