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.
Duncansby Stacks near Duncansby Head
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!
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London-Land’s End-John O’ Groats-London: Done. I am home (home?), back in London after almost three months now. Still pretty worked up and not quite out of wonderland yet, the last days were dramatically slow progress and almost too fast to cope travel home at the same time. After leaving Inverness I made my way to Wick and from there took a bus to Thurso where I stayed in a actually very nice hostel – extremely quiet and peaceful, just as you would expect from a place so remote. Early in the morning then I set off for John O’ Groats: final stop.
John O’ Groats
I was just in time to witness the sunrise overlooking the harbour towards Orkney – what a spectacle. From the three or four houses around not a single soul was up, I was alone with the beauty of the moment and some nearby sheep. When I realised that it would probably stay this way until a bit later in the day I decided that now that I have come so far already I might actually make for the real north-eastern most point and head to nearby Duncansby Head. In doing so I thought I might after claim to have covered the longest cross-distance from two points in Britain and also hoped to get some nice impressions from the coastline, as I was walking on the shell covered beach.
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I have indeed managed to get all the way up to John O’ Groats, but my way there was somewhat different from the route I had planned. After Newcastle I got up to Edinburgh on the good old National Express bus, but orientation there was a little more difficult. After managing to find my way from the drop off point to the railway station, I eventually managed to find the now-closed tourist information but was somehow still able to locate a few hostels near-by, in one of which I ended up staying. I hadn’t been aware of it, but it now was the time all the students came to Edinburgh so most beds were actually “reserved” for them.
The Scottish Parliament
Anyhow in the hostel I had the chance to chat with two guys staring out at the University of Edinburgh this September, one of which was going to study English and the other, an older guy from Lithuania, who was first doing a prep-year and then going to do some post-grad in something so strange I cannot even remember. They were speaking really good about their first days &c. and it all sounded like a good place. Being out and about the next two days was not so much to my liking though – forget what I said about Land’s End – Edinburgh High St is like a Scottish uber-Land’s End with the most commercialised castle to one side and the Scottish parliament and Holyrood Place to the other. Still, the castle was good (apart from the way they extract money from visitors) and I spent an afternoon in the Parliament’s gallery, listening to the several discussions, one of which, co-incidentally, was about the unhealthy balance and more healthy ways to further increase tourism in Scotland. Quite interesting, if not always a painful realisation for a liberalists heart, to see important decisions being made with an almost empty house and the low interest many politicians seem to have in matters personally not relevant to them. On the last day in Edinburgh I climbed Arthurs Chair, just outside Holyrood Place and the Parliament, which offers splendid views over all Edinburgh and let me realise that there must be much calmer parts to the city than what I had seen (Thanks to Nic for the hint!).
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