Our cunningly arranged early breakfast was somewhat spoiled by there also being a similarly early one organised for a bus load of tourists. Never mind, at least we had a ring-fenced pot of porridge only for our group.
Van loaded, bikes quickly cleaned up and eventually we hit the road. The sun trap that was the hotel car park lulled us in to thinking there was fine weather ahead, but the haugh was rolling in over Loch Ness and the air chilly as a result.
We powered along the loch-side, sun now coming out, for a rendezvous with my brother Dominic, astride a mountain bike that had seen better days – slurry lubricant on the chain was the teams’ best guess.
We headed slightly off-route, using Dom’s local knowledge to get to a decent bike shop for a fix for Mark’s front mech’ – Jerry from Bikes of Inverness to the rescue and we were soon back on the road.
Leaving the city, we made our way towards Beauly then on to Muir of Ord, meeting the van for a fuel stop. Dominic turned back at this point (Olympics telly to catch up on), around 15 miles done with us (and another 15 into the wind and uphill to get home).
On we went passing Conon Bridge, through Dingwall, a slight mismatch between mine and Sam’s Garmins causing a bit of a stir before ‘this way is north’ lead us on to Evanton and towards Alness.
A brief stint on the A9 came to a welcome end as we turned off on to the B9176 and a great climb up and over Struie hill – fantastic scenery, views and not a bad hill to cycle up – just a slow, steady incline with very little harsh gradients.
We soon reached the top, and after a brief stop at the view-point, headed down, a glorious descent, passing through Ardgay before meeting Cameron and Mark in Bonar Bridge for lunch. Bridge Burgers and macaroni cheese and perhaps the odd pint were consumed, bought from the pub where a local lad Ben threw us a few quid for the charity (thanks!).
Just before we were to leave for lunch, a Canadian couple, tour-cycling asked about a local bike shop (none for miles) as they’d no spare tubes. We gave them a couple, Michael assuing them that the thinner road tubes would be ok in their slightly wider tyres. As a thanks, they donated to our charity (thanks Paul & your wife – we didn’t catch her name).
Off we went, Inveran and Invershin, another climb through to Lairg an then Altnaharra, now on single-track roads, stopping for our final refuel at the Crask (?) Inn, fellow cyclists Ally from Skye and Axel from Germany applauding from the beer garden as we pulled up.
We chatted briefly before starting of on the final 20 or so miles between us and the end, the wind in our faces. We dug in, switching to single file to minimise the work as we made our way up and down the seemingly endless hills before us.
At the top of the final hill, we stopped to take some photos, the clouds hanging low over the distant mountains. We rolled down the hill to meet the van, Tongue barely a mile away, to be told the hostel was not up to scratch, so a quick negotiation was made by Mark with a local B&B and we were sorted.
Day 8 done. 113 miles done.
Only 65 to go.