Britain has always looked very small when looking at maps, especially compared to our journey through Europe.
The minuteness of the country made it feel like getting to John O’Groats would be a doddle. Okay, not really. But it did feel like we could cruise up there quite quickly.
From Newcastle, the most direct route was only a touch over 600km. With a few small diversions, it still seemed easy.
Following a loop through Aberdeen, everything pointed to heading north on a more direct path.
To me, direct meant quicker.
Thanks to a nice little tail wind, the feeling was true. It pushed us nicely to Inverness, and despite holding us back on the way down to Loch Ness, was back on board for the roll back up to Inverness.
Now, looking at the maps, the trip from here to John O’Groats in the north looks small. Tiny.
The routing system on our tablets agrees. Under 200km for cars.
Only problem…that follows the A9 and A99 all the way.
While we are allowed on these roads as cyclists (I think only because there is truly a lack of paved roads in the remote areas of Scotland), it just isn’t safe.
At the speeds we do, even when it feels quick, the disparity between our travel and that of the cars on such a narrowly built highway is too much.
Every vehicle sounds like a jet taking off from behind us. Every rev sounds harmful.
Every second we wonder how close a car is to us, how close it will pass and how close to our last moment on the bike we might be!
Thankfully, hosts Alan and Fiona near Inverness gave us the tip…the main roads north fit the bill for cars, not cyclists.
Therefore, Alan gave us his maps from riding north to follow.
My head was still thinking it would only take a little while to hit the north. Then we stopped at half a day’s riding to see some prudish dolphins.
It was waiting for the possibly non-existent creatures to arrive that we did the sums of distance.
The result was three more days until John O’Groats. Three.
Three zigging and zagging, bumpy, up and down days.
I didn’t know that at the time, but do now.
Oh, also, the ferry from Cromarty to Nigg was off for the season, which added some distance.
So what could have been a less than 200km journey turned into a day of 40, then the days of double digits.
Yep, three times over 100km. In a row.
Luckily, while the famous John O’Groats has a whole lot of f-all lining its street (singular), there is a fish and chip stall.
No supermarket. Plenty of art shops. Two cafes. Fish and chip stall.
Chip sandwiches were on the menu to celebrate.
Somehow, it felt like the end of something. An achievement.
But reality says it is only the start…we are doing John O’Groats too Land’s Ends, not the other way around.
There is plenty still to go, just as there was for the day after arriving.
Somehow we were not only on time for the afternoon ferry, but had time to kill.
Over chips, we decided to get to Kirkwall and have some time off the bike, staying at a hostel.
I am glad we are here now, especially considering what we just saw.
With the sun setting over the archipelago, we rode from one island to the next over causeways admiring some of the best views I have ever seen.
I could have stopped every minute to take photos, at every corner and every hill.
The soft light of the afternoon sun made it all perfect.
I guess I should be happy we didn’t rush up the coast, that the journey took longer.
Perhaps the result would have been less favorable if the trip was quicker.