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To the edge of nowhere – London to John O’ Groats (26/19,413k, 205m)

(written by Nancy)

I survived the train, 16 hours in all.  Wrist bands and Dramamine did the trick again.  The sleeper car was ok, not too bad actually, only a bit bumpy.  We had an overnight train to Inverness, followed by a 4 hour train ride from Inverness to Wick.  The overnight train served complementary Starbucks coffee in the morning.  Think about that for a minute – can you imagine in the 1980s that the founder of Starbucks would have been thinking, “one day, they will serve my coffee on trains in Scotland” – not likely.

We arrived in Wick at about 3:30 and decided to ride a further 25k up to John O’ Groats, the official start of the end-to-end ride.  The ride was mostly along the coast, giving us a real taste of Scotland; lots of stone walls, buildings made of stone and the odd ruined castle thrown in for good measure.  It didn’t rain but there were lots of clouds about, along with some sunshine – very changeable Scottish weather.  We had a proper taste of the Scottish winds as well, strong head/cross winds tried to beat us back to Wick but we persisted.  We were pretty happy to see the sign for John O’ Groats just after 5PM.

John O’ Groats, the edge of Great Britain, really feels like the end of the earth.  The ride up was pretty desolate and there is not much here – no trees, not too many buildings and houses and a craggy exposed shoreline along the sea.  The folks are all very friendly though.  We are staying at the campground right on the edge of the sea and the proprietor kindly lent us his special plug so we could tap into the power.

Scotland is a popular spot for cycling and we have met several cyclists already.  On the train coming up from London we met one couple who were headed up here for a 10-day ride around the islands.  Then on the train from Inverness to Wick we met another cyclist, Tim, who had just flown back to the UK after completing a US cross-country tour and was now planning to cycle around the area and back down to England.  There was another cyclist at the campground when we got here as well.  So I expect we will see quite a few cyclists as we make our way down through Scotland.

Not surprisingly it is quite a bit colder up here – the air is very moist so it feels much cooler than we have experienced for several months.  I am sure we will wake up to a wet tent even if it doesn’t rain as the moisture is already collecting on the outside of the tent.  I guess that’s the price you pay for sleeping right on the edge of the sea.  Actually, it is technically the Pentland Firth, which Dave says is part of the North Sea.  We can see Orkney Islands just across the sound – quite a nice view.

Tomorrow we will probably make it a short day as we explore a bit of the coast.  There is supposed to be a nice castle not too far from here that was a favourite of the Queen Mother, and the most northerly point of Great Britain is also just west of here so we will take a few side trips.

Right now though it is late and time for bed…

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9 responses to “To the edge of nowhere – London to John O’ Groats (26/19,413k, 205m)

  1. Hi Nancy & Dave

    I’ve been drfiting in and out of your trip. The time is flying by.

    Saw you are in Northern Scotland.

    I’ve cycled the full John OGroats to Lands end – I was 16 so memory a little shakey.

    I would highly recommend going down the west coast – at least as far as Glasgow.

    Thurso – stayed in a youth Hostel at Tongue.
    Unapool
    Ullapool
    Skye – Kyle of lochalsh
    Road to the isles
    Ben Nevis

    There may be some flies around but the roads will be very quiet.

    Other areas to get to if you can in the North are

    the Lake District
    Yorkshire Dales
    Snowdonia
    North Yorkshire Moors

    Happy Cycling

    John

    • Thanks for the tips John. There is so much to see up here! Right now the plan is to follow the route in the Cicerone Guide that we are carrying, which covers some of the route you suggested but we will look at the other towns you mentioned as well. We are kind of playing it by ear so lots of opportunities to be spontaneous! Not quite used to the cold yet, I must admit – hoping that it doesn’t rain on us too much but perhaps that is a bit unrealistic up here.

      Nancy

  2. Hello, Scotland!!!! I’m adding it to my travel list! Have fun!

  3. or some Scotsman saying, gosh in 30 odd years I will be serving bad coffee from Seattle on this train. Which is harder to imagine? I would vote for the Scotsman.

  4. Hey Dave and Nancy!
    Loved seeing the pictures of you all with Oskar and Julia!
    As my family and I were just in Scotland (in Turnberry) we remarked at all the stone walls. Not only the sheer amount of rocks necessary, but many times the walls were almost vertical up and down the rolling hills! It is incredible that someone actually built them in the wind and rain and cold and sunshine and whatever other weather paterns you may come across there! Enjoy the ride and keep an eye out for the walls!

    • Hi Christy!  Yes, the rock walls are pretty amazing – would love to watch someone building one.  We’ll hope for weather patterns with more sunshine than rain but… it is Scotland after all.  We had such a great time with Oskar and Julia – I highly recommend a visit!

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  5. Are you counting England, Scotland and Wales all as separate countries? I think you can. Is there a official bicycle route you will be following or are planing your own route south to Lands End. I hope you have good weather. BTW It looks like to have a Hilleberg Nallo tent (we have a Staika)

    • Good idea for a future post on the countries – check back for that! We are loosely following the end-to-end route in the Cicerone Guide but will probably make some adjustments as we go along.  It is a pretty good book, with good details on the sights around the route and food and accommodation along the way.

      We do have a Hilleberg Nallo 3GT – it’s a good tent and we love the huge vestibule as we can get all the bags under cover with still lots of room to move around.  We have the Hilleberg tarp too which we use quite a bit – extra room in the rain as well as extra protection for the tent.  How do you like your tent?   Dave Ertel

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