I awoke today to blue skies and sunshine, a promising start. However, by the time I left it had started raining, and the weather would continue to be very changeable - intermittent sunshine and showers, with several rainbows to be seen throughout the day. The one constant was the cold northerly wind. This was probably as strong as yesterday, but (especially in the morning) I was generally not heading straight into it or was going through more sheltered parts so it didn't seem quite so bad.
Early on I passed some imposing ruins labelled "Ruthven Barracks" on my way out westwards along the quiet B970 (still following NCN 7 from yesterday). This was a pleasant ride through forested country with masses of heather all over the place. Some time after passing by Loch Insh, the road turned into Aviemore, which for some reason was besieged by hundreds of leather-clad (motor-)bikers. They were everywhere, filling every available pub and guest-house car park, as well as many more on the roads than there were cars. I even spotted one, which had obviously had some kind of engine trouble, being doused by a fire-engine! On the very busy (and distinctly un-Sustrans-like) A95 out of town yet more bikers were arriving from the north.
Thankfully, NCN 7 soon left the A95 onto a B-road to Carrbridge (at this point the flow of bikers reduced to a slow trickle). Then came a steady climb up through the pass of Slochd. The route here was parallel to the A9 and, like yesterday's pass, the wind was incredibly strong. Luckily this was a much shorter climb, however, and soon followed by a rapid descent to more sheltered parts at Tomatin.
Early in the afternoon, I passed through Culloden, site of the last battle to be fought on British soil. Unfortunately, signing here (both general road-signs and NCN signs) was pretty poor, and I missed seeing the battlefield location itself - the only sign mentioning it had been a couple of miles before the town. So, I was soon threading my way through Inverness (now following NCN 1), eventually crossing the Moray Firth on the bridge carrying the A9. Passing Inverness somehow made me feel that I'd finally made it to "The North"!
The last few miles across the Black Isle to Dingwall were again a bit of a struggle into a very strong wind, but I arrived at last to my B&B. This was not in fact the one I had originally booked; I had received a call at the top of a mountain in Lancashire to say the owner had been called away, and giving me details of an alternative. I think I did well, however, as the one I've ended up in is right on the edge of town with fantastic views across the Cromarty Firth.
Distance: 66.7 miles
Total ascent: 1202m
Cumulative distance: 899.9 miles
Interactive route map and profile: http://ridewithgps.com/trips/2009