23 August 2012 – The start of JOGLE – John O’Groats to Thurso (50/19,463ks, 420m)
(written by Nancy)
We had a bit of a lazy morning and didn’t leave the campsite until almost 9:30. This was partly due to a rain delay – the rain started coming down hard as we were packing up so we hung out in the tent for a little while and sure enough the sun came out. The two other cyclists in the campground were up and heading out before 7am – I guess that’s what you need to do when you are on a schedule. We had a nice chat with the campground proprietor before we left and got some advice about where we might find one of the special campground plugs that we need to connect to the power points.
We decided today that we would take our time and try to stop at the touristy things along the route. The first stop was the Canisbay Church, which is the most northerly place of worship in Scotland. It is also where the tombstone of Jan de Groot, a ferry operator who died in 1568 whose name is apparently the origin of John O’Groats. There were some very touching tombstones; one noted a father who placed the tombstone in memory of 6 children who had all died at a very young age, then his wife who died when she was 27.
The next stop was at the Castle of Mey, only 7 miles down the road from John O’Groats. The castle was built in the 1560s or so and was held by the same family for many centuries. It fell into disrepair but was purchased by the Queen Mother in 1952, who then restored the castle and the gardens surrounding it. It was a beautiful spot, with views right out to the water. You can take tours of the inside of the castle but we just looked around outside and walked through the gardens, which are very beautiful (unfortunately Dave did not take enough pictures of the walled garden area, which was filled with numerous garden areas of different types and lots and lots of roses). Apparently the Queen Mother loved this place and spent time in this castle every summer. The property is now held in a trust and all profits from the tickets and visitors centre go to support the castle. See www.castleofmey.org.uk for more info.
After trying but failing to convince Dave that we should have tea and scones in honour of the Queen Mother we left the castle and continued our way west along the coast road. We took a detour to ride out to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point in mainland Britain. There is a lighthouse at the point; like everywhere it is now automated and the light keeper’s cottages nearby have been sold into private ownership (would be a tough place to live, I think). Interestingly, the lighthouse was designed by Robert Stevenson, the grandfather of Robert Louis Stevenson, the writer. Apparently Robert Stevenson and his descendants designed most of Scotland’s lighthouses, and some believe Robert Louis Stevenson got his inspiration for Treasure Island and Kidnapped from spending time with his father at this lighthouse.
We made our way back to the main road from Dunnet Head and continued into Thurso, taking a side road that worked its way through fields full of sheep and cattle. The sheep here look different than what we are used to seeing in Australia. These sheep seem very thick and round – not just wool, but really hefty sheep that must provide a lot of meat. And they seem to have big heads and big ears – a bit funny looking and almost a bit scary! We also some funny looking goats (?) with what look like antelope horns – not sure exactly what they were.
We weren’t sure how far we were going to go today but with all of the sightseeing stops along the way by the time we got to Thurso we decided we would just stop here rather than try to carry on and have another late day. We stopped at the visitor information centre and then headed to Tesco to get some supplies for dinner. Then we decided to try to see if we could get an adaptor plug at the place recommended by the fellow at the campground in John O’Groats. On the way out to the place he recommended we passed by an electrical supply store so stopped in to see if they had anything. And yes, success – we now have an adaptor that will let us plug in to the campground power points!
We are staying at the Thurso Bay Caravan park, right on the cliff above the water. We got the tent set up, showers taken and were in the process of cooking dinner when the first rain squall came through. The tarp came in handy again, as we can duck under the tarp and still cook without getting soaked. We had sausages, carrots and lentils – all very tasty with some naan bread thrown in.
The rain and sun have been trading places all evening but we got enough sun shining through the clouds to give us a good sunset. I am sure we will have some more rain overnight and tomorrow’s weather looks kind of iffy, with perhaps more rain than we had today. We will plan to go as far as Bettyhill tomorrow, the last town before we head south, and see how things are. It’s only about 50k from here so it should be another easy day, depending on the weather, of course!