LEJOG66: Watten to Duncansby Head (John O Groats)

My mum dropped me back at Watten quite early in the morning so that she could get back in time for her cooled breakfast. The weather was cloudy and cool and was predicted to rain later, making for a very different experience to the day before despite the landscape actually being very similar. I now felt like I was walking in northern Scotland, not a semi-imagined Australia.

I spent most of the morning on a single straight road surrounded on each side by scrubby fields. The clouds like the land streched out for miles but seemed to be hanging very low in the sky, giving me the feeling that there wasnt much space between the ground and the white ceiling above. I was like a speck caught between two massive horizontal planes, one green on white. The road rose and fell several times, so i was constantly walking towards a spot on the horizon that when I reached it revealed another stretch of road and fields.

I knew it was the final stretch when I could see a mast on the crest of the hill ahead. Over that hill would be the sea, and I would be turning right along the coast road for the final few miles to john o groats. I was a little bit emotional, I could feel something well up inside me and push through a couple of times to my throat and eyes. I didn’t really know what it was I was feeling emotional about, I didn’t really know what I felt about the fact that my three month journey was soon to be at an end. But instead of trying to analyse myself too much I decided to just enjoy the remanded of the walk and the feeling of lightness and calm that came with it (when things are going right that is!).

It seemed to take forever to get to and pass the mast, but eventually I did. And there was the sea in front of me. Oddly once I knew I was on the final stretch the knotty bag of emotional within me dissipated. I walked along the coast road, marvelling at how different to Cornwall and lands end this felt. Mostly the land ran into the sea, and out to sea were the shapes of Stroma and the Orkneys. It was a bit greener, a bit less dramatic but definitely with more of a feeling of isolation.

My mum joined me just before John O Groats to walk that last few miles, and Jenna drove on ahead to meet me at the finish line. We had decided to finish at Duncansby Head because it was the most north easterly point and everything I’d heard about JOG sounded quite underwhelming. A twisty road led out and up onto a headland where we could see Jenna waiting next to the lighthouse. Looking back over my shoulder I could see the north coast stetched out to my left, and as I got closer to Jenna i could start to see the far more rocky east coast appear to my right. There was a bottle of fizz and a finish line flapping violently in the wind waiting for me to step through. And that, technically, was that, and hugs all round for good measure.

We then spent a while exploring duncansby head, which has a fantastic view of a set of cliffs and stacks as pointy as witches hats, and finishing the champagne. Over the top of the headlands you could see the sea spread out for miles. It felt like the right place for the walk to finish, and I’d advise anybody else getting there to check it out. We then retreated to the bar were we had a drink with Ed who had finished earlier than me due to not being hindered by the earlier dilly daillying of a support team. Afterwards we proceeded to a couple more pubs for dinner and more drinks, before returning back to the B&B slightly worse for wear.

On tuesday, the next day, I did actually visit john o groats properly to sign my name in the book. I found the entries of Gary (promising to do it again next year), David (saying he enjoyed every moment of it-even Staffordshire?), Ed (asking for new feet), and the feral boys (who had left a message teasing me about the fact they got there first). I didn’t get the official photo partly because I think it’s a bit of a shabby con but also partly because without all my kit on it seems a bit pointless. We popped into the little museum which is quite cool in an old school way – lots of old photos of life on the area and the kind of old bits and bobs (singer sewing machines, ceramic hot water bottles etc) that I’d love to fill my house up with to bursting point.

In the afternoon we walked to Dunnet Head (the most northerly point on mainland britain) to see the Puffins of which there were tons, flying about around the cliffs in the strong winds like the result of an unholy union between a bat and a parrot. Seeing the plump little things flying is an amazing and ridiculous sight that can’t help but raise a chuckle and warm the cockles of your heart.

However, all this was but a pleasant tactic to delay the inevitable departure on Wedesday morning. As I said goodbye to my mum and climbed into jenna’s car I suddenly felt really sad, the gnawing ache of melancholy I used to get as a child on Sunday evening after a particularly enjoyable weekend. It was over, something intangible and yet very real was slowly slipping away, a feeling of simple purpose, pleasure, freedom and space. The envitabilty and drudgery of the real world was breaking through to the periphery of my mind. The knot of emotion rose up into my throat again as I gave my mum a last hug goodbye, squeezing on my vocal cords and making my words come out all wibbily wobbily.

However, it’s still a while before I do return to the so called ‘real world’ as the 18 hours of driving back to London is being punctuated by a couple of days in the Cairngorns and an evening in Lancashire. I’ll still be blogging for a bit, not about what I’m currently doing but with some kind of conclusion/epilogue (although this morning was sad I don’t want to leave the entire blog on such a sad note!) and the answers to some questions everyone asks me, so if you’re still interested keep popping back for a while. I haven’t finished just yet! Sent from my iPhone

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