Road Trip To John O’Groats

So (I hate the fashion for everyone starting sentences with ‘so’ these days),  Geoff spent the whole of May on his Land’s End to John O’Groats cycling adventure, which left Tilly and I to our own devices for the duration. Lots of junk food was eaten – including chocolate every day – lots of wanders and lots of lazy mornings in bed.

Two weeks into the month, however, and it was time for us to set off on our own mini-challenge. By this point Geoff was just under half way on his route, so Tilly and I loaded the van up and set off to meet him at Clitheroe, Lancashire. We had two nights booked at the campsite there.

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This gave Geoff a day to sort stuff and chill, before setting off on the next leg. Strangely enough, it also just happened to be our 22nd wedding anniversary, although I don’t think he realised ’till I told him.

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Tilly also took the opportunity to chill.

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The Saturday morning saw him once more on his way, this time accompanied by our friend Hamish for the day. Hamish (and Kim) had also come along to Clitheroe to meet up with Geoff, so that he could ride with him on this section up to Morecambe.

Tilly and I set off shortly afterwards, not towards home, but now on our route up to Scotland. We weren’t due to meet up with Geoff ’till about a fortnight later, so we were taking our time, tootling along. We were hoping to meet up with James on his TGO crossing though, so had a few time constraints for the next few days. The best laid plans……

We crossed the Trough of Bowland, then the northern bits of The Dales and finally found ourselves on Hartside Pass, going over towards Alston, and right on the outside of one of the hairpins, the rear, off-side tyre decided to blow. Completely flat.

RAC job. Initially I was told it would be about 2 hours before anyone could get to me, but it was a bit quicker in the end. Pity that the guy who came to do it though, knew less than I did about changing a wheel on a Peugeot Boxer…..

Anyway, eventually sorted, with a spare wheel rolling around in the back, but I was by now well behind schedule.

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We spent the night wild van camping at Nenthead – with the local knobs doing donuts around us in the car park as it got dark – then moved on to Hexham the next morning. I didn’t want to continue the journey properly without a spare wheel, so headed off to the Kwik Fit there. It was Sunday now, but they were open, but – no tyre to fit. Aargh!

Very helpfully though, they ordered one for me to arrive the next morning, so Tilly and I found a nice campsite nearby and wandered off around the local fields for the afternoon.

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All was eventually sorted the next morning and by 11am we were back on the road again.

Now these days, I no longer choose to drive on motorways (or even pretend ones like the A1) so we wiggled our way up across country, somehow managing to navigate successfully between Glasgow and Edinburgh too, and finally ended up at Fintry for the night. By this time we were 2 days behind schedule and had missed a planned meet up with James at Braemar, as well as one with Robin at Ballater. Determined to make up for this, we set off really early the next morning and managed to get over to Tarfside by mid afternoon, where a whole load of TGO Challengers were spending the night.

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I had a good natter with both James and Robin in the afternoon then joined everyone in the bar later on, where I also finally met both Alan Sloman and Andy Walker for the first time.

The next day James was off to Fettercairn for the night, living it up in the rather nice pub in the village, so we arranged to meet up there too, but not before Tilly and I had had a good wander around Loch Lee in the morning.

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Once in Fettercairn, I found a good spot to park the van for the night and James and I both enjoyed a lovely evening meal in the pub. Alan Sloman and a few other challengers were also staying there and another good natter was had after we’d eaten.

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The next day was, of course, James’ final day on his 2015 TGO crossing. He was aiming for Inverbervie but the route was all road work, so after sorting out some fuel for us, we drove off to set up ‘Café Tilly’ for him, about half way there.

Suitably refreshed after sandwiches and cookies he continued on his way, while Tilly and I went off to book in at the town campsite at Inverbervie for the next couple of nights and then wait at the beach to take some ceremonial photos of James dipping his toes into the North Sea.

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And some delicious fish and chips were had in the town that evening.

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Well, James was off wending his long way home the next day and Tilly and I were once again focused on moving northwards towards John O’Groats.

We did have a rather nice walk along the coast though before we moved on, to Gourdon and Johnshaven.

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We got into a kind of rhythm after that with our travelling. I didn’t particularly want to do any more eight hour driving days (Scotland is so big once you start meandering about!) so we would generally drive for two or three hours each morning, before setting up camp and having a Tilly wander in the afternoon.

A couple of nights were spent near Bridge of Avon, then Culloden, before moving onto Dingwall. For some reason I can’t fathom, I don’t seem to have many photos of this part of the journey, but Dingwall had a really good walk we followed for the afternoon which took in part of the estuary of the Cromarty Firth.

Now we were this far north, it became apparent that our route and Geoff’s route on his bike were suddenly colliding. The night we spent at Dingwall, we were in fact just one day ahead of Geoff, who was planning to be there the next night. He didn’t really want us to meet up ’till John O’Groats though – he’d done the trip so far without van support and wanted to continue in that vein right to the end.

So, the next day, we continued wending our way north bit by bit and spent the night in Lairg. I have to say that the campsite here did leave a lot to be desired, but it was a nice little spot for wandering with Tilly in the afternoon, with there being a Forestry Commision plantation just up the road where she could have a good run.

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The weather by now was getting colder and wetter by the day, and speaking to Geoff on the phone that night, I persuaded him to go for a b&b the next night, rather than camping. To be fair, he didn’t actually take much persuading. The next afternoon though – after wind, rain and hail – as Tilly and I were having our lunch on the Altnaharra Road, Geoff gave us a call.

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He’d been thinking. Since we were only about 15 miles north of him, it did seem rather stupid to spend £65 on a b&b, so would we mind going back to Lairg and meeting him there? It seemed churlish to say no….

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And after that, with only a few days to go, it seemed sensible to meet him with the van each night. He couldn’t bring himself to take any luggage of his bike mind, he had to finish with all his gear (and weight) still in his panniers!

The day after then, Tilly and I went off down the Altnaharra road once more and met up with Geoff at Syre, in Strath Naver. I have to say, this was a lovely spot to wild van camp.

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Two days to go. The forecast for the next day was lovely and the forecast for the day after was absolutely dire. It shouldn’t have come as any surprise to me then, when Geoff woke up at 5 the next morning, having decided to join the two days together (64 miles) and finish before the horrendous weather came in.

We were all on the road very early!

Tilly and I stopped off in Thurso for some shopping and a wander,

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before booking us all into Dunnet Bay campsite for a few nights and having a quick run on the beach.

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For once, the weather forecast was true to its word and stayed dry and sunny, and by late afternoon we were in place at John O’Groats, waiting for the wanderer to roll up.

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I found it all rather emotional, to be honest.

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And when Geoff handed me a card saying thanks for my support, with a Boxer puppy voucher inside, that just about finished me off.

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About chrissiedixie

Love being out on the moors and mountains, backpacking, dogs, travelling generally. Favourite place in the world - Yosemite National Park. Retired teacher and ex Mountain Rescue Deputy Team Leader. Married to Geoff, who puts up with all sorts.
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25 Responses to Road Trip To John O’Groats

  1. Robin says:

    Nice one Chrissie. It was good to meet you and Tilly. Hats off to Geoff for doing LEJOG. Pebbles looks a lovely dog. Hope to meet her and Geoff sometime. You spoilt James BTW. Motorised food supplies are strictly forbidden on the Challenge 😉

    • Thanks Robin – it was great to finally meet up with you, too. 🙂
      I’m sure we’ll be able to sort a meet up in the future – and if you don’t tell anyone about the motorised food supplies, I won’t either……

  2. backpackingbongos says:

    Cafe Tilly was very much appreciated 🙂

    I spent the night near Syre last Autumn in the Bongo. A track heads south from Davina Lodge on the eastern side of the river for about a mile. At the time I was not quite sure if I should have been driving it. There is then a nice hidden car park which is used for the walk to Rosal. A lovely quite and remote spot it was.

    • 🙂 🙂
      I did wonder if you’d been up there with the Bongo on your last trip. I shall look at the map for the spot you mentioned – it’s nice to be armed with these ideas for quiet van nights while you’re travelling around!

  3. Ah, the bliss of not driving on motorways, something that is only appreciated with age.

    A nice write up.

  4. Never been to John o’ Groats yet. I can’t imagine cycling that far – it would kill me!

    I actually like motorway driving and look forward to those sections – the car doesn’t get banged about on the bumpy, potholed roads everywhere and we can just get going and cruise and get some miles under our belt. But driving around Scotland on the normal roads is quite a pleasure too – just hate it around here where it too slow and busy.

    That’s awful about the yoofs at Nenthead 😦
    Carol.

    • It was a shame at Nenthead – we’ve camped there before and it’s always been very peaceful.
      I used to do motorways in days gone by, but I just find them too fast, too busy and too stressful now. Geoff does the motorway stuff when we’re together, but even he quite enjoys the country routes like me.

      • I suppose I like motorways ‘cos I’m generally going north on them from here – I did used to find going DOWN the M6 towards Wales pretty stressful though.

        • I used to teach for a few years in a school which was 51 miles away – motorway (M1 then M62) most of the way. I got totally out of the habit though once I wasn’t doing that kind of journey regularly.

  5. Oh, and by the way, I eat chocolate every single day and don’t class it as junk food at all 🙂

  6. David says:

    I enjoyed that Chrissie. Shame about the bored kids doing doughnuts in Nenthead, its one of the downsides of wilding it in the van. Not sure they realise the effect of what seems like a bit of fun has on people. Just seen some pics of your new pup – gorgeous.

    • Thanks David 😊
      I don’t really get this donut thing myself, but maybe I’m just too old! It was a shame as Nenthead is usually very peaceful and quiet, and I was also surprised at how intimidated it made me feel.
      And I may be biased, but Pebbles is a bit of a cutie….😉

  7. Rowena says:

    Fantastic trip you had – well done to Geoff too. I have also heard the Lairg campsite is pretty grim.
    We recently had an overnight stop in the dedicated campervan stop park in Hawick. Big mistake – the toilets are closed overnight and it was a horrible vast carpark right in the middle of town that seemed to be the boy racer centre of the universe 😦
    Nice van by the way! 🙂

    • Thanks Rowena 🙂
      We didn’t use the campsite at Lairg the second night we were there, but just parked on the car park near the main road. It was actually very peaceful and had a nice view of the water!
      I went through Hawick on my way up, so it’s a good job I didn’t plan an overnight stop there too. We don’t generally use sites much, preferring to wild camp as much as possible, but it can mean a bit of research to find good spots. Don’t know if you’ve done much in France, but it’s very easy to get spoilt there, with their system of Aires for motorhomes!

      • Rowena says:

        I’m the same – I prefer to wild camp, although my partner prefers facilities so we always wrangle over it!
        My dad is actually camping round France in his motorhome for that reason. He is loving it. I think it is very forward thinking – it’s a shame we don’t have that here.

  8. beatingthebounds says:

    It seems that your journey was almost as epic as Geoff’s! I admire his discipline – I’m not sure I would have been able to resist the temptation to offload some of my gear onto the van!

    • I could certainly have done without all the flat tyre trauma! I nearly felt like going home before I’d even got underway properly 😞
      Yes, I thought Geoff was very good to keep everything in his panniers too. I would have at least dumped the tent/sleeping stuff 😄

  9. What an amazing trip, fantastic photos too. Very impressive.

  10. surfnslide says:

    Cracking road trip – wondered where you’d been in the blog silence. There is a book about all the French Aires if you look it up, my mate GM came across it – perfect for van camping

    • Been quiet again this week as we’ve been away again! I think we’ve probably got that aires book thanks, and it is a good one 😊
      It was a good trip thanks, thoroughly enjoyed it, except for the flat tyre….😅

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