Day 1: Thurso to Carbisdale Castle

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“The Far North”

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Ben Loyal from Tongue.

After leaving Thurso along a quiet back road, the first part of the day follows the surprisingly hilly coastal road to Tongue, passing through Bettyhill. There are no less than six hills on this section, and the road – an A-road, but so quiet that it is a single track with passing places – meanders frequently across the fjord-like landscape. At Tongue, where the view to Ben Loyal is said to be particularly dramatic, we strike inland, climbing quickly and then passing through the bleak Flow Country. After Altnaharra, we have the big climb of the day, up to the lonely Crask Inn pub. Then it’s downhill all the way to Lairg and Invershin, passing by the Falls of Shin, before arriving at Carbisdale Castle, which must be one of the most spectacular youth hostels in Britain if not the world.

Distance: 145km
Climb: 1324m
BRT Time: 8h 42
Max Height: 269m (The Crask)
Off-road Sections: None
Accommodation: Carbisdale Castle YH

Itinerary & Hills

  • 0km: 0830 – Thurso
  • 17km: 0930 – Reay
  • 19km: Reay climb – 80m in 3km (3%)
  • 27km: Melvich climb – 70m in 2.5km (3%)
  • 33km: Strathy Inn – 100m in 2km (5%)
  • 40km: Crasbackie Hill – 90m in 1.5km (6%) steep
  • 49km: 1130 – Bettyhill (Stop 1)
  • 49km: 1200 – Bettyhill
  • 54km: Achnabourin climb – 100m in 1.5km (7%) steepkotm
  • 59km: Borgie climb – 70m in 1km (7%) steep
  • 70km: 1325 – Tongue (Stop 2)
  • 70km: 1410 – Tongue
  • 71km: Tongue climb – 120m in 2km (6%) steep
  • 88km: Cnoc Staing – 110m in 3km (4%)
  • 97km: 1550 – Altnaharra
  • The Crask climb – 180m in 12km, consisting of:
    • 100km: Altnaharra climb – 80m in 4km (2%)
    • 107km: The Crask – 100m in 6km (2%)
  • 108km: 1635 – The Crask
  • 109km: 1640 – Crask Inn (Stop 3)
  • 109km: 1710 – Crask Inn
  • 130km: 1815 – Lairg
  • 138km: 1845 – Falls of Shin
  • 142km: Invershin Bridge
  • 145km: 1905 – Carbisdale Castle

Route Narrative

  • B874 road S from Thurso to Thurso Golf club
  • Turn right, take minor road E from Thurso to Reay, via Westfield.
  • Turn left, take A836 W from Reay to Tongue.
  • Bear right, take A838 briefly to Tongue village itself.
  • Turn around, take minor road to right, back onto A836.
  • Bear right, continue S on A836.
  • At Lairg, bear right briefly W onto A839.
  • Turn left S onto B864.
  • Turn left E onto A837.
  • Turn right S onto A836.
  • At Invershin, cross bridge by railway.
  • Take minor road right to end.

Contigency

  • Train from Lairg to Culrain – leaves 1830, arrives 1840. Saves around 10km near the end of the route.
  • Train from Thurso to Culrain – leaves 1305, arrives 1519. Misses out the full stage. Note that the North Highland Line has very limited space for bikes, reservations may already be taken up by Lejogers.
  • 9km can be saved, and four of the hills avoided, by taking a (less scenic) shortcut along the B871/B873 road from just past Bettyhill, to Altnaharra, via Davina Lodge. Lunch would then be at Altnaharra.

Cycle Shops
Thurso, Brora, Dingwall, Inverness.

Average July Weather
Altnaharra: Max 15°C, 30% chance of rain.

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