Thrumster House was a glorious slice of heaven. Built in the late 1700s and much renovated in Victorian times, it was for me the perfect haven. Comfortable but not over-familiar. Stylish without a hint of pretension. And truly authentic in every way. I would return in a heartbeat. I suppose it really felt like a home .. eclectic piles of books which had clearly been read, not just there to impress. Photos of family on shelves, which were more snaps than posed portraits. Worn but interesting fabrics and wall-papers. And hosts who were genuinely interested .. in their guests and in an abundance of a massive range of subjects. I had dinner with Catherine and her mother, Islay. It was home-cooked food of a very superior nature and the wine was poured with a generous hand. Of all my stops along the way, it was my favourite. https://www.thrumster.co.uk
Over dinner I discovered that Catherine is on the board of the Friends of the John o’Groats Trail, which runs on a charitable basis. Much as Gus and I had thought, the difficulties in making the Trail more established lie in poor funding and recalcitrant land-owners refusing access. The access shouldn’t really be a problem with Scotland’s legal status of the public’s ‘right to roam’ but where there’s a will to make things difficult, there’s a way. It will take a while for the Trail to have the same status and standard as other walks such as the West Highland Way or the Great Glen Way, but Catherine was confident it would happen eventually. I so hope she’s right as the views from the coastal path were infinitely superior to those from the A9 and deserve to be seen by many more folk.
It was a quick jaunt into Wick this morning. I’d imagined I’d have a cappuccino there with a delicious pastry, perhaps. No such luck. While having an interesting history, Wick is now home to a disproportionate number of barbers, tattoo parlours and carpet salesrooms. Although it had a harbour it was difficult to find any other redeeming features.
It wasn’t long after the town that I was able to revert from the A99 to the John o’Groat’s Trail. And wow, what a spectacular section of the trail it was .. four miles from Ackergill Tower along the beach to Keiss. There are castles at either end and glorious blond sand which could give any Aussie beach a run for its money. It was a fantastic way to finish my penultimate day of Walking The Black Dog. I took time to sit on the sand, with my back against my pack and reflect a little, in the Scottish sunshine.
Legend would have us believe that the young and exquisitely beautiful Helen Gunn, was abducted by John Keith in the late 14th century. To escape his advances she flung herself from the highest tower of Ackergill Castle. This heralded the beginning of a great deal of feuding between the Gunns and the Keiths and you won’t be surprised to hear that her ghost still haunts the place. Not long ago a shed-load of money was thrown at renovating the building, so that it can now host conferences and romantic weddings .. when both parties come willingly to the altar.
The ruined Castle Sinclair Girnigoe has an even gorier history. It teeters on the edge of the cliffs looking hopelessly picturesque. Actually, it’s not just one but two castles: Girnigoe built in the late 15th century and Sinclair added on a hundred or so years later. And its history is anything but picturesque: in 1577 the 4th Earl of Caithness, imprisoned his own son, John in Castle Girnigoe, on suspicion of rebelling against his rule. He was held there for seven years, after which his father fed him a diet of salted beef, with nothing to drink, so that he eventually died insane from thirst. Not nice.
A drawbridge over a ravine connects the two castles. Hostilities between the 6th Sinclair Earl of Caithness and John Campbell of Glenorchy, a siege and then an attack in 1680, destroyed much of the structure and it has never been inhabited since. Restoration has begun on the castle, funded by the Clan Sinclair Trust in an attempt to preserve the archeological and historical importance of the structure.
The sand was punctuated by rocks to begin with, all bearing a luminescent lime seaweed. The colour verged on the surreal.
In 1958 the fishing vessel Jean Stephens, an Aberdeen trawler, ran aground during a blizzard in Sinclair’s Bay. The crew survived but the rescue was hampered by the weather which forced rescuers to approach over the snow covered landscape. Getting to the shore was made even more difficult by snow-filled anti-tank trenches dug out to secure the coast from German invasion during Second World War. This is all that remains of her ..
Apart from a few dog walkers, I had the beach pretty much to myself. It was a real treat to walk in such serenity with just the curlews and oyster-catchers for company. The village of Keiss and its castle were at the other end of the bay. The castle is another impossibly romantic, partially ruined fort clinging precariously to the cliffs. It dates back to the 16th century but didn’t provide shelter for very long before the new Keiss Castle was built further inland. Actually it’s not so much of a castle as a ‘large and elegant Scottish Baronial house’.
Just as the shingle and pebbles started to pile up, I was able to return to the JOG Trail, which traced a handy path up to the village of Keiss and my accommodation for the last night on the walk. It was a pretty and very easy path to follow.
At supper in the local pub I got chatting .. the way you do .. to the people on the next door table. Turned out the son had just finished his first day of JOGLE. Having recently left the navy he wanted to do something special, something rewarding and something out of the ordinary .. something he could tell his children and his grandchildren about. I was so happy to tell him it was probably the best thing I’d ever done, realising as I said it that I’d already pushed the misery of yesterday to the back of my mind.
Tomorrow I’ll reach John o’Groats ..
Black Dog Tails
This is Rover, the expert scat tracker. With his powerful sense of smell he helps with eco-diversity research.
Such an achievement Jules. So v happy and thrilled for you. You did it!!!!!
Go for it now Jules !!!!!
From Peter and EVERYONE at The Lee Shaw Partnership …. Land and Estate Agents Chartered Surveyors
……… working with Helks !
We’re all SO proud of of YOU ! x
Go Jules!!! Enjoy that last day xxxx
Good morning Jules! Here we are at the opposite ends of our beloved Isles – and you just hours from your prize. Enjoy every second of this unique day. Love you to bits! Xx
Only one more day! What a great achievement Jules – you are an inspiration to us all. We will seriously miss your daily blogs, but are so happy for you and for what you have done. Hope tomorrow is an easy and enjoyable day for you. Thank you for sharing this special experience with us.
Go Jules, we’ve been following you the whole way, push on until the end, what a mighty effort.
Mish & Grant Oayda 😘✌️
So well done Jules!!! It must have been a struggle at the end with the pain in your foot. Remember I said to you that there was more mental strength involved with this journey than physical. Well you have surely proved that you have great fortitude and a strong will. Tomorrow will be an emotional day. You should be just so so proud of yourself. A stupendous achievement. I look forward to the smiling photo under the sign post at JOG Harbour . Fabulous photos. I love the Caithness sky. A place at the edge of the world. Do take a little trip to the Orkneys, we did and I loved it. x
A flurry of messages to see you over the line dear Jules.
Congratulations and a final “Thank You!”
Jo and David
… and the presence of a flat-coated retriever was just the icing on the cake! (I have had three – fabulous dogs, but barking mad!)
Glad the blues of yesterday have been banished. All the best for a fantastic final day!
Joanna Brownell has connected me with the last part of your epic adventure, Jules. The final day will bring with it – a sublime feeling related to your mighty achievement…. and a sense of loss too, that this adventure is complete. That said, I know that you will enjoy and treasure the reflections from your pilgrimage, your connections, your responses to nature for the rest of your days. Warmest congratulations. John & Mary.
So excited for you. You are an absolute star Jules. Enjoy every single one of these final steps and moments. Much love xx
Hi Jules. Enjoy your last day. Well done, trriffic adventure and thanks for sharing. Time to plan the next challenge!
Lots of love
Hi Jules, I have had you close for so much of the last week. Knowing that such a huge and personal odyssey is about to end, and that your foot has been so sore lately, I have been willing you with so much positive thought.
I wonder if you have a list of clear take-aways from the last few months? Top 10 things learned? Or top 5 places you will want to revisit (in order)?
Again maybe you should just put your feet up and bask a little in your success on completing such an amazing trek.
Thank you for taking us on your wonderful journey Jules. I know it has also been arduous for you at times.
You gave me a chance to delve into history and places and experiences which I might not, otherwise, have had a chance to do.
Most of all, I loved sharing the part when I was with you, which seems years ago now.
I am so full of admiration for you, my friend. Sending you my love and thanks Xxx (post if you choose, although this is quite personal)
We are sooo hoping for a video post of the final furlong….
Many many congratulations.
All round brilliant effort
Adam and Shauna
What an AMAZING achievement Jules! It’s been such a pleasure reading your daily blogs and seeing your beautiful drawings. I shall miss them!
Look forward to catching up in Chedworth.
Enjoy your last day!!!!!!!!
Nearly there !!! So inspired by you
Congratulations from a fellow LEJOGer on your last but one day. I have no doubt you will make it tomorrow. It has been a great pleasure to follow your blog. Even after ten years I still have a feeling of pride, and a sort of puzzlement and almost disbelief at the achievement, and I know that will be the same for you. Well done Jules.
My last night was spent in a b and b at Keiss called Dunroamin. The bed covers, the carpet, and the walllpaper were all tartan.
Jules- You are a LEGEND! Your last few days with Angus were so poignantly described – the beauty, pleasure and the pain. So nice have such a memorable week with your boy and to have such a beautiful day as your penultimate. We can’t help to be both happy and sad for your final posting tomorrow. We sincerely wish that your last day’s walk to JOG is the best of the last three months and look forward to giving you that congratulatory hug that you so well deserve. Well done!!!
Alex and Amely
SO EXCITING!!! Go you good thing!!!
Wow. Enjoy your amazing day. In total admiration of your feat (and feet). Thank you for sharing so much with us, photos, drawings, history, your pains and delight. Will so miss your daily blog over breakfast, it has been an absolute pleasure travelling with you.
Breathe in all the moments of your last day on this long journey, Jules. So happy for you!
We have followed your progress from our home in Zimbabwe with interest and admiration. Wow what a lady! Congratulations.
Gorgeous photos. I’ve only just got internet access again in the Pennines but guess you’ve finished. In which case, a massive well done.