Thank you for your patience, gentle readers. It’s taken a while since arriving at the John o’Groats finger-post to gather my thoughts and put a final blog together .. in amongst the sleeps and the naps and the siestas! I will be writing my about my thoughts of the whole journey but for now wanted to share the joy of the final day with you .. you have been such wonderful companions along the way.
Last Tuesday I woke up really early, had a swift breakfast, packed my backpack one last time and set off to walk the final nine miles. There was something about the day which reminded me of finishing summer term at school. You remember that feeling of excitement with both the end of term and the beginning of holidays in sight. Childhood had a way of heightening those emotions and creating a heady cocktail of excitement and slightly anxious anticipation. It was a sensation I hadn’t had in decades.
I passed the two castles at Keiss almost immediately .. the ruined one standing precariously on the cliff-top and its successor stoutly anchored further inland. Planned obsolescence even in the 17th century.
The narrow A road demanded full attention and it didn’t take much to tempt me off-piste, to saunter down a lane signposted to Nybster Harbour. I hadn’t remembered there being any fishing village marked on the map and so was curious. The place is really famous for having the most important broch in mainland Scotland. A broch is an Iron Age settlement. It’s thought that this one dates back to as early as 700 BC and that people lived there for over a thousand years. There’s not too much to see for the layperson but it’s impressive when you think of the timeframe, nevertheless.
Much more recently the little harbour at Nybster was used for landing fish and creel pots. The uneven stone steps led down to the crystal-clear water, past an old and crumbling fishing bothy. For some reason I found it heart-achingly beautiful. Maybe it was knowing this was probably my last little detour on the walk or maybe it was the poignancy of the simple bothy, once home to a family and now deserted and cold. I sat alone on the jetty and felt overwhelmed by the history, the natural beauty and the humanity of the place.
The geology of the place reminded me of Hartland Quay, back in Cornwall. I smiled at the symmetry of the walk .. starting and ending with such beautiful towering cliffs and ocean. Once I’d torn myself away from the quiet solitude I returned to the road and became focused on reaching my goal of the day and my goal of the journey .. John o’Groats.
The village of Freswick was announced on a sign, well before any signs of habitation. It felt to be more the size of a county than that of a village, as I hobbled along. The Castle close to the shore was a distraction. It’s what’s known as a tower house and was built on the site of a 12th century Viking settlement. Nowadays, the Grade A building is hired out for house-parties. I can well imagine the cloudscapes and night skies are spectacular, with no light pollution and huge horizons.
There was the occasional house dotted along the road and those people sitting in their warm verandahs all smiled and raised their hands to wave .. they must see so many End to Enders passing their windows, in all weathers. It was a tonic and made me smile broadly in return. Motorists tooted as they whizzed past, all seeming to encourage me along the final few miles. But there was one little electric-blue car which slowed down and pulled up beside me. The emotion was almost too much as I recognised Liz and Graham, the friends who had waved me off from Land’s End on 1st of March in the snow. Here they were up in Scotland, ready to help me celebrate as I crossed the finishing line. After much hugging they jumped back into their car and I returned to the road to walk the last couple of miles by myself.
It didn’t take long to crunch out the last stretch. And then suddenly, there it was .. the famous fingerpost at the northern most point of the country, pointing southwards all the way to Land’s End. I could have hugged it .. in fact I did! It was a feeling of utter elation.
There was time for many photos and for drinking the fizz that Liz and Graham had brought with them. There was time to share the elation with Julian, a German cyclist who had also just finished the journey from Land’s End .. but in a spectacular 9.5 days. There was time to celebrate with the Harley Davidson riders who I’d met earlier and who had made a generous donation to Walking The Black Dog. And there was also time to cuddle up to Buzz, the black labrador who just happened to be there on the day, with his lovely owner Alison and her husband.
I was able to reach my husband on the phone in Sydney and talk jubilant nonsense to him. Then I sent messages to other wonderful friends who have been there to support me all along the way. I have NO recollection of what I said now, such was the excitement!
There were more photos, more bubbles and possibly a few tears.
And that was that .. or so I thought. But I’d underestimated the Lights’ kindness and generosity, not for the first time. In the back of my mind I felt something was not quite right as Liz drove at a snail’s pace back to our wonderful stop for the night. Not known for her sedentary driving, I was mildly surprised at just how slowly she was driving. It took us at least two hours to get to Skibo but as we were merrily chatting all the way, it mattered as nought. There was a very good reason for her refusal to overtake even tractors, as it turned out.
As we approached the castle, we were welcomed at the steps by the lovely manager, Caroline and her assistant Amanda. Out of the grand double doors, stumbled a kilt-sporting, doddering old retainer, with drinks slopping about on his silver tray. Muttering words beneath his breath I immediately smelt a rat .. this member of staff was not at all up to Skibo’s usual high standard, in fact he was quite culturally unacceptable. And then the cat was out of the bag as I tugged at the kilt and pulled off the wig to reveal one of my oldest, dearest friends, Nick .. one last wonderful surprise to end my journey! (Turns out Liz was desperately trying to give Nick time to don his kilt and arrange his wig, after his delayed arrival from Inverness airport!)
There was a bath with bubbles, glasses with bubbles and a terrific evening of revelry. I even got my second wind, as I smelled the Glenmorangie in the Gun Room. What a way to finish!
The icing on the cake came the following day as we made our way back to Inverness Airport and called in to see how the puppies were doing in Culbokie. Well, they were looking just peachy, even if some had definitely found a use for those sharp little teeth! Black dogs and walking boots felt to be the perfect end to the journey.
I’ll be back with a few reflections once I’ve had chance to digest the last few months. But for now, thank you gentle readers for being there for me.
Black Dog Heroes
Archie has completely changed Katie’s life. Katie has a fainting condition which means she can black out unexpectedly up to ten times a day. Archie can predict when she’s about to faint by a change in her smell. He alerts her and since he’s been in her life she’s suffered no injuries at all and has been able to continue swimming at a national level.
Little black dogs and old walking boots
… there could not be a more fitting image to describe your magnificent adventure
Lots of love, we are so very proud of you
You beautiful puppies .. you’re the best!! xxx
Just amazing Jules, I’ve been missing your blog and the black dog heroes who have often had me in tears as I’ve watched your journey. I’m such a softie for dogs! Sending love from a wet, cold Sydney xx
Thank you, Anna for your frequent and supportive messages .. they’ve been wonderful to receive. So glad you liked the black dog heroes. I had a lot of fun finding them all in the various nooks and crannies of the internet! See you soon in Sydney. xx
Jules, you are an inspiration!! It has been fabulous to have followed your journey over the last 3 months.
Thank you so much, Larry for being at my metaphorical side all along the way. Your support has been wonderful and BDI are indebted to you for your very generous donation. My love to you and Petra.
Dearest Jules – our last post – because although I have written, Jonathan has always read your news too!! We have followed you with admiration and respect and delight in your incredible achievement. This will never leave you – the heights to which you have climbed – they will forever be a seam of strength for you. Well done dear friend, you are a life enhancer and have earned your place in this world. Xx
Frannie, all along the way you have been the voice of encouragement and support. On a daily basis. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for being there for me. Your words are incredibly special. I can’t wait to see you back in Sydney .. I think we get back around the same time. It won’t be the first time we’ve met in an airport! All love xx
So good to hear from you and to read this final day blog. I’ve been thinking of you all the time, and am so proud of you. I tell anyone who is prepared to listen about your physical and mental journey from “end to end”. Delighted that you had friends come to surprise you to celebrate the end with you – no doubt made your achievement all the more special.
I so look forward to seeing you in Barcelona in November and hearing first hand about your adventure.
For now rest up, get your foot well, wallow in your achievement and success, but mostly just feel really good about what you’ve done, what you were able to do when you didn’t think you could go any further.
So, so proud of you….
Linda, it’s been wonderful getting your messages all along the way .. thank you so much, they’ve buoyed me up at times when I’ve really needed it. Will be lots of fun seeing you in November .. some walking, some culture and perhaps a little dress shopping. I’ll have my card ready! xx
What a wonderful and heroic tale with a very happy ending….much love and congratulations on your great achievement Jules xxx
Well Done Jules! Beautiful journey and accomplishment! Loved your tales and sketches along the way.
Love and Blessings!
Thank you Jacque!It’s been great getting your well wishes along the way, x
I have a tear in my eye reading this. Very well done.
That’s so lovely, Helen. You will be enjoying the same sense of fulfilment and achievement yourself soon!
Congratulations Jules such an amazing acheivement! I am so going to miss your blog which always sets me up for my day.
I still have your battery pack, I can easily drop it to your house nearby would that be best?
Thank you Caroline .. didn’t realise you were following the blog. That would be very kind of you .. probably best if I give you a call in the next couple of days and we make a plan. Jx
I was so happy to read yet another one of your blogs today. I will miss them!
But congrats to you again Jules. An amazing achievement!!
Lots of love
Petra, yours and Larry’s support has been magnificent .. thank you so very much. The BDI will be able to do so much with your wonderful donation. My love, Jx
Enjoy the R & R Jules, and I hope the feet feel better soon! I have all your blogs saved in their own folder, but I hope one day they will be gathered into a book. Congratulations and well done!! Angie
Angie, you’ve been such a star with your messages all along the way .. thank you so much. x
I have enjoyed your daily blogs, the photos and your sketches so much. My days will not be quite the same without my daily fix of your travelogue! This is an achievement that in future years you can look back on with pleasure. The memories of your walk will always stay with you. Thank you for the pleasure you have brought to me and so many others. Love & hugs, Hils
I’m so glad that you were reading as I was making my way, Hilary! Thank you so much for your kind comments. Love Jx
Congratulations Jules! I’ve loved all the sketches and your descriptions each day. I don’t know where you found the energy – especially when you have usually just completed another mammoth walk!
Lovely getting your messages, Caroline. Thank you so much for your support.
Mazel Tov! Your effort has enhanced my life, and I’m sure may others. I feel like I was in your backpack with you, and will miss it!
Thank you so much, Joanne .. I’ve loved your comments all along the way. Jx
Well done on a great achievement and for such a very worthy cause. Debby and I have followed your journey which brought back so very many memories from our walk along a similar route in 2010. We marveled at your ability to not only walk and blog, but also to produce such evocative drawings. Bravo! You’ve also spurred us into supporting the Black Dog charity, so well done on that front too.
You’ve earned a good rest but we wonder what effect this walk will have on your life. In my case it proved to be an epiphany that went on to transform my mindset from the corporate consumerist frame to one recognising the beauty and boundaries of planet Earth and the rights of all life to flourish. I was prevailed upon by friends to write a book, Joining Loose Ends, about our walk and the change that it brought to our lives. I can only encourage you, if you have any inclination to do the same.
Once again hearty congratulations…..Keith Badger
Thank you for your lovely email, Keith. I’ve certainly enjoyed writing the blog .. so, who knows! Thank you for your support of the BDI, a really terrific charity. Would be great to meet up in Sydney. My best, J
What an achievement and an amazing adventure… and all for a great cause. This is the end of a wonderful chapter in your life. I hope you’re going to treat yourself to some well deserved R and R now.
If you haven’t planned to already, I very much hope you’ll put together a book of your wonderful drawings. I’d certainly be keen to buy a few!
Look forward to seeing you soon.
John and Sue xx
Thank you, Sue. The last week has involved lots of R! Looking forward to catching up with you and John soon. xx
Hi Jules, Huge CONGRATULATIONS and veneration for your achievement!!! My delayed response is because I’ve been waiting to have time to sit and really savour your last post – which I just have! I wish you deep rest, space and time to really absorb all you have seen and done these last few months. I’m looking forward to your next sharing, but not for some time 😊. Lots of love and a restorative hug, LUCY xox❤️
Thank you so much, Lucy. It will be wonderful to catch up in Sydney soon. Jxx
We’re really going to miss the blog! Amazing achievement you are incredible and you seem to look younger than when you started! See you in Sydney xxxx
Amazing what they can do in Photoshop! See you very soon, Jxxxx
A wonderful achievement Jules. While completing the Pennine Way and 10in10 and coping with my own leg challenges I have walked over 500kms in 3 weeks which pales in comparison to 2,000kms. What a champ you are and what a fundraising achievement. On reflecting on my own latest conquest I finally feel at peace that I don’t need to prove myself to myself or anyone else anymore. I hope you may feel the same but I would never discourage your love of long distance walking and isn’t Britain such a beautiful country in which to quench your passion. Congratulations yet again. You did it! Cheers Katrina Hemingway
Katrina, many, many congratulations!! That’s wonderful news that you’ve completed the Pennine Way .. a big challenge in anyone’s book. I know how much you were looking forward to it and I should love to hear more about your journey. Totally get what you say about not needing to prove anything .. feel much the same now. Would be great to see you in Sydney. My best, Jx
Congratulations, massive round of applause to you my dearest friend for accomplishing such life changing experience , you are simply amazing ! Bravo ! I am writing my last comment on your blog , back in Sydney , and I can say confidently , being one of your many loyal blog followers that we are all missing your wonderful daily posts that were part of our lives since March the 1st .
Last month it was a joy and true privilege for me to be able to step inside the book I had been reading ” LEJOG with Jules Forth” and spend a week with the intrepid heroin and sharing a slice of her life changing journey . Can’t wait to ask you tonnes of questions such as … how is your foot ? do you unconsciously grab your packpack and start walking everyday after breakfast :)? do you miss anything ? like not having to think about what to wear 🙂 ? When are you welcoming your 2 new black lab puppies ( surely it’s a done deal ! ) ?
You have definitely dug deep , reached your goals , ticked all the boxes you wanted to tick and many more xox
Thank you so much Sophie .. not only for your messages but also the wonderfully supportive emails and most of all, for being by my side as I walked the Great Glen Way. It was a joy. xx
What an epic journey! Three months of walking sounds so therapeutic, you take in all the little things when you travel at that speed. I loved reading about your adventures, there was so much to learn about all the places and people you touched. And I am so impressed what a huge project this has been for you and how professionally it was all run – all by YOU! From the amazing fundraising dinner, to all the posts and drawings, to the pictures and history lessons, to the logistics along the way. And I am sure we only saw the tip of the effort-iceberg that went into all this. We can all learn so much from you.
Hope to catch up in Sydney soon,
Well done, Tom
Tom, what a wonderful message to receive .. so kind of you. Should love to see you soon. Will be in touch once the jetlag has abated! Thank you.