All Done … And Thanks

I have finished!

map of uk with walking trail marked
the mapmaster’s final map

I walked into John o’ Groats this morning and completed my walk.
First I would like to thank Kerriann for all her help in this adventure especially driving all the way up to the North of Scotland in the motorhome to support me on the last leg.

Also all of you who have left messages of support on the blog or sent emails during the walk – on a cold damp evening in a tent in the middle of nowhere these messages make a huge difference.

Thanks to the great people of the mountain bothies association who give their time, efforts and money to provide free accommodation for nutters like me in the most remote and beautiful locations.

Thanks to Malcolm the map master for all of his hard work providing you and me with maps, statistics and forecasts throughout the walk.

Thanks, too, to the people who kindly put me up for the night, gave me breakfast and generally looked after me.

Thanks to The National Trust and all of the organisations that look after our wonderful countryside, especially those responsible for preserving our incredible network of footpaths. Thanks to the walkers, postmen, beach combers, dog walkers, dustmen, council workers, tourists, cyclists, lock keepers, drivers and everybody that took the time to lean on a gate and pass the time of day with me – it is you that made my journey very, very special.

If my walk has inspired anyone to set out on a similar adventure I am delighted.

If I can offer an advice or share any lessons learned on my journey just ask.

Lessons learnt or relearnt? 

Have absolute faith that the universe will provide what you need to survive when you need it.   

People are lovely.

Most hills are not as high or as difficult as they look.

We are capable of doing a lot more than we think.

We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Now I shall rest …

Penultimate Day

A long slog on a boring road to start the day. At leat the road was very quiet; less than one car an hour I would say. The highlight of the morning was seeing an eagle. This massive bird flew up some distance in front of me and flew towards me for a while. I fumbled around trying to get my phone out of my pocket to take a photo but the bird went higher and higher then drifted away to the west. 

drab road walk
 Towards the end of today’s walk, views of the coast made the walk much more interesting. I met up with Kerriann and Hugo in Huna campsite just a mile and a half from John o’ Groats. Yes, less than an hour’s walk to finish!

Tomorrow morning I will finish the job.

A friend (Philip) suggested that I carry on up the coast to Dunnet’s Head which is the most northerly point of Britain but to be honest I can’t be bothered.I didn’t visit the most southerly point in Britain on this walk so I don’t feel the need to visit the most northerly, especially as it would involve walking along the A836 – so John o’ Groats will be the end of this walking adventure.

I will write my concluding blog tomorrow after the short walk. Tonight I just feel shattered after 18 miles of road walking …

Watten Amazing Place

A short day of flat walking along the quiet back lanes of Caithness.

Again I have been walking in ancient footsteps – the way has been dotted with hut circles and standing stones. The juxtaposition between the 3000-year-old standing stones and the modern wind farm is an interesting one.

It’s been a short walk because we chose a nice loch-side wild camping location at Watten for me to meet up with the motorhome. I’m not keen on walking along roads other than country lanes and Kerriann is not keen on driving Dickie along the very narrow roads which means there are not many places where we can meet up.

Loch Watten looked ideal on the maps and when I arrived after some 4 hours Kerriann had found a lovely flat place to park in the shade, alongside the loch.
So today I’ve walked about 8 miles but tomorrow I will be walking around 18 miles to a campsite just 2 miles from John o’Groats. On Saturday, all being well, I should complete the last two miles of my marathon journey.
I’m not sure how I will feel about finishing; mixed emotions. Sadness, pride, elation? We’ll see.

Cairns of Camster

I have been road walking today but at least most of it was on very quiet country lanes. Heading exactly north through an ancient landscape dotted with hut circles, standing stones and cairns. I ended up meeting Kerriann and the motorhome in a lay-by next to the magnificent Grey Cairns of Camster. Why are these wonderful chambered cairns not better known? If you visit, which you definitely should, don’t wear your best clothes – to gain access you have to crawl into the low, narrow entrances.

Graham emerging from a cairn
The Cairns of Camster
Graham standing in the central chamber of the cairn
in the chamber
distant view of stone cairns
long view

It’s interesting to contemplate the fact that ancient man clearly walked exactly the same route that I am currently wandering and left plenty of clues that have survived the harsh Scottish weather.   

It saddens me that so many of the old farm houses and buildings in this area are empty and a lot of those that are not empty have ‘for sale’ signs by the front gate.

I’ve just pulled the last OS map out of the the bundle and highlighted the new proposed track to John o’ Groats which is now less that 30 miles away.

It is strange to think that my long walk is drawing to an end. In many ways it saddens me but I know that I do have to return to a more normal life style.

For the time being I will concentrate on tomorrow’s walk to Watten and hope that today’s rain has passed over.

Spare a thought for Kerriann who has had to drive Dickie the motorhome along the very narrow, single track roads that I have chosen to walk. She has done brilliantly.

Misty Day

The John O’Groats trail has again been more of a trial than a trail.

mist over cliffs
a misty start to the day

It has spectacular views and scenery but is incredibly hard work. I must have negotiated ten or more barbed wire fences this morning and the vegetation was up to my knees. This makes it very difficult to make any progress.  
At one point I climbed over a difficult fence and a few meters on I found a box on a post. ‘Walkers open me’ a sign said. In the box was a log book for JOG Trail walkers – it only had one entry and that was dated early February. I don’t think anybody has walked the trail since then other than me. This is a lot of the problem the bracken and gorse have reclaimed it.
This morning was very misty and with high sea cliffs and no defined track the going was very slow and hard. 

foot bridge over chsasm
scary wobbly bridge

When I met Kerriann in Dunbeath, where we are staying the night, she told me that the campsite owner recommended an inland route on minor roads. So rather than struggle on with the JOG Trail I have decided to re route via the Grey Cairns of Canster.

I think that I’m now only a few days away from the finish line. I suppose I’m looking forward to it but have mixed feelings – it will be lovely to not have aching feet, back and body but what will I do all day?
Rather than worry about that I think I will try to concentrate on enjoying my last few days of this incredible adventure and reflect on all the lovely people and places and experiences that have left an impression on me.

thumb with callous
worn out thumbs up

A Stunningly Challenging Coastal Walk

This morning’s walking was fabulous. Mile after mile of beautiful sandy beaches and only the birds to share them with.

cliffs and sea
north of Brora

This afternoon was also spectacular with regular sightings of deer on the cliff tracks. When I say tracks I mean deer tracks – the John O’Groats Trail ran out of tracks and guided me across open gorse and bracken covered cliff tops. This was rather like walking the Cornish Coastal path but without the path. I could have coped with this if the way wasn’t also peppered with deer fences. These stop everything passing except deer. I witnessed a family of deer jump one fence as if they were horses competing in the Grand National. But as an obstacle to man they are very effective. 

I persisted with the route until I reached a river gorge crossing; there was no sign of a path, track or bridge so I backed out and resorted to a mile and a half of the dreaded A9 verge. But a I had a lovely day’s walking and it’s lovely to meet up with Kerriann, Hugo and Dickie the motorhome! Over 1105 miles covered – less that 100 to go!

stone monument with gorse in foreground
Badbea Clearance Village monument

A Fairytale Walk

Yesterday a nice chap in a car pulled alongside me on a country lane and offered me a lift into town. I declined the lift and he said, ‘very sensible, you are now walking in the best county in Britain and you’ll be amazed by what you see … god willing you may even see an eagle’.

accidental selfie
Well to be honest I have read too many miserable accounts of the last leg of Lands End to John O’Groats walks to believe that I would be amazed by wonderful sites. I was wrong. Today I was truly amazed by the beautiful scenery and wildlife. Sometimes it was almost surreal. I was walking along a deserted sandy beach when a fairytale castle appeared, then the seals started calling whilst the waves crashed around them. I had to pinch myself to make sure it wasn’t a dream. I sang to the seals and they came very close to see who was making the dreadful noise. What did I sing? A mashed up version of the Selkie of Sule Skerrie of course in a very bad Scottish accent. Luckily nobody but the seals heard me – I hope. 

Castle Dunrobin
can you see seals on the rocks?

I feel so sorry for the walkers who have slogged up the A9 like Richard who should have finished his LEJOG today (congratulations Richard!) and missed this lovely stretch of coastline. Yes, I had to negotiate a couple of barbed wire fences and walk on a railway line but it was worth it.
A local farmer said that walking on the railway line was the best route – ‘the train isn’t due till 2 o’clock and I doubt if there are any specials’ – so I decided to risk it. The same farmer also said ‘we had the naked rambler through here last year – he walked on the railway line.’ Maybe the 2 O’clock tourists on the train saw more than they were expecting! 

a walk on the rail side

Kerriann has headed off ahead of me in the motorhome and stopped at Brora campsite. I called her on my phone and asked her how to find the site: ‘follow the coast path and turn left at the dead puffin’ was her response – that’s not a sentence you hear every day.

dead puffin on sand
dead puffin waymark