It always amazes me that when I'm feeling exhausted, my body won't let me sleep. Both of us had a rather restless night and although the midges were kept at bay by the wind, there were a lot of ticks in the grass where we'd camped. We may have looked a bit rough after a sleepless night but we were buoyed by thoughts of reaching Durness, eating real food and embarking on the final chapter of a ferry ride over the Kyle of Durness to ride to the Cape Wrath lighthouse.
Undulating was the word of the morning. Feeling the previous days miles it seemed to take us an age to get close to Durness. Seeing the sea was a wonderful sight and the singletrack road along Loch Eriboll gave us plenty of views to feast on.
A mile or so out from Durness the heavens opened and it didn't take long before we were soaked and wanting the warmth of a nice cafe to dry out. The Smoo Cave Hotel was closed and only planning on opening later that day (due to Covid) and there was nothing in the way of cafe's or restaurants in what appeared to be the main part of the village. Asking at the local campsite for a cafe we were told there was only that might be open and it was a mile or so down the road. There were a lot of tourists around and everyone seemed to be hunting for somewhere out of the rain. Arriving at the Craft Village we were desperate to be out of the rain and were overjoyed to see a sign saying 'Open' by the cafe there. Getting a seat inside before the hoards arrived, we sat steaming over bowls of hot soup and tea. It definitely wasn't a hearty Scottish portion mind and we asked for more bread and hot water as we demolished every sip and crumb.
Our original plan had been to stay the night in Durness and make our way to Cape Wrath early the next day but with the hostels closed and the campsite only allowing people with their own chemical toilet we decided to make a push for the Cape that afternoon. Anticipating a tough afternoon we indulged in a final morale boosting piece of apple cake before heading down to the ferry point. The rain had stopped we took it as a sign that we should go now to 'get it done'.
Standing on the other side of the Kyle of Durness we guestimated our return time with the ferryman. He suggested that we leave our bike bags in his pickup truck for an easier ride and we jumped at the chance. Our philosophy was simple, let's not make this final ride any harder than we had to. The ride out to the lighthouse certainly isn't flat in any sense of the word. With light bikes we started up the hill as the boat pulled away and our last adventure began.
Starting our first long uphill it wasn't long before the landscape opened up before us. Green as far as the eye could see and our beat-up, broken tarmac road stretching over the hills.
It was tough going into the wind but we knew that it would be behind us on the way back and whatever was uphill now would be downhill returning. The land here is used by the military and so we were lucky that they weren't running any operations or we wouldn't have been able to ride. There is also usually a minibus service that takes tourists out to the lighthouse but it's still not running due to coronavirus and so we knew that we weren't going to see many if any people along the way. Twas just us and the trail.
As the lighthouse appeared around the bend, I waited for Charlotte and we both started the final downhill together.
Rolling up to the gate at the bottom of the lighthouse, we'd made it. As with most trips, there's almost an anticlimax when you actually arrive at your destination - after all, it's just a lighthouse at the end of a cliff. Emotionally though it's so much more. Hopping off our bikes we quickly did what we do best and got the snacks out. A celebratory tortilla wrap with all the trimmings; peanut butter, raspberry jam, banana and the pièce de résistance, crumbled shortbread biscuit. An epic snack for the end of a pretty epic journey. Damn it tasted divine!
There was no call for a second wrap but we went all in and soon regretted it, haha! Big hugs were had and lots of pics taken as I doubt either of us will be back anytime soon.
Although it wasn't our original plan to ride as a duo (Ben's accident meant that he couldn't continue to ride), I can honestly say that it was an absolute pleasure riding with the porridge powered, peanut butter obsessed, pedalling superstar Charlotte. We'd weathered the good, bad, tears, laughter and joy together and made memories that I know we'll talk about until we're too old and decrepit to cycle.
The journey however wasn't quite over, there was still the tiny little part of riding back to the ferry. Feeling overly full from our snacktastic tortilla we turned tail and hoped that the wind would be kind enough to blow us the eleven miles back to the jetty. If only life were that simple, hahaaa! I won't lie, it was a struggle and as the weather threatened to turn I felt that it was Cape Wrath's way of telling us that it was time we left.
Running a bit later than estimated we arrived at the jetty and grabbed our kit, hauling our bikes aboard the boat for the return journey across the water.
Bidding the ferryman farewell the sun appeared in the moody sky, casting a beautiful light across the water.
It was just after 6pm and we had a date at the campsite bar. The amazing Miss Inman had gotten the phone number earlier and we'd booked ourselves a table for celebratory drinks. Beer for Charlotte and an ice cold can of heavenly Coke for me.
Three hours later and we had to face the reality of going out into the cold, finding a field and pitching our tents and neither of us were feeling it. Psyching ourselves up, we headed out and nipped into the shop to grab a few food supplies as the next day was Sunday and the shop would be closed. Behind the shop was a beautiful beach and Charlotte was super excited to camp beside it.
It was nearly 10pm as we setup our tents, only to have a woman come over and tell us that we shouldn't be camping there and that others had been told to move from there the night before. We understood and explained that it was late, we were responsible campers and that we'd be gone early in the morning. It was a risk to stay but I was adamant that I wasn't packing my tent and stuff up again. Plus it seemed like a fitting end to the trip to have such a wonderful spot and Charlotte was grinning like a cheshire cat at the view.
So our last night of the Glasgow to Cape Wrath Great North Trail ended with smiles galore.
Exhausted, proud, happy and with a strengthened friendship we turned into our tents for the night. Nine days of riding some great trails in the wilds of Scotland - not just a ride but a journey and one that we tackled together to the ends of the earth (or Scotland at least!). They say that happiness isn't real unless it's shared and this is one shared experience that I won't forget for a long time. Thank you Charlotte for showing me the joys of the crunch in my tortilla, for the plentiful hugs and for reminding me why I ride. To many more trips together.....