With a population of not much over 1,000, Brora is well known these days for the fortunes of its football team. The Highland League champions lost out to Montrose on Saturday in a decider for promotion to the Scottish Football League.
But Brora has much more to offer than football. This part of Sutherland has some truly stunning scenery and I got close up and personal to it on a bike ride through Strath Brora to Golspie and back.
There is a downside which I’ll come to later, and I don’t mean the stretch of the A9 on the return leg to Brora, which is fine for confident riders.
For the most part the roads are quiet with peaceful views to match. And there are sections of new tarmac where a road bike will bowl along with little friction to impede the speed.
The headwind I was cycling against up Strath Brora did hold me back, however. But after leaving the houses, where I played leapfrog with a postie’s van as he delivered the mail, the power of the scenery took over and I forgot about the effort required to gain forward momentum.
The scenery gets better on exit from a forestry plantation. The strath opens up with Loch Brora and its backdrop of minor hills for company.
Approaching the end of the loch, the blades of the Kilbraur wind farm start to come into view and further on, as the road curves west over Balnacoil Bridge, the ugly turbines are in your face.
My dislike of these pustules on the landscape did my mood no good, and try as I might to forget about them I couldn’t. My eye was constantly drawn to them. No question that they, and those of Gordonbush wind farm to the east, have ruined this beautiful strath.
The road takes a dip down towards Dalreavoch and the turbines were out of sight for a time at least. The wind had dropped too so my mood improved and I decided to stop at Dalreavoch, where a bridge crosses the river, for an early lunch.
Riding on, in just over two kilometres I took a left turn by a phone box up a steep hill to the scattering of houses at Knockarthur.
Reaching the top ready for a fast descent, the full horror of the Kilbraur turbines greeted me and I felt truly sorry for the inhabitants of Knockarthur who have to face them every day.
I rode on, now heading into Dunrobin Glen and a fast descent towards Golspie. At Backies, where I took a left turn, the monument to George Leveson-Gower, first Duke of Sutherland, stood out against the skyline on Ben Bhraggie.
A short distance from the turn I bore right onto the minor road that ends at a bridge over the railway alongside the A9. From here it’s around five kilometres of easy riding on the A9 back to Brora.
A few hundred metres along the road is the entrance to Dunrobin Castle and opposite it the railway station, which is still privately owned by the Sutherland family. To emphasise the point there’s another monument to the duke on the other side of the track.
The picturesque station, on the far north line from Inverness to Thurso and Wick, is only open from April 1 to October 15, and is a request stop. To stop the train on the downward journey to Inverness you have to stick your hand out!
Back on the bike I was fighting a sidewind this time and trying not to get blown into the road. Fortunately most drivers sensibly gave me a wide berth and I reached Brora safely.
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