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.
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.
Tilly also took the opportunity to chill.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And some delicious fish and chips were had in the town that evening.
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.
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.
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.
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….
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.
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,
before booking us all into Dunnet Bay campsite for a few nights and having a quick run on the beach.
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.
I found it all rather emotional, to be honest.
And when Geoff handed me a card saying thanks for my support, with a Boxer puppy voucher inside, that just about finished me off.