Cycling the delightfully mad wee road of Sutherland
I hadn’t taken a close look at the map when friends suggested we meet at a campsite in the north-west of Scotland. I knew it was somewhere near Ullapool and on the coast. But as we got closer to the Shore Campsite at Achmelvich a few distant memories started to jigsaw into place.
Lochinver, just a few miles down the road, was where I recall enjoying several lovely meals. Clashnessie, a beach some five miles along the quiet B869, was where I spent two amazing weeks in my early 20s wild camping with a boyfriend.
Clachtoll, another campsite a few miles away, has popped up several times when writing about fabulous campsites in Scotland.
And then I remembered that I’d also cycled the entire coastline, including the Mad Wee Road of Sutherland (the B869) via the village of Drumbeg, with my ex-partner. That time there was heavy rain and head-winds and I recalled coming across possibly the most welcome cafe on earth!
In total, I recalled that this is a place I have always loved and each time I come back I wonder why I have not been more often.
The delights of Lochinver and Asynt
The scenery in the area, including the estate of Assynt, is truly impressive. Great mounds of rounded mountains rise strikingly from remote moorlands. Your eyes are drawn to the humped back Suilven, the crazy ridgeline of Stac Pollaidh, the conical shaped Quinag and the beautiful Munros of Conival and Ben More Assynt. The coast is utterly gorgeous with fabulous, white sandy beaches and coves hidden around corners and over attractive rocky headlands, themselves covered with swathes of grass, filled with pretty wildflowers.
You’ll be getting the picture! And so I knew that camping here for three nights was going to a great thing to do, especially when I also discovered that Scotland’s beastly midge had taken a hike from the entire area for my holiday weekend!
While the others lazed about or climbed (The Old man of Stoer, indeed!), I took the chance to ride my bike. The last time I’d cycled this route was in terrible weather, laden down by panniers and on a less than speedy hybrid bike. This time I went light and on my gorgeous carbon fibre gem of a Giant racer bike. (I love my bike!)
Cycling the Drumbeg Road in Sutherland
I set off with the wind mostly behind me on the outward section and mostly in front of me for the return. This was because the outward route would head over a mental number of ridiculous hills.
Take a look at the OS map for this area and you’ll see numerous markings on Drumbeg road, indicating very severe ascents and descents. I had remembered some of these hills but I had forgotten just how windy and hilly the 20 or so miles really are.
But I loved it. With only myself to please and the sun mostly out in a blue sky I really couldn’t imagine being in a more beautiful part of Scotland. When I saw a breath-taking beach or seascape I sometimes chose to stop. When I fancied a handful of M&S Percy Pigs (for energy, you see!) I stopped again. And when I wanted to go at top speed ripping up the miles downhill I had no-one to wait for.
This is a narrow, single-track road so there were a few hair raising moments when I descended at speed around a corner only to narrowly miss a car coming in the other direction. And I did have to slow at a number of passing places in courtesy to allow cars to overtake. But on the whole this is an extremely pleasant road to cycle. Even the tarmac is in pretty good shape!
And then there were the hills. Most were fairly short, but some were so steep that even in my lowest gear and with all my leg strength I feared I might come to a total standstill. As I was clipped on to my pedals I knew that if I stopped I would then keel over on to the road because I would not be able to unclip my pedals, seeing as I was exerting so much downward power on to them. Twice I had to give myself a good talking to, to make it up the hills. But I didn’t give up and with gritted determination I kept turning the pedals. (It would have been easier if I’d a compact chain set but my bike is currently set up for triathlon racing!) Of course, for all the uphill struggles there were mega downhill pleasures.
I also spotted a sign for a café can I can recall being the saviour of myself and my ex-partner. Dragging ourselves through many miles of wet and wild cycling during a weekend some seven years ago we were wishing hard for a coffee stop. Then, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, we spotted a sign. It said tea room. We couldn’t actually believe that there would be such a place and that it would serve extremely good coffee and cakes. The Little Soap and Candle Company at Drumbeg was like an oasis of wonderfulness on that bike tour.
It was closed on the day I cycled by but because of the weather and a great fry up for breakfast I wasn’t in need of a coffee.
Back on to the Sutherland A roads
At the junction at the northern end of the B869 road I turned right on the A894 and then right again on t the A837 back towards Lochinver. The aim was to complete a circuit of around 40 miles. I guess I’d imagined that after the wiggly, hilliness of the coastal road, the route back to the campsite would be so much easier. Of course, it wasn’t. The hills were less steep but much longer. Plus I had a head wind.
But what kept me going on this stretch was the amazing vies of the mad mountainscapes and stunning lochs. Travelling by bike you see so much more than in a car, and at a speed that allows you to really relish your surroundings. Given that I have been training a little for a forthcoming trip to the Alps with my bike I’d expected to eat up the miles of this short-ish outing. But I confess my legs were pretty sore that afternoon and for the next two days!
If you get the chance I can’t recommend this cycle route more highly.