Well, they're off!
The two John's have set off on their epic journey. However, keen that regular bloggers (or is it bloggees?) should not be left in the lurch, John has arranged for me (Gill, 'the little wife') and Leanne (eldest son's financee) to make regular updates to the blog to keep all interested parties informed of how it's all going. And here is the first.
After an 11 hour train journey (that's right, 11 hours!), on Friday 4th of April, we arrived in Wick (17 miles south of John O'Groats) at 10.15 p.m.. The 'we' in question being John and John and Pam and me. We made our way to our excellent B & B, 'The Clachan', Randolph Place. It was absolutely lovely and I would highly recommend it if you ever find yourself in that neck of the woods. Elspeth, the owner, is an extremely kind and charming person who went out of her way to make sure that we felt welcome and that our stay was a happy one. After a takeaway, and clutching the timetable for buses to John O'Groats, we retired to bed tired but happy. Tomorrow would be a big day.
Saturday 5th April - Day 1:
After 3 years of careful planning, endless trials of equipment and building up knowledge of walking/camping in different weather conditions, the walk began in perhaps the only way possible - chaos!!
At first things seemed civilized enough, with a leisurely and delicious full Scottish breakfast. Then, as John got ready for the day's walking he realised that the nagging doubt in his mind, that he had forgotten something, was in fact a reality. The contact lenses, that he has been accustoming himself to wearing so that he is able to see more clearly in bad weather, were no where to be found. Looking out of the window, he confirmed that the day's weather was indeed very bad (rain, snow and wind!). Reeling from this discovery, we heard Elspeth calling, 'Are you nearly ready? Your bus leaves in 10 minutes!' John knew, of course, from studing the timetable the previous night, that the bus didn't leave until 8.45 a.m. (a good 20 minutes yet). Showing the relevant information to Elspeth, she gently pointed out that he had been looking at the wrong day of the week, and was reading Monday's timetable not Saturday's. Now it was a scramble, the bus stop was 10 minutes walk away!! Fortunately, Elspeth to the rescue. Bundling us all into her car, she drove us to the bus station. Just as well as the bus was waiting to pull out and we only just made it. Once on the bus we had time to take stock. John had forgotten his walking poles in the scramble! Now he had a 17 mile walk, in snow, to do without them. Never mind, an hour later (all transport in Scotland takes the scenic route) we arrived in John O' Groats. Howling wind and swirling snow met us as we stepped off the bus. Pam and I intended to see the boys off, taking appropriate photos, then jump straight back on the next bus back to Wick. It was only as we stepped off the bus that the driver informed us that the next bus to Wick was at 1.50 p.m. That meant a 4 hour wait in wintry conditions at the end of the world. However, we decided that we could probably just about fill 4 hours looking in the 3 gift shops and 1 cafe!! It was hard to hold the cameras still in the wind and to see through the snow and hail, but eventually we took a couple of snaps. The boys set off and we staggered towards the cafe. The door was locked! As we looked around we realised that all of the buildings looked locked. Panic gripped us. We started to knock urgently on the cafe door. Fortunately someone was home. A very kind lady invited us in right away. We were allowed to look through the Scottish nick nacks for sale while we waited to get into the cafe, which she assured us would open at 10.00 a.m.. As it happened everything opened at 10.00 so we were able to stay inside in the warm until the bus arrived. I've never spent so much time examining Scottish nick nacks in my life.
Finally we got on the bus for the return journey. As we reached the outskirts of Wick, we passed the boys and waved. They were back to Wick as quickly as we were! The evening was spent back at our cosy B & B. The boys made the most of comfy and beds and civilized company. The next day would be the beginning of harder times.
Sunday 6th April - Day 2:
After seeing Pam and me onto the train (we were heading home), John and John set off following the coastal road and heading south. Things had begun much better, no last minute rushes and John had even found his contact lenses tucked into one of the many pockets on his backpack., this had cheered him up tremenously. They walked in very snowy conditions until late afternoon, eventually finding a little copse of trees to make camp. It was 'Meals in a Mug' all round before they did their best to warm up in their sleeping bags. John and I had pre-arranged that he would switch his phone on each day for just a half hour period, early evening (to save power). This would be the time I would try to contact him each day. On the way back to Newcastle, Pam and I had to make 3 connections, some of which only had a 5 minute gap between them. I got myself so engulfed in fussing about making connections that I missed the half hour slot and didn't phone. I felt really bad, fancy not phoning on the very first day we were apart!! When I finally got home, I got my youngest son to show me how to text (something I have been stubbornly refusing to do for some time) so that I could send John a message.
Monday 7th April - Day 3:
A very hard day's walking, John's summary of the day was 'wet, wet, wet'. They had made it as far as a small place called Berrydale. The only place they could find to pitch their tents was the local Church Yard (too spooky for me!). John rang me at 6.40 p.m., much earlier than our arranged time. He had decided to go to bed, he was so tired! They had managed to find a tea-room at lunch time to get something to eat, but generally their spirits were low due to being so cold, wet and tired.
Tuesday 8th April - Day 4 (and John's 50th birthday):
A much more positive day. They managed to have a lie-in (almost unheard of when camping in the cold) until 10.00 a.m. They walked for 4 hours until they reached a little place called Helmsdale. In the local shop they got chatting to a local lady. It only turned out to be the friend of Elspeth's mother (apparantely Elspeth's mother lives in Helmsdale and Elspeth had told her to look out for the boys). It's a small word isn't it. They also found a local pub which they went into for a 'rest'. They asked the landlord if he knew of anywhere close by that they could camp and he offered them the use of his beer garden. With the guarantee of beer and a hot pub meal on their doorstep, the boys spirits were now high again and John's birthday wasn't turning out too bad.