Day 1—John O’Groats to Bettyhill

The road from our hotel to the JoG sign. I think

And we’re off. Rob had made a good job of assembling my bike (of course), and I had only to adjust the angle of my handlebars and pump the tyres up to 70 psi before setting off. But it was misty: I don’t think I could see much more than 50 metres, and this didn’t augur well photographically, at least.

We few, we happy few

The plan was to cycle the 600 metres to the famous sign and then to take photographs before beginning the formal element of the ride. This went smoothly. The sign was in place, and it was free of the stickers that adorned it four years ago. We bravely removed our jackets to reveal our Bike Adventures jerseys and Andy (who works with Rob) took the picture. Here are all ten of us (three dropped out through illness or injury before the start), and here too are Rob and Andy.

Dunnet Head. This is a colour photo, not that you’d know it.

I am not one for faffing, and I set off quickly, partly to keep warm and partly because I didn’t want to hold everyone up by being too slow. I followed the route, previously uploaded to my cycle computer, to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point in mainland Britain. When I visited Dunnet Head in 2018 I was quite awed by being as north as it is possible to be, but this wasn’t the case today. I was still cold, it was still misty, and there were midges, of all things! I had a quick look around, a quick chat with Andy (who had driven there in the van), and then turned round to return to the A836 and the road to Bettyhill. I met some other members of the group as I left, and heard that poor Les had had perhaps the earliest puncture ever experienced by a Bike Adventures tour, at just four miles.

This might be the point to ask why one would want to cycle from John O’Groats to Land’s End (JOGLE) having already cycled the more familiar Land’s End to John O’Groats (LEJOG) in 2018. Why not do something more exotic, especially because there’s such a high risk (especially in Scotland) of having such horrible weather? One answer is that I had booked an Alpine tour and a north-to-south tour of Portugal in 2020 and 2021, and these, of course, had been cancelled. But Rob and I agreed that travelling from B to A is not simply the reverse of travelling from A to B, even if you take the same route. In fact, they are completely different experiences. I cycle to the lab and home from it along the same roads, but I don’t imagine one route as the reverse of the other. Each gives me different views and different impressions, and they only exist as views and impressions in the context of the journey. If you gave me a photograph of Camberwell Green or of Waterloo Road near St George’s Circus, I’d be hard put to identify them, but if they’re viewed as part of a journey I’d know them immediately, but only in the context of which direction I was going.

Another way of illustrating this is to do with the feeling one has (well, the feeling I have) when travelling in an unfamiliar direction at a familiar station. For example, I quite frequently go to Herne Hill station to go to St Pancras. I take the stairs in the morning to go to platform 1, and when I return in the evening I arrive at platform 4 and walk under the track, past the stairs to platform 1, and out of the station. All I know is that on the rare occasions that I go straight to platform 4, to travel southbound rather than northbound, it feels very strange, even though I am in a completely familiar environment.

This is to say that I think JOGLE is more than just LEJOG in reverse, and I think it’ll be a different experience. We shall see!

A Highland cow

Returning to the trip…as I left Dunnet Head I photographed a Highland Cow, and then met Rob and Andy at the junction with the A836. Rob’s job, while Andy drives the van, is to remain at the back of the group, as Lanterne Rouge, but with Andy going to Dunnet Head he decided to skip this northern loop. At this point I joined up with John and Jamie, and we headed off to Thurso. I had hoped to revisit the cafe where I’d had a cheese scone four years ago, but we, and most of the gang, ended up at the Messy Nessy Playcentre, where I had a cup of coffee and should have had lunch but didn’t. I should have had lunch because it was getting on for lunchtime, but I didn’t because (i) it was a bit early and (ii) the ‘Messy’ is a playcentre and not a café: I thought we could do better. Unfortunately, the lack of food led to my ‘bonking’ later on.

We set off, and the weather improved a bit. It was still quite verdant, and we went over a bridge and then passed the Dounreay Nuclear Power Development Establishment. I commented on Dounreay in my 2018 blog, and referred to the way in which it is being decommissioned. I now see from the Secret Scotland website that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority took ownership of the site in 2005, and the idea is that Dounreay should reach an interim state of care and surveillance by 2036, and be a brownfield site by 2336, at a total cost of £2.9 billion. Yikes!

View from a bridge

We carried on, and reached a great café at Halladale where I should have had lunch. But now we were only an hour and a half from Bettyhill and not too far from dinner, so I just had half a flapjack. Mistake! As we entered the final stage of the day’s ride things were getting hilly (see below), and I bonked with ten miles to go. I had a gel and an energy bar, which helped a bit, and I caught up with John and Jamie, who had stopped to admire the view, and we headed into Bettyhill together. On the way we passed a nasty-looking bike accident, worked our way around a traffic jam, and watched Jamie repair a puncture.

Then, into our rooms, wash our clothes, write our blogs, and have dinner.

I’m quite tired after the first day, so this is a short-ish entry today. I’ll end with my Strava data, as I did in 2018. First, here’s the route. We did 94.7 km with 1000 m of climbing. Cycling time was four hours 32 minutes, my average speed was 20.9 km/hr, my average power was 113 W, and I used 1822 calories.

Our route. Notice how hilly the second half is.

And finally, another view of the elevation, my speed, and my heart rate.

Until tomorrow!

2 thoughts on “Day 1—John O’Groats to Bettyhill

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