It was all going so well. The sun was shining and, despite a slight headwind, I was enjoying good progress up Strath Brora.
Loch Brora was shimmering in the sunlight and the crags of Carrol Rock could be seen ahead. I stopped in a passing place on this quiet single-track road to take a couple of photographs.
As I set off again, I heard the noise – and felt the chain slip off the sprockets. It had snapped clean through one of the links.
Here I was, four miles outside Brora and with no way of pedalling. There was nothing for it, I would have to turn back – and leave this fabulous cycle route for another day.
The plan was to head over the hills to Rogart, a 17-mile road ride with little traffic to worry about. I’d started in Brora, where there are a few options for car parking and the railway station all offering potential start points.
I left the car at the village centre car park, just behind the Co-op store, and headed right on the bike onto the A9. Take the road left immediately after the bridge to parallel the River Brora on a minor road that leads past a picnic area and heritage centre.
Keep straight ahead at a few junctions and you’re soon well out of the village and into the more remote rural areas inland.
After a forested section, you emerge to see Loch Brora in all its glory, with Ben Horn over to your left at 520m above sea level. There’s a wind farm tucked away on the other side of the hills but thankfully it was out of sight for now.
It was along this stretch where I had to turn around after my chain snapped but the road continues through Gordonbush to the end of the loch.
Further on at Balnacoil it crosses the Black Water before climbing higher into Strath Brora.
Cross the River Brora before another steep climb to the highest point of the ride at 171m then enjoy a long descent through Rogart, keeping straight ahead at the many junctions in this scattered parish.
If you cross the main road at the bottom, you’ll reach Rogart station, a request stop on the Inverness to Thurso line with its own unusual accommodation. Hostellers can stay in one of two old railway carriages at the station, known as Sleeperzzz.
Unless you’re planning on staying over, there are a number of options for the return journey.
The first option is taking the train back to Brora, though this technically requires booking a space for the bike – a continuous hindrance to encouraging joined-up active travel across Scotland.
If you choose to cycle back, you can return by the same route or follow the A839 to meet the A9 by The Mound and follow the trunk road north for 10 miles to Brora. That’s not an option I’d recommend unless you’re experienced at cycling on roads with such heavy traffic – the A9 is narrow for long stretches on this section and doesn’t offer much respite.
The better option in my opinion is to follow the minor road back up to the crossroads near Knockarthur (a fair climb, I’ll admit!) then turn right to tackle more hills up to Dunrobin Glen on the Backies road that emerges near Dunrobin Castle on the A9. If you’re not on a road bike, you could even follow the Queen’s Drive forest track through Dunrobin Wood and cross the River Brora at the Bridge of Doll, skipping out any need to use the main road at all.
As for my ride, it was a long trudge back along the minor road. I kept calm and tried to enjoy the peace of this beautiful spot until I finally found a downhill stretch where I could freewheel for the final mile, oily chain stuffed in the side of my rucksack.
Back home, Kenny at Bikes of Inverness soon had my chain sorted – including a spare link in case it breaks again.
That evening, I enjoyed a quick spin out to Dores on Loch Ness just to reassure myself that the bike was in order. No problems, and I’m ready to tackle another ride. Next time I’m in Brora, I’ll make sure I finish this one.