United Kingdom 2006

Day 04

August 22


After a rather sleepless night, I now know what the sign on wigwam - 'Kielhter' means fully -

"Bed of rocks in a cold place"

I did not bring any bedding, pillows or covers and none were provided. Needless to say, the overnight temps in this part of Scotland are a bit breezy, so I have on most of the clothes that I brought with me as I try to sleep. I find myself wishing for the dawn and am glad when it arrives.


As soon as there is enough daylight for me to see my way around, I walk down the hill to the showers, hoping to at least warm up a bit. On my way back, I notice a path that runs up the hill past the wigwam. Gareth is still inside, enjoying his rest and I really do not want to go in and disturb him. I tell myself -

"You know, a short little walk and a bit of stretching my legs will probably do me some good. It's way too early for everybody else, so I believe I'll just see where that path goes."

As I slowly make my way up the hill, I turn to get an idea of just how far I have walked.


To this day, I cannot understand nor comprehend the strong force that is compelling me upward. It is almost as if I am going to meet someone and I cannot be late. I turn around again and it does not seem possible l how far I have come already. But I feel that I must keep on until I reach the top.

  There is a beautiful water fall halfway up the mountain that I pause at for a few minutes. The ice cold water is refreshing as the spray washes my face.  
  The higher I get, the more rugged the path becomes. Soon it is almost a hand over hand climb. But I am propelled upward in almost desperation to be where I am supposed to be. When I finally reach the top, I am spent and can barely sit down. But the view is incredible as I scan the surrounding peaks. For all of my life, as I roamed the hills of my native Tennessee, I always desired to find a high spot that I could look out from. Perhaps one of my clan ancestors on a long ago day felt the same thing as I felt coming up the mountain. Maybe it is just in my blood and that is why I am here. There is such a sense of peace and the feeling of being at home on this mountain top that I cannot describe it.  
  But as I look back down the mountain toward the camp, I almost drop my jaw when I realize just how far I have come.  

I hate worse than anything for other folks to have to wait on me, so I know I had best get on back down the mountain. Fortunately for me, it is much quicker going down than it was coming up. As I pause for a break to catch my breath, I can't help but notice a lovely flowering bush clinging to the hillside - beauty, determination and strength in one place.

Further down the hill I look back and see this old tree that has stood resolutely the fierce blast of many storms and winters. It is a reminder for me to keep living life to the fullest, regardless of what storms may come my way.


When I make back down the hill to the campground, I am suddenly reminded that those nasty midges (Culicoides impunctatus) are in full swarm. I rush into the campstore and appropriate a lovely piece of headgear that has suddenly become quite the fashion for more that one person.

When I see Keith, I give him a hard time about my miserable night.

"I see, so this is how you get even with us Yanks. That's okay cause I don't get even I get ahead. Just wait til you come over to see me" I tell him with an evil grin.

He really feels bad about how it turned out, so I figure I'll just let him.

Soon, we are off and moving, leaving those pesky little creatures behind. When we make our first stop somewhere near Glen Coe, the clouds are gathering but the rain is withholding.

I can look across the road and see a beautiful stand of heather. Some folks think that the midges are attracted to this and prosper best when it is in bloom. As for me, I don't really want to find out, so I keep my distance.
As we make our way up A82, there is some spirited riding. With few speed cameras and seldom a policeman to be seen, you can pretty well travel at whatever speed that you feel comfortable with out in the countryside - within some sort of reason.
Before we reach Loch Ness, I notice this cottage across a small loch, sheltered from the blasting winds off the mountain by a stand of trees. In the depths of winter in this rugged place, I can only imagine the joy that a good fire in the hearth brings to the folks that live there.
Our next major stop is at the ruins of the Urquhart Castle between Fort Williams and Inverness. It stands now in ruins, silently overlooking Loch Ness. No one is quite sure when it was originally started, but there are records that speak of it's existence as far back as the 1200s. In it's medieval prime, it was one of the largest fortresses in all of Scotland. If the walls could speak, I'm sure that they could share many delightful and interesting tales. It also shares the distinction of being near where the lovely Nessie, the Loch Ness monster, has often been sighted. She is conspicuous by her absence for today though.

We make our way up to the Loch Ness Monster Visitors Center It has a really neat gift shop inside that has all sorts of Nessie stuff. I find a neat refrigerator magnet amongst all the gifts that has my family tartan - McPherson - on it and get one for a souvenir for myself.

  Just outside of the shop is a mockup model of the old girl herself that kids can climb on. It is a bit of a touristy place, but nothing to compare to some of the dreadful places you see in the States.  
As we head north, we follow along side Loch Ness on A82 to Inverness. Again, the countryside looks so much like home I can hardly believe it.
However, the Scottish villages we pass through are totally different than anything you might see in Tennessee. But they do remind me of some row houses that I have see in the northeastern United States.

As we make our way through Inverness, we follow A9 northward which runs along the North Sea coast. Located at Golspie, we stop by the Dunrobin Castle. The original part of the castle was started in 1235 AD, with numerous and significant additions along the way. Around 1845 the owners decide to change the looks of the place from a fortress to more of a house. But the original 'keep' or fort is still contained in the structure.

As Dave, Moff and I prepare to leave the grounds, I can't help but think how much we look like modern day knights in our riding gear and helmets, prepared to conquer the dragons of the road we encounter. I wonder how many real knights went out the same passageway that we are about to traverse.
As the day comes to an end, we arrive at John O'Groats, known as the 'end of the road' for the UK.
From Land's End to John O'Groats is the farthest distance that you can travel - 874 miles. There is a similar sign and a similar photo opportunity that I saw when I visited Land's End in 2005. It is not surprising, considering that the same feller owns both places now.

Most of the riders with us are staying at the campground on the grounds. Keith has booked Ellen, himself and me into a lovely bed and breakfast, appropriately called -

'The John O'Groats Guest House'

For those who have never been to the UK, notice the sign says 'en suite'. It just means that you have a private bathroom in your room and not down the hall.


We pull the STs around back after the proprietor shows us to our rooms. After giving him such a hard time about that miserable wigwam in Scotland, I tell him now -

"Well, at least this is a better than that 'bed with rocks in a cold place' you put me in the first night, so I guess I'll forgive you."


This B&B does not serve supper, so we decide that we will walk back to the Sea View Hotel, which has the closest restaurant to us. It feels good to stretch our legs a bit and the weather is really cooperating. It's lovely evening and just the right temperature for a good walk. When we find ourselves a table, I start looking over the menu. Nothing sees to really strike my fancy, so I ask Miss Ellen,

"What are you going to order?"

"I believe I will have the sea bass. If it is fresh it will be very lovely" she tells me.

I'm not much on seafood as a general rule, but I do like it if it is fresh. So she asks our server and he assures her that it was just recently swimming. With this piece of vital information, I tell her -

"Well, I reckon you've talked me into the sea bass, Miss Ellen."

As we wait on our meals, there are a couple of fellers hard at a game of what I would call back home eight-ball. One of them is actually pretty good and he's cleaning the other feller's clock. He's got it down to just the eight and has it lined up. Then it happens as I have seen so many times before - he makes the eight clean then scratches. As the cue ball drops in the pocket, so does his chance of winning.

When our food arrives, am I ever glad that I listened to Miss Ellen. It has to be some of the most delightful fish that I have ever stuck between my front teeth. We finish our meals and enjoy a great time of conversation. Then it's a peaceful, quiet walk back to the B&B. I wish them both a good evening then retire to my quarters. I make a few notes about the day, then it's lights out and I'm gone quicker than the feller that scratched on the eight.