Day Twelve: Tongue to John O’Groats

or, The One Where Now You’re Gonna Believe Him…

Another good night’s sleep and I was up early to get Day Eleven’s blog finished and up before setting off on the final leg of the journey. I sat in the lounge with a cup of tea and two slices of home made cake (banana and chocolate) for my breakfast…well, with no shops around let alone open what else was I to do?!

All blogged up, fully packed and prepared I set out for what would hopefully be the final time at nine o’clock (does that count as early?). A lovely pootle along the water’s edge,
I was in high spirits and whistling along…

…until I hit the first hill. Which was in turn the first hill of a series of hills. Three quick peaks of 150, 250 and then 350 feet with drops back down to more or less sea level each time. The cycling equivalent of weightlifting’s supersets as it were!

Not going to lie…it was a struggle. Despite the favourable tailwind (yes, yes, oh yay…it had turned Westerly!) my legs weren’t obliging at all and it was a real effort to get myself up to the top each time. Perhaps that headwind the day before had taken it out of me…

A quick feed stop in Bettyhill at the first shop I’d seen open for miles and miles and then it was on to the last big climb of the trip.

After labouring up the 500ft or so, I knew three were just five more climbs left of the journey, and not that many miles to go either!

With the wind finally offering a hand I made good time and stopped off for lunch at a Tesco in Thurso. With less than thirty miles to go and food inside me I knew as I set off that it was going to be my last stop of the trip.

The miles ticked over as the time passed and approaching Dunnet it wad tempting to give a trip to Dunnet’s Head a miss and just get to John O’Groats. I couldn’t do that having taken in Lizard on the way up though so I turned off into the wind and made my way up to the most northerly point.

Obligatory photo out of the way, I was back with the tail wind and after joining the main road once again the signs started appearing; ‘John O’Groats 12’, ‘John O’Groats 9’, ‘John O’Groats 8’…it didn’t matter by now, I knew I was going to finish!

Now, I’d heard that there’s not a lot at John O’Groats and ‘it’s a little run down’ but I didn’t quite expect it to be as bad as it is. What. A. Dive!

I made my way down to the (now derelict) hotel and, as the clock ticked over to 16.05, crossed the finish line. Job done!

The famous sign post is situated just a few yards up from the hotel and I wandered up to join the queue (!) of people wanting a picture taken. The pair in front of me were just embarking on their trip, picking up a momento to signal the start.

Photos at the post are now a commercial venture, with the sign coming down each night and unauthorised picture taking frowned upon…which is a bit sad really. Anyway, I paid my £9.95 to the surliest man I have ever met and got my picture taken. In the days of super fast broadband and instant communication it’s quaint I’m going to have to wait seven to ten days for them to post it to me…sigh.

A hot chocolate over the road to celebrate (nope, no pub at the finish…that would be too much fun!), I had a chat with a couple of groups there. A family of bikers that were taking in Scotland and the Isles and a couple who had just completed a LEJOG as a solo rider and support vehicle.

Earlier in the week I’d made the decision to change my plans of accommodation for the night and, rather than travel the twenty miles or so back to Scrabster to catch the ferry over to Stromness I booked into the John O’Groats youth hostel and onto a ferry from nearby Gills Bay the next day to take me over to the Orkneys. With the wind as it was I was certainly glad to not be having to tackle that sort of distance back into it!

John O’Groats youth hostel has borrowed a lead from London Luton Airport, and is actually situated two and a half miles back along the coast from which you’ve already travelled! Having now finished, my legs had decided they wanted a rest and it was hard work convincing them they had to make this journey.

When I say there is nothing in John O’Groats it’s no exaggeration. I went into the local shop to look for some food for the night but found nothing of interest at all and resigned myself to the fact I could just have the rest of the shortbread I had left with a cup of tea.

Whilst booking into the hostel I asked if there was anywhere to grab some food. After hearing that the closest place was two miles away I decided the shortbread would do!

I got to my room and was sorting through my stuff when there was a knock on the door. It was one of the bikers from the group I’d met earlier. They’d heard me ask about food and wanted to invite me to join them as they had plenty to go round. How nice!

A lovely pasta dish was the fare on offer with a glass of red wine on top, and chocolate and coffee to finish. It was nice to have a bit of a chat with the group and towards the end of the night another group checked in, ready for their John O’Groats to Lands End trip starting the next day. On a recumbent tandem that they built themselves! Chapeau!

They were in high spirits and with a big group together it really was a lovely end to what’s been a trip with highs and lows but an excellent experience overall. A trip where me actually getting to and crossing the finish line was never in doubt. Not at all… (cough, cough)

I have been making a note of every penny I’ve spent and everything I’ve bought (mainly strawberry milk, Snickers and doughnuts to be fair!), so I’ll update the ‘Pages’ section to the right with those once I’m back home.

I think I’ll also get one more update in once I’ve finished on the Orkney Islands; just a few quick thoughts on the trip as a whole after having a couple of days to let it all sink in…so that’s something for you to look forward too!

Finally, I’d just like to say thank you to everybody that has been in touch over the last twelve days. On the way back from the Essex Lambs Sportive I got chatting to two guys who said you go through some dark patches on a solo trip like this…they weren’t wrong, but your comments and encouragement did help me carry on.

As did the sponsorship that anybody who has donated put forward. It’s nice to know that me completing this challenge in a way and getting sponsored along the way is going to help The Stroke Association with their work.

If you were waiting to see if I actually finished before sponsoring me (I know there was a couple!) then, don’t worry, the link is still open;

Thank you.

Stats for the day

Distance for the day: 71 miles
Time in saddle for the day: 5hrs 8mins
Average speed for the day: 13.8mph
Maximum speed for the day: 38.9mph

Total distance: 1,056 miles
Total time in saddle: 80hrs 26mins
Average speed for trip: 13.1mph

Route for the day…

Day Twelve: Route

Route profile for the day…

Day Twelve: Route Profile

9 Responses to “Day Twelve: Tongue to John O’Groats”

  1. Julie Mangum Says:

    Well done, Antony: Your blog has made compulsive reading and it’s marvellous to read you have made John O’Groats safe and well.

    Mr M’s cycle group are still battling onwards and upwards. Last night they stayed in Glencoe.

    Their trip has been full of trials, tribulations, thrills and spills: a stomach bug has afflicted the group (living cheek by jowel in youth hostels can’t have helped) and sadly, one of the riders could not continue and had to go home (having planned this trip for more than a year and been training like a demon, he must be devastated). Chemist shops along the way have experienced record takings due to a surge in demand for cement tablets and I wish I had shares in Dioralyte!

    There have been a couple of nasty accidents, one involving a (very tired) rider going into the back of a Smart car and the other, where Mr M’s brakes failed going down one of those hills (this one had a main road running at the bottom of it!) you described so well in the early days and he ended up crashing into a hedge and bailing out (no YouTube footage of that I’m afraid to say)! Shaken but not stirred is the best description of the aftermath (both riders went flying over their handlebars and wonky front wheels and replacement forks in one case were needed) and I’m glad (and hugely relieved) to report all’s well now (and long may it continue). They are feeling strong, enjoying the stunning scenery and having plenty of laughs along the way but eating rubbish food.

    With a rest day in Carlisle last Sunday and a slightly different route to yours, they are due to arrive in John O’Groats this coming Sunday.

    Best wishes to you and I hope you enjoy having a rest now you’ve reached your goal.


  2. Luke Parry Says:

    Just picked up a link to your blog from Mark Beamont’s facebook page. Got to say, well done and congratulations for completing an epic journey!

    I hope to do something similar to this but in less time, if I can pick up the training after exams at Uni… However you have given some really useful information that will help plan my journey across the UK.

    I Look forward to any future adventures!

    Luke Parry

  3. Clayts Says:

    WELL DONE!! Bloody brilliant!! I’m almost inspired to do something like this myself, and I will ponder this over a doughnut and strawberry milkshake…

    It’s a shame you’ve finished though – I’ve enjoyed starting my day at work reading your blog instead of actually working – now I’ll have to find something else to do other than work…

  4. Deej Says:

    …or he could skip his train and bike his way back home to give us something to read for the next twelve days; how selfish of you to stop Ant – people rely on you for entertainment!

    Seriously though: congratulations Antony!

    Now off to donate my little bit to the Stroke people…

  5. Mum & Dad Says:

    Tony….. well done on completing this epic trip on time especially as Daphne seemed to have a penchant for the inside of too many bike repair shops along the way. This can’t have helped in keeping to your schedule.

    Enjoy your couple of days at leisure in the Orkneys and we look forward to seeing you again soon.

  6. Mags Says:


    Just caught up with your progress whilst watching the Giro. That’s as close to a bike as I’ll get for the next few months…

  7. Mich Says:

    Whoop whoop! Well done Ant!

  8. dave Says:

    You were also good company when going through towards the end. Your blog brought it all back to life for me too. Thanks for taking the trouble even when tired. Glad your cleats held out. Good luck in whatever you take on next. Don’t think it will be another lejog somehow.

  9. jothelibrarian Says:

    Great blog! Picked it up from Mark Beaumont’s twitter feed, and so glad I did. Looks like you had a marvellous adventure – very well done! Another marathon will seem like a walk in the park after this!

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