From: Helmsdale to Dunbeath
Distance: 15m / 24km
Cumulated distance: 1165m / 1875km
Percentage completed: 98.4
Tonight’s blog will have to be a short one. I’m absolutely shattered .. can barely engage the brain .. and my son is already fast asleep and dead to the world in the bed next to mine. For the lion’s share of today we followed the John o’Groat’s Trail to the letter, walking at a max of 1mph, and getting nowhere fast.
‘I have a cunning plan, m’lady’, said Angus at breakfast. ‘Oh yeah?’, I replied with the sceptical derision of Lord Black Adder. The idea of climbing high above the A9, forging a totally new path through impenetrable thick gorse, held no attraction for me. So, undeflated Gus instead suggested we should give the JOG Trail a go instead. Much better idea. We walked past Helmsdale’s harbour with its bobbing boats, the Salmon Nettery and Lobster Pot Cottage.
At first the going was good and easy, with pleasant views across a millpond North Sea. It grew more challenging as the pebbles became larger and more difficult to negotiate. But we enjoyed the wild life and stuck in there. Once again there were seals, basking and making their mewing sounds. We started to imagine what they were saying to one another. We gave them names and very soon had a community of great aunts gossiping in the waves about their sisters .. Ethel, Gladys, Edie, Mabel and Doris. They took on the voices of Monty Python’s mother of Brian. ‘Oooh, I know .. Edie’s always been such a one for the glad rags .. and Doris, well, she doesn’t know any better .. Oooh, I know and we’ll have to do something about Ethel’s false teeth .. they’re starting to yellow’ ….
As we deepened our relationship with the John o’Groats Trail, we realised that instead of being a walk it was much more of an assault course. The terrain was rich and varied .. beach, moorland, cliffs, burns, fields and acres of dense gorse and bracken, with underlying nettles ready to snaffle your ankles.
The path itself demanded climbs over deer fences, down ridiculously steep slopes .. and up them again, across fords and through bracken which grew high above my head. At times the signage was good; at times non-existent. It was at times frustrating and at others spectacular.
The use of Trail markers ranged from efficiently good to woefully absent. It made for a distrustful attitude among the walkers. At times we wondered if there’d just been a helicopter drop of the wee signs, scattering them randomly across the countryside.
There were moments for reflection .. like when we came to the deserted, ruined village of Badbea, clinging to the godforsaken cliff top .. another testimony to the Highland Clearances in the early 1800s.There wasn’t a huge amount to see today. Walls of old cottages among the gorse and heather, but seldom roofs. History records that crofters from the nearby glens of Ousdlale and Berriedale were forcibly relocated, to this place where gales and snowstorms would blast with impunity. ‘Families from several estates in the area were evicted and rehoused in Badbea’, where there was already a small community, scratching a living on dangerous cliff tops. It was ‘Langwell Estate owner Sir John Sinclair of Ulbster who began replacing families – and their rents – with more profitable sheep pasture. Sometimes there was a moral front to the relocation: the wretched poor being given apparently better quality homes in which to improve their lives away from the valleys they called home. Neither did it hurt that the landowner was able to offer the newly destitute employment in the mining or fishing industries they frequently owned or controlled.
It must have been an exceedingly harsh life, even by 18th century standards and its inhabitants were gradually forced to leave and find a new life, in places as far away as New Zealand and Australia. The last inhabitant left the village in 1911, and in that year David Sutherland, the son of the New Zealand emigrant, Alexander Robert Sutherland, erected a monument, built from the stones of John Sutherland’s home, in memory of his father and the people of Badbea.
There is also a touching website compiled by the descendants whose ancestors were cleared to Badbea, which ‘celebrates their lives and tells some of the stories they passed down to their children and grandchildren, so that their fortitude may be remembered by future generations’. http://www.badbeafamilies.com/index.html
Of course there were moments of beauty today .. why else would you torture yourself with the vagaries of the Trail. Even in the grey day it was good to appreciate the loveliness. At times the landscape reminded me of Cornwall and the early days of my journey. But the sense of desolation and the absence of pretty, well-cared for villages and hamlets along the way made it very different.
In our desperate optimism we spotted the mirage of Berriedale village and its famed tearoom four times. It eventually materialised out of the fourth dimension and we devoured over-sized slices of chocolate and marshmallow cheesecake with very little decorum. It was a magnificent pick-me-up and just what was needed before we succumbed to the A9 for the final six miles. Gus was an absolute hero in carrying my backpack, as well as his own from Berriedale. Cranking up our speed on an uncharacteristically quiet road we made it to our warm and friendly B&B in Dunbeath by 6.55, just in time to stumble along to the Bay Owl restaurant for dinner.
As we marched along the road passing abandoned vehicles and caravans, a sight to warm the cockles of my heart came into view .. not long now.
Black Dog Tails
Blaze has transformed Claire’s life. After having surgery on her brain she lost her sight. Blaze has helped bring her independence and confidence back. You can click on the link for the story or watch Claire describe what a miracle Blaze is in the video: http://creative.dailymail.co.uk/guidedogs
Welcome to Scotland! Long hard days, rough terrain, but all worthwhile – there’s nowhere like it.
Your last post referred to Gus climbing the “Munro” Ben Bhraggie and I hope it’s not a disappointment but it is not classified as a Munro – Munros are 3000ft plus (or 914m).
I climbed Gus’s hill back in 2010 during a sojourn at Brora with my caravan:
“SATURDAY, 25 APRIL 2015
Day 4. Friday 24 April
Ben Bhraggie NC 810 010 and Beinn Lunndaidh NC 791 020
Ascent straight from the car park in Golspie, past the church and under the railway to climb Ben Bhraggie first. Then along the ridge to my Marilyn summit. Descent south west to Loch Lunndaidh and back on path to Golspie.
This was a seven mile round. A well established path took me to Ben Bhraggie where the massive monument to the Duke of Sutherland mentioned in my post yesterday stands. I reckon this is nearly as big as Nelson’s Column.
A track along the ridge took me another kilometre with a short shower, and then it was pathless heather bashing to my Marilyn, but fairly short and not too hard going. A fine sighting of deer a kilometre away silhouetted on a ridge was a little bonus.
Coffee and munchies were taken on the summit – weather was fine and views extensive. It was a rough steep descent to get to the path along Loch Lunndaidh involving climbing of two deer fences. These are about ten feet high but every so often there is a larger support post sticking up above the top fence wire and the fence is made up of eight inch wire squares, so it is fairly easy, a bit like climbing a pot holing ladder.”
I mentioned the statue later to a local farmer pondering why it hadn’t been trashed in view of the duke’s involvement with The Clearances and he had a surprisingly non accusatory balanced view on the subject of the Duke of Sutherland.
Oh dear! That has put me off the JOG Trail.
Never mind you are almost there so an extra push from me.
Fantastic achievent, very impressive. What next iI wonder! Blog is great, thanks.
So exciting, JJ! JOG in sight, and the last really hard day today… any thoughts about wanting to push to The Orkneys??? Px
I trust there will be a piper, champagne, a celebratory crowd, tears, hugs and ululating when you reach your destination. Only 2% to go Meddem!
Hi Jules, what a day!! You got through it though but I suspect that rocky shore was not kind to your foot. From Golspie to Helmsdale we walked 7 miles on the coast as you did but next 11 that day were the A9 in pouring rain. Wasn’t too busy at all. From Helmsdale it was pretty much the A9 to JOG harbour but it was very quiet and on last day the 16 miles were covered so so quickly as the road cut a direct path. I bet you can hardly believe you are almost there. Hope the next two days walking is easier than this day. Philip and I will celebrate here for you and give a cheer. xx
Nearly there! Sounds like this is hard terrain added to cumulative exhaustion. With you in spirit for the last miles! Lots of love Lee xxx
I just can’t believe you are so close now. I just can’t express how pleased I am that Angus is doing this with you. Happy days indeed xx
Jules – you are so close to achieving something extraordinary. Good luck for the final push – you are a star!
I have been think about you a lot today, as you are coming to the end of your walk and thinking back to the conversation we had when Martin and I joined you for those precious few days. It is very easy for me to sit here and say all the things to be said, with a bubbles in my hand (no wee dram to be seen!) and having just after having a scrumptious meal, which I know you would have enjoyed.
Speaking to you this afternoon, you were soundly so tired, sore, sad that Gus has gone, fed up with the traffic, your foot, the long distance you have to do tomorrow, etc., etc.,
You are not one normally to be negative and despondent, only when you are in the pits. You have been there, you have felt it, you were it. That is in the past. That is not now.
What I recognise, is how I felt in my last bout when going for my black belt. My body was on remote control, I do not know whose, but they were pressing the correct buttons. My mind was blank, having said that, it was going 10 to a dozen with all sorts of weird stuff, all in slow motion. Each second lasted for 10 minutes. It was bloody awful.
Tomorrow, speak to your good Jules, let her be your guiding thoughts, play your running playlist, over and over again. Be kind to yourself, as it can be tough towards the end.
Please do ponder, as you walk tomorrow, on what you have accomplished. This last 1 1/2 years, you have been working on this. It will all be over on Tuesday.
If you can, please see if you can enjoy the last miles.
Most of all, keep safe.
With much love from all of us Atkins (including Aaron 😊)
Bravo Jules and Gus ,I am completely admirative about your energy , your willpower, your determination.
Take care !
After a very long way,very soon you ll arrive in your final destination.
So Happy for you
All my best.
Hi Jules, we have followed you every day. Your journey is extraordinary, inspiring, beautiful and courageous. I never knew Scotland was so beautiful and interesting. Congratulations on your fabulous achievement and we hope you enjoy the final few kilometres with Angus. Alastair and Susan
wow! What a day. How anymore to go? From the map it looks like you are very nearly done. What an amazing experience and achievement. Hoping the weather stays good for the last bit and you have a fabulous time. It will be weird to wake up in the morning and not have a long walk to do …
Well done Jules. By the time you read this you will be done!!!!!
Thank God Gus has been with you this week, sounds like you’ve had some harrowing days on this last week of the trip, with poorly signposted trails, and unnavigable paths. I’d hate for you to have done the hike you did today on your own.
My heart goes out to you and you have all my praise on this amazing achievement. You should feel so proud of yourself, physically for having finished the walk, and mentally for the challenge that you undertook to complete. With your injuries, and the pain of waking with an injured foot, I’m sure that many a day, it has been really tough to motivate yourself to get out of bed and put your boots on.
Not may people have done what you’ve just done. The joy of completion, the knowledge that you did what you set out to do, will always be with you.
You are truly amazing.
With much love, admiration and respect.
Goooooooooo Jules, you’re so close!! What a woman!!
Dearest Jules – thank god for Angus is all I can say!! Parts of today looked overwhelming!! I can’t bear that it is nearly over…except that your body is probably crying out for rest!! But our vicarious delight in your truly magnificent achievement is coming to an end and our days will have a whole for a bit, but we cheer you home and will sing your praises for much longer than this last three gruelling months. Lots of love as always xx