Sunday 24th June – Inverness

After the elation of arriving at John O’Groats we swiftly loaded up all the bags int a bus and hoofed it to Inverness for the night. Some of the guys were a bit tired!

It was astonishing how long it took to drive – we have come a long way! We passed Dunrobin Castle and the Sutherland memorial and revisited the Cromarty Firth where we had the distillery tour two days ago.

Finally arriving at the hotel we had a chance to stroll around Inverness before dinner – quite novel really!

Inverness is regarded as the capital of the Highlands. Its close to the site of the Battle of Culloden which took place on Culloden Moor about three miles from the City.

The Battle was the final confrontation in the Jacobite rising of 1745 where Bonnie Prince Charlie was spanked by the Hanovarian English and killed the aspirations to the English throne of the House of Stuart. It was decisive, 1500-2000 Jacobites were killed or wounded compared to about 300 government soldiers.

The battle was over in less than an hour despite similar numbers on each side when an unsuccessful Highland charge was routed. At Culloden the undernourished and unpaid Jacobites were outgunned and outmanned by the disciplined regular troops of the Government. Poor choices by Charles Edward Stuart also contributed to his defeat when he played into the enemy’s hand.

The Highland charge was a quick charge downhill using soldiers armed with a lighter sword than the traditional Claymore. It was developed in response to the arming of opposing soldiers with firearms and required ‘a high degree of commitment’ (classic understatement if you ask me) as the first musket volley would be guaranteed to cause some casualties.

According to Wikipedia the Highlanders quite often removed their lower garments for speed. Frankly a charge of half naked (and lets be clear, not the good half!) Scotsman would be guaranteed to strike fear in me…

After the Battle Charlie legged it back to France disguised as ‘Betty Burke’, Flora MacDonald’s maid, an idea he got after reading about Toad’s escape from gaol in ‘The Wind in The Willows’ by Kenneth Grahame.

There is a ‘Clootie Well’ in Culloden Woods where brightly coloured rags are hung as offerings from people wanting to be cured of ailments. Sounds a bit Wicker Man to me, I think Ill pass if anyone wants me to investigate the disappearance of anyone here.

Inverness is apparently the happiest place in Scotland and the second happiest in the UK. Harrogate is allegedly the happiest.

Inverness is an important centre for bagpipe players. The inverness cape, a garment worn in the rain by pipers the world over is not made here.

Karen Gillan the actress from Doctor Who is from Inverness and Mr Egg, an acid house musician are two notable Invernessians.

We finished the day with a grand gala dinner! I had booked a piper to pipe us into dinner and Gus the Piper did us proud. Very nice man who drew the winner of the Outil D’Or (well done Amy!)

Final awards of the Outil D’Or went to Mike for failing to lock the bus WC door and the DA team for being frankly awesome! All very emotional!

Now back to reality…what on earth am I going to now?

Enjoying the blog?  Please take time out and sponsor us!  Maurice and I are riding in support of Fresh Start – new beginnings, a treatment service for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  My just giving page can be found here and all donations go straight to the charity (my ride is 100% self funded).


Saturday 23rd June – Day Twelve

Was a morning of mixed emotions – we had a long hard ride yesterday with a definite feeling of arrival as we came down the North Coast. That said it’s been an epic journey and I’m tired!

We left the Park Hotel in Thurso early and set of in light drizzle (hardly even call it that) to Dunnet Head.

Dunnet Head, also known as Easter head, is the most Northerly point of mainland Great Britain. It’s an RSPB sanctuary and has spectacular cliffs. There is a light house and yes James Hurrell is a child!

Then the signs to John O’Groats came thick and fast!

I didn’t want the end to come too soon so James and I went to see the Castle of Mey. Built from 1566 it was effectively a stately home which the queen mother bought in 1952 and restored.

James thought it a bit twee but I liked it.

Then is was just a few short miles to John O’Groats. I tried to be strong but felt very emotional running in to the final signpost.

John O’Groats is 690 miles from London, 280 miles from Edinburgh and 2,200 miles from the North Pole.  It has a population of 300.  The settlement takes its name from Jan de Groot, a Dutchman who once plied a ferry from the Scottish mainland to Orkney. People from John o’ Groats are known as


In 2005 Lonely Planet described John O’Groats as a

“seedy tourist trap”

and in 2010 got a Carbuncle Award from Urban realm magazine for being Scotlands most dismal town.  All seems a bit harsh to me.

In actual fact it has definitely improved and there are some attractive holiday homes, a boutique hotel and John O’Groats house looked in good nick.

John O’Groat’s House was an ancient house believed to be situated in front of the present hotel, deriving its name from John of Groat, or Groot, and his brothers, originally from Holland, said to have settled here about 1489.

The house was of an octagon shape, being one room, with eight windows and eight doors, to admit eight members of the family; the heads of different branches of it.  To prevent their quarrels for precedence at table each came in by his own door, and sat at an octagon table which of course had no chief place or head.

John O’Groats is not the most Northerly point or even the most North Easterly.  These are Dunnet Head and Duncansby Head respectively however it is the traditional end to our journey.  I’m told there used to be sand dunes however all the sand was removed during  the war and spread on the fields to improve the soil.

All we did was hug, pose for photos and congratulate each other. It’s been a superb ride – we have been exceptionally lucky with the weather, for the purposes of this blog I’m going to say no rain (torrential downpour in Wigan doesn’t count! That’s normal!) and no punctures. Great company and a great team all riding for different causes and reasons…such a wonderful experience!

Enjoying the blog?  Please take time out and sponsor us!  Maurice and I are riding in support of Fresh Start – new beginnings, a treatment service for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  My just giving page can be found here and all donations go straight to the charity (my ride is 100% self funded).


Day 12: Thurso to John O’Groats – approx. 30 miles

Day 12 - Thurso to John OGroats

Final run into John O’Groats today with a short day which takes in the most northerly point in the UK.  I was hoping to visit the most easterly point of the UK (Lowestoft) in training (nope didn’t happen) and visiting the Lizard (southerly) could be an option at the start (could have been but we didn’t!).  No way the most westerly point (Corrachadh Mòr, no I have never heard of it either) is an option but could be on the bucket list for another day…


We are only at JoG for a few minutes (apparently there is not much to see!) before we are being whisked back to Inverness…hoping the Gala dinner will be memorable!

Discover Adventure website here

Friday 22nd June – Day Eleven

Today was the longest ride of the whole trip -106 miles up to Thurso across some of the least inhabited parts of the UK. To gird our loins we had eggs and haggis at the Novar Arms Hotel, was really good!

We were in midge country – James was taking no risks in getting bit…

The day dawned bright and clear, cold but with a forecast of sun later on. I rather unwisely took this at face value and donned shorts and a short sleeved shirt for the ride and was pretty cold for most of it…despite it being just past midsummer temperatures didn’t rise above about 13 degrees all day.

We started today from Evanton which overlooks the Cromarty Firth. This had seven oil rigs parked in it, presumably spares from the North Sea, quite a sight. The views over the Firth were spectacular as we pedalled out towards Dornoch Firth,

The entrance to the Cromarty Firth is guarded by two precipitous headlands (151m and 141m high respectively) which are called ‘The Sutors’ because of their resemblance to shoemakers hunched over their lasts. Sadly our revised route no longer takes us past the headlands. Cromarty Firth is one of the safest anchorages in Scotland and was the scene of the Invergordon mutiny.

The Invergordon Mutiny was industrial action by 1,000 sailors in 1931.  The crews of Royal navy ships at Invergordon were in open mutiny for two days – one of the rare military strikes in British history.  The mutiny caused a run on the pound and panicked the stock exchange forcing the UK off the Gold Standard.  The mutiny was caused by the Government reducing sailors pay by up to 25% as a response to the Great Depression.

We missed out Dunrobin Castle on our revised route as well as the Sutherland memorial. It’s a pity because it’s a massive monument that several (I assume Scotsmen) have tried to destroy in recent years!

The first Duke of Sutherland (George Granville Leveson-Gower) was responsible for some of the most notorious highland clearances. These involved moving crofters (subsistence farmers) off his estate and into coastal villages to make way for sheep production. He is a divisive figure, there is a mahoosive monumental him on the summit of Beinn a’ Bhragaidh built in the 1830’s. It’s more than 30m high and can be seen from several miles away.

An attempt to dynamite the memorial was made in 1994 and stones were removed from the base in 2011 in an attempt to topple the statue. Not a popular man by any stretch of the imagination…

The Sutherland estate was the largest private estate in Europe at that time and the Sutherland clearances are considered the most dramatic and best known removal of families across the Highlands and Islands.

We did however see a number of memorials to the clearances as we cycled up to Bettyhill including one to Mr Macdonalds ‘gloomy letters’.

We headed into the first of the hills – the cycling was good, and although was now a bit slow climbing the hills (my legs are tired, James however seems to be batting stronger every ride, he’s obviously sucking the life force from me!) the riding was easy.

James stopped for a bit of roadside chalking…

We got to a position overlooking the Dornoch Firth and it was a spectacular sight, sadly none of my images do the views justice! Phil the DA tour leader was in the lay-by checking everyone was making good time so was good to see the crew were on top of us…

Then it was a long exciting sweeping descent to Bonar Bridge, we stopped for coffee only to find every other LEJoGer on our trip had the same idea! So far it was bright but very cold so coffee warmed us up.

Bonar Bridge was the scene of an important battle in the Jacobite rebellion. The Duke of Sutherland attacked Clan MacKenzie at the bridge and captured most of the officers and killed the men, the Jacobite army at Culloden therefore failed to be reinforced – it’s doubtful however if this would have made much difference to their comprehensive defeat at Culloden.

In 1812 a dangerously overloaded ferry took on water and capsized at Bonar Bridge and 99 people died…the subsequent fundraising effort built the first bridge there.

Apparently every August the village elects a Salmon Queen.

Joe Strummer’s mother lives in Bonar Bridge – the world is a poorer place without him!

Despite these important bits of history we did not stay long – the next climb began and it was onto Lairg and Loch Shin! Another county!

Lairg was a very prettytown however as we went further on it was clear we were getting further from civilisation -petrol was being billed as the last for 44 miles going north….

Pic of Loch Shin in Lairg- does not do it justice, however at least you can see me in the corner….

Lairg is unusual if not unique in the Highlands in that it is a fairly large settlement (a mahoosive 891 people) located away from the coast. It used to be known as the crossroads of the North – it had four roads! Apparently it’s the site of the fifteenth largest (25 Miles in diameter) impact crater on earth – and I thought there was very little here! It hosts the largest single day sheep sale in Europe (whoop whoop!).

Alastair Bruce of Crionaich K.stJ OBE VR, Fitzalan Pursuivant Extraordinary lives in Lairg…his claim to fame is that he is the historical advisor on Downton Abbey….

Loch Shin is 17 miles long and is, according to my neighbour, rife with midges the size of pigeons! I’ve got a net for my head if I have to stop…James and I held a drill just to make sure we were prepped!

As it turned out the stiff breeze blowing meant no midges! Result! Maurice is covered in bites (I have none – must be immune!). The day clouded over and the wind really picked up.

We left civilisation north of Lairg and the road turned to single track with parking places… it was very bleak (if you have seen Skyfall the landscape was just like where the Bond family seat was located…barren and windswept).

I took pictures but it does not show how desolate this part of the country is…it was hard going, wind in your face and very cold..

It was very hard however respite was reached at the Crask Inn where we had a cup of tea and met about a hundred other LEJoGers all heading to Tongue.

The Crask Inn is a well known stop for End to Enders doing LEJoG and JoGLE. It’s been proving bunk house and bed and breakfast accommodation for many years. It’s recently been sold by the owners to the Church so it’s a place where you can now get a pint and a church service if you want.

The Landlord was miserable as sin though…all we got was complaints he wasn’t expecting us…plainly did not appreciate the trade!

After we had tea we grudgingly left the warmth of the Inn and found to our joy the wind had dropped. Cresting the last hill before lunch we dropped down nice and fast internet Altnaharra and had a chilly lunch on the banks of Loch Never.

The DA crew were working under difficult conditions but soup and sandwiches along with tea revived us no end. The day was gradually brightening and because we headed North west the wind was at our quarter which was slightly easier.

When we were out of the wind it was warm! In the wind I was worried bits were going to snap off. Lunch was only half way and the day started to bite – it’s been a long ride and this last day was really quite hard.

The final century milestone was good to reach….mixed feelings now as the end of the ride started to come in sight…

Finally we reached Bettyhill on the North coast…we were turning right here and then toddling into Thurso…. at least that was what my head was telling me (reality was a bit harder!)

We past the first sign for John O’Groats – 55 miles left…this was a sober reminder of just how far we had come. Some of the team were very emotional seeing this however I have a heart of flint! Actually I was just knackered…think tomorrow will be a good time to finish this ride!

The first glimpse of the sea was awesome… the beach looked idyllic and the sea was a spectacular shade of Azure! We were assured it was not always like this!

The final 25 miles were very hard! Sorry me very steep climbs along the coast which lessened as we went closer to Thurso however I was struggling (James rather disgracefully seems to be thriving!).

Eventually Dounreay came into sight…a massive installation in the middle of nowhere.

Dounreay is the site of five nuclear reactors – three civilian fast breeder reactors and two Royal Navy ones.  The site was used for the development of fast breeder technology and submarine power plant reactors.

The civilian reactors were all shut down in 1994 so no power is now produced.  Decommissioning is going to take until 2058 meaning that loads of people are still employed there. It’s a lonely spot!

There are all sorts of environmental problems with the site.  The operators originally disposed of waste in a 65m shaft that wasn’t designed for this purpose.  This means that coastal erosion is threatening to expose this in 300 years’ time.

Apparently, it was normal for workers to fire rifles into this shaft to sink polyethylene bags floating on the water surface.  Its also not a good idea to go swimming here as there are plenty of irradiated particles on the sea bed.

In 2012 a 2,000,000 becquerel particle washed ashore.  I’m not sure how this would affect your health but 2,000,000 is bad and I for one will not be finding out!

Of more concern for our health was nearly being hit by a driver exiting the site – classic not looking! Fortunately our shrill screaming alerted her to the risk of a manslaughter prosecution and we escaped death!

Finally – desperately tired – we rolled into Thurso…

Thurso is a surprisingly large town of about 8,000 people and has a Category A listed ruined church (Old St Peter’s Kirk dating back to 1125, sadly our route does not take us past it…) It is the most Northerly town on the British mainland.

Old St Peter’s Kirk used to be the principal church for the county.  The church held hearings against criminal activity and determined how those caught should be punished. In 1701, a woman who had a relationship with a Dutch sailor had her head shaved and was publicly shamed, she was paraded through the town by the local hangman (best to stay away from the locals).

Thurso’s history dates back to Norse times and evidence has shown people have been settled here for over 5,000 years.

In 1649 the Irish attacked the town but were chased off by residents. One of the locals killed the Irish Commander Donald Mullach by pulling off a button from his coat, loading it into his musket and firing it at the invader. Best not upset any of the locals that’s what I say!

Linen and fishing were the main industry here until the Dounreay Power station came along and there is also a big BT call centre – jobs for everyone.

Anne McKevitt, the interior designer who used to be on ‘Home Front’ is from Thurso as was Major General John Charles “Jock” Campbell VC DSO MC.  He won his VC fighting the Italians south of Tobruk.  Three weeks after he was promoted to Major General he was killed when his jeep overturned on a new clay road.  His driver was so appalled at what he had done he considered suicide while waiting for medical help.

Final day tomorrow…end of a fantastic experience!

L’Outil D’Or was won by Roly. He had stopped and purchased some Radox bath bubbles to ease his aching limbs only to find out his room only had a shower….

Illuminated Glasses of Awesomeness were won by Debs – 106 miles on practically no sleep (she was dealing with an issue with one of the other riders). Good job!

Enjoying the blog?  Please take time out and sponsor us!  Maurice and I are riding in support of Fresh Start – new beginnings, a treatment service for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  My just giving page can be found here and all donations go straight to the charity (my ride is 100% self funded).


Day 11: Evanton to Thurso – approx. 106 miles

Day 11 - Brora to Thurso

Longest ride of the tour today – a beast of a day! The revised accommodation stops have created an epic ride today with some significant height to be gained and lost. We start by passing along the Dornoch Firth sadly avoiding the Glenmorangie distillery – sadly I suspect there wouldn’t be time for a distillery tour even if we managed to go past it. The original route took us past the distillery, up the coast past Dunrobin Castle and up to Brora. We now head up inland to Loch Shin, past the Crask Inn (the only thing of note in miles!), Altnaharra and Loch Naver, Bettyhill, Dounrey and Thurso. It’s a long ride…

We head North properly today with longer mileage and some hefty climbing.  There is no video on YouTube which does not show it raining! Going to be mixed feelings as its the penultimate day.

Discover Adventure website here

Thursday 21st June – Day Ten

Today dawned bright but cool,we only had 60 miles to go so it was an easy day along the banks of Loch Ness and the Cromarty Firth with a distillery tour booked for 3pm in the afternoon – simple! What could go wrong?

We made a late start as the miles were fewer and leaving the hostel we headed to Fort Augustus. The six man room was a bit of a shock after the comfort of the Loch Fyne Hotel and some of the brethren who are best left unnamed snore like a badly maintained buzz saw!

DA cooked us a meal last night and breakfast was a simple affair of cereal and toast plus porridge for anyone who wanted it. Loch Fyne provides whisky to mix with the porridge yesterday but no such luxury today!

The bustling metropolis of Fort Augustus has a population 646.  When we rolled through it the number practically doubled! Stopping to take a picture of the sign we heard the bells go and realised we missed getting over the swing bridge,

This allowed us to observe the work of the lock keeper at close quarter. Bawling insults at the ineptitude of the day trippers going up the loch staircases of the Caledonian canal was pure entertainment! Some other enterprising fellow sparked up the bagpipes and the chaos had a soundtrack,

Originally Fort Augustus was named Kiliwhimin so the new name was an improvement. The original Fort used to belong to the Benedictine Monks who ran a school then a heritage centre and finally sold it to Terry Nutkins – he owned the Lovat Hotel too, never had him down as a property magnate.

Having just looked Terry up on Wikipedia it turns out he is dead! When did this happen?

Terry famously moved in with the naturalist Gavin Maxwell (who wrote Ring of Bright Water about his otter called Mij) when he was 15 Terry subsequently lost the ends of two fingers to Maxwell’s pet otter.

We pushed on, the scenery was marvellous and Loch Ness is huge! It was a long but fast ride down the Loch side to Drumnadrochit…today was going to be a milk run. We rode with Amy and Mark and had some jolly sights to take in on route.

Apparently Amy’s posse read the blog so big love to the Chester massive!

Loch Ness is the second largest loch (behind Lomond) in surface area however because of its significant depth it’s the largest by volume.  In fact, it contains more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined, it’s a big one!

Loch Ness stretches from Fort William all the way up to Inverness and our route follows the side of it as far as Drumnadrochit. A good chance to indulge in monster spotting.

The monster does not of course exist, it started as a hoax in the 1930s against a big-game hunter, Marmaduke Wetherell, who went to Loch Ness to look for the monster. Wetherell claimed to have found footprints, but when casts of the footprints were sent to scientists for analysis they turned out to be from a Hippopotamus.

A prankster had used a hippopotamus-foot umbrella stand to make tracks in the mud to fool him.  Humiliated he responded by (probably) faking the famous ‘Surgeons photo’ which was published in the Daily Mail in 1934 (this was in the days before anyone had heard of photoshop and photographic evidence was rarely doubted).

Loch Ness lies in the Great Glen, a big fault line that bisects Scotland, which has been excavated by glacial erosion.

Urquart Castle is midway along the Loch and very pretty. We passed the 800 mile mark just before we reached the castle…we could not believe the progress we have made over the last ten days – a sad reminder that this trip will be over very soon!

Drumnadrochit is a popular tourist destination with ‘Nessiland’ capitalising on people’s desire to believe in monsters.

We stopped for water in the car park of the tourist information centre before heading up the last major climb of the trip – ‘Up the Drum’ we went.

My training programme had been very effective – I have been very comfortable on all the climbs so far so was confident this would present no challenges…how wrong could I be?

The Drum rises nearly a thousand feet in two miles, it was 15% for 3/4 of a mile…it was truly horrible! James and Amy out paced me and my lovely bicycle started to make horrible noises of which more anon.

It went on for what seemed an eternity! Bend, sharp rises, bend, sharper rise! I saw bright lights as my heartrate went through the roof, angels sang and through the mist I could see dead relatives beckoning me to join them!

I took a breather – not impressed, I was expecting to get up this in one go but I was damned if I was going to walk. After a few mins rest I got up to the top – the hardest climb of the tour and everyone felt it!

Heading into lunch at the Muir of Ord we were pushing into the strongest headwinds of the whole trip, even the downhills were hard work.

There were a lot of tired faces at lunch – everyone had suffered in the climb and quite a few injuries were playing up as a result. The cancellations for the distillery tour started to come in!

We were not going to cancel though, we had a brief lunch and set off. I had noticed that after the Drum my middle chain ring looked as if it was bent…it was only after we had set of after lunch that I could see the whole crank parting company from the chain rings – disaster!

I sent James and Amy on and wheeled back to the DA crew – a godsend, A quick inspection showed if lost three chainring bolts – something I’d never heard of happening before, you need a special tool to tighten/remove them so without the support crew I would have been stuffed.

They removed one of the inner crank bolts and popped it in the middle of the missing three and I searched desperately for a bike shop – I would be riding the god awful ‘spare bike’ tomorrow if I couldn’t get it fixed…the distillery tour looked as good as dead for me.

Fortunately Orange Fox bikes were close and the lovely mechanic there dropped everything and stripped the cranks, reassembled the whole and replaced the missing – what a guy! He then refused to charge me – WHAT A GUY! Highly recommended and saved my bacon.

He did this all in the space of about 30 mins and I left about 2 pm… I might just make the tour if I pushed.

Peddling like a demon I rolled onto Evanton, phoning James on route he told me which room we were in, where to stick the bike and when he would send the taxi back to me…top fellow.

I zipped past other groups taking in the lovely views of the Cromarty Firth and screamed into Evanton like a looney! In to the room, quick change and our again I hooked up with Amy and we were off to the Dalmore distillery!

The distillery tour was held for me and we had a fantastic time doing something that wasn’t cycling. The distillery is on the banks of the Firths with some stunning views over the water.

Because half the people who had booked on the tour had cancelled we had double whisky tasting at the end…some delicious 12, 15, 18 and 20 year old malts were sampled including the King William Alexander – a snip at £160 a bottle! Lovely!

Maurice said it wasn’t a patch on Irish whisky but I’m not sure he is that objective a critic…

Then it was back to Evanton to our lovely little hotel – the Novar Arms who did us a top meal in the evening.

Evanton was named after the founder, Alexander Frazer’s son and has grown in recent years due to the Scottish oil boom. Evanton was the scene of a riot in 1846 when despite near starvation in the village the authorities continued to export grain. A poor show indeed! Out of the 1600 residents 74 still speak Gaelic.

Evanton is famous as the location where the ‘Naked Rambler’ Stephen Gough was reported and arrested. He walked LEJoG wearing only a hat backpack and boots and I think the authorities took a dim view sending him down two months later! Will have to warn Maurice to keep his clothes on later…

The glasses of awesomeness were won by Michael Burland for his stunningly fast ride up the Drum….honestly don’t know where he gots the energy from but seriously well done!

The Outil D’Or went to Amy who lost her phone for the second time in two days. She borrowed mine to check the cab company before finding it in the pub…

A busy day and some tired faces! Today was much harder than anyone anticipated and tomorrow is a beast of a ride at 106miles over some very empty parts of Scotland.

Enjoying the blog?  Please take time out and sponsor us!  Maurice and I are riding in support of Fresh Start – new beginnings, a treatment service for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.  My just giving page can be found here and all donations go straight to the charity (my ride is 100% self funded).