Did we do it????
Bettyhill, Sutherland to John o Groats, Caithness.
Time was tight today. We had to be in JoG by 6pm to catch the transport back to Inverness. Whatever we do we tend to average about 6miles/hour. This includes stops. When things are going well, we pause for longer. When the weather’s pleasant (week 1 mainly) we relax more. Today the planned mileage was 58.5, or ten hours. So we did two things – missed cooked breakfast and ate a mountain of Alpen. And decided to omit the trip to Dunnet Head, mainland Britain’s most northerly point, thus reducing the mileage to about 53. We arranged for packed lunches too, computing that it would be worth carrying the weight to save the time of buying something later on.
The breakfast lady was lovely – fed us tea and toast, found our packed lunches, gave us access to our bikes – all with a bustling Germanic charm in the midst of a beautifully clean and well ordered breakfast room.
We hadn’t reckoned with the wind. Our average of six miles an hour assumes we get to 25 or so going down hill. Today we were struggling to even get down hill, even when cycling, rather than free wheeling as usual. At 10 o clock we had averaged less than five miles per hour. …. and started to talk contingencies. Taxi from Thurso?
So. Let’s talk about gears. Basically it’s not how many you have, it’s the range and whether the lowest will allow you to climb the long steep hills. I have 27 (3×9) gears. Keith has 27 too. I did not use the lowest cog (aka granny ring, Garry Kurlew!!) hardly at all (rubbish sentence, sorry). Ask the question at your bike shop. There’s lots of talk of shimano this and something or other that – but it’s whether it’s right for you and your trip that counts!
My shifters (gear changes) are on the end of the handle bars. So called bar end shifters. It’s the silver bit at the lower end. The one on the left handle bar controls the front three cogs, the one on the right the back nine.
Keith’s is accessible directly from the handlebars. No need to take your hands off, and brakes and gears managed more or less together. He prefers this. He also prefers straight handlebars, I enjoyed the variety offered by the dropped handlebars with the wrist rests.
So- steep and long hills out of Bettyhill. We passed the Scottish sheep farm of the year 2015. Who knew such competitions existed? Across the cliffs to Thurso. Here the postboxes have extra protection, presumably to exclude the snow: There’s a flap over the place where you post the letters.
Many other places we could not stop (although might have liked to): Again we heard a cuckoo and the ever present lark (has he/shebeen singing over my left shoulder for three weeks?). And saw a bank where the wild thyme grows. Amazing.
Thurso is the birthplace of Sir William Smith, founder of the Boys Brigade, an organisation that was a big part of Keith’s youth and in particular where he learnt to be a great gymnast. He wooed me by leapfrogging old style parking meters down a hill in Bruxelles 36 years ago. And still occasionally hangs upside down from monkey bars.
Still struggling on, the wind remained relentlessly in our faces. It felt like Dartmoor all over again.
But the hills lessened, and our strategy paid off.
Mileage: 50.2 (cumulative 1009.9 – not the measly 874 they put on the signpost!)
Not bad. We ate no energy bars and did not drink any specialised drinks. If we can do it most people can.
And although we did not do it for charity, people have asked if they could sponsor us. Here is the link to our JustGiving site for Oswestry Comunity Action (QUBE) where Keith drives the Dial-A-Ride community transport.
JustGiving sends your donation straight to Oswestry Community Action, Qube and automatically reclaims Gift Aid if you are a UK taxpayer, so your donation is worth even more.
Thank you for your support!
Hugs of relief and thankfulness: many.
Ps. Remember day 3 which ended with a phrase about the remainder of the day passing without incident? This was because we were so tired we contacted a rather surprised but very helpful man called Frazier Mcbain who operates a ‘man and van’ service. We’d asked at the pub but at half past two on a Sunday everyone had been drinking. K found Frazier by on line search. Normally F deals with house clearances and antiques so he looked after our bikes with meticulous care, and transported us (me sleeping) to our evening stop. After the long day previously, and dealing with Dartmoor, it was the only way we felt we could save the trip – and we did not count the sleeping mileage!
Pps. So the end of a wonderful trip. Lincolnshire next.
And some thoughts, web links over the next couple of days….,