To The Lighthouse

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The settlement of Melvaig looks distinctly unsettled. There’s spaces between the cottages that wait to be filled but instead new residents build on plots flung out at awkward angles from the village and coastline. In many cases, it’s hard to tell when a house is actually an elaborate garden shed. Or a house built to look like a shed. Yet the village is somehow more than a random scattering; two chocolate collies pounding across the lawn might have something to do with that. They’re a single sign of life on this remote stretch of land beyond the loch.

Melvaig ends where a private track swoops towards the headland at an alarming gradient we guess to be at least 25%. This is the end of the road. This is where we’ve come to ride.

In a redundant passing place we get back the breath that the steep climb stole. From here the cottages of Melvaig are cowering, every hillock and tree has been claimed as shelter from the briney Hebridean wind. I can taste salt on my lips; it stings the cracks.

This is Highland riding.

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Our prize is the lonely tarmac that carries us past beaches where waves are turquoise right up to the moment they smash white against vertical cliffs. Sheep cling to grassy clumps. One brazen lamb stands firm as we cycle past, more curious than his friends who scatter at the whistle of air through our spokes. As we leave the blue weight of Skye behind, the horizon appears translucent; a piece of silk hangs between us and the rest of the world. We’re cycling towards the headland now and a surge of adrenaline sears right into my fingertips as I push towards the void ahead. We’re only a few miles from the last cottage yet we’re pioneers.

That’s why I’ll never tire of cycling Scotland’s roads. In minutes we can be alone. We ride full of triumph at being the only ones to venture into an undiscovered corner – even if it’s not true.

In the wind, we think we might never make it home. My pedals are getting heavier and I can measure every rise and fall of the road by the volume of my breath. A lighthouse is a lonely place by definition but the road leading towards Rua Reidh feels truly abandoned. Tangled whips of wool struggle in their barbed wire traps and draw attention to my own hair which is being forced from under my helmet at the mercy of the wind.

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A needle sharp tip is our first glimpse of the lighthouse. I blink rapidly to clear the hair from my eyes. The bulk of white washed concrete emerges just as the tarmac dissolves into gravel and eventually bare rock. A front of weather sweeps east. I’m having no trouble imagining the treacherous storms that wrap around the headland tormenting the lighthouse keeper, and more recently, adventurous guests.

We’ve not only run out of road, we’ve run out of land. There’s nothing for it but to turn our bikes around and head back to Melvaig. We’ll keep the sea to our right as it fills the loch and slows to linger on the shallow sands of Gairloch.