Tuesday 21 August 2007

John O'Groats Back Home to Portsmouth [18th-21st August]

[Update 13]

Subconsciously, our feet must have known it was the end as we were in the worse physical pain yet. Our gear was on it's way out too. Will's thermarest mattress and watch broke the day after finishing, and all of a sudden our patience was running out for living in our tiny tent and smelly clothes. It was definitely time for a rest. I think Daisy felt the same way, sticking her out out of my sleeping bag for breakfast and getting straight back in again. We wrote lots of postcards, sheltered from the cold wind, still not quite believing what we had achieved, or that we didn't have to get up and walk anymore. We had faced the worse summer on record but although it had hindered things we were thankful that injuries or anything else had not prevented our completion. In fact we reckon the rain has made it all the more memorable.

That afternoon our friend from the Pennine Way, Jonathon, brought us a celebratory bottle of wine and we met his family as they were on their way to Orkney for a holiday. It was really good to see him again as it reminded us of our favourite section of the walk. Despite the awful weather the Pennine Way had the best character (and fish of chips)! I'm surprised we didn't turn into a fish and chip (and Daisy a battered sausage). Fuelled along by batter, pasta, chocolate, shortbread and sweets we relished any fresh veg' we could get. We thought that we would come across lots of country farm shops but Petrol Stations, Tesco's or Spar's seem to be the only shops in abundance. At the end of a long day a two mile hike to the shop makes the campsite shop tins of food sound so much more appealing!

At John O'Groats, we had forgotten the day. It's just lovely to do that, but not so much when it's Sunday and the local Grocer is shut, so we ate more rubbish from the burger bar and gift shops. We had a nice plod to Duncansby Head though, and enjoyed the white beaches and the amazing Duncansby Stacks. The Orkney's looked lovely too but we decided to save exploring those for another day, for when we had more energy and started our journey home on the Monday.

We waved goodbye to the wild but serene John O'Groats as a nice bus driver took us down to a different stop otherwise the busy school bus that we needed would miss us. Then, at Wick the lovely ticket lady booked us on the trains before a four hour wait. After a wander and a violinist played on the platform for a bit we were whisked off to Inverness. We saw seals flopping about on the shore and it was starting to hit us how far we had walked, Scotland is huge! We'd seen so much of the country, being fully immersed in it's character all the more because we were on foot and yet there is still so much more to see. In the simple world of backpacking everything slows down and the whole world seems to open up. Touring around, collecting as many sites as possible just isn't the same.

Our return to civilisation smacked us in the face at Inverness though. We were expecting an after trail 'culture shock', but nothing quite prepared us for next part of our journey home. The hustle and bustle was just bearable but not the unkind, unhelpful train staff on the sleeper train to London. They provided a completely impersonal service, one in particular getting a kick out of his authority, ordering us around like school children. The problem was that the lovely lady in Wick hadn't realised that dogs are not allowed on a sleeper train, unless booked into a sleeper carriage. We'd waited four hours for this train, but now with only half an hour before the train left we were unable to pay the extra £120 to upgrade as it was too late in the day to transfer money from our secure account. We frantically tried to find another solution, but they were passing us around to more unhelpful colleagues, all were saying that we would completely lose our money for their mistake! I was a blubbering, embarrassed idiot begging some manager in First Class for another way, but even explaining about our walk didn't help. We started to think that walking all the way to John O'Groats was a bad idea, would it be easier to walk back? Eventually a nice ticket lady suggested taking different trains the next day as the ticket would roll into the next day anyway. Easy, what was the point of causing us so much worry? While trudging to a campsite two miles away through a dark creepy park, we tried to remember what we'd learned on the trip - that something good would come out of this soon....?

Eventually, after getting away from Inverness, then a train change in Edinburgh later we reached London, where we met Joe from Yorkshire on his way to China. He very kindly donated £20 which took our target of £100 to collect en route to £110. This was our 'something good'!:-) Then, a little freaked out by the hot underground, of all the people to see, Miss Portsmouth was there with her sister and they helped us find our way to Waterloo. Eventually we arrived home at 9.30pm extremely relieved. We were greeted with hugs, kisses, flowers and champagne. We'd made it, now both more than a stone lighter (Daisy I think doubled her weight with muscle), we were already reflecting on the best adventure and planning our next trip. A little shorter and less strenuous next time though!

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