Passing places on the Northern Scotland express – Bettyhill to Lairg (75/19,593ks, 524m)

(written by Nancy)

Grey skies this morning at the Bettyhill campground – such a change from the warm afternoon we had yesterday.  The campground has some beautiful views down to a sandy beach so it’s unfortunate that it’s in a pretty rundown state.  I don’t think I would recommend it unless there were some changes in the maintenance schedule!  Actually, we heard later on from the innkeeper at the Crask Inn that the couple who owned it have had it for many years and the husband is quite ill now so I suspect the wife is not really able to manage it on her own as she runs a B&B too – she seemed quite elderly when I paid for the site last night.

Though the sky was gloomy with dark clouds most of today and we had some rain the ride was actually quite nice and the landscape was beautiful.  From Bettyhill we rode upriver on the Naver River with lots of ups and downs but nothing too hard.  This appears to be a big fishing area – we saw several folks out fly fishing on the river.  The road was a single–track road, meaning really it only fit one car.  Cars coming the other direction wait at one of the many ‘Passing Place’ spots for a clear lane to proceed.  There are many ‘Passing Places’ but there really aren’t that many cars – in the first 50k or so today we saw almost as many cyclists as cars, and the cars were nearly all driven by fishermen as noted by poles on their cars.

Just after the small settlement of Syre we stopped at a memorial marker relating to what is referred to as the Highland Clearances.  The clearances were part of an agricultural revolution in which old communal farming was replaced with sheep farming.  Apparently the communal farming did not return much of a profit to the wealthy landowners.  Communal farmers did not keep many sheep – those they had were not able to withstand the Scottish winters well and were thin and did not produce much wool.  Then came the arrival of Cheviot sheep, which were sturdy and provided much wool and meat.  So, the wealthy landowners essentially displaced all of the communal farmers (who were tenants) off their land and replaced them with sheep, which provided them with a much greater return on their property.  The families were evicted from their homes and moved to Bettyhill and other villages along the northern coast or immigrated to other countries.  In another spot just down the road another memorial marks the location where another group of families were evicted from where their families had lived for hundreds of years – archeological evidence now reveals burial areas and what appear to be areas of worship that are many hundreds of years old.  Very sad stories of people being forcibly removed and sometimes burnt out of their homes.

After that sad bit of history we continued on our way, though finally had to stop and put on our rainjackets as our luck with the weather ran out.  It wasn’t too bad though and it stopped raining after only about 5k, just as we got to the edge of Loch Naver, a very beautiful lake.  There are very few houses or settlements in the area or around the lake – it all looks very pristine and the ride around the edge of it in the sunshine was lovely.  We stopped for morning tea – raisin scones purchased yesterday at a café in Bettyhill hit the spot.

We had a climb to our next destination but, continuing on with the theme of the morning, we had a nice tailwind that basically pushed us up the hill.  Not sure I’ve had such a pleasant ride uphill in a long time!  After cresting the top we had just a short downhill to the Crask Inn, one of the supposedly iconic pubs on this route.  We had a great lunch of ‘toasties’ (ham and cheese) and coffee and tea and watched the weather change from sun to rain and back to sun again.  There were 4 great dogs at the pub who were dying for someone to play with, so of course we had to entertain them while we waited for our lunch.

We finally pulled ourselves away from the pub after briefly considering stopping there (they have rooms as well) and made our way into the town of Lairg, essentially 20k downhill from Crask.  It was blustering again and some dark clouds but we made it to town and stopped at the grocery store to stock up on supplies before heading to the Lairg Caravan Park right in town without any more rain.  The park is nice though it has rained here quite a lot this summer, as evidenced by the very soggy ground.  We found a high spot to put the tent and even have a picnic table.  The ground is so wet that the friendly park duck has been wandering about right in front of the tent having a wee bath!  We’ve laid boards out front of the tent to get across one moat so hopefully we won’t have any more moats created overnight as we might be marooned on our own little island.

Dinner tonight is chicken with couscous – a nice change from pasta, provided it turns out okay.  Oh well, we can always have a bowl of porridge if all else fails.  We are in Scotland, you know, and porridge should be eaten every day we are told.

Tomorrow we are headed to somewhere near Dingwall, with a stop at Strathpeffer, the home of Dave’s ancestral clan, the Mackenzies (hmm, who would have ever guessed Dave had Scottish blood….).

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