It had been a long-cherished ambition to travel to John O’Groats by public transport.
The Scottish adventure started in the Signal Box cafe at Euston Station as a bagpipe player was sitting at the next table. The instrument wasn’t being played – it was stored in a case and its owner was on her way to Stirling having played at a bagpipe festival in Brittany. All of us were waiting in the cafe for the overnight train to Scotland.
The Caledonian Sleeper set off from Euston on the dot of 9pm. We settled in to our compartment and went to sleep at about 11pm. I woke up at about 5am and opened the blind – we were at Edinburgh Waverley (not a scheduled stop). We were at Edinburgh Waverley for a long time – later we heard that we had been stuck behind a broken down train. Back to sleep and then awake for breakfast – delivered to our compartment. By now we were in the West Highlands and the scenery was magnificent – heather-clad glens, sparkling streams and pristine forests.
I wandered to the dining car where people were enjoying the scenery and waiter-served breakfast. At one table sat a family with the grandmother pointing out delightful features of the passing scenery to her young grandson and stressing that this is ‘real’ as opposed to screen-based images. Later on I struck up conversation with the grandmother – she lives in the town of Bewdley in Worcestershire, which also has delightful scenery (Bewdley means ‘beautiful place’ and it is situated on the banks of the Severn). We chatted about all sorts of topics including what makes for a thriving town.
We arrived 80 minutes late into Fort William due to the broken down train ahead of us in Edinburgh. We were met by Emily and her daughter Isla who took us on a guided tour of Glenfinnan (noted for its viaduct).
From Fort William we caught a Citylink coach to Fort Augustus. Fort Augustus is located at the west end of Loch Ness and it’s also on the Caledonian Canal (an amazing feat of engineering by Thomas Telford). We lodged at Morag’s Hostel alongside an array of nationalities including a fun group of young women from Italy.
Next day, Citylink coach to Inverness via Urquhart Castle. Most of the route followed the shoreline of Loch Ness. From Inverness we caught the 26 bus to the coastal village of Fortrose on Black Isle. Fortrose is beautifully situated on the Moray Firth – wonderfully peaceful with a lovely sandy beach, plus a High Street with an independent bakery, butcher, post office and gift shop. The campsite at Fortrose is right by the shore, and it’s a perfect spot.
After a good night’s sleep we rose early to catch the bus back to Inverness and then the train to Thurso. This is train journey of more than four hours, but the time went quickly as the scenery was beautiful. We would have liked to have alighted at Dunrobin Castle (which has its own station) but there wasn’t time.
We had an hour’s wait in Thurso which gave us time to visit the museum. Then a school bus service to John O’Groats. The bus dropped the school children at a number of scheduled stops along the twenty mile route and by the time we reached John O’Groats we were the only passengers. The helpful driver dropped us as close to our Guest House as possible but it was still a mile walk there (with luggage in tow).
Our room at John O’Groats Guest House looked out over to the Isles of Orkney. After an excellent breakfast we walked the mile to the harbour at John O’Groats and joined the queue for the Pentland Venture ferry. This would take us across the Pentland Firth to the Isles of Orkney for more adventures.
The trip to John O’Groats was slow travel at its best. We experienced beautiful scenery and encountered wonderful people en route. Thank you to everyone who helped make our adventure so enjoyable.