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Friday 21st June

  • From: Tongue
  • To: John O'Groats
  • LEJOG miles cycled: 66.17 (64 planned)
  • Miles cycled: 1076.78
  • Map of the Journey  

At lunch time we opened the door –
A church in a pub, on the moor!
We heard no long sermons
Then in came two Germans
And Steve may have mentioned the war.

(This first limerick is the concatenation of two stories which I will explain shortly!)

The last day – rain and mist – John O’Groats!
Then sunshine! (I’ve run out of quotes)
No time for ovations
I’ll bank your donations
And Steve has to write up the notes.

Mid-summer’s day – a day I looked forward to with trepidation – due to the mileage appended to by the trip to B&B at Wick, and additional planned 16 miles from John O’Groats.

So far we have been amazingly lucky with weather, only two short periods where we sheltered from rain and most days fantastically sunny and warm. However, the weather was changing and we set off this morning amid low cloud and fine drizzle causing us to don wet weather gear on top of everything. Visibility was severely limited as we left Tongue and those great views of Scottish scenery eluded us for the whole morning until we crossed from Sutherland to Caithness, a county border where everything seems to change – scenery, wilderness to rural (but rough) farm land, and steep up and down valleys to more gently rolling hills.

So we left Tongue and very quickly saw a murderously long and steep hill, with, in the distance, two cyclists struggling up it honking from side to side of the road – honking is the act of standing up in the pedals to try and make forward movement on steep hills without changing gear (or when you have ran out of gears). Well we took in the hill, chewed it up and spat it out for breakfast and what’s more overtook the two cyclists by the top! How fit have we become – this would have been an OFI hill some weeks ago.

The two cyclists turned out to be two retired gents from Nottingham whom we had met a few times before, and, as you will see in tomorrow’s blog entry will meet again in sadder circumstances.

We reached the Bettyhill viewpoint but saw no views – the murk was all encompassing by now. At Bettyhill (about 16 miles in) we reached the first of our planned four tea stops for the day. These were at generally evenly spaced points at the only communities en route. However, the stop at Bettyhill was closed due to “family commitments” and we thus had no refreshment until 30 miles into the route. A quick energy bar and drink of water had to suffice. We had a few more long steep hills which we took in our stride now and rode on to Melvich just before noon where the local pub did teas and coffees plus food. The weather had now begun to clear and the big hills disappear.

As we arrived a large group were just leaving and it turned out to be the group we had met at Carlisle Station a week ago, doing a route through Ayshire and Glasgow and raising funds for the Alzheimer’s Society. Now here we explain the second limerick. Apparently yesterday we had been to the remote Crask Inn when what looked like the aftermath of a Church service was in progress. The ‘Carlisle’ cyclists (who are actually from York) had just missed us, departing just before we arrived. They had arrived at the inn as the service was in full progress and hymn singing was in full flow. They failed to get served - we had timed our arrival just right!

So we entered the pub for refreshments to find an old boy having his whisky chaser at 11:45 and a lady behind the bar who sounded just like Helen Shaw from my sailing club (Middlesex accent).

Now for some reason we got talking about a chocolate fireguard – I have no idea why – and this reminded me of a Colonel I had worked with on a project where we had referred to him as a chocolate teapot, due to his inability to do very much. This led me to remark as to how we had ever managed to win any wars! Robert now started signaling furiously with one hand and shaking his head – it was then I noticed the two German motor cyclist sat behind Robert. You can’t make this stuff up! We creased with laughter, I almost cried. Thankfully they either did not notice or were too polite to do so. Very British poor stereotypical behavior from me- ahem.

Dounreay nuclear power station, being decommissioned, approached next, near the town of Reay. It’s a good job the town was not called Ray otherwise we may have had the facility of Doomray!

Thurso, our next scheduled stop and nice café (well I liked the cake – Robert thought it was awful), welcomed us with a wonderful Baronial architecture styled hospital which looked new or refurbished. We bumped into the Nottingham cyclists again here.

Miles were beginning to feel long and arduous now but thankfully no significant hills as we plodded on to John O’Groats in what seemed like a trip taking forever now. In the backs of our minds was the though that this was not the end – as we had the additional mileage to Wick to deal with afterwards.

Now everyone had warned us before hand how dour and run down John O’Groats was. I can report differently. The land is under new ownership (the same person owns Land’s End) and he is part way through significant and excellent redevelopment with up market shops and restaurants.

We had official photos taken at the signpost (where the signage can be customised – so we added Tynedale Hopice on to the finger post) plus our own photos – see Facebook until I can add photos here – and then made use of the excellent café for refreshment and rest plus some manly backslapping before girding our loins for the trip to Wick. By now it was really warm and clear which helped us no end – this would have been an awful journey in the wet.

Before leaving we again met the ‘Carlisle’ cyclists who had just arrived and had a congratulatory chat and then took some group photos for them.

I will write a separate entry for that part of the journey and our overnight stop plus provide you with some more news of the ‘Nottingham’ cyclists.

Don't forget you can also see more, including photos, posted more promptly than the blog on my Facebook page