Day 15 - Bettyhill to John O'Groats

I finally made it!

A full set of facilities in the middle of nowehere!

So, I finally made it! But much to my surprise this turned out to be the toughest cycling of the entire trip - because of the wind. It was as though the fabled 'End To End' was not going to surrender to me without a fight - perhaps feeling that I had had it too easy so far (which I had!)

I left Bettyhill before 9, on a beautiful sunny morning. I had anticipated that headwinds might be an issue, as I was going to cycle due east all day. So I had allowed plenty of time before my 6pm ferry to Orkney. But I was not prepared for the ferociousness of the east-south-easterly, which served as a full headwind for large stretches, nor for the exposed nature of the terrain which gave little shelter.

The first 17 miles were, as expected, very up and down - reminiscent of the north Cornish coast - you go up a long hill and then down to a cove, and then up again, repeat, repeat. My average ascent rate for that first 17 miles was 90 ft/mile.

After Reay, the land flattens. I took the national cycle track recommended route on minor roads to Thurso. This was very exposed and progress was slow. I managed only 6mph for long stretches, and even started to wonder whether I would get to John O'Groats in time for my ferry.

Thurso gave some respite from the wind, but after the town it got even worse. I battled around the lovely Dunnet Beach, with Dunnet's Head to my left, and then struck due east for the final 12 miles to my goal. The terrain was very exposed and bleak, the weather cloudy but mercifully dry.

I won't forget those final miles for a long time, they seemed to take forever. Imagine, on a long descent where you would normally reckon to freewheel at 25mph, finding that you have to use lots of energy to go 6mph in your lowest gear! I even shouted at the wind in my frustration a couple of times!

So it was with great relief that I finally coasted due north down into John O'Groats at about 4.15. I had felt a bit emotional earlier in the day, as I anticipated the completion of the journey, but now I just felt relieved to be done with that wind! I phoned Elisabeth and my parents, got a friendly passer by to take the obligatory photograph, had my 'record sheet' stamped at the hotel, and had a baked potato while I waited for my ferry to Orkney (to spend a night there before returning to Oxford).

Today's average of 8 mph says everything about that wind. Just 51 miles, but they took me some 6hrs and 21 mins.

Total mileage for the whole ride: 1021.34
Total time: 102.13
Average speed: 10 mph
Total ascent: 60,516 ft (18,620 metres)

For full statistics of today's trip and the whole journey, click here.

So, when I look back on this journey, my main feeling is that I have been very fortunate. Consider:

  • Only one puncture, and no mechanical problems.
  • SE/S/SW winds the whole way, giving me favourable conditions the whole trip apart from the final day.
  • Only about 15 hours of serious rain in 102 hours of riding.