Saturday 11 July 2015
Wick to John O’Groats
John O’Groats Campsite
It rained heavily through the night but had stopped by the time I got up at 6.30 am. I wanted to be away early so I didn’t have time to wait for my tent to dry and packed it away damp. Much easier with this tent and I wasn’t too worried about having to put it up sleep in it again tonight.
A quick stop at Co-op for some breakfast to eat on-the-go and I was away. Wick is a grey and run down town. It looks rather sad.
I did walk past the street that claims to be the shortest in the world.
Walking out to the headland I passed an old swimming pool cut into the rocks. Like all the others I have passed, this one seems to have been abandoned to dereliction.
I made my way around Noss Head, following the cliffs. The sea looked blacker here, not dirty, just dark. I smelt the now familiar smell of seabirds and it was nice to re-acquaint myself with fulmars nesting on the cliffs. Even though it wasn’t rough the sea was crashing against the rocks and the cliffs, more so than usual. I walked through a couple of villages and they have Norse names around here. Staxigoe (translation: the inlet of the stack) claims to have been the first port in Europe to salt the herring. It was obviously overtaken by Wick at some point. It has a mid 19th Century barometer above the harbour that the fishermen used to determine the sea conditions.
I rounded Noss Head by the lighthouse and got a view across Sinclair’s Bay up to Duncansby Head. In the absence of any easy paths I climbed over the gate into Prince Henry St Clair’s Garden of Remembrance next to the lighthouse. It was an unspectacular green space that had plaques on the wall for various Sinclairs, including some quite recent.
Within sight of the lighthouse, just into Sinclair’s Bay, was the remains of the 14th Century Castle of Sinclair Girnigoe. It was once the main residence of the Sinclairs and it has important historical significance. It is perched on a stack and would once have been very impressive.
I was pushed back onto the roads here as there was no way through to Sinclair’s beach. I was joined by an 80 year old man out for his daily cycle ride and learned quite a lot about the area. Yet again I was informed this was the worst summer weather ever and apparently many of the farmers are being forced to sell their cattle because the grain harvest has been so poor that they won’t be able to feed the cattle in the winter. I also learned about the significance of Wick airfield during WW2 and how Hitler was expected to invade here from Norway. He was a very fit octogenarian.
I found myself in the grounds of Ackergill Tower, a private hotel. No wonder it looked so smart. I was thinking it was a pity the Smuggler’s Inn wasn’t open, but I wouldn’t have been allowed in anyway.
I had been aiming to catch the 12.49 bus from Keiss but I knew I’d never make it. If I missed the bus I could either wait for the 17.49 to John O’Groats or walk along the main road. I decided to try and flag the bus down in Reiss village and fortunately it worked. Apparently this is acceptable, and it is also possible to get dropped off wherever you want enroute. I got dropped off at Freswick so that I could walk the last bit of coast to Duncansby Head. It started raining (again) and the terrain was boggy. Not a good combination and after 2 hours my boots were soaked through and so was I. The coastline was very dramatic with high cliffs, narrow geos and lots of birds, including a few puffins. The Wife Geo was particularly spectacular.
After what seemed like an interminable slog I could see the Duncansby stacks and lighthouse.
It was a bit underwhelming to arrive at the most North Easterly point of mainland Britain, which probably had a lot to do with the weather. The visibility was not good enough for a clear view across the Pentland Firth to Orkney and the Pentlands.
I walked past Ness of Duncansby beach to John O’Groats and was jealous of all the cyclists I saw finishing their trips while I was soaking wet, miserable and faced with pitching a damp tent in the rain. Luckily the rain stopped, the campsite was cheap and had a laundry, and the coffee shop was still open. I cheered up a bit. It helped when I got chatting to the guy camped next to me, Michael,
who had just finished walking LEJOG. His enthusiasm rubbed off on me.