A Challenge and a Record.

Mary and Matt Hodges
A Sunday morning in August and we stood gazing anxiously across the Kyle of Durness waiting for the Keoldale ferry. We had just ridden from Durness Youth Hostel and wanted to ride out to the Lighthouse on Cape Wrath.

Waiting for the ferry were about two dozen people including several cyclists and a small party of Venture Scouts who were going out to the Lighthouse on the tourist minibus. They were to walk along the west coast to Kinlochbervie as part of their Queen’s Scout expedition. Others were going bird watching. But for us the question was "Will the ferry take us?" Perhaps I should mention Matt and I were on our Greenspeed recumbent tandem trike; ten feet long and over three feet wide. We were getting used to remarks such as "I never seen one of them before" or "did you make it yourself?" and to generally being the centre of attention as we worked our way round the north west coast of Scotland. We were on our way from Land’s End to John o’Groats, but first we wanted to complete the Cape Wrath Challenge.

Cape Wrath, the north west tip of Scotland, is said to be the most remote spot on the British mainland. The CTC issued the Cape Wrath Challenge for those cycling to this isolated lighthouse. The only real access is by passenger ferry across the Kyle of Durness followed by a long and rough track across a bombing range. There is a route along the west coast from Sandwood Loch but this involves carrying your bike for several miles. There is no access for cars but in the summer two minibuses are floated across to take tourists out to the lighthouse.

It was a fine, dry day, not too sunny and with a fresh northerly breeze. Quite a good day for cycling. But would we be allowed on the ferry? We needn’t have worried. "No problem" declared the ferryman "I’ll take you across, but you’ll never ride that thing to the lighthouse. You’ll not get beyond the first mile." With a challenge like that what could we do?

We had to wait until all the minibus customers had gone but then we loaded the trike without difficulty. It filled the ferry. As we replaced the panniers on the other side the stakes were raised, "I want to see if they can ride up the brae, wait a bit Dad so I can watch them." This was the ferryman’s young son. It would be very embarrassing if we just spun gravel out from the rear wheel as we had on a private road at Acharacle. We set off up the brae at a crawl, but up we went.

The road out to Cape Wrath Lighthouse is some eleven miles of public road. True it is a surfaced road - of sorts. But the tarmac in the centre has deteriorated and been replaced with grass, rushes and heather. We were faced with two good wheel tracks. Fine on a bike - take your pick of which track you ride on. Quite a problem on a trike. We solved it by keeping the rear wheel and one of the front wheels on one track. The other front wheel bumped along in the centre or off the edge. Three years ago we did the out and back ride on our ordinary tandem, in less than three hours. This time we took well over four and couldn’t allow ourselves any time to stop for rests or to contemplate the magnificent views.

We came across the Venture Scouts again, sitting near the lighthouse. "We thought you’d be miles away by now." It turned out they’d lost an essential map and were waiting for someone to bring them a replacement. The next minibus brought them what they needed and they set off along the clifftop track.

Meanwhile we took the compulsory photos to prove we’d reached Cape Wrath. We just had time for a quick mug of soup and a couple of Mars bars from the tea van before we had to set off back. The tea van is a new development since our last visit - and a very welcome one for us. We were able to keep our own food supply in reserve in case we missed the boat and were benighted. Fortunately it didn’t come to that. We put all our effort into the return trip, but even so the speed on uphills was down to 2 or 3 mph. There were several readings of 1 mph. On a bicycle we’d have fallen over! Twice on downhills we had to stop to pick up a water bottle that jumped out of its cage.

Back at last to the ferry, triumphant. Fortunately the ferryman hadn’t knocked off at three as he’d said. It wasn’t a long ride - only 22 miles but very hard going. It had taken us most of the day. After this John o’Groats was a piece of cake.

We think we are the first to complete the Cape Wrath Challenge on a recumbent tandem trike. At least the ferryman said he’d never taken one across and there isn’t another feasible route. So we’re claiming the record for First Recumbent Tandem Trike at Cape Wrath 6th August 2000.