DAY 2: From Orkney to Dornoch: Water-biking across the Pentland Firth in a World’s First Attempt
What makes the Pedal 4 Parks expedition so unique is the 70km our team will be covering over water. Today the team completed their first water section between Berwick harbour and John O’Groats, crossing 17km over the Pentland Firth in just 1 hour and 40 minutes! The stars all seemed to align as the team woke up to a calm sea and clear sky, the best conditions we could have hoped for given the dangerous tidal streams the water is known for. To the surprise of the shocked locals who had reminded us of the dangers in the water, including the Orca family we had encountered on shore the day before, the team, nonetheless, were keen and ready for the challenge ahead!
The delay of the night before meant that the team would not only be completing their sea crossing, but also cycling 150km on the other side to reach Dornoch on the North East Scottish coast. WIth a long day ahead the team were awake and preparing the water bikes at 4AM with the help of the support crew. In light of the potential risks, the team planned to cycle two at a time, rotating on and off to allow time for breaks. This was also great when setting up as we only had to blow up two bikes, leaving more time for breakfast! As we were setting up, Hamish rowed over to his boat to ready the support boat that would follow the team and ferry the film crew across the water. By 5.30AM the team were ready to set off into the unknown but as usual they had big smiles on their faces for the adventure ahead.
Much of the teams’ water bike training was done in lakes or ports, so when we were planning the timing of the crossing we had no idea how long it would take. Guessing around 3 hours, the team absolutely smashed this goal reaching the Scottish shore at around 7.30AM, cheered on by the support boat and treating themselves to a square sausage roll upon arrival. The team completed the journey so quickly that most of the support crew were still on the ferry when they reached John O’Groats!
As our photographers were on the boat with the cyclists we called in the wonderful Poul Brix to catch our team as they arrived. We LOVE his shot so check them out below.
While waiting for the rest of the support crew to arrive, the team took a moment to say thank you to all of their sponsors on this trip by holding up a banner with each sponsors logo!
Still high on the thrill of their once in a lifetime achievement the team cycled off from John O’Groats travelling West along the coast. Along the coast the roads were flat, giving the cyclists time to look out at the coastal landscape that they had been crossing just hours before. Partnered with Komoot, we have been able to plan the route of our trip, including the fantastic landmarks we are passing along the way. Today our first stop was at Dunnet’s Head, the most northerly point of mainland Scotland. Dunnet’s Head is rich in World War II history, and is surrounded by fortifications that were used to protect the naval base at Scapa Flow. The attraction is on the edge of the cliff face looking out over the Orkneys, so we were extra careful not to take the bikes too close to the edge! If the views weren’t enough, we were also lucky enough to see a group of puffins collected on the cliff! Being a prime location for bird-watching, our film crew managed to get some incredible shots as you can see below!
As the cyclists continued along the coast we couldn’t resist a quick stop at Dunnet Beach. Despite being on the sea all morning, we had to make the most of it while we were there! The cold sea made for a refreshing break and we found lots of signs that aligned with the Pedal 4 Parks mission, including the “Leave nothing but your footprints on the beach” as seen below!
To all of our disappointment, it was time to leave the northern coast to make way on our journey down the country. Although we lost the sea views, the team were now travelling through the highlands, being flooded with green spaces all around. A large portion of their journey travelled through a huge wind farm, a poignant setting for the first mainland leg of our journey. The route also followed much of the infamous NC500 road route (also known as the Scottish Route 66), showing off the best of the Scottish coast. Filled with sea, sand, caves and massive waves, the history and scenery of the NC500 is something not to be missed! (though sadly the team only had time to pass through). The couple of tire punctures and chain mishaps certainly seem less annoying when you’re looking across the highlands!
As wild camping is legal across most of Scotland our plan had been to travel to Embo beach and camp out on the sand like the night before. The changing weather made it quickly apparent that this spot wouldn’t be great for wild camping, and thanks to our fantastic support crew we managed to bag a last minute spot at the Durnoch Caravan and Camp Park. Although the wild camp would have been amazing, the park saved the day for our tired cyclists and we cannot deny that we were all secretly happy to have a shower on site to wash up after a long day of sweaty cycling!
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