Day 47 Thurs 14 April: Militarily speaking, things have changed a lot since my few years as an aircraft technician in the RAF. I had no idea how far-reaching the privatisation of our armed forces had ‘progressed’. PFI in Education and Health has been openly controversial. But I’ve clearly been sticking my fingers in my ears and singing la-la-la whenever the defence budget has been debated. As warned by my knowledgeable flying bro Neil, there is currently a major NATO military exercise under way in the far north of Scotland, centred in this very region, i.e. Cape Wrath, Durness and beyond. What I hadn’t realised was the way the British, U.S. and other participating NATO forces now set up camp on such important occasions. The local Bunkhouse and many of the B&B businesses had NO VACANCIES signs on display at this normally quiet time, because they had been block booked by the MOD for military personnel. Their driveways and car parks were full of shiny new privately hired, civilian registered 4×4 vehicles. This is supposed to be a MILITARY exercise! When I were a lad, it were canvas tents, mess tins and dried rations and we moved around in blue-grey or camouflaged three ton trucks. Apparently, B&B at the Wild Orchid Guest House and Hertz rental leather upholstered Chelsea Tractors is now the preferred, more economical strategy. So, before I lose too much sleep worrying about who is planning to invade us via the North Coast of Scotland and whether we really are prepared, let’s talk about something else, like daffodils.
Warning: Controversial national emblem observation: There appear to be more daffodils per garden and per meter of roadside verges in Scotland than in Wales. If the flowering of daffodils is an indicator of the arrival of spring, then I have been travelling back in time. On leaving Bristol in late March, many daffs were already past their best. When I reached Carlisle and then Dumfries & Galloway, the daffs there were a week or two behind but still quite vibrant. By the time I reached the north coast of Scotland I’d begun to notice unopened daffodil bulbs. The chill in the air confirms it. Winter is creeping back!
Meanwhile, what about Lifeboats? A quick glance at the Lifeboat map somewhere on this page should show how far apart Lochinver (the last RNLI Station visited) and Thurso (the next one to visit) really are. This must be the longest stretch of UK coast between Stations. At least three days cycling around this part of Scotland when the weather is fine. Today brought a great improvement, with next to no wind. At a glance, Durness to Bettyhill is no distance. Just 18 miles in a straight line. By road, it’s about three times that, up and over many more hills, down the west side of Loch Eriboll, up the east side, over A’Mhoine, down to Tongue, back up to Bettyhill.