Day 17 – John O’Groats and Thurso 

We awoke to a quite pleasant morning on The Shore in Wick, a Scottish Motorhomers recommended wild camping location.  We were parked adjacent to the harbour and the views out of the windows showed a working port, if a little devoid of ships. 

I took the dogs out in turn for their morning constitutional and when it was Dexters turn I ventured a little further and went up onto the harbour wall.  There was quite a swell on the sea caused by the wind I would guess, which also probably accounted for the rocking of the van during the night, and the squally showers.  On the way back a small dog tried to make a challenge to Dexter but the lady owner quickly called to him to go in.  I called out that Dexter was friendly but she replied that her dog suffered from ‘small dog syndrome’ and that it would be best if she put him away, which she did in short order.  As soon as the dog was away she came up to me saying that she loved Dobermans as her brother used to breed them and also trained them in the military.  It turned out that June, the owner of the nearby Bed & Breakfast, had declined a Doberman puppy on the grounds he would be too big and too much for her, but it was clear from her tone of voice that that was a decision she regretted.  Dexter was his usual over friendly self, fiendishly rubbing his head against her leg in an effort to dislodge his ‘Halti’ collar which he didn’t like.  As one would expect of a ‘seaside’ landlady, she was a mine of useful information and when I told her of our planned route she gave me a whole catalogue of places that we must visit on the way.  She seemed a lovely lady and very chatty and friendly and I would imagine made a very good Bed & Breakfast host. 

After walking the dogs, I started to get the van ready to leave and Irene took Rosie for her walk.  Irene got talking to another lady dog walker and she too gave Irene lots of information about where to go and where to stay!  We were spoilt for choice. 

It was 10.30 when we made our way out of Wick on the A99 to John O’Groats. I think it’s only about 15 miles to JO’G from Wick and we arrived around 11.15. As expected the car park at JO’G was empty barring a few locals cars but nonetheless the gift shops and Scottish Woollen centre were open, so Irene and I were able to have 30 minutes on our own browsing some of the merchandise in the local shops.  Irene came away with a pair of woollen gloves on Sale for £3 and I bought a bottle of Old Pulteney single Malt Whisky at £42.99!!  My biggest expenditure to date on something solely for me. 

Next we made our way along the coast road towards Thurso intending to stop for lunch around 1pm.  However as we passed a Lidl store on route, we stopped on their car park for lunch with Irene popping in to buy a cake or two to enjoy with our tea.  Whilst there we identified a suitable stop for the night and somewhere to give the dogs a good run off the lead, something they hadn’t enjoyed for a while.  We settled on Strathy East as it appeared to be on the beach which would be great for the dogs. 

As we drove to our destination we were enduring intermittent rain and some gusty winds which meant having to constantly keep the van on the road, and it wasn’t long before we reached the turn off for our overnight stay.  The road along Strathy East is quite narrow and winding and eventually fizzles out into an open parking area next to a wooden cabin with a cemetery opposite!  It’s a good job neither of us are superstitious.  Irene went to scout out the cabin and the beach and reported that the cabin was open and had light and a toilet, but when she strolled over the ‘hump’ to where the beach was she couldn’t work out how to get down to it.  I got the van settled on the only level part of the car park which was adjacent to the cabin, put the corner steadies down as it looked as though some bad weather was coming, and once again got the ‘gennie’ going.  Considering we bought the generator at the Western Motorhome Show last August, this was now only the third time we had used it for the van.  I had started it regularly at home to ensure it would start when we needed it and so far it has performed faultlessly.  We haven’t even used the first full tank of fuel yet. 

I then went off to have a look for myself and found that the access to the beach was just around the side of the cemetery and, although the path was wide and grassy, it was a bit steep in places.  However, we made the effort and eventually got the dogs down onto the beach for half an hour or more where they had a whale of a time.  When it was time to make our way back we put the dogs on their leads, so if we had difficulties at least we could get them to pull us up!!  However no sooner than they were on their leads when another black Labrador dog came running up to them wagging his tail like mad, with no sign of its owner.  After the initial grumbling between them they soon settled down and ‘blackie’ followed us up the slope.  Towards the top we saw a man calling out for his dog with his lead in his hand, but he didn’t have a very strong voice so his dog ignored him.  When we drew alongside him he thanked me for helping him to get his dog back on the lead, and I could tell immediately by his accent he was from ‘our neck of the woods’.  On enquiringly as to his roots he stated he was from Benfleet in Essex so indeed he was from ‘our neck of the woods’.  He told us he had moved here 13 years ago after falling in love with the place after coming camping here 6 years on the trot.  It turns out he is the licensee at the Strathy Inn just down the road and he invited us to visit his hostelry later if we wanted. 

We got back to the van just in time as a squally shower started and once inside the kettle was soon on for some tea.  Poor Irene was absolutely knackered from the climb back up so as soon as she finished her tea, she laid down for a sleep which the dogs had already adopted!  As I sit here typing, with no telephone signal, no radio signal, no television signal or anything, the 4 dogs and Irene are asleep.  The only noise is from the occasional gust of wind and the thrum of the ‘gennie’ in the background.  The clouds are now clearing and its reasonably sunny, but there are dark clouds in the distance so I am expecting some more squally showers as the night draws in. It might be one of those nice occasions to light a fire in our fire basket! (Update: Friday: Only now have internet access to upload this information. Didn’t go to the Strathy Inn nor did we light our fire, it was too breezy and more raing came in)

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