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  • Chris Jones

Day 91 & 92. Fri 23rd, Sat 24th June. John O’ Groats to Thurso.

The last ferry back to John O' Groats docked just before 7pm, I was undecided as to whether I'd get going and wild camp up the coast or stay on the camp site and start fresh in the morning. I made the wrong choice, the campsite was £12, I didn't need a shower as I'd had one that morning and when I got going the following morning, I found some fantastic wild camping spots... just typical !!! 😫



There was a mix of coastal path and quite road walking and the weather had cooled down considerably, I was feeling rested and I was up for it so I made good progress. I arrived at Canisbay Kirk at about the time I needed to get my boots and socks of so I dumped my kit by the gate and sat on the bench in the graveyard. My feet are doing great now they have hardened up and I've worked out that I can go for longer and my feet don't suffer as much if I can strip my boots and socks off every 4-5 miles, just long enough to let everything get a bit of air and dry out.

Sitting on the bench, dozing with the morning sun on my face I was reading the inscriptions on the headstones, I think I've mentioned before that I've developed this morbid fascination with reading the gravestones of complete strangers. Anyway, it struck me that these graves seemed very old so I put my socks and boots back on to investigate further. What a fascinating little church. It had been a holy place since the 6th century when the missionary St Drostan tipped up to try to convert the Picts. The church in its current form is mostly 17th century and is the final resting place for many local farmers, fishermen and merchants but also, members of the Sinclair family, who were for some time Earls of Caithness and prominent figures in Scottish Freemasonry. Also, the headstone of John de Groat is in the church, he died in 1568 and because the gravestone is made of sandstone and was therefore weathering badly, they moved it into the church foyer. John's ancestors moved from Holland to run the first ferry to Orkney.



When the Queen Mother purchased the local castle as a holiday home, she called it by its original name, The Castle of Mey and for almost 50 years, she attended this little church while staying at the castle, a tradition retained by her grandson, our King.

The church was surprisingly plain inside but I'm glad I stopped to look after my feet or I would just have walked straight past and missed this little treat.

By mid afternoon, I'd walked just over 16 miles with only a couple left to get to Dunnet, I sat on a bench to look after my feet and was faced with a dilemma. I was near the junction which leads up to Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on the UK mainland, the sign said 3 miles. I knew that I couldn't walk around the coast of this headland, so I would have to walk the 3 miles back down the same road. It was Friday afternoon, I would have already walked 17-18 miles and I knew there was a pub in Dunnet....

It wasn't that difficult decision to make...



It wasn't a pub but a hotel with a bar and it had started raining quite heavy 5 minutes before I got there so I had no choice really did I ?? 😬

After a couple of pints, a good chat with an old boy that had walked this entire coastline over the past 30 years, I walked down onto the coast and pitched up for the night.

It was only a 3 mile walk along the beach in the morning to Castletown where I was met by my mate Doug. Doug had driven the 90 or so miles from Thurso down to Invergordon to meet me a few weeks earlier and had also rode his motorcycle to Tain to meet me at the Lodge there, what a top bloke and here he was again to give me a lift inland a few miles to visit another lodge.



We were met at Lodge John O' Groat No. 1333 by Denny the Right Worshipful Master of the Lodge, Jim, The Provincial Grand Master and George, The Provincial Grand Secretary. We had a good chat while I was given a tour, some generous donations were made to the fund and we said our goodbyes after Denny had furnished me with contact names and numbers for 3 more lodges I would be walking past in the coming week or so.



Knowing it was only a further 8-10 miles to walk to Thurso, Doug insisted on treating me. First he drove me up to Dunnet Head, so at least I could say that I'd been to the most Northerly point, even if I didn't walk up there, he then took us to a cafe he knew for a first class, full Scottish breakfast. Just for the record, I could still see the sea while sitting at the junction debating on whether to walk up to the Head. My rule for the walk is to try to stay in sight of the sea so it's not essential that I walk up and then back down every headland, if I were to do so, this 7500 mile walk could turn into a 12,000 mile walk...



Did I mention that he's a top bloke, my mate Doug ?? 😍

Unfortunately, the next couple of hours weren't as enjoyable. Looking at my maps, I knew that I could walk from Murkle to Thurso but it wasn't clear if I could get from Castletown to Murkle. Many weeks ago I'd made the decision, if there isn't a marked path on one of my 3 maps or if I hadn't had good info from the locals that I could definitely walk the coast line, I'd walk up the road closest to the coast. Stupidly, today I broke my own rule and paid for it. The first couple of miles were interesting and good going, did you know for instance that Castletown is know all around the world for supplying slab stones ? Me neither but when you see how the ground was formed millions of years ago, you can see why.



Simply pull them up, a bit of trimming, sorting by thickness and ship them out. Sadly, a few miles further around the coast I was jumping between the field edges and the rocks until eventually, after a few scrambles over some rocks I really shouldn't have attempted, I gave in, cursing and swearing I turned round and walked all the way back until I could get up onto the road to Murkle.



I even tried to scramble up this, with a large rucksack on my back, the rocks slipping under my feet and coming away in my hands, bloody stupid... but, if I could just get up or just get around the cliffs I wouldn't have to walk 2 miles back to then have to walk the same 2 miles or so again on the road... I'm fully aware that this moronic thinking will see me fall or slip over on treacherously slippy rocks and do myself some damage... I've given myself a good talking to, it won't happen again...



I arrived in Thurso in the early evening. Weirdly, when I walked off the path and crossed the bridge, the very first building I saw was the Royal British Legion !!! That was spooky but I took it as a sign and I was right to do so. I walked in a dumped my pack, of the four guys sat at the bar having a pint, two were Masons. One of them got me a beer while the other one called his mate who owns the campsite in town. A couple of pints later, I was pitched up for free for two nights, my laundry was in the washing machine and Doug was meeting me for a curry... what a result... Doug had invited me to the Armed Forces Day celebrations the following day so I eas bringing my day off forward a bit. We had a very pleasant Indian meal but we were very sensible with the beer, tomorrow, in the company of many ex service men and women, it was likely to be a heavy day !!! 🫣



The view from my tent when I got back wasn't a bad one.... I sat on a bench for a while to take it all in but I could hear my bed calling me, it had been a long day. 🥱😴

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