Wick to John O’Groats
It’s weird to think that today will be the final day of this little stroll of mine. Getting my things together on my bed, as I’ve done every day for since starting this journey, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it all to be honest.
Matt and I went down to breakfast and I had my usual cooked mound of food. I really wanted to make it to John O’Groats without stopping for lunch if I could. I guess we’d see if that would be the case or not?
Breakfast out the way I strapped on my gear and left Matt at the front of the hotel. Yes, I could have taken an easier day today and left pretty much everything in the room but then I wouldn’t be able to say I’d carried everything so that wasn’t going to happen.
Much like every other day the A99 wasn’t exactly interesting. The closer I got to John O’Groats the fewer the buildings I passed and the bleaker the landscape became. This wasn’t going to be the most interesting leg of my walk but it was the last and that made it special in its own way.
I was passed by quite a few cyclists on their way either to or from John O’Groats, saying hello to all of them as they went by. Every single one of these little greetings helped to keep the smile on my face, something I was determined to have when I reached the finish line.
Things were going ok up until Keiss. This was where I hit the first hill of the day, and after walking on virtually fat roads so far it was a little shock to the system and was something I wasn’t exactly prepared for seeing as I’d not checked out the route before leaving the hotel. It wasn’t exactly the steepest of hills but it did go on for a bit.
After that the road leveled out again until I reached Auckengill a few miles up the road. Again I was greeted with another long, drawn out hill. Here was me thinking that this final stretch was supposed to be easy but the hills were beginning to take their toll on me.
At this point I took a little stop to sort my map out. I took my pack off and grabbed a couple of Mars bars and put them in my coat. I really didn’t want to have to stop for lunch so I hoped that the sugar, within easy reach, would keep me going.
Regardless of the hills I was making good time and I was confident that I’d be at John O’Groats shortly after 2pm. I’d told Matt to get there for 1pm just to be sure but there wasn’t much chance of me getting there for that time, even if I was running!
The weather had been a little changeable so far but it hadn’t been too bad. I’d put my coat on but I didn’t feel the need to put my waterproof trousers on until I reached Freswick. I’d been trying my best to ignore the rain as it came down but my shorts were getting wetter and wetter. I had no idea how long this was going to last so I stopped, got my waterproofs out and put them on. I wasn’t happy that I had to stop but I really didn’t know how much longer the nasty drizzly rain was around for so I thought it best.
I carried on up the road to find another bloody hill! I wasn’t too far off from the finish line now but to get there I had to walk up/around Warth Hill, which was something I could have done without. The pace of the day was beginning to hit me and another bloomin’ hill was something I could seriously have done without. I put my head down, ignored the rain, and pushed as hard as I could up the hill.
Like every other hill on this walk, I made it to the top. I was exhausted though and my right heel was beginning to give me some serious problems. It’d been ok these past few days but now it was as bad as ever and every time I put the weight on it it wasn’t having it. not happy at all!
I got pretty angry with myself and very frustrated. A few choice words were said, loudly – apologies to the cyclists who went by at that moment in time – and I did my best to ignore the pain, determined to get to the end.
After a very quick breather to catch up with myself I hoofed it as fast as my ailing right foot would take me but a bit further up the road I decided that I’d had enough of my waterproof trousers, stopped, took them off and, with only a mile and a half to go, I took some pain killers. I was determined to cross the line with a smile on my face and not a grimace and if this is what it took then sobeit.
Tablets taken and John O’Groats in sight I spurred myself on and carried on towards the end of my adventure.
Approaching the sign at the outskirts of John O’Groats I took a photo and then phoned Matt to let him know I was only a mile away from the end. I knew he was there already so I thought I’d better let him know so he could be outside waiting for me, hopefully taking a photo or two.
Unfortunately, instead of the euphoric “I’m nearly there” call I intended on having it turned in to a bit of a rant. A small, sharp piece of grit had made its way in to my right boot and by then it had rubbed-up the bottom of my foot pretty good which was fast becoming agonisingly painful. All Matt got bless him was me in a foul mood on the other end of the phone. Sorry Matt.
Knowing that I was so close the pain in my foot seemed to evaporate and I pushed on even harder. I’d promised myself a long time ago that I would run the last half a mile and I was adamant that I was still going to do that, even with my now poorly right heel and rubbed-up sole.
I had my GPS out counting down the yards to half a mile and as soon as I hit it the GPS was put away and the jog started. I couldn’t believe I was doing it but you know what? It felt great!
Matt popped his head from round the side of a building and waved and I jogged right down to him and straight past him. If I was jogging then I was jogging to the sign so he was ignored – sorry Matt – and I made it to the back of the queue for photos. I think a few people had rather quizzical looks on their faces when I came running down but I just didn’t care…I’d made it!!
Matt came over and shook my hand and told me to turn around, so I did. What did I see? It was my mate Dave – my head couldn’t compute what I was seeing and I’m sure the look on my face must have been priceless. Shame nobody took a picture right at that moment…not!
I gave Dave the biggest hug still unable to believe he was really there. It was the most surreal moment, even more so that actually getting to the finish line. I was made up he’d come up and having Dave and Matt there at the end was fantastic!
I’d always prepared myself for a finish without anyone there to greet me but this was more than I could have asked for. Cheers guys, you really don’t know what it meant to have you both there.
Instead of waiting for the photo opportunity in the rain we went in to the cafe/bar for a celebratory pint – it would have been rude not to. I was still blown away by it all and really didn’t know how or what I was or should be feeling. All very strange.
After the pint and a good chat we made our way back to the sign post where I had my photos taken and then we cracked open the champagne. Matt had bought a bottle and the lovely lady on reception at the hotel had lent him some glasses so we could celebrate properly.
It was THE best champagne I’d ever had. Not because it was actually the best champagne ever, it was because it was linked to the celebrations of such a massive undertaking. It was delicious!
Matt, Dave and I got some random passer-by to take our photo at the sign and then we got in Dave’s car to drive back to Wick, covering every single inch of my last five hour’s walking in about fifteen minutes! I didn’t care though. I was so happy to have made it to the end everything else was inconsequential right then.
Back at the hotel we all went back to the room to chill out and chat for a bit. I cleaned the day’s walk off, for the last time, and sorted my gear out as best as I could be bothered to do.
All sorted we headed to the bar where another bottle of champagne was ordered and swiftly drunk. I was enjoying this “finished the walk celebration” mode and was determined to make the most of it.
I had a Skype call with the girls – in the bar area – which was lovely. It was great to see their happy smiling faces at the end of the walk, knowing it wouldn’t be too many days before I got to see them, something I most definitely was looking forward to.
Matt had booked a table for us for dinner so we went and had a lovely meal again, washed down with a few pints, as you do.
I’m not sure when it’s really, properly going to sink in that the adventure’s over with now, that I’d managed to survive walking all that way with nothing worse than a few blisters and one toenail lost along the way. All very strange and surreal for sure.