I last stayed at the Belgrave Arms in Helmsdale in 2019 and it hasn’t changed a bit. Craig and Wendy are still in charge and the bar seems to do good trade with the locals. The Hotel is very outdated, most rooms sharing bath and loo facilities but you get what you pay for and at £49.50 for a single room it’s about value for money. The bar menu is basic but the tomato soup and fish and chips were tasty and good. As usual in Scotland all the beer is keg but the Belhaven was good enough to warrant drinking two pints in the noisy bar before I went off to write the blog. The Wifi is pitiful in the room and I had to come down into the reception area to get a strong enough signal to stitch in photos and publish the finished article. Having done that another pint seemed in order and I got chatting to a young couple who had recently moved to the area from London. They seemed an unlikely fit for the area, he a metropolitan plumber and she disabled with a couple of young children. I wished them luck with their new life and so to bed.
Full breakfast was well cooked and included haggis and black pudding so I set off at 0922 with a full stomach and best wishes from Craig. There is a short climb out of Helmsdale past the emigrant’s statue.
The inscription on the monument, in English and Gaelic, reads: “The Emigrants commemorates the people of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland who, in the face of great adversity, sought freedom, hope and justice beyond these shores. They and their descendants went forth and explored continents, built great countries and cities and gave their enterprise and culture to the world. This is their legacy. Their voices will echo forever thro the empty straths and glens of their homeland.” The statue was commissioned by Dennis MacLeod who was born and brought up in Helmsdale but made his fortune gold mining in South Africa.
A mere three miles into the journey I felt the rear tyre give way yet again. This time it was a proper blowout but I couldn’t find any sign of tyre damage and the split seemed to be on the inside of the tube. On closer inspection it was apparent that the rim tape which is meant to protect the tube was wrinkled exposing the tube to the spoke ends. There wasn’t much I could do about it so replaced the tube and hoped for the best. With luck it will last as far as Aviemore where I know there are several bike shops who may be able to provide a replacement. Whilst I was changing the tube, a girl on foot, late teens, early 20s with a large pack on her back stopped to ask if she could help. She set off from Land’s End 56 days ago and was hoping to be in JOG in four days. I wished her well and she set off leaving me to finish my repair.
The A9 road follows the railway along the coast,
undulating quite severely in places and with heavy and fast moving traffic, but I didn’t resort to the motor and after an hour of cycling had covered to 12.2 miles to Brora. On to Golspie the largest town in the area with the High School and down to Loch Fleet that penetrates inland about three miles with Beware of the otters signs along the road.
Here I was able to leave the A9 and enjoy back roads that wound along the edge of the Loch before taking me to Dornoch, busy with coach parties and other visitors on a sunny Saturday forenoon. I didn’t hang around but continued south to rejoin the A9 as it crossed Dornoch Firth, fortunately with a decent cycle lane.
Now almost half way I stopped at Lidl in Tain to buy lunch and, particularly, 2 litres of water to fill my bottles. I stopped there two years ago when I was covering exactly the same journey and enjoyed eating my picnic in the car park overlooking the Dornoch Firth.
My route now took me away from the coast along quiet forested roads with variable surfaces. About two miles after Tain I heard voices behind me and two cyclists, Paul and Lee pulled alongside asking me what I was doing. It transpired that they had set out from JOG that morning, heading for Land’s End and were hoping to be in Aviemore that night, about 160 miles by my rough calculations. They were travelling light as they had a support vehicle but, even so, good going. We wished each other luck and they sped off into the distance.
I continued to avoid the A9 going through Alness and Dingwall as the road wound south west around the Cromarty Firth before turning back south east towards Tore where I had to join the A9, fortunately with a good cycle path alongside it. The climb up from Dingwall was steep and I switched on the motor for about five miles. The cycle path once again left the A9 as we headed towards North Kessock and the bridge across the Beauly Firth.
A steep climb up from the coast to the bridge put the motor in overdrive and then I coasted down over the bridge, which really is at that mad angle, with the traffic thundering across, beside but separated from me.
I was now only a couple of miles through an industrial estate and round the ring road to my destination at The Quaich, the B&B I stayed in on my two previous trips. Unfortunately, owing to Covid, I don’t get breakfast in the morning so will have to find something in town. A shame as I remember it as rather a good breakfast in the past.