Quite why anyone would want to cycle the A9 when the remotest part of Caithness is blessed with many miles of fast dirt roads is beyond me. I rode 46 miles of easy estate and nature reserve tracks getting to and from a wild pitch on the north side of Morven, the highest hill in Caithness.
Sadly, the quiet lane from Wick’s Tesco to Watten is currently closed for construction of a cable which will take electricity from the area’s many scenic windfarms to join the national grid in Macduff. I had to use the Castletown road, which is busier. Once at Loch Watten, I stopped for a snack and saw an otter. It saw me and wasn’t phased at all. The otter just carried on fishing.
At Westerdale my route crossed the Thurso river at a rapid. I left the B870 on a narrow lane across a moor. The lane passes a small cemetery and a lodge before turning to dirt at a car park. Just a short distance along the dirt road, near Loch More, a white-haired man stepped round a Saladin armoured car with his arm out. I suspect that if I hadn’t stopped he would have grabbed me and caused a pile up. He asked where I was going. As I was on a right of way, this was none of his damned business, but I decided to be polite.
He said a missile would be tested in 30 minutes. I volunteered to wait if he was being precise about the 30 minutes. He admitted he wasn’t. He tried to persuade me to go a different way. Only getting the map out persuaded him that there was no alternative. Finally, he let me go after telling me repeatedly to stay on the estate road. As I was riding a standard Thorn touring bicycle with 4 panniers, that was my intention.
Maybe 2.5km later I reached the targets, which were less than 3m tall and still being adjusted. Whatever the missile was, and the white-haired man had been patronising when I asked, it was almost certainly intended for use against vehicles.
So, having missed out on any explosive excitement, I passed the wreck of Dalnawillan Lodge and headed on for The Glutt, which appears to be the current heart of the estate. The sandy road from The Glutt to Braemore is good for cycling but I was starting to tire. The final stretch to Gobernuisgeach from Lochan nam Bo Riabhach, along parallel ruts in the heather, was troubling. The bothy was locked and a gentle shower made the footbridge slippery. After a mere half hour of low blood sugar faffing, the tent was up and a brew was on.
It had been a ride of incredible character across moors of a remoteness found in very few other parts of these islands. The ride ended at a lovely wild pitch, miles from any other human. The otter and the missile nonsense added to a day I am unlikely to forget.
Five stars. Highly recommended.