AJoG – Day 7 – Lairg to John o Groats, then to Wick – 175km

Plan: https://www.routeyou.com/en-gb/route/view/6309688/race-cycle-route/ajog07-lairg-to-wick-v-jog

Actual: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/3847318377

My knee was hurting so much the previous night, that I was entertaining thoughts of taking the train from Lairg to Wick to make sure I collected the hire car on time. However, I though I couldn’t get this far and not make it to John o Groats, so I planned to wake up early to give myself as much margin as possible. There was always an option of a train from Thurso or even a taxi if things got truly desperate.

This being the far North in summer the light filtering through the curtains woke me before 5am and I was able to get on the road before 6. The weather was grey and misty and for pretty much the first time in the trip I thought it would be wise to use my front light.

The A836 towards Crask Inn and Altnaharra turned out to be rough and slightly up-hill. I was being extremely cautious with my knee, so the going was slow. I could have taken the time to look around at the stunning mountain-scapes, but the mist and low clouds meant I was just grinding over a barren moorland.

A836

A836

As I got towards Altnaharra, the mist and fog thickened into rain, so on with the overshoes and raincoat.

At Altnaharra, I turned off onto the B873 alongside Loch Naver. This must be one of the finest stretches of road I did on the entire trip. It was super smooth, deserted and swooped alongside first the loch then the river Naver.

Spot the sheep

B873

B873 – Syre

Strangely National Cycle Route 1 continues on the A386 up to Tongue before turning right along the coast. This is 5 miles longer and involved three times the climb. I can’t quite fathom this, unless the views from the top of all the climbs you have to do are incredible on a clear day.

On the B873 I caught a father and son team that as also doing LeJog. They had been staying at Crask Inn, which I assumed from seeing on the map was a small hamlet, but found when I passed it, that it was actually just an Inn in the middle of nowhere. They were going a similar pace to me most of the time, but the father would walk up hills (maybe a knee problem worse than mine!) and the son would stop to walk across cattle grids where I would just try to hit them as fast as I could. There being many hills and cattle grids in this part of the world, I passed them quickly, only to be caught again when I had a pee stop. We cycled together to Bettyhill where I pulled into the hotel for tea and scones.

They must have stopped somewhere else in Bettyhill because they appeared ahead of me again. I followed them for a while, but then took a cattle grid at full speed and did not see them again. I hope the dad’s legs held out.

As I had suspected, the A836 along the coast was lumpy, as each bay was divided by ranges of hills.

The mist had cleared at the coast, so the views were great. It was nice seeing the sea, but the fact I couldn’t yet see Orkney was a worry.

A836

A836

A836

A836

Fortunately, while my knee was painful, it didn’t seem to be getting any worse and even at points seemed to ease up somewhat. I was still taking it very gently though.

Just as the A836 was starting to get a little busier, the route dived off on an un-named road that would take me a back way into Thurso.

It was strange to be back among fields and woods after so long looking at barren moorland.

I was getting very hungry by the time I got into Thurso, but I really struggled to find anywhere to get lunch. There seemed to be a lot of banks and tons of traffic, but no where selling food that was open. After what felt like an age of wandering, I did spot a pedestrianised area and a café. After ordering and sitting with my food while texting the wife, an old gentleman on the next table warned me that a seagull was creeping up on my lunch! We had a nice chat after this while I fended off the seagulls with evil stares.

The road out of Thurso was busy the landscape had flattened out. It was good to get off the A road after 10km or so, but the straight roads through farmland seemed to go on and on.

Finally though, the road turned and I could see the sea again. Also, this time I could see Orkney and I knew I was getting close.

Sea ahead

Back onto the A road and the traffic had petered out (where did they go?) and I enjoyed the last few km to John o Groats knowing the job was done.

Orkneys to the left

End in sight

I felt a good sense of achievement having my photo taken and looking out at the Orkeneys just 7 days after I’d left home.

I knew I had to keep going to pick up my hire car and didn’t want to cut it fine as that was my only way home, but it would have been criminal not to celebrate. People bemoan John o Groats for being a tourist trap, but it does the job and has a really good ice cream shop!

It was nice saying congratulations to another bunch of weary looking cyclists just turning into John o Groats as I left.

From here is was 25km to Wick and what had felt like a slight headwind all day was now behind me. My knee was still twinging, but it didn’t have to get much further, so I pushed hard. It felt brilliant keeping up some speed after pacing it carefully all day.

Road to Wick

I could see the whole peninsula laid out before me at one point and things were moving relative to me at a reasonable speed.

My knee did hold out and even started to feel a little better. The traffic started to build just as I hit the outskirts of Wick, but I was soon turning off into the airport industrial estate.

I stopped at a Lidl on the way back to Lairg and get several funny looks as I wandered around in aerodynamic tights.

The drive back to Lairg highlighted to me how unpleasant it would have been to use the A99 for this trip rather than the way I did come. It wasn’t that busy, but it was very fast with steep climbs that I would have been doing extremely slowly.

Back at the luxury pod I enjoyed a couple of beers, another 250g of pasta and watched the sun go down over the loch. Excellent.

  1. August 5th, 2019
  2. August 6th, 2019

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