John O'Groats to Wick

Stephen Norwood banner

A Wet Start at John O'Groats

John O'Groats to Wick

It had taken 24 hours to get John O'Groats and it was nearly 5pm now that I was ready to depart from almost the most north-easterly part of mainland Britain. Almost, because the actual point is Dunscansby Head a couple miles to the east. However, I had no plan to head in search of the lighthouse there. Especially as the weather had decided that I wasn't wet enough: the showers having given way to a more persistent drizzle.

I headed back up the port road and back on to the main coastal road between Thurso and Wick. I turned left towards Wick and soon had travelled my first official mile on my way to Land's End. I was also retracing the last stage of a journey I had taken the previous year when I had cycled to John O'Groats from Glasgow and then back to Wick for the rail station. But the weather had been very different then.

The year before I had planned my journey over four days: Glasgow to Luss on Loch Lomond; day two to Fort William, day three to Inverness and day four to John O'Groats. However on the third day I reached Inverness around tea time in beautiful sunshine and instead of heading for the camp site where I had planned to stay thought that I would just push on a bit further. I could always wild camp somewhere further I thought. After a stop for food it was still beautiful weather and so I just kept cycling until it got dark. I ate again and then thought why don't I just keep on cycling through the night. It was a very mild night and on the deserted silent dark roads cycling was a truly magical and unforgetable experience. If a car or lorry came passed, you could often hear them approaching for minutes before they would arrive. On the twisting coastal road you could sometimes see the lights miles ahead of you. But mostly I was the only human moving and other than the sound of the bike it was a silent world, punctuated rarely by an owl or the sound of the sea. It only gets truly dark for a couple of hours this far north in summer. This was just as well as I only had minimal lighting and my feeble front light barely shone more than a few metres. I still recall a downhill section in the dark where my speed crept up and I started thinking I can't see where I'm going and I'm going to end up lying unconscious in a ditch and no one will find me. Braking and going down slowly was the only sensible choice but tough when you know your going to be faced with tough climb later. However, I plodded on and had made it to John O'Groats about half-past seven in the morning. That had been then but a year later the weather was much less idealic.