Gravel tracks, pretty lochs and the northernmost point

It took us two days to ride from Lairg to John O’Groats. It was a complicated succession of B and C roads past many beautiful lochs. The small villages all had names, but sometimes only had two or three houses and no shops.

Loch Naver was lovely. There were barely any cars. We tended to share the roads with the wandering sheep or goats.

Those were our colours, beautiful green grasses, blue lochs and skies, fluffy white clouds and sheep.

In Forsinard the RSPB, an environmental group, had a visitor centre where we stopped to fill up water. The Spanish girl working there gave us a lovely overview of what flora and fauna we might see along the way, as we were taking a track through land owned by it.

We only made it up the beginning of the track at Sletill Hill before we stopped for the night. The track was going to take us through more bumpy land, so while I was still pushing my bike up the hill with Karl slightly in front, Jake had found a camping spot.

It wasn’t the flattest land but we’re used to dealing with that. The sunset though, was incredible.

I got up to pee in the middle of the night and it was so dark that the stars were twinkling their brightest. Every patch of sky I looked at was filled with stars. It was gorgeous.

We were all a bit nervous about how long the track would take, but it was surprisingly not that bad – about 24kms. There was a lot more sand than gravel when we began, but that changed about half way through. I don’t think our bikes were made for this, but they got through relatively well.

We saw a deer standing in the middle of the track at one stage, and it bounded off as it heard our wheels pound through the gravel. Different eagles and hunting birds were cool to watch soaring through the sky, but there weren’t too many of the four-legged variety of animals about.

We hit the back streets again which was easy enough, but I hated a really straight hilly stretch of road, 13kms long. Up, up, up, then down, then up, up, up, then down. It sucked.

And all of a sudden it was lunchtime and we had reached John O’Groats. One of the two furthest points of the United Kingdom mainland. It’s not actually the most northern point though, that ditty is given to a piece of land further to the west.

It was a momentous occasion for Karl though, and we were so happy to share his celebration of getting from Lands End to John O’Groats, especially with our added detours around Aberdeenshire!

We enjoyed chip butties, and for us non-vegans a haggis burger, after our big few days. It was about three hours until the ferry so coffee and free wifi was in order. Jake believed we could start our rest days earlier and booked accommodation for that night in Kirkwall, Orkney’s biggest town.

Our passenger ferry was manned by a group of old sea men, who were obviously strong because they carried our bikes from the upper deck, where we boarded on a high stone dock, to the lower deck, where the jetty sits at Burwick.

A combination of crappy coffee (I blame the Starbucks brew) and choppy seas led to me almost revisiting my haggis burger before alighting, and it made the 34km cycle journey quite awful.

Despite the feelings on the inside, my sight kept being wowed by the scenery. Orkney was a bitch to cycle. Up one island, over a lot of ups and downs in the middle, down the other side, over the causeway and repeat four times.

We stopped more than several times to take photos with the sunset, ever thinking that when it disappeared it meant we’d be stuck in the dark, and thus cycling a little faster each time we mounted the saddle.

By the last island I was in so much stomach pain I was making loud, pregnant grunts every breath I took. I paused for the 10 seconds it took to fly past the Highland Park Distillery, which had the strongest smell of whiskey malt brew that I felt I could get drunk off the fumes if I slowed down a bit.

The pain subsided as we stopped to get some groceries, but came roaring back as we made our way up the final hill before finding our guesthouse, and disappeared again permanently once we were settled. I didn’t find out why or how, but I felt fine afterwards at least.

We had made it. This was the northernmost point we would be travelling on this trip, and now it was time to rest.