Waking to stillness my heart sank again with the inevitable little midge visitors. Fast packing was the theme of the morning with every piece of skin covered and headnets donned. There were bigger animal visitors however as the farmers were out herding the cattle from across the river. A couple of young calves were very curious and I had to abandon packing my stuff as they started to sniff, nibble and slobber all over my kit. Their horns are rather intimidating and with young around the cows can be very unpredictable and dangerous. Thankfully after ten minutes or so and plenty of attempts to eat my flip flops, they finally moooved on and we could get on our way and rid ourselves of midge misery.
Riding through the Croick Estate the deer were bounding across the trail ahead of us. Nibbling down on the pastures with the sheep they scattered back up to the safety of the hillside woods as we made our way along the faint grassy trails up the Strath Cuileannach valley.
After a nice descent down to Oykel Bridge we hammered along the road to the Achness Hotel, one of the few places along the way that we hoped would be open. Arriving fifteen minutes before they were due to open we sat and ate our cheese and oatcakes/bread for lunch. Cooling down with a pint of lime and soda in the humid day was the first port of call before a pot of tea chaser. Also a much needed loo stop because there was no way I was digging a hole to poo with the midges around this morning. Maybe that's too much information for you dear reader but it's part and parcel of the glorious wild camping lifestyle, haha.
With Durness getting closer in our sights Charlotte told me that she wouldn't be riding any further after we reached Cape Wrath. Having had only vague plans and discussions about riding the west part of the HT550 after the Great North Trail I was cool with that. To be honest after the previous two evenings experiences of the hellish midges I totally understood her decision and also questioned what I would do after reaching the Cape. For now though we were still a day or two away and so we hopped back on our trusty steeds towards Corriekinloch.
A fast section of road in the afternoon sunshine finally gave way to a gravel track and made for nice afternoon riding. Coming to a hydro-electric dam a rough tarmac road appeared and we stopped for a hill boosting snack. Peanut butter, jam and banana in a tortilla wrap for me and porridge for Charlotte.
Boy I'm glad we fuelled up before that monster of a hill. It was certainly a gift that kept on giving with false summits galore. Granny gear all the way and out of the saddle in places it was quite the sweat-fest. What goes up must come down though and the views over Loch Shin at the top were rather lovely.
Freewheeling down to the loch was blissful for the legs. Back onto the road for a few miles until West Merkland where we'd head back to the wilds, it was time for more fuel in the legs. The weather forecast wasn't great for the next day and so we'd decided to keep pedalling whilst the weather was nice and have a long day. Alas a girl cannot pedal on peanut butter alone though so I made up a rather amazing frankfurter wrap.
Suitably satiated with savoury snacks (the craving for non-sweet foods kicking in big style now) we rode on into a world of scree sloped hills, big sweeping trails and yet more variety in the wonderful wilderness of bonny Scotland.
Grinning like kids we bounded on the rocky tracks. This is why we ride. To experience the joys of exploring remote places. To be in places of stillness where all you can hear is the crunch of the trail and the birds. To feel the wind in your face and to marvel at the beauty of nature.
Feeling like we were in the middle of nowhere, it was rather ironic that when we turned the corner we came upon a very posh large gated house with a manicured lawn and artsy statues! As we rode through the grounds we were baffled.
Forest track brought us back to a road that led us through Altnacaillich and to the Strathmore river crossing. With no wind, it was midge headnets on as Charlotte volunteered to plodge into the water to see if it was crossable.
The notes said that it was rarely crossable and looking at it it certainly looked quite deep. Appearances can be deceptive though as it was only knee deep. The detour option was an extra 8-9 miles of road alongside Loch Hope and given that it was already 7pm we made the decision to take the road. Carrying the bikes across just wasn't worth the hassle in the midge infested river and we're certainly not precious about riding every mile of the route.
The road beside Loch Hope was rolling and with many miles in the legs we started to look for a place to camp for the night. Willing the breeze to appear we kept riding until a nice flat spot appeared. It was right beside the road but it ticked all of the boxes and most importantly somebody in higher places had turned the wind up. Wind = no midge and happy campers. We threw our bikes down in the race to get our tents up before the wind dropped but miraculously it held strong. I had told Charlotte that we had to have hope riding along Loch Hope that it would all turn out well and it certainly did. After a seventy mile day it was dinner and bedtime. With less than thirty miles left to Durness, we were closing in on our ultimate goal, Cape Wrath.