Rushing water, forests, moors, snow covered mountains, a tranquil loch, no traffic to speak of and a thrilling descent are reasons to take the longer and quieter road between Golspie and Dornoch in Sutherland.
Even on a map these roads excite me. A thin white line heading into the wilderness towards a small loch. It has lots of twists and turns and no sizeable settlements marked on it. I always seek out roads like this on my map because I know that they will be perfect for cycling. There will be hardly any traffic and stunning scenery.
Leavng Golspie there is no choice but to cycle on the A9 for a short distance, about 4 miles, but I know that it will be worth it to reach the single-track road. It passed in a blur as I kept my head down and focussed on getting to the turn-off. I remember a garden carpeted in snow drops, geese gathered in a field and a sign warning of otters ahead. The highlight was crossing the bridge over Loch Fleet at the Mound where there is a fast descent and a stunning backdrop of hills.
I can tell you that I started to feel anxious. The traffic was not too bad at this time, but it still made me nervous. Those feelings disappeared immediately as soon as I turned on to the single-track road marked for Loch Buidhe. It was instant transormation and I became relaxed and calm.
It was not long until birdsong was the only sound. Even the sheep were quiet. They were well hidden within the trees, keeping a close eye on me and dashing off whenever I tried to take a photo. Sometimes I got a fright when I saw their white faces staring out from the trees.
I wondered what they found so interesting within the forest so I stepped off my bike and took a closer look. The forest floor was lush and bouncy in greenery, including clumps of moss. I bent down to take a closer look at the moss and found intricate detail, as beautiful as any wildflower.
The road ran alongside a rushing burn so this became my soundscape and I loved it. There is nothing like the sound of water making its way through the countryside to clear your head.
I love surprises on these roads and there was one waiting for me just around the corner. There was no warning. It came out of the blue. All of a sudden. There was a gushing waterfall right by the side of the road. I had no idea this was going to be here. There was no mention of it on the map or in anything I read about the area. I loved that. My secret waterfall and I had it all to myself. I stayed here for ages watching it and enjoying the noise.
The road then enters Heather covered moors. This is a more barren and wilder landscape than what I left behind me. The road is flat and mostly straight and I was able to get up a good pace.
There was no sign of life apart from the sheep. The entire time that I was on the road I saw only three cars. I took my time and stopped frequently to appreciate the peace and quiet and have a good look around at things, like this barn with its rusty-red roof and ramshackle wooden doors:
This was such a wild and isolated place that it was hard for me to image living here. But somebody was. A little white cottage with a wooden door porch sitting in the moor surrounded by sheep. These sheep did not run away. They were relaxed and on this tranquil day this looked the perfect place to be. I could easily imagine this scene on a postcard stand.
But just yards away a sign hinted at the dangers of this place in the winter:
The next treat on this route was Loch Buidhe. This is the only place marked on my road map, so in my mind this was the landmark to aim for, the reason to come here.
The loch was still with barely a ripple on the surface. I stopped to enjoy the near silence. Only songbirds and the gentle trickle from a burn could be heard.
In fact, the loudest sound was my feet crunching on the sand of the beach. I was delighted to discover that the loch has a little beach that I could take a stroll on and go right up to the shore where the water was incredibly clear and I could see straight through to pebbles of different sizes, shapes and colours.
I could easily have stayed here all day. I imagined that on a warm summer's day this little beach would be the perfect little place to soak up some rays.
The road skirts the shore of the loch so I had great views of it and the hills behind it. This section of road had moss growing down the middle, nature's white line.
There were a couple of boats resting on the shore, perhaps for fishing trips or just a spot of fun.
After the loch there was more moorland and I started to wonder if I had now passed the best of this road. I was getting a bit too used to the moors and my mind stared to wander. And then, boom! Something amazing suddenly comes into view. The horizon had snowy mountains. It was stunning and I could not take my eyes off it.
This road was full of surprises.
I reached the junction where I was to cut down to Spiningdale. I stopped to take a photo of road signs and had an amazing wildlife encounter. A pine marten, with its characteristic creamy yellow bib, was scurrying about a short distance away. I was surprised how big it was. I thought they would be smaller than this. I tried to get closer, but it disappeared. I was thrilled. I had never seen one before.
This road had even more magnificent views of the snow mountains. I kept stopping every few yards to stare at them. I just couldn't get up a good pace because the view just kept getting better and I just had to stop and take it in.
A fast descent, twisting through the forest provided the climax to this road. I just let myself go, did not stop and enjoyed the speed and smell of pine in the air. It was the perfect way to end a perfect cycle.
I emerged from the forest into the village of Spinningdale where I managed to simultaneously freak out a pheasant and a large tabby cat. The former shrieked in horror and stumbled against a farm gate as it made haste. The latter scampered along a stone wall and into some bushes.
On leaving the village there is an uphill climb on the A949 that gives fantastic views over the Dornoch Firth and what I thought was a ruined castle. It is actually a cotton mill that was constructed in the 1790s and damaged by fire in 1806. The factory process of cotton-spinning gave the village its name and the cottages here were originally built to house the factory workers.
There is a standing stone alongside this road. The wall of the adjacent field carefully planned around it. There is nowhere for a car to stop here or nearby, but with a bicycle it was easy for me to take a closer look.
It is impossible to avoid the A9. On this route there is a total of 6 miles on the A9. This is a busy road and not recommended for inexperienced cyclists. Some parts of it are nice and wide with good lines of sight and provide plenty of room for overtaking vehicles. Other parts are much narrower.
A little further east of Golspie you can visit Carn Liath Broch, well worth the 3 miles there and back.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.