Day 14

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Origin:        Tongue
Destination:   John o' Groats
Waypoints:     Bettyhill, Reay, Thurso, Castletown
Lunch:         bought at Bettyhill (I think! possibly in Tongue), eaten near Reay (I think)
Cake:          scones at John o' Groats
Dinner:        De Vita's restaurant, Wick
Accommodation: Seaview B&B, Wick
Google Maps
Distance:      63.4mi
Ascent:        2989ft by Google

This is the last day! Along the north coast, the first part is a lot of uppy-downy slog along craggy, weather-beaten roads. It's pleasing for a while, but gets hard work. Bettyhill is a much-needed stop, although is far from the end. The shop came with chickens outside, which seemed to enjoy inspecting my bike. Incidentally, if we'd found somewhere to stay in Bettyhill the previous night, we could have diverged the previous day at Altnaharra and saved some mileage for both that day and this one, bypassing Tongue. However, the few places were all booked up. Tongue and Loch Loyal were a pretty good pay-off, so I have no regrets. (If you do the Bettyhill thing, you might usefully make up the otherwise shorter mileage of day 14 by adding Duncansby or Dunnet Heads... more of those in a second.)

From Bettyhill, the craggy way of things still has some distance to go... it lasts until around Reay, where the wild, rocky landscape gives way to fields and fences, with a noted uptick in traffic levels. The more southerly route into Thurso is pleasant, rather reminiscent of Perthshire or points further south. Thurso is a nice enough little town. We did an ill-advised blast of main A836 road out of Thurso—it was busy and narrow, so most likely better to stick to the Sustrans (on-road) route via Haimer, which is only slightly longer and is what I've shown here. In any case, at the next decision point, Castletown, we reverted to the quieter route as shown.

Our long mileage and time constraints for the day meant that we skipped Dunnet Head, the northernmost point of the mainland. It's almost certainly worth doing if you have time, and only adds about three miles of main road, between Castletown and Dunnet (diversion 1). (And once you've been there, you can say you've Dunnet.) That road seems to have quietened down compared to west of Castletown, so it's no longer clear that our backroads choice was the right trade. So I've mapped the Dunnet Head diversion over the main road (but it's trivial to rejoin the quieter route if you prefer; just head straight over the A836 instead of taking it).

The backroad took us through territory just windy, uppy-downy and boring enough to make it a slog, through which we pressed unusually non-stop and food-shunningly. At long last it's Canisbay, Huna and... John o' Groats! Don't expect too much of the place... Land's End is nicer. Duncansby Head lighthouse is apparently also worth seeing. And if you've come this far you might as well go to Orkney.

Lacking time, we shared a taxi-van down to Wick and a charming B&B run by a lady with a strong north-east accent—of England, not Scotland. I'll never forget her story about the postman crashing his van into the north sea from the Berriedale Braes. (He was fine! Not all the mail survived, though.)

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Content updated at Thu 19 Mar 15:45:00 GMT 2020.
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