From Brora the next stop on the list was the most northerly. Almost. John O’Groats is widely perceived to be the most northernmost point in mainland Britain; after all, most charity events spanning the country make a route from “Land’s End to John O’Groats” thus covering both ends of the land. Although geographically correct at the Land’s End bit the Scottish element is technically out by a good few miles. But who has ever heard of an event going from “Land’s End to Dunnet Head” which actually IS the most northern point of mainland Britain. (I say “mainland Britain” because of course the title of northernmost point of the British Isles goes to Out Stack in Shetland)
Anyway, John O’Groats arrived first so it was there we stopped first. The day had dawned to cloudless blue skies (presumably, because it was still that way when we surfaced at around 9am) but as we drove towards JOG (I’m going to refer to it as that from now on because it’s a pain to type) the clouds arrived, then thickened, then parted, heralding our arrival at JOG by depositing what felt like half the Atlantic Ocean over us.
JOG is a pretty dismal place even in good weather giving the impression that it should try to offer something to compensate for its erroneous title, but that something is fairly tackily presented with the usual mix of run-down cafes, gift shops and even a Christmas Shop! Maybe they feel somehow connected to Lapland being relatively closer than anywhere else, but really? A Christmas Shop?!
There was at least a modicum of cheerfulness present in the form of a fairly recently built hotel which appeared to have been designed by two different architects – one going for the more traditional style with a nod to Scottish heritage and the other heading off in a more Scandi-themed direction with a collection of beach huts fashioned from multi-coloured clapboard. An odd mix but least it brightened the place up a bit!
Having posed for the obligatory pictures under the signpost and had a very quick walk around what little there was to see at JOG (bypassing the Christmas Shop, of course!) we turned west and began the north coast bit of the North Coast 500.
First stop, obviously, was to see the actual, geographical northernmost point which is at Dunnet Head, a few miles west of JOG. To get there though necessitated a five and a half mile drive up a narrow, winding, uneven road to be presented with, ultimately, another disappointment. To say that JOG has over-compensated for its misconceived title, Dunnet Head hasn’t even bothered getting out of bed. There’s a fine lighthouse there – more for practical purposes than for any kind of monument – a rather small car park with a very stern sign warning not to take dogs any further in case they suddenly develop suicidal tendencies and attempt to leap off the cliffs (no, really!) and, almost as an afterthought, a carved granite slab telling us, in an almost apologetic way, that yes, this is the ACTUAL northernmost point of mainland Britain.
But at least they didn’t have a Christmas Shop!
The next few days were mainly spent driving on what had now become a quest. Because we didn’t know how far we’d get everyday we didn’t book campsites in advance trusting that we’d always find somewhere to stay when we felt like stopping.
The first night along the north coast was spent at Dunnet Bay, a Caravan & Motorhome Club site right by the beach – which Jack absolutely loved of course!
From here it was on to experience our first bit of “wild camping” the next night. Wild camping is only legal in Scotland (unfortunately) and for many is what this lifestyle is all about as it allows you to pitch up in any suitable location and stay the the night. There are “rules” of course but these are more commonsense than actual rules: arrive late & leave early; leave no trace of being there; respect your environment and others around you. The main appeal though is the freedom it gives you. In our case we pulled into a large, flat deserted area by the side of road overlooking a bay with yet another unbelievable beach. Within minutes of arriving, 2 more motorhomes and 3 cars pulled in to join us with the occupants of two of the cars unloading myriad bags, holdalls, and hampers before scurrying off to the beach to indulge a spot of swimming (it was 5 degrees Centigrade!) followed by a BBQ on the beach. Tough lot these Scots!
Ultimately, just us and a dutch motorhome actually stayed the night and after another quick post-breakfast stroll on the beach we were off again, continuing the journey along the north coast…