Scotland bike tour: Day 9 (Monday, July 22)

Lots of pics of this day of the tour are here.
Pictish stone

This was our last day in Scotland. Our goal for today was to get to Inverness by about 6:30pm, giving us time to get some dinner before catching our train at 8:40. We headed out of Balintore and saw a glass- encased rock slab in the middle of a field. We followed a path through the feld to check it out. It was a slab carved by people called the Picts about 1200 years ago. It had a some very intricate patterns on it: knots and spirals and intertwined serpents, as well as reliefs of various animls and people. One side had these complicated ptterns formed into a large Christian cross.

We rode onward to the little village of Nigg, where we found a sgn indicating another Pictish stone so we went into the church to examine this one. It was similar to the first in having a cross on one side and various carvings of animals nd people on the other. On top of the cross on this one was illustrated an early Chistian parable.

Riding onward, we came to the Nigg ferry. Here we founnd a Sustrans Route 1 in pointing over the water, which we found amusing. Sustrans have identified and sinposted various routes across the UK. They are chracterized by choosing rods and paths that have as little interaction with cars as possible, so they usually take the smallest roads possibe to get where hey are going, and if there are no roads, they will sometimes use paths. The result is some very nice scenery, but often a rough road surface llots of steep hills, and a roundabout route. I feel that Sustrans routes are best used as a general guide, to be departed from when you're tired of hills and are willing to put up with a few cars in order to get where you're going much quicker.

Nigg Ferry

The Nigg Ferry runs from a point near Nigg village across the opening of the Cromarty Firth to Cromarty. There has been a ferry there for centuries. It used to be an important link in a trading route, then was used by workers, but recently it is used mostly for tourists. It's a very short ferry ride, only about 10 mins, and the ferry only has room for 2 cars, making it the smallest car ferry in Britain.

In Cromarty we saw a collection of fully loaded cyclists and asked them where they were from and where they were going. They were Australian and riding from Land's End (the very southwest corner of Britain) to John o'Groats in Scotland, the northeast corner of Britain. This is a journey of roughly 1000 miles, depending on choice of route, and a major goal for many British cyclists (and, it seems, a few foreigners).

Cromarty is the northern tip of the Black Isle, which isnt really an island but a peninsula. It got its name from the rich dark soil. We saw a sign for the Cromarty bakery and bought food for lunch: we weren't hungry then, but there didn't look to be many places where we could get lunch before we got to Inverness.

From Cromarty we followed a B-road tht hugged the north coast of the Black Isle. it was dead flat, but there was a persistent headwind. After a few miles we headed inward: we needed to get to the south coast to go across the bridge to Inverness. This invoved a long climb and a fast descent.

We pulled into the little village of Munlochy hoping to be able to stop for tea. We found a hotel/restaurant that had an OPEN sign, but all the doors were locked. We've found thatin Scotland an OPEN sign doesn't necessrilly mean open: in Dufftown last week Simon had wanted to buy whiskey from a whiskey shop an bananas from a fruit shop, but despite open signs in both places, they were decidedly shut. They did, however, reopen in 15 mins, which didn't appear to be the case with this hotel. So we went on and further down.

We saw a sign pointing down a side road for the Black Isle Brewery, so we took it, reasoning that since we'd been to a winery and ddistillery it only mde sense to go to a brewery. A couple of miles along the road we found it. We got a quick tour of the brewery but were disapponted that we couldn't sample the beers there we could only buy 50cl bottles. They told us that the brewery owned pub only a mle and a half away, and that we coul try the beers there if we wanted to. It wasn't exactly on our way but we had plenty of time to kill, so we went there. The barman gave us samples of all th beers he had on tap and we bought half pints of our two favorites (Red Kite Ale and the stout). We also ordered some soup to share, which was very good. Then we shared a bottle of the wheat beer, which wasn't on tap. After this I felt I'd had enough beer and ordered some tea while Simon went for a hallf of the lager which had a great deal of flavor.

Finally it was time to go. On the way to the pub we hd passed a Sustrans Route 1 sign, which pointed in the general direction of Inverness. We'd noted Route 1 signs on the other side of Inverness, so we figured that the route went through Inverness and so decided to follow it. The obvious route was along the A9, a very fast dual carriageway, so if Sustrans had foundd better way to get into Inverness we figured we'd take it. So we followe the signs and found ourselves on some small back roads, only riding on a pavement next to the A9 for a short stretch (including the bridge). After getting off the bridge we went along lightly-used industrial road into Invernes. There we killed time by doing a bit of shopping (Simon wanted to get little bottle of whiky for his co-workers) and eating, and then we headed to the station to catch the train.

There were three bikes going onto the train: ours and that of an older fellow. We got ours into place, hanging on the bike racks, and Simon went to help the man put his up. He said to him "It will be difficult to put your bike on the train because of all the fish". The man looked at him and said "I'm sorry, you're not making ny sense!" And so Simon explained that on the way south half of the bike spaces are occupied by styrofoam cartons with seafood destined for London restaurants, which can make it more diifcult to maneuver the bikes into the remaining spaces. Since it's not very easy to hook the bikes on the racks in the first place, this can make getting a bike into place quite difficult. So the man accepted Simon's help and we all got on the train, and on our way to London.

Miles for today: 39.

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