After a warm day yesterday came the rain and the Scottish mist. My original route had been to carry on with the road to the Altnahara Caravan and Motorhome Club site (B873/B871) but seeing that Sustrans Route 1 (not Route 7 as I wrote yesterday) went the other way I did wonder about cutting back. One of those impulsive moments led me to opt for the B road unsupported as Barbara was definitely going by the more motorhome friendly A836. I was encouraged on my way by donations to ARUK from the wardens and other campers at the site. The road was wonderful, the weather less so. We followed the River Naver from the Loch to the sea.
The wet roads meant that I had to put a couple of turns on the engine engagement cable to try and get some traction and with that done the route was not too difficult. To ride to the sea felt quite special because once there John o’ Groats was just along the coast.
‘Just’ did not turn out to be the correct word. The coast here consists of sheltered bays interspersed with what must be high cliffs. The road went down and then with a sinking feeling up. The road out of Bettyhill (I should perhaps have guessed from the name) was hard, very hard. I was off pushing twice for extended periods. The high points were wild moorland, very sombre at this time of year.
I was off several more times before Strathy and wondering how today was going to go. However, after Reay the scenery changed, lower hills and greener, more pastoral landscape. The headwind, which had been a problem all day, was not abating despite the lower altitudes. I entered my last county.
Barbara was leap-frogging me along the road again and before Thurso she was waiting in a lay-by. The engine engagement lever was not easily pushing down on its clip and a little adjustment was necessary. We agreed to meet in Castletown.
The wind, still directly in my face and cold, continued to be the discouraging factor. Thurso, dour-looking but the first considerable town seen for some time came and went. The Rudge-Mini Motor combination was going well with some continuous light pedal assistance to counter the draft. The conflab at Castletown decided that we were going for it. The original plan had been to stop at the Dunnet Bay Caravan and Motorhome Club site and then to travel the last 12 miles tomorrow. It was 2.30pm, the Mini Motor was on song what was to stop us? Well the cold, the headwind and the threat of rain…
To be fair, it was not a difficult last section. The bike reached John o’ Groats pretty much as it started from Land’s End, under its own power but much, much dirtier. It was relatively level and the pedalling was more to counter the wind than the gradient. It is softer here that in some parts we had experienced but bleak. At Bridge of Forss there had been trees and you realised that unkowingly you had missed them since Strathnaver. They disappeared and did not come again. The Island of Stroma was hull down to the left in the Pentland Firth. Quite suddenly the sat-nav was displaying the little chequered flag that marks a finish. Not ‘a finish’ this time but ‘The Finish’. The countdown to John o’ Groats had been going on since Bettyhill. 55 miles, 37 miles, 20 miles (at Thurso) ‘1/4 mile’ it said at the left turn. I’ve read quite a lot of criticism of John o’ Groats in my planning stage. These are ends of the earth places and that it is their appeal and what they mean, lonely start and finish posts on the edge of oceans.
The old bicycle frame and the old engine had done well. They had carried me 1100 miles with intermittent pedal assistance and the occasional push. The replacement motor had remained in its box and the total repairs were: one new spark plug, one replacement spoke and a truly brilliant trueing of the wheel at Ironbridge by the tandem shop, one new inner tube, a couple of tightenings of the exhaust manifold, two adjustments of the chain tension and assorted tightening of various nuts and bolts.
Finally my thanks. Barbara has provided great support throughout both in the planning and execution of LEJOG. I expected that but I did not expect to receive such support and encouragement from our wider circle of family and friends. Thanks to all of you. My thanks too to friends and acquaintances in the motorcycle clubs to which I belong, the NACC, the BTSC and the VMCC. Thanks also to members of the EACC who have donated to ARUK. (https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/raleighrudginit)
I’d also like to thank the staff and owners at the various hotels and bed and breakfast establishments where I have stayed for their help and kindness. The Caravan and Motorhome Club have been our hosts on many of the stopovers and have always provided their expected standard of accommodation. I would also want to thanks all our colleagues in the Club’s staff who have provided encouragement and support and ditto to my former colleagues at Thomas Rotherham College. If you feel missed out in these thanks, don’t. All the support has been appreciated and has been a most important part of what has in total felt a wonderfully affirmative experience. Enjoy your own adventures.