(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…