I am very pleased to report that at 4pm on Saturday, after 14 days and over 1,000 miles in the saddle, Stephen and Peter finally arrived in John O'Groats! This is a truly epic achievement by the two Titchmartians and one which – thanks to Stephen's notes – we've been able to follow all the way.
Day 13: Inverness to Crask (two houses, one a pub – middle of nowhere)
72 miles, 900m of ascent. Another beautiful sunny day with just enough high thin cloud to moderate the scorching!
We left Inverness over the Kessock Bridge onto the Black Isle (the peninsular being so-named because of its very fertile soils). Our road firstly followed the north shore of the Beauly Firth then turned north at Muir of Ord to Dingwall (7th/8th century seat of Viking government of this part of Scotland).
For some reason (over-enthusiasm?) I managed to miss the "tea stop" at Dingwall so "led" the party for a while (by a margin of 20 minutes or so!). From Dingwall we first followed the north shore of the Cromarty Firth before turning inland and climbing over low(ish) hills to Ardgay and Bonar Bridge. Lunch at the Caley Cafe at Bonar Bridge (smart bridge too…) provided a welcome respite before we headed off towards Lairg via Invershin and the spectacular Falls of Shin – with attendant leaping salmon.
Stopping at Lairg only long enough to specify our evening meals we pushed on through relatively flat but bleak country to Crask, an amazing two house settlement in the middle of absolutely nowhere. The skylines were amazing – Munroes wherever you looked.
Relaxing at Crask in the sunshine with beers or orange juices (according to taste), we passed the time with some tourists from New Zealand who had forsaken their tandem for a hire car (I can understand that!). Looking at an antarctic beech tree in the Inn garden (tiny beech leaves), restrained against the wind by some very heavy duty webbing, we pondered how the location would feel in the teeth of one of the northwesterly gales that the shape of the trees suggest are fairly common thereabouts.
Eventually even our tour guides patience began to wear thin and we bid a temporary farewell to Crask. Our guides took us back to Lairg in the van for dinner and our overnight accommodation.
After dinner I walked to Lairg station, about a mile and half south of the town/village. As anticipated the last train had departed, so there really is no escape from tomorrow's 83 mile final leg of our journey…..
The van departs for Crask at 08:30, thence we cycle to John O'Groats – the final leg.
Day 14: Crask to John O' Groats
82 miles, 900m of ascent. Having been "vanlifted" from our overnight accommodation in Lairg to rejoin our bicycles at Crask, we set off in yet another superlative Scottish morning. The inland weather was fantastic: warm, little wind, and hazy sunshine.
Although serious mountains were visible around our horizon the initial route was through flatter countryside. Following Strath Naver (strath = broad-based, "U" shaped valley, Naver = river Naver) we skirted the shores of the extremely picturesque Loch Naver before arriving at our "tea stop" outside the smartly painted corrugated iron church at Syre.
In Victorian and Edwardian times churches like this one were supplied as "flat pack" kits and exported to the far flung corners of the British Empire – including, as it turns out, the Naver Valley in NW Scotland…….
More pleasant riding in sunshine brought us to Bettyhill on the far north coast of Scotland and an almost immediate 8 or 9 degree temperature drop due to the breeze from the sea; cue for all to put on extra clothing layers.
The next 14 or 15 miles were pretty arduous as the coastal road alternately dipped into shoreline villages and then climbed the headlands between bays. I was certainly rather relieved when we arrived at the village of Melvich, for our planned lunch stop at the Halladale Inn.
Having consumed "restorative" sandwiches and orange juice(!!), we continued eastwards, pasing close to the Dounreay nuclear power development facility (now well in to a decades-long decommissioning programme) before cutting inland through rolling agricultural land to Thurso.
I popped into the station there in a vain attempt to see a train before joining the rest of the party at The Tempest Cafe on the harbour front – a haunt of cyclists and surfers apparently, though there weren't many surfers evident during our visit…….
The final (fairly flat) 20 miles to John O'Groats took us past the Castle of Mey, favourite of the Queen Mother and now Prince Charles (so I was informed). We didn't pop in for tea!
Arrival at the famous John O'Groats signpost was accompanied by champagne, much taking of photographs, and much mutual congratulation – well, we thought we'd deserved it!
After a shower and a change into "civvies", and still in a state of some elation, we descended on the bar at the Sea View Hotel to sample the products of the John O'Groats brewery (yes, there is one!). A quick review of the statistics from our electronic route guides revealed I'd cycled 1034 miles over the last 14 days. Mysteriously Peter had managed 1043 – I'm saying nothing about navigational skills…….
So ended the day and our leg-powered journey up the length of Great Britain.
The Just Giving web site tells me my sponsorship has reached £970. That's just shy of the £1000 target, but I'm sure that'll be topped over the next day or two – to the benefit of The Railway Children and our local Northamptonshire Air Ambulance. Many thanks to those who've generously sponsored me.
Tomorrow we'll wake and not have to don cycling lycra – what luxury (though I'm not so sure about the 3 hour mini-bus ride back to Inverness). Presuming the bus and various trains run reasonably to time, Peter and I should be back in Titchmarsh by 22:30 on Sunday – there to resume more normal village life.
Well done lads!