Day 88 (final day) – Saturday 22 September

John O’Groats to Duncansby Head and return – 8.5 km.

Great meal at the Seaview and a good night’s sleep. Weather still really blustery this morning but mostly sunny with only occasional squalls. Dazzling double rainbow indicated moisture in the air

as we set off along the coast

to the Ness of Duncansby with views back to the jetty, across ship wreckage.

The currents here are pretty wild.

Lots of seals playing in the surf. In my first post from Lands End I included a photo of seals – nice symmetry.

Up to the lighthouse at Duncansby Head with expansive views back across John O’Groats to Stroma,

before walking down past the Geo of Sclaites (full of nesting fulmars)

for good views of the famous Duncansby Stacks.

We retraced our steps and returned to the hotel to await our ferry to Orkney

which will be sailing despite the 80 km winds.

This is my last post for the time being. I might write a summary with reflections and statistics but, given my short attention span, it’s likely that I’ll never get around to it. Thank you for following our journey; I hope you enjoyed it or found it interesting. Special thanks to everyone who commented – your feedback was greatly appreciated.

Day 87 – Friday 21 September

Thurso to John O’Groats – 32 km.

Hmm, the Indian meal in Thurso was a mistake; an uncomfortable night for us both did not leave us well prepared for a long day. But the judicious use of appropriate medications and a relatively meagre breakfast had us on the road before 9 am.

Walked out of town and past the ruins of the castle

then along a 7 km long straight traffic infested road

with views of Dunnet Point and Hoy behind

to Castletown. It’s hard to find a good photo of these villages because they all look the same – grey pebbledash houses and boarded up shops. But here is the Drill Hall.

We actually visited the Castletown Hotel looking for a hot drink. The receptionist was completely uninterested in us and said that the hotel was closed. So we used the toilets and sat in the lounge for a while; she pretended that she couldn’t see us.

On the way out of town we stopped at the beach

but the wind almost blew us over. Then the most tedious 15 km of farmland and long straight roads, accompanied by a near gale from the north west.

The only point of interest was a small flock of white emus.

Then we could see the sea and the deserted island of Stroma

with a tantalising taste of the final ridge in the distance.

Down through Canisbay village, obviously preparing for winter with piles of peat;

John O’Groats village in the distance.

Some more exposed road

and then the Seaview Hotel, our resting place tonight.

But wait, only 650 metres to go, so on we went. And there we were, the JOG of LEJOG.

I don’t know how far we’ve walked, but we’re here.

Tomorrow we’ll walk to Duncansby Head, the most northeasterly place in Britain, then catch the ferry to Orkney for a few days sightseeing. We’ve rented a car!

Day 86 – Thursday 20 September

Melvich to Thurso – 28 km.

Not many photos today for reasons that become clear, so here’s one that I forgot yesterday. Significant too because it’s the only one that shows the Orkney islands (top left) and the cliffs of Caithness that lead to John O’Groats (top right).

We haven’t had that view again.

So, to today. Comfortable night and hearty breakfast with bright sunshine and clear skies outside. Off we went and, just as we started, the black clouds and drizzle arrived, along with gale force winds. We walked around the head of the estuary

and up the other side; view back to the scattered houses of Melvich.

Photobombed by sheep!

Then much like yesterday as we struggled with the wind (gusting to 80 km/h according to the weather report) until we reached our final county. Sheep county obviously.

Just around the corner the past and future of Scotland’s power generation; Dounreay nuclear power plant being dismantled (to the left) being overlooked by the Baillie Wind Farm (top right)

We walked through Reay and suddenly it was sunny and we were on flat straight roads surrounded by farmland.

The only really interesting things we saw in the next 18 km were the stone slab fences

and quarries.

(There were a lot of sheep)

The wind was still ferocious but it had stopped raining (although we did keep getting short periods of drizzle the whole way) as we descended into Thurso, past the hospital

and down Princes Street.

We were too early to check into our B&B (we walked a longish distance incredibly quickly today) so had a snack and drinks in a café/bar while waiting.

We’re more than a bit tired of pub meals so we went to a Bangladeshi/North Indian restaurant tonight (there are two in Thurso – opposite each other in the same street!); it was a nice change.

Day 85 – Wednesday 19 September

Bettyhill to Melvich – 21 km.

A strange day weather-wise. The morning and later afternoon were fine but in the middle of the day we were visited by the remnants of tropical cyclone Helene. Torrential cold rain and 70 km/h winds almost blew us off the road.

We left Bettyhill with no sign of the change to come

past the heated covered swimming pool with a roof covered with solar panels.

First stop was the old Farr Bay burial ground,

home of the Farr Stone, a Pictish remnant from the 8th or 9th century.

Up our first climb of the day – note the two lane highway, our first since Lairg. No additional traffic though.

Looking back at Bettyhill.

Farmhouses in every little valley.

Road continued upwards

and at the top, Bettyhill viewpoint, we had a great vista to the west. Ben Loyal on the left and Ben Hope, the only Munro this far north, in the middle.

The road wound across the plateau

and passed an incongruous isolated bus stop and post box.

We passed a number of small bays – this is Armadale

but the photos stop there because the rain arrived. We walked through Strathey (pub was closed) and glanced at another Pict stone but it was too wet and wild for the iPhone.

The wind and rain suddenly stopped just as we reached Melvich

and we were treated to the most dazzling double rainbow.

We’re staying in a B&B

and hoping for better weather tomorrow.

View from our window today.

Day 84 – Tuesday 18 September

Tongue to Bettyhill – 21 km.

A shortish day but lots of variety. Started still and dry but ended wet and breezy. After the best breakfast of the whole walk, we walked off up the road

past the first sign to John O’Groats

towards the entrance of the Kyle of Tongue.

Around the point

to Coldbackie

and its beautiful beach

before heading inland past a succession of pretty tarns.

Dropped down into a valley and crossed the River Borgie, admiring the autumn foliage.

Of course there was another hill to cross

so up we went

past this intriguing sign.

We kept straight ahead so unknown it will remain.

Across the top

and we saw some more deer in the distance (no attempt at a photo this time). Then the rain came so it was heads down and cameras away. Eventually reached the outskirts of Bettyhill.

The hotel is on the other side of the ridge

overlooking the inlet

and beach.

The hotel

and view from our room.

The manager was welcoming and even let us hang our wet gear in the hotel’s heating room. The weather forecast for tomorrow is dire, with gale force wind warnings, but we’re well prepared.

Day 83 – Monday 17 September

Altnaharra to Tongue – 27 km.

Our final day heading north and it didn’t disappoint. Altnaharra is famous for the fact that on 30 December 1995, the local weather station measured the UK’s lowest ever temperature at -27.2 degrees C. It wasn’t that cold today but the windows were running with condensation. Outside it was still and humid, perfect for midges and, until the wind came up later in the morning, there were plenty of them about.

Left the hotel

and headed up the road

past the tree feller.

Nice views back to Altnaharra.

Passed a large tarn

and then went over the ridge with views of Loch Loyal in front of us.

Small Loch Coulside in the valley below.

Finally we managed to catch a glimpse of wild red deer in the distance. I don’t have a big lens; it’s just an iPhone and they were a long way away.

Down towards Loch Loyal, past an abandoned looking farm building

(I checked to see whether it would make a good bothy – yes, was the answer)

then around the loch past this elegant boathouse with a living roof.

Followed the loch for about 6 km

and then up and around the end of Loch Craggie.

Looking back across both lochs.

Over the final ridge with Ben Loyal to the west

and the Kyle of Tongue below us.

Castle Varrich dominates the town

which, although tiny, has half a dozen B&Bs and two pubs. We’re staying here and it is very good.

Day 82 – Sunday 16 September

Crask Inn to Altnaharra – 12 km.

Crask Inn was great. The bar was like someone’s front room

with a peat burning stove and well behaved dog. There were 7 of us in residence and we ate dinner together around a big table. The pub was gifted to the local church by the farmer and is run as a commercial operation. If you’re in the neighbourhood, go and visit.

There was heavy rain overnight and it was windy early on. Our first sight out the window was a group of the 700 cyclists on the last day of their Lands End to John o’Groats ride.

Apparently this is an annual event. Today was a short walk for us so we whiled away the morning waiting for the weather to improve. Eventually the rain passed and we set off. It was still a bit gray

but it cleared once we started down the valley beside the River Vagastie.

We saw lots of buzzards and a few sheep but no deer. Soon we saw Loch Naver in the distance.

A couple more kilometres and we were at the Altnaharra Hotel. This is very different from last night – impersonal and aimed at tweed wearing fishing and hunting folks. But it’s clean and dry so we’re comfortable. And there is a deer farm next door so we’ve finally seen some red deer, even if they are behind a fence.