So here I was, prepared with a sheet of cardboard which I had gathered in Thurso the day before and armed with a felt pen I got back in Inverness. In big capital letters I spelt out “SOUTH” on it and stood there by the side of the road next to the only junction around. I had all my hopes and expectations up: whoever was going to John O’ Groats or back, or, in fact, anywhere up here, had to pass by me.
But as time went on the only thing passing by seemd to be, well, time. After an hour or so and only two cars, who gave me nothing but a short gaze, I decided I might as well just start walking back on my own. And so I collected my rucksack and any left over enthusiasm from the ground and started walking down the A99, maybe I would have more luck once I reached the next village. I should be disappointed, all the -wicks and -gills and -towns on my map were nothing but small hamlets, collections of a few houses by the road, and so traffic didn’ increase much for the first hours of my walk. “What a great start for my days as a hitchhiker” I thought as I kept on letting my head drop only to effortfully push it up with every passing car in order to present my more or less painfully smiley face – it didn’t even matter if these were travelling in my direction, I just hoped that, whoever had a reason to come up here, might as well have one to come back down again. About hitchhiking I had been advised by several people who were highly experienced with this, that the utmost importance in hitching a ride should be given to looking positive and well scented – though for the latter I neither did nor do now have any idea as to how one should “look” the part. Anyhow, I kept myself busy wondering about the difference it could make out here if I was to be accompanied by a fridge1 – not much I suppose. Just as I was about to take a seat on the grass by the road and boost my energies with some bread it happened. A car, it stopped, right there next to me. I was being rescued from the uncertain seas of this black road2!
It is wonderous how much faster it is to travel by car, not just in actual time but in what you perceive. Still when it had taken me half a day to walk from Penzance to Land’s End I felt this was quick, now on this lonely road and with this monotoneous landscape it was not even noon and already I felt I had taken twice as long to walk but short of half the distance. When it only took around fifteen minutes by car now I would easily have taken another two to three hours to get to Wick. The old chap who gave me a ride made the journey much shorter with a good, grandfatherly conversation and his tale of a short spell of hitchhikeing when he himself was a young man like myself – but well, for now this was enough shopping for memories as we arrived at the supermarket in Wick and he was only going to get some groceries and then head back to one of these anonymous little houses on the way back to John O’ Groats. I positioned myself next to the cemetery, where the A99 was now appropriately named “South Road”. It turned out that most traffic here would rather head for the dead than the Angles, but it was not all that long before a plain white articulated lorry stopped by the side of the road. Once seated in the over-engine cab I felt a little like sitting on top of the world – this whole lorry business reminded me much of these happy childhood days when my uncle, who was a lorry driver, once allowed me to come with him for a delivery he made to Luxembourg and the heroic feeling a young boy as I was it back then has when being aboard something big, loud and powerful like a lorry, especially when loaded with something mechanically complicated and overwhelmingly industrial such as a hydraulic press. With similarly child-like interest I began to examine the drivers seemingly true Scottish accent. After all the days I had spent here now this was the first time that I met a man who’s accent, not voice, sounded as rough as one could imagine the wind scourge these lands in a storm. And I should not be disappointed with my interest in his Scottishness as half way to his home-town Inverness he abruptly stopped our slightly obscure conversation about women and free-of-charge internet pornography (what a true trucker, not a lorry driver!) to get on the radio and start speaking Scots with one of his colleagues who had just passed by us. Their chat was pretty much the same though, and I didn’t mind. I just sat there smiling and admired their Doricness for a while, and so we got to Inverness late afternoon.
Since it had been a long day and I knew where to find a good hostel for the night and even some of its inhabitants, I flirted with the thought of getting some rest and well deserved meal. On the other hand, the hitchhiking was going well now, the last lift was for spirits as much as for way and there was still well over two hours of daylight left. I reckoned I could try my luck and wrote “Perth” on the backside of my cardboard sheet. Surely someone would pick me up on this busy dual carriageway down south. Not so.
1For an account of comedian Tony Hawks travelling around Ireland with a small refridgerator as part of a bet, see Tony Hawks. 1999. Round Ireland with a Fridge. London: Ebury Press.
2The A99 alongside which I was walking was rated one of Britains most dangerous roads by count of accidents just before I left London.