This quiet, single-track road is ideal for a short cycle excursion from the town of Golspie in Sutherland. The route provides sea views, pine forests, tranquility, abundant nature and some surprises within a relatively small area.
The road begins with a row of cottages facing the shore. I passed Golspie Pier, where there is a scattering of small boats used for lobster and crab fishing. Lobster pots were stacked all around and I noticed that most of the boats are named after a family member of the skipper.
Behind the boats looms Ben Bhraggie, the hill that dominates Golspie's skyline. The mist was shrouding the statue of the Duke of Sutherland that sits on top of the hill.
I cycled by the Golf Links Hotel and then the Golspie Golf Club where the sign proudly announces the club’s foundation in 1889. The course was ranked number 54 in Golf World’s 2015 list of Scotland’s top 100 courses.
The road carried me through pine forest where songbirds replaced the wailing seagulls of the shore. The briny smell was taken over by Heather scent.
I got off my bike and walked among the trees, noticing the trunks and branches have hairy moss and lichen thriving on them. Even the passing place sign had lichen growing on it. I put my hands on the rough bark and flaky lichen and then brought my palms to my nose to inhale the forest scent.
This forest, Balblair Wood, has an amazing secret. It is home to a rare flower, the One-flowered Wintergreen. More than 90% of the UK population of this flower is in this forest. It can be seen in mid-June, so I was too early in the year, but I did find some snowdrops and crocuses alongside Loch Fleet.
Loch Fleet is a nature reserve and home to many mammals and birds, including seals, otters, roe deer, osprey, oystercatchers, geese and redshank.
The road ends at Littleferry where people once crossed to the other side. There are dangerous currents here and this led to several ferry accidents and prompted the building of a safer crossing in 1816 at the Mound causeway. Today I could see the waters swirling around, right up to the edge of the pier. It looked frightening and I made sure that I was not going to fall in!
The water is incredibly clear and I watched a shoal of fish scrambling around like crazy. They might have been small eels because they were long and thin. Today's rain might be keeping most humans away, but there was still plenty of life and activity going on here.
When the ferry crossing was in use this had been a busy place with about 70 people living here. Some of the buildings survive from that time, including the ferryman's house, storehouse, and the intriguing Customs and Mussel Inspector Building. I never knew that such a job existed and I wondered what it was like to work as a Mussel Inspector.
Outside one of the buildings there was a hammock strung between two trees. It looked the perfect place to kick back on a sunny day.
There was heavy rain during my cycle ride and I usually find that I am the only person daft enough to be out in it. But I was surprised by how many people I came across. There were several dog walkers heading into the woods, including a woman with a long wax rain cape who said to me "it's not weather for cycling!"
One man was throwing sticks into the loch, his collie obligingly jumping in to fetch. When I cycled back towards Golspie I saw two other cyclists: a little girl on a mountain bike and then a guy with a hoodie and headphones. His bike moved gently from side to side as he swayed to the rhythm of his music. I was not the only one who did not mind being out in the rain.
Getting there and distances
The single-track road to Littleferry is only about 3 miles long and largely flat. It will not take long to pedal there and back, but you could combine your cycle with walks in the forest. You could also spend time enjoying coffee and cake in Golspie. Poppy's or The Coffee Bothy are good choices. Not far from Golspie is Dunrobin Castle.
It takes just over 2 hours to reach Golspie by train from Inverness. The road to Littleferry is right next to the station, so you can mostly avoid the busy A9 road.The A9 goes through the centre of Golspie so it is difficult to completely avoid it when cycling to and from the town, but if you have come by train you can get to Littleferry with only a tiny bit of A9 to traverse and you can always just walk on the pavement if you prefer.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.