Day 47 Weds 15-06-2005
Lybster to John O'Groats
Brenda does me proud - breakfast at 6:45. I told her that her B&B is perfect, and she expains that she is not listed with the local tourist board - too many boxes to tick on the forms. I have found that some of the best places to stay aren't listed - I think immediately of Mrs Henshaw back in the Midlands.
I planned to leave the A9, and follow dead straight lanes north toward the coast, via Watton. It was a good distance to cover to reach John O'Groats, over thirty miles, covering flattish land without much habitation. The day was warm and sunny, and I could picture myself celebrating later in the day, bathed in sunlight at John O'Groats. Little did I know...
The lanes were, if I'm honest, boring. I just wanted to get this day finished. I passed the Grey Cairns of Camster, two large, neolithic chambered cairns, but walked on without stopping. There was bleak farmland, and large areas of coniferous woodland. I got to Watten at 11:30. I popped into the local shop for a snack, and the woman inside commented that it would be a lovely afternoon for walking. Little did she know...
I walked past Loch Watten, a pleasing body of water, which brightened up the day, then continued along endless straight lanes towards the coast. The sky darkened, it became a little misty, and, of course, it started to rain, quite gently. I walked on, the road forever rose up to the next hill, only to reveal another arrow straight stretch to the top of the next rise. The gentle rain became heavier, and the temperature dropped.
Getting wetter and colder, I dripped along, thinking that the next hill would reveal the sea, which it didn't, of course. I put my head down, and kept walking. When I had given up all hope of seeing the sea, I looked up... and there it was! The Pentland Firth, part of the Atlantic Ocean, with the Island of Stroma huddled a mile or two out to sea, shrouded in mist and rain. I now had to head east along the coast for about three miles, to reach my ultimate destination. The rain fell harder, and felt freezing, I was very wet, but happy to be so near the end of my journey.
I passed the youth hostel at Canisbay, where I knew Jean and John were going to stay. The hostel was closed, but I asked a hiker who was planning to stay there to pass a message to them for me. I found out a couple of weeks later that they had arrived the next day, but did receive my message of congratulations.
The rain got heavier, and I eventually reached the village of John O'Groats. I turned north, and walked the last quarter of a mile down to the harbour, where there was a hotel, the famous sign, and a few touristy shops and facilities. It was about 3:30. I had finished!!!
When I imagined this moment, I thought of a place thronged with tourists, all watching this brave hiker finish an epic quest. I even allowed the assembled crowd to clap, as I struggled to hold back the tears. People would offer to take my photo, and shake my hand. As always, real life didn't match my expectation. I was soaked, freezing, not at all emotional, and alone!
I had to take a photo, but was reluctant to get my camera wet. At this moment a couple of gorgeous continental girls arrived, and I got them to do the honours with the camera. Then, a cyclist arrived, who just starting his own Lejog. I talked to him, and the girls wandered off before I could invite them for a celebratory drink. Oh well... Another cyclist arrived, who had just finished Lejog! I chatted to him, and asked him to come for a drink in the hotel bar. He declined, as he was also wet and cold, and wanted to get to the B&B back up the road, where he had booked a room. I arranged to meet up with him shortly, as I would also want a room at the B&B.
Alone, I wandered into the bar. The rest of the hotel was closed, but they kept the bar open. This was where the famous register was kept. Every successful Lejog walker, cyclist, runner, or whatever, should sign the register to mark their achievement. The bar was, thankfully, very warm, and I was, along with the bar man, the only person in there. I ordered a beer, and asked for the register. My hands were now so numb, I couldn't grip the pen, or my glass. I sat alone, near a radiator, and slowly thawed out. After twenty minutes, I could grip the pen, and left my message. I can't remember what I wrote, but I left a message for Richard, which he had asked me to do. I returned to my seat, and sent text messages to everyone back home. "Bloody hell - I've done it !!!!"
I had to have a second drink, some tourists from New Zealand came in, fresh off the plane, and eventually I felt warm enough to go back out into the rain and walk back to the B&B. When I had passed it earlier, there was a "Vacancies" sign, but now the sign said "No Vacancies"! Oh bu**er. However, Peter, the cyclist, had saved a bed for me! What a nice guy!
Later in the evening Peter and I went across the road to the pub for a meal. Peter is a postman, who started the Lejog cycle with a friend. His friend came off his bike, and had to retire hurt, so Peter carried on on his own. I learned something about him which struck me as a wierd coincidence: at work in the sorting office he had a freak accident, falling and injuring his head. He stopped breathing, and his colleagues had to use heart massage and mouth to mouth resuscitation until the ambulance arrived. Peter was lucky, and recovered from his head injuries. So I had now met four people in Scotland who had recovered from head injuries! Strange...
Mr and Mrs D J Steven
Caber Feidh Guest House