Saturday, June 30, 2012

John O’Groats

I got up at 6am planning to set the southward bound team a good example but they all looked so comfortable asleep I returned to my bed. When I woke again at 7am they’d gone, so too even Moag and Shannon. I was shocked into action.
I’d been told it was all hills out of Helmsdale until Wick. Though once armed with this information the hills don’t seem so bad, specially at the start of the day with still fond memories of a nice breakfast.
Alas it was raining quite hard and appropriately I then came across the signs to the ‘Clearance Village’ just off the road. The ruins were as forlorn as the weather.
Later I stopped at the Clan Gunn museum, where I briefly trailed puddles through exhibits. Clan Gunn is of Viking origin it seems. A mixed bunch the Scots.

Shortly after I spotted two familiar bikes at a tea shop to find Moag & Shannon tucking into a (very early to my mind) morning tea. Moag is already planning repeat End to End cycle trip next year. Oddly she says she does her ‘admin’ in the morning and often arrives at her booked accommodation in the dark after a tour of the nearby pubs. I was impressed. Then I ran into them again in Wick - about to have lunch, which for me was 2 slices if haggis eaten as I cycled.

The start of the day was marked by some long climbs and equally long downhill runs, one of which was so steep and windy I was glad I’d not disconnected the troublesome front brake and persevered and fixed it.
As the day wore on the rain increased and so did the headwinds and the landscape presented more and more dreary landscapes and ruined crofts. I decided to wind up the MP3 player and play my favourite restorative Irish jigs and reels and Battlefield Band tracks. I saved one of my other favourite tracks for the downhill into John O’Groats. The theme tune to the movie ‘Dances with Wolves.’ It brought tears to my eyes for some reason.
North of Wick the traffic eased but the road had one more trick up its sleeve which was a long haul up to the hill overlooking John O’Groats and the Orkney Isles. But then the sun came out and the skies cleared, just for me.

Shortly after I arrived at the famous sign for photos a swarm of (supported) cyclists arrived from Land End. Then numerous other individuals and pairs. Then Jez and Sarah, then Moag and Shannon. So we all took photos of one another among the throng of those other ‘End to Enders’ either leaving or arriving.

I was interested to see there were no End to End walkers the whole time I lingered there chatting.
Just as I was leaving the RAF team arrived and all waved me a greeting. We’d met up before and they’d commented on my 'stealth' bike. I wondered how I’d beaten them from just north of Glasgow until they explained. As well as cycling LEJOG, en route they’d also climbed the ‘Three Peaks’ (Snowdon, Skafell Pike, and Ben Nevis) and swum across the Lochs. OK I skipped Snowdon and the Lochs. And they said the woman in their team had slowed them down a bit!