The countryside starts changing now as we follow the coast. The moors, lochs, and mountains are as spectacular as ever, but every so often you round a corner to see the North Sea. Although the weather is clearing, the sea is steel grey, mutinous and sullen.
And geez I’m glad I didn’t take off my fleece. As I ride to the exposed north coastline the temperature literally drops 10 degrees.
Thurso is a thriving little settlement, funded mainly by fishing and farming, with more than a couple of B&B’s and hotels pointing to a healthy tourism economy. At this time on a Saturday morning, the town is busy, if not heaving, and I relish the opportunity to take a leisurely ride through the city centre.
The architecture is much what you’d expect from a centuries old Scots bastion, all slate and granite. Pubs are quaint, if not clichéd, and churches staunchly Calvinist. But this town seems happy and busy, a stark contrast to towns in the south-east of England where empty stores and 2nd hand shops seem business du jour.
It’s past 12 now, and time to get to the top so I can head back down to my lodging for the night.
Now Ian had reminded me that “John O’Groats isn’t the northernmost point of the UK, you know that don’t you!” I didn’t, although rather suspected that geography would make it difficult for the town to be the actual northernmost point. It’s like Cape Town and Cape Agulhas in South Africa, Tierra Del Fuego and Cape Horn in Argentina.
Fortunately, Dunnet Head, which is the northernmost point, sits between Thurso and J O’G and not on the other side of the country. So of course I took the detour. Not to would be like leaving before the end of the match.
There’s not much there. Like all natural features overlaid with a man-made construct (in this case latitude) it’s pretty unremarkable. At least compared to the next cliff, or next beach. Having said that it is gorgeous in it’s own way. There’s a light house (automated), pretty rugged cliffs and an expanse of ocean that offsets the heather strewn plain behind. There’s also a viewing platform occupied by a couple of bird and whale watchers. From here you can clearly see the Shetlands a couple of miles north. The GPS says I’m 58o 40’ 16’’ north. That’s further north than Stockholm.
Whilst riding up to the car park I pass a couple of adventure bikers. One riding a BMW R1150GS with a side-car. The other a mauve Suzuki V-Strom that belies the macho crash bars and styling. I park and head over to say hi, to meet the quirkiest couple in my travels yet. Torstein and Silverwolf are a vegan couple from Finland riding around the world with their 3 dogs, hence the sidecar. He is a lanky, bearded 6’4” biker that visually meets the bikie archetype. His partner, Skippy, is a crewcut, lithe woman that seems way to small to handle the bulk of the v-strom, which she masters with aplomb. Their tour is planned over 5 years, and is likely to end in Australia. (The map on their pannier has no return trip to Finland penned in). You can read about it here. www.sauerkraut-tofuwurst.com It’s interesting to note that their challenges have little to do with riding and maintaining motorcycles in different geographies, but more about permits and quarantine for their “children” pets, and finding good quality affordable vegan food in various countries.
Of course I extended an invitation to come and stay with us when they reach Australia. Given my proclivity for meat, and Dexter, that’s going to be an interesting week.
Did I say I love biking. The places you see, that you can only afford to see on two wheels. The people you meet, that you only meet on two wheels. The in-the-moment, visceral experience of life that you can only experience on two wheels.
But here we are at the northernmost point of mainland UK, which was the original goal of this trip. Level Achieved.
On to John O’Groats, the northernmost settlement in the mainland UK.