Day 67: 28th June 2017

     Start:  KEISS.        Finish: JOHN O’GROATS

I woke early and just lay awake staring into my tent for the last morning of my LEJOG, thinking about how I would feel as I reached the end of my journey. I got myself ready and set off for Wick town centre where I would catch the service 77 bus to Keiss before completting the final few miles to JOG. I grabbed myself a quick coffee and a bacon bap from Wetherspoons and turned up at the bus station with plenty of time to spare. A short time later a bus arrived showing ’81’ and the driver pulled in just beyond the bus stop. I waited for a few minutes before I checked the front of the bus and saw the number had been changed to ’77’. I boarded the bus, had a giggle with the driver about the change of numbers and less then 15 minutes later I arrived in Keiss. I then stood in On Keiss Main Street and considered what I should do. The A99 would be nice and simple and I’d be there in just a few hours, alternatively I could jump back onto the John O’Groats trail and see how it goes. I really didn’t want the last day to be a quick plod along the tarmac of the A99, so despite my misgivings about the JOG trail I decided to give it one more go. Almost immediately I was rewarded with fantastic views and great walking as I walked towards old Keiss Castle which is sitting on the edge of the cliffs looking out towards the sea with only the occasional seagull for company. It’ll be a sad day when it finally topples into the water. I continue along the coast with several barbed wire fences to jump. On one occasion I lost my balance and fell onto the ground narrowly avoiding a large cow pat. I just laughed to myself, cos nothing was going to spoil today’s mood. There was a visible path along the edge of the cliffs and plenty of opportunities for photographs and sometimes just stopping and taking in the atmosphere. Near Brought Head I passed a small monument at the ‘Brock’. Now I’ve passed several of these ‘Brocks’ in the last week and wondered what they were about. They come in various states of ruin and apparently stem from the Iron Age. The actual purpose of the structures is still being argued about in archaeological conversations and the largest concentration of these is in Northern Scotland.  I pushed on and could see Freswick Bay in the distance. I wanted to push on along the coast for as long as I could but ultimately knew I would need to rejoin the road after Freswick Bay, leading into John O’Groats. That was the direction that Gemma was expecting me to arrive from. Before that I came across another ruined castle, near Castle Geo. this one is also teetering on the edge of the cliffs and I stood there wondering how far the cliffs had eroded since its construction. I had several more barbed wire fences to contend with before arrival on the Northern end of the bay. There was no easy access to reach the A99 from Freswick Bay so I just had to walk across the fields and the dense bracken until I stepped onto the road near to Warth Hill with about 2 miles to walk to JOG. I set off and within minutes I saw Gemma driving by. I was so fortunate that the weather was just about perfect and I could see for miles on every direction. As I approached, I could see Gemma standing next to the famous John O’Groats sign and just strode onwards. When I reached the sign I wasn’t quite sure what I should do next. I wanted to shout out or yell something but there were lots of tourists lingering around the sign. Me, Gemma, Ben and Ruth then set off to walk with Alfie towards Duncansby Head and visited the Stacks of Duncansby.

 Walked: 1,012 miles   Percentage completed: 100%

 

N.B. I want to thank everybody for taking the time to read my blog and any comments left were much appreciated. I think it’ll take a few weeks at home before the efforts of what I’ve just done sink in. I know I didn’t scale Everest or anything of that magnitude, however I’m pleased to be part of a small club that has walked from Lands End to John O’Groats. The memories will live with me forever. Th


Day 66: Tuesday 27th Junev 2017

       Start:  THRUMSTER.          Finish:  KEISS

I’ve had several nice texts and telephone calls in the last few days from family and friends. Thank you to each and everyone, it was with all your support and the occasional contact that helped to get me to this point. I caught the X99 bus from Wick to Thrumster this morning and after initially crossing the road to the other bus stop I set off in earnest back towards Wick. In no time at all I was back on the Southern fringes of Wick and quickly through the town. Unusually I wasn’t feeling hungry so didn’t feel the need to stop and pick up anything. After leaving Wick there really wasn’t that much to see. I would stop occasionally to look around at the views, particularly the Lighthouse at Noss Head and the cliffs along Sonclairs Bay. On arrival at KEISS I had only a short wait for the service 77 bids to arrive to return me to Wick. Have spoken to Gemma and confirmed she’s be there at the finish line waiting for me as I hopefully walk across it. Short blog today, not much to say about the walk along the tarmac.

       Walked:  12.1 miles.            Percentage completed:  98.9 %

Day 65: Monday 26th June 2017

    Start: DUNBEATH         Finish: THRUMSTER

I’ve calmed down this morning. After yesterday’s difficulties I’ve now recovered both physically and more importantly mentally. Mind you, I’m still not going back onto that John O’Groats trail. As I was getting ready this morning I had a minor disaster, my right boot lace snapped. I’d already snapped the left one about two weeks ago and on that occasion I’d used the spare lace that I always carry in my pack. I’d been constantly telling myself since then to replace the spare lace but never got around to doing it. I managed to do up the right boot with the snapped lace as best I could and would have to keep my fingers crossed and make finding a replacement a priority for today. I immediately set off along the A9 and within a few minutes I spotted several others walking ahead of me, walking along the same side of the road, also heading North. I’d not seen any other LEJOGers since Alex and Graham near Taunton in early May.

Eventually I caught up with the members of this small group. Four friends from the Isle of Jersey who were walking LEJOG together. They were planning on finishing on Thursday, the day after me. We talked and walked for a while until we reached Lybster. We were all saying how desperate we were to try and get a coffee and a slice of cake from Lybster but when we enquired with a local lady she told us it would mean leaving the A9 and walking an extra mile each way to reach the nearest cafe. The group decided against it but I really needed something to eat, I hadn’t eaten anything other then snack bars since my Sunday roast yesterday. I also needed to find a new boot lace.

Sheep

I left the group and we wished each other good luck. Fortunately the small shop in Lybster was really well stocked and it had everything I needed. I grabbed some food and then sat down on a bench near the public toilets. I quickly consumed the two cold steak pies washed down with a litre of raspberryade. This wasn’t exactly 5* cuisine but it would do me until I could find something better. The store had even stocked shoe laces, result. They weren’t boot laces but they would have to do me for the next few days. Back onto the A9 I plodded on covering the miles quickly. I was slightly concerned about where I would be spending the night as there’s very little in the way of amenities between Dunbeath and Wick. After a little bit of  internet research I decided that it would be possible to spend the next two nights at Wick, using the local buses to help me. On arrival at Thrumster I boarded the X99 which took me the additional 4 miles into Wick. I’d board the same service tomorrow morning to return me to Thrumster.

Horse

Wick is a good sized town with everything I need for the next two days. Brent, you’ll  be pleased that I even found another Wetherspoons pub, ‘The Alexander Bain’. The only thing I couldn’t find was a wi-fi signal to update the blog. I’ve posted some pictures of farm animals as there was nothing else to photograph along the A9.

 

 

         Walked:  16.6 miles.         Percentage completed:  97.5 %

Day 64: Sunday 25th June 2017

  Start: North BRORA.         Finish:  DUNBEATH

I don’t give these posts titles, I just don’t have the imagination too think of decent ones each day, if I did I’d call this one ‘From Heaven into Hell’. The heaven happened yesterday and the hell was pretty much the whole of today. It was already going to be a tough day I as intended getting to Dunbeath, some 26 miles away? Mind, the first ten minutes was fine as I completed walking along the Brora golf course. The route then takes you along the thin strip of land between the railway line and the beach, I would alternate between these for the next few miles, the beach being rocky in parts and difficult to walk on with a heavy pack. Also it seemed that every seabird along the beach took exception to my presence. When I reached the water inlet near Lothbeg Point I wandered along the bank wondering how I was going to cross whilst remaining relatively dry, the water was fairly deep and fast flowing. I slowly managed to find a way across using some large rocks and my walking pole for balance. Shortly after, I crossed over the railway line and encountered the unusual and unsightly caravan grave yard hidden amongst the dunes. I pushed my way further inland through the caravans, unbelievably some were still occupied.  There was also the occasional WW2 lookout post, which are located along the coast. Further inland any path just seemed to disappear and I had to pick my way through the long grass and nettles until I got to Helmsdale. I managed to find the ‘Thyme and Plaice’ and for only the second time on my entire LEJOG I got myself a Sunday roast dinner. As I was sitting eating my food I seriously considered leaving the John O’Groats trail and just taking to the A9. Being the stubborn fool that I am, I decided to give the trail another go, bad mistake.

When I first left Helmsdale I enjoyed the simple track leading along the coast but gradually this just disappeared into the long grass. The next 4 miles towards Badbea is undoubtedly some of the toughest walking I’ve ever done and wouldn’t want to repeat it. I effectively had to fight my way through tall fern bushes and thorn bushes on the side of a cliff. Occasionally you come across a 6ft high wire fence which you have to then climb over, not easy to do with 30lbs on your back. When I came across a ravine/gully there’s no visible path so I had to try and find my way around, several times I had to grab onto the vegetation to stop myself tumbling down the side. I was so pleased that the visibility was good and conditions were dry. I don’t pull any punches when it comes to giving my honest opinion and I would seriously recommend staying away from this section of the John O’Groats trail unless your a masochist. If the weather conditions had changed then I honestly believe this would be a pretty dangerous place to be walking. I understand that the trail is a work in progress but I won’t be going back to it for some time. Sorry to the ‘ friends of the John O’ Groats trail’ but if you want honest feedback then that’s mine. Having finally reached the Clearance monument at Badbea, the way did improve a little and I can’t deny the views of the cliffs and the nesting birds are wonderful. When I reached Berriedale which is adjacent to the A9 I decided I’d had enough and walked the final 6 miles into Dunbeath along the tarmac. I got myself booked into the campsite and then ate the last of my snacks. I was knackered and dropped off to sleep not long after.

         Walked: 27.5 miles.         Percentage completed:  95.6 %

Day 63: Saturday 24th June 2017

 Start: DORNOCH.        Finish:  North of BRORA

 Part 2:

Shortly after entering Balblair Woods I bumped into two real live ‘twitchers’ I was able to identify them straight away due to their binoculars, anoraks and bobble hats. When I caught up with them I described my earlier bird related incident and they said it was probably an Osprey. They asked the location and I think they may have been going to check it out. It’s a really nice wood to walk through and not the sort of place where you might get lost, so it came as a great surprise when I then encountered the first ‘John O’Groats trail’ way marker telling me to turn left. I duly turned left as instructed and continued through the woods. Unfortunately it’s only a small wood and it came to an end far too quickly. The route then took me towards Golspie Links and another of the many golf courses I would endure. On arrival at the beach the tide was in and there was no way I could walk along the sand. I was forced to walk along the edge of the dunes, attempting as best I could to stray away from the golf course. On arrival at Golspie I grabbed a coffee and piece of cake at the ‘Coffee Bothy’. Busy place and staff were really helpful. It turned out that the monument which I had been looking at all day is a 100ft tall statue of the First Duke of Sutherland on top of Ben Bhraggie, he is (in)famous in the area for the part he played in the Scottish highland clearance in the early part of the nineteenth century. The monument was erected after the Dukes death in 1833. Leaving Golspie behind I then continued along the coast, once again having no shortage of things to see. The seals continued to bob up and down in the water on my right and on my left was Dunrobin Castle. The tall spires were impressive and almost ‘Disney’ like in there appearance. The next 3-4 miles to Brora were straightforward with a mix of beach walking (tides now gone out) and crossing fields with the occasional farm animal to contend with. At Brora I managed to grab something to eat and rang the Brora campsite who confirmed there was space for me and my tent. I spent a bit of time wandering around Brora before then strolling to the site which was a further mile up the coast. Most of this distance was again across a golf course and I honestly tried my best to keep away from the golfers. The greenkeepers have clearly created several paths to assist the golfers and their buggies, great for the golfers, not so great for keeping stray walkers on the John O’Groats trail, on several occasions I had to walk across the course keeping my eyes wide open for any irate golfers. I arrived at the campsite and paid my fee (£10.80). The caretaker, John having a joke with his friend on the phone about some fella who’s about to try and pitch his tent in gale force winds and rain, I think that’s me he’s talking about.

Day 63: Saturday 24th June 2017

    Start: DORNOCH.       Finish:  North BRORA

  Part 1:

I try to keep these blog posts to around 500 words, sometimes when there’s not much been happening that’s hard to achieve, other times it’s easy but today it would be impossible to limit what happens to so few words, hence for the first time I’m going to split today into two separate posts. Let’s hope I don’t disappoint,

I left the Dornoch Hotel about 9am and immediately I was walking along the coastline with the Royal Dornoch golf course to my left. Despite the high winds there was still lots of golfers trying to improve their handicap.

Loch Fleet

I made sure I kept to the path so as not to offend the golfers, I’ve got lots of previous for doing this sort of thing around the coastline of Northumberland, accidently of course. When I reached Embo I managed to work my way through the Grannies Hellan Hame (that’s the name) caravan park and then the rows of old houses. As I looked ahead I could see Golspie in the distance and it didn’t look to far away, however I have to walk around Loch Fleet first and then across ‘The Mound’ I could also see a tall monument on top of a hill overlooking Golspie, more on this later. I’d have this in my view for the rest of the day. As I reached a place named Skelbo Street I looked up towards the sky and could see and hear a large bird of prey flying around a small copse of trees. I’m no ‘twitcher’ so was unable to be more specific about what kind of bird it was. I watching it flying around for a short while, I put my head down and continued walking. I got an almighty shock seconds later when I heard a loud swooshing noise just above my head. I ducked, then looked up to see this bird was climbing back into the sky. As I watched it then turned and began to descend again, at speed towards where I was now standing. It dived towards me only stopping a few feet above my head. I then remembered that they have fairly sharp talons and unlike a lapwing or tern this could cause me some serious damage if it made contact with my head. I began walking away quickly whilst keeping a constant watch on the birds actions. It flew directly above my head for the next few minutes clearly making sure that I was leaving the nest and their chicks alone. There was no shortage of things to look at along the shore of Loch Fleet. Several seals were bobbing in and out of the water and I could see a Royal Navy Frigate moving around in the Moray Firth. At the head of Loch Fleet I joined the A9 for approximately 20 minutes, that included the crossing of ‘The Mound’. It was near here that I had my nearest encounter with a vehicle. Most motorists will move over to give me plenty of space on the road, some give just a little extra space and rarely, like today some just don’t move over at all. To make it even worse he  or she was driving a motorhome. I saw them coming, so was well tucked inside the white line, despite this they missed me by a few centimetres. Bloody idiot, I remember reading a blog from another walker who was attempting to walk JOGLE  a few years ago and got hit by a motorhome, I think he broke a leg. I immediately turned around and put both arms in the air, I don’t even know if they saw me.  I left the busy road and head into Blablair Woods. I spotted two things of note in Balblair Woods. More on that later.

Day 62: Friday 23rd June 2017

REST DAY 9:

When I entered the dining room this morning the smell and the decor reminded me of the year when I worked at the Derwentwater Hotel near Keswick, when I was a teenager. Good times and great memories. In keeping with the rest of the hotel, this room,  it’s slightly worn and its best days are definitely behind it. On the plus side there are some fantastic views over the Dornoch golf course and the coastline. I popped into Dornoch for a couple of hours and visited the local museum and the old Dornoch Courthouse and jail. It’s now a gift shop will very little left of the original decor. I finally managed to find somewhere with a good internet signal and checked the weather forecast for the next few days, it isn’t looking very pretty with gale force winds predicted for tomorrow. I’ve not got anything booked so will probably be in my tent for the remaining four nights, the weather had better play nicely.

 

 

 

Day 61: Thursday 22nd June 2017

        Start:  TAIN                 Finish:  DORNOCH

I hadn’t paid for my pitch last night as I had been unable to locate ‘Billy’, so I hung around this morning until 9am in order to pay at the reception. Somebody in a motorhome last night saw me pitching my tent and had suggested that I just packed up early and disappeared without paying. It would have been so easy to have done that, however I’d pitched my tent, used their new shower facilities, filled my bottles up from their water supply and also used the toilet more then once. If people then made off without paying, these sites would go out of business and cause problems for anybody wanting to do such walks in the future. I felt that a fee of £6 was good value, so I duly arrived at reception and paid my money to the elusive Billy. Almost immediately I was heading across the Dornoch Firth Bridge. Unlike the bridges across Moray Firth and Cromarty Firth this one has no pedestrian footpath so I took to walking between the road and the small verge. I was in no rush as the bridge offers fantastic views in all directions. From the bridge I turn right and walk along the coastline for a short time before making my way across Cuthill Links and then entering Camore Woods. The excellent wide forest track made this enjoyable, again I took my time, reading the information boards intently regarding the ancient stone circle huts. It’s estimated that there was once a large settlement in the area, remains of more then 25 circle huts have been found in these woods, which are estimated to be between 1000 to 2000 years old. After exiting Camore Woods it was a simple walk along the A949 into Dornoch. I arrived at the Dornoch Hotel which was opened in 1904, looking very much like it’s not been decorated since. That’s in no way a criticism I love this hotel, I’ll bet it’s had an amazing history and the walls could tell a few juicy and sordid stories. As I approached the reception it reminded me of  the Stanley Kubrick horror classic ‘The Shining’, The long heavily patterned carpet and wallpapered walls along the long corridor made me think about the scene with the young twin girls and the young boy on his tricycle, if you’ve seen the movie you’ll know exactly what I mean. I’m just so pleased that I’m not in ‘Room 237’.

I feel lazy today only 7 miles walked and the sun was shining as well. I’ve deliberately had to reduce the distance today and also chosen to take an unrequired rest day tomorrow. I’ve arranged to meet Gemma on a particular day. She’s taken time off from work in order to meet me at John O’Groats with Ben and Ruth next Wednesday, the 28th June.  If I don’t take a rest day I’ll arrive at my destination too early and risk a ticking off. I’m going to have a good look around the old hotel tomorrow as well as walking around Dornoch itself.

         Walked:  6.8 miles              Percentage completed: 89.0 %

 

 

 

Day 60: Wednesday 21st June 2017

       Start:  EVANTON.                  Finish:  TAIN.

It was unusual not to be woken by the noise of the birds this morning. After a fairly good sleep last night I was away from ‘The BLack Rock’ caravan and camping site by 8am. The first couple of miles followed the cycle track, this was frustrating in that several times it kept switched from the left side of the road to the right and then back again after a few hundred metres. I arrived at Alness and grabbed a couple of items from the shop for my breakfast, sausage roll and irn bru. After leaving Alness I walked along a minor which had lots of large beautiful old houses with large gardens. I seemed to be following the local postman as he made his way along the same road, we acknowledged each other at least ten times as  he waited for me to cross the driveways of the houses with there long driveways. The other thing of note was the oil rigs and other oil platforms that I could see, sitting in the far distance in the Cromarty Firth. Things then got a bit confusing as the John O’Groats trail went towards first Easter Stonyfield and then a wooded area known as Badachonacher Moss. According to the map there’s a clear track through the trees, but in reality it’s slightly less then clear. As I walked along the path the road just lead me to a private driveway which is gated and has no public access. You have to instead walk through the tall grass about 100mts before the gate and then fight your way through the undergrowth before you finally reach what could be recognised as a path. Again I needed the fine detail of the viewranger app on my iPhone to keep me on track. I’m not going to harp on about the condition of the track through the trees, the clue was in the name ‘Moss’. Also, the ‘forest for sale’ sign as I exited the woods might also mean a future rethink for the JOG trail. I then entered Scotsburn Wood and there’s an initial steep climb through the buildings before joining what was a nice walk along the forest track towards Alness. I forgot to take my 900 mile photo yesterday, so took it today on the forest path. Here it is. Alness is a sizeable town with several decent shops and plenty of choice for places to eat. I stopped at the ‘Duchas Inn’ not sure if I was going to eat here or not, but after a little research I found that the old pub at Dornach Firth, next door to my intended campsite for tonight had closed down a few years ago. There are no other options so I enjoyed a haddock, chips, peas and a pint of Belhavens Best at the Duchas Inn. The final couple of miles to the Dornach Firth campsite was uneventful but I did get a nice view towards the Dornach Firth bridge. There’s very little to do around here and few residents on the caravan park, so an early night it is then.

       Walked:  21.8 miles.            Percentage completed:  89.0 %

Day 59: 20th June 2017.

    Start:  INVERNESS.           Finish:  EVANTON.

I was approached by the youth hostel manager this morning regards the ‘Needle in the Curtain’ incident. He didn’t say as much, but I gather there may have been an incident with the previous tenant of room 253  regards excessive noise. Whatever, or whoever it was, it seems a strange way at getting back at the hostel. I needed to backtrack a little this morning in order to complete the John O’Groats Trail from the start and it was going to add a little distance to my day. It wasn’t far maybe 500 metres but I made my way towards the Sheriffs Court which is near the start point. After that I walked East out of Inverness initially heading for the Kessock Bridge. On the bridge I was passed by several cyclists fully laden with panniers. I would meet up with two of these cyclists later whilst having my evening meal in Evanton. Crossing the bridge was exciting but a couple of times I felt a little dizzy and disorientated whilst looking down at the water. After crossing the bridge I made my way onto the path through Criagton and then Ord Hill. It was then that I remembered, this is the first time I’ve seen the coast since leaving Penzance, almost 8 weeks and 900 miles have passed since then. The route along the side of Moray Forth and then Munlochy Bay was terrific as were the views. I could even see several oil platforms in the far distance near Alness. As I approached Craigiewood, South of Munlochy the route became a little confusing. I had to rely on the viewranger maps downloaded on my iPhone to keep me on the JOG trail. There were no way markers or signposts to point the way ahead, which is overgrown and not obvious. This would have been very difficult in poor weather with just an OS map. When I eventually appeared out of the dense vegetation at Bayhead the farmer got a bit of a shock and I quickly apologised to him. He then explained to me that the route I had used was no longer part of the John O’Groats trail and I should have used the footpath which skirts Munlochy Bay. Apparently the Forestry commission are refusing to allow those developing the trail to cut back the vegetation, so the route has had to be changed. I had a long break at Munlochy. I then pushed on again heading for Culbokie, most of the route walking along minor roads. The view over towards Cromarty Firth and the A9 bridge is also impressive. Another quick break stop in Culbokie and I was over the bridge and onto the A9. Thankfully this didn’t last long as I was able to pick up the much quieter National Cycling Network route (1) all the way into Evanton.

The only place to eat (or drink) in Evanton was the Novar Arms Hotel. The food was nice and the staff were pleasant and attentive, however several regulars (contractors working nearby, I think) were in the bar which is open plan and in close proximity to where everybody was eating. I’m no prude but the loud  drunken swearing and the noise from the group was shocking. Each ‘F’ word or ‘C’ word (your getting the idea) was greeted by several raised heads in the restaurant and people whispering to each other. Unfortunately it had been going on for about an hour before any of the staff reprimanded the men. I’m not sure I’d have been able to ignore it had I been in there with Gemma or my kids.

        Walked:  21.4 miles.          Percentage completed:  86.2 %