Thurso to Wick, via John O’Groats

Day 55  Weds 27 April:  Gather ’round everyone. Today we will learn about the different kinds of precipitation…. No, don’t switch off! Only joking. I really have retired. Those just happen to be the words that I involuntarily blurted out as I pedalled this morning. In the first hour of today’s ride I was rained on, sleeted, snowed upon and then battered by hail. Almost every type of precipitation. The only thing I didn’t experience was a tropical downpour. Warm rain, no matter how heavy, would have been preferable. Growing accustomed, as I am, to the frequent rapid changes in weather up here does not really help. Thankfully, it couldn’t get much worse so, by the time I proudly leaned Fondo against the famous John O’Groats white signpost, the bright sunny spell was unsurprising but very welcome.

Thawed out, replenished with hot mocha and a caramel slice (courtesy of the J O’G cafe) it really was time to turn south and head for my first east coast Lifeboat at Wick. The wind was on my back. So was the next heavy hail storm. It was as if I was being seen-off by an angry crowd of stone throwing Vikings as I fled southwards.  No apologies for harping on about the weather. It’s what we Brits do best. What would I have to talk about if I was cycling across the Atacama desert?

The great expanse of water on my l left was now that unmistakable steel grey of the North Sea. But for the acre upon acre of peat covered hills, I might’ve thought I’d by-passed the rest of Scotland and the north east of England and was already looking out to sea from East Anglia.

An hour ahead of schedule on arrival at Wick. Time for lunch at the Wickers World harbourside cafe, where they kindly allowed me to drip quietly in the corner and hang my sodden gloves on the radiator. The beautiful old photo prints on the walls showed Wick at the height of the herring fishing era. Large, razor sharp images captured more than a century earlier, when the quayside was jammed with thousands of barrels of herrings and the harbour heaving with many hundreds of fishing boats. A Scottish Lowestoft. Now, just a few creel boats, a familiar scenario around much of the coast.

At last, an All Weather Lifeboat that is not a Severn Class. Mark, the full time Lifeboat mechanic, kindly (and proudly) gave me a very full tour of his immaculately maintained Trent Class boat. Not as big as a Severn but appreciated every bit as much. It’s hard to believe this boat is twenty years old.

There has been a lifeboat station in Wick for 168 years. The challenges of responding to a ‘shout’ would have been very different all those years ago, with no powerful motors to rush the crew to a sinking ship in the Pentland Firth. Just oars and sails. Even so, today’s crews, mostly volunteers, are still prepared to put their lives on the line at the bleep of a pager as much as those heroes of yore did, at the boom of a maroon.

It was again a privilege to meet some of today’s crew. Another fine bunch. Thanks Mark (mech), Ian (Cox’n), Ross and Colin (crew) for giving me so much of your time and for finding me a bed for the night, just across the harbour where June has offered free b&b in support of the RNLI. Thank you so much June. You’re a National Treasure, of great character. Highly recommended, Seaview Guest House, Wick.

One thought on “Thurso to Wick, via John O’Groats

  1. KEITH GRAHAM April 28, 2016 / 7:29 am

    Cycle record for Lands End to John O’ Groates – Andy Wilkinson 41 hours 4 mins 22 secs.

    Steven McAllister – 55 days…

    Clearly far too many stop offs for Devon cream teas, full English breakfasts, Welsh bara brith and Scottish smokies with a wee dram chaser!!

    On the other hand… Steven may now hold the record for the longest, most circuitous and hardest possible route ever undertaken on a bike to get from Lands End to John O’ Groates!!

    A fine achievement especially in the face of completely bonkers weather for April which even congratulated you in its own way when he left John O’ Groates –

    ‘All hail the great Steven McAllister… cyclist extraordinaire….!!’

    love – Keith x


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