Saturday, 7 April 2012

The Actual Trip: Day 8

Hello from Wick! Well, I did it, I drove round the north coast of Scotland! The weather wasn't great though, and quite foggy in places but still was a lot of fun.
The A832. There was a lot of it.

The day started with a huge diversion. You may recall my comments about the A890 at Stromeferry having been closed for months due to a landslide. Well, they have set up a sort of huge level crossing so that traffic can go along the railway line, but, only at certain times. Not being familiar with the area I wasn't sure I could get there for one of those times, and with the gaps between them being 2 hours I decided to play safe and take my alternate route, which was no longer and still let me do the bit I really wanted to do; i.e. Ullapool to Wick.

Away I went up the A82 alongside Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and Loch Ness (no monster sightings I'm afraid). Ended up almost at Inverness on the east coast, which is the only alternative to the A890 really. I didn't worry about keeping to the road nearest to the west coast as that involved a lot of faffing and adding a lot more time to the journey than I had planned for with the original route. Traffic was very light and the first stop was at a layby on the A832 heading back west again.

It was then a long long haul around Wester Ross, the scenery that I could see was great. Weather wasn't too bad at this point, a lot of drizzle really, but the cloud hid most the mountains. Made my way round to Ullapool for lunchtime. Bought lunch from Tescos as I didn't want to walk far in the rain and it was next to the car park. Yes, Tesco really are everywhere; passed one in Thurso and picked up petrol at the big store just outside Wick.
Ullapool, or, as the check-in options on
facebook would suggest the locals call it, Loopallu.

Next came the best bit. Further north I went, with my route conveniently signed as the tourist route to John O'Groats. The signs also told me it was 170 miles from Ullapool. After a place called Laxford Bridge the road quality really deteriorated with mile after mile of single-track road with passing places. And sheep providing slalom. Wasn't aware of the sheep issue until I had earlier come over a hill at 50mph and seen one standing in the road in front of me. Between an emergency stop (in the rain) and the sheep seeing me and running away (clearly more intelligent than pheasants) said sheep survived for another day. Saw many more of them in the road after that, but realised that once they noticed you they got out of the way, if not always very quickly. They did seem to like standing on and by the road though as if there wasn't acres upon acres of other places they could have been.

I ended up behind a minibus for the first bit of "single track road", which I was quite happy to do as he was making good progress and could see further down the road than me. Then he decided to let me pass, despite the fact that I had sat well back from him. Felt it was a bit silly to say "no no, you go first and spot the other vehicles for me" so went on ahead. It was ok though; would have helped if more people had had their lights on, especially when it started to get foggy. Having had Radio 2 on most the day (you'll recall I don't have my MP3 charger, and my usual choice of station, Absolute, wasn't being picked up) I lost the signal once I got to the very north. In fact the only 2 stations I could get were Radio 1, and a station playing heavy rock, punk, metal etc. so I went with that.
Some road engineering to appreciate.
The A838 across the Kyle of Tongue.

After what seemed like an eternity, I reached a bit of two lane road again and was heading towards the Kyle of Tongue. After the village of Tongue there was once again a lot of single-track road with passing places (and sheep), but not for quite as long as before. Then, all of a sudden, I was out of the mountains and away, through Thurso, right at John O'Groats and down to Wick.

Traffic was very light all day, partly the weather, partly just because there really aren't that many people living in this part of Britain to create traffic. Took about 7 and a half hours, about an hour quicker than predicted. Starting the long drive home tomorrow :)

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