Time: 2 hours 40 minutes
Average speed: 11.8 m.p.h.
Distance from Lands End: 1035.49 miles
Distance to John o’Groats: 0 miles
Number of islands cycled from bottom to top: 1
Number of happy tandemists: 2
The outskirts of Thurso were a little unpromising but the centre was better, and after recuperative showers we loaded up on carbohydrates at a simple but good Chinese restaurant. We didn’t dare open the fortune cookies, though – finishing on Friday 13th felt inauspicious enough already. Once again the lights were out good and early, although this far north the daylight continues to stream through the curtains well into the early hours.
A peep through said curtains this morning revealed a similar day, fairly cloudy with yet another northerly wind. Today, however, we were cycling east (mostly). We set off at 8.30 wearing our arm-warmers and, although it was cold, we were warmed by the prospect of arriving at our final destination. The first visual highlight of the day arrived fairly swiftly, as we turned a corner and Dunnet Bay was revealed. The wide sandy beach is sheltered by Dunnet Head, the most northerly point of the British mainland, and our first destination today. The strong wind was piling rolling waves onto the shore as we turned northwards into the wind and started to work our way up the Dunnet Head peninsula. By this time we were already receiving numerous toots of support and thumbs-up signs from passing motorists.
Cycling into the wind should perhaps have felt as hard as it did yesterday, but we knew it was four short miles to the viewpoint, and we made good progress. Passing a field full of highland cattle we stopped to take photographs, as we saw very few of them in the Highlands proper. The headland was covered in yellow gorse bushes, and as the road joined the coastline we started to get good views of Duncansby Head to the East. Apparently when the weather is good the view extends to Cape Wrath, the north-western tip of Britain, but low clouds, looking increasingly threatening, hampered our view.
The road to the viewpoint was uphill, but fairly gently so, and, passed by a succession of motor-homes, we made our way to the lighthouse. Here we paused to take a look at some lofty cliffs, but the wind-chill made standing still rather uncomfortable, so we soon hopped back on the tandem for the return journey down the peninsula. A very sharp gust of wind nearly knocked us over halfway down. On our way down we passed a couple of solo cyclists bent on visiting the same headland, and shouted encouragement to them.
The dark clouds were approaching rapidly from the north, and we quickly stopped to don rainwear, only just in time as a sharp shower began. Someone has clearly forgotten to program in the instructions for summer around here! With the wind now almost behind us though (for the first time in our journey) we dropped rapidly down from Dunnet Head and turned towards John o’Groats. As we headed past Castle of Mey in the distance the shower stopped. Determined to arrive proudly displaying our shirts we took off the rainwear.
Our progress along the coast was rapid, and the distance to John o’Groats diminished quickly. Finally, we arrived at a sign pointing left, giving a distance of a quarter of a mile to our destination. Shunning the sign’s instruction we turned right, determined to reach the true north-eastern tip of the mainland at Duncansby Head before returning to the bright lights (!) of John o’Groats. A two mile, slightly up-hill road took us up to our second lighthouse of the day. Again we were forced to don our rainwear as a second torrential shower hit the coast, this one featuring stingingly cold rain. On reaching the lighthouse we paused only briefly, cold now, and turned around for the return to John o’Groats. We cycled fairly slowly, savouring the moment, and soon enough we arrived at the famous signpost. “Back in ten minutes”, it read! We stood there anyway and hugged, it was a special moment.
After taking refreshment in the coffee shop we returned to have our picture taken at the signpost, trying to look as though our teeth weren’t chattering in the bitter cold. It’s June, for goodness sake! We returned to the coffee shop for warmth, and after a few minutes the photographer, spotting a marginal improvement in the weather, kindly sought us out for a second, more successful attempt.
Before too long Alex from Great Glen Travel arrived, we loaded the tandem securely into his trailer and we set off for Inverness. On reaching Helmsdale we were re-tracing our route, albeit in the opposite direction, and there were many cyclists heading in a northerly direction, looking cold but determined.
We dropped the tandem off at Square Wheels Cycles in Strathpeffer – they are shipping it home for us. After that we continued to Inverness where, with Alex’s kind assistance we bought rail tickets for tomorrow, and found accommodation for the night, alongside the River Ness.
So that’s it, we’ve done it! It hasn’t completely sunk in yet, but feels very good. In a week or so we’ll post some general impressions, and some advice for others planning the same trip. After that we will draw a line under this blog, as we’ll have said all we want to say…
….except perhaps about a future trip the length of France, already hatching in our long-term plans. It’s warm in France…!