Today was another early-wake-up day. I was heading to the far north, into the Scottish Highland.
This is my plan. I booked a hostel for two nights near John O'Groats. I would be joining a local tour to Orkney Islands on the next day. And today was possibly the only chance for me to visit John O'Groats. Perfectly, I should reach there before 4, stayed there for about 2 hours and took the last departure of bus at 1810 hours from there back to the hostel. Public transport was not too very frequent in that part of the country. In order to achieve this, I must catch the 0710 departure to Inverness, change to another train there and reach Wick before 1500 hours. There is no room for me to make any mistake.
The Inverness train would depart from Glasgow Queen's Street Station, which is a 10 minutes walking distance from Glasgow Central Station or from EURO hostel. As I slept quite early the previous night, I woke up at around 5, even before my alarm rang. I had a shower first and spent some time on Internet, as I may not have any chance to get on line for the next few days.
When I left the hostel, there were only a few people on the streets. I grabbed my breakfast from a news agent and walked to the station. I arrived there at 7. The train was waiting on the platform already.
This was the train that took me to Inverness. As the tracks north of Glasgow were not electrified, this train was operated by diesel engines. Don't look it down because it was diesel. This train was very modern and could run at a very high speed.
This is my breakfast, an egg mayonnaise sandwiches with Diet Coke. This time, it was a genuine Diet Coke, not a Marks & Spencer one.
The train made some brief pauses at some intermediate stations. There was electronic display showing the name of next calling stop.
The scenery was very beautiful especially after the train passed Perth. Places around the tracks were not totally unpopulated. I can see farmlands along the tracks. And in every several kilometers, there was a house.
However, the intermediate stations were quite deserted.
Only when my train arrived near Druimuachdar Summit, I can see some really unpopulated areas.
Because some section of this route was single track, my train was delayed by 15 minutes in the midway as it waited for the forth-coming train to arrive. However, the connecting time for the next train from Inverness to Wick was only 10 minutes. I was very nervous, worry about if the train will not wait for me. But my train somehow ran at a speed faster than normal and managed to catch up the time! I arrived Inverness on time for the Wick train.
The Inverness to Wick service was operated by this Sprinter. Sprinter is a DMU with low maximum speed. The train was not really a modern model. But I should not expect too much for a service on the end of the line, should I?
It started to rain just after my train pulled out from Inverness. Just like the previous train ride, the areas besides the tracks were mainly farmlands with houses situated every several kilometers. However, the train ran at a relatively slower speed. And on some wooden bridges, the train slowed to less than 10 mph.
Unique sights of this route are Scottish Whisky Distillery and Lakes.
After Helmsdale station, the train reached some unpopulated area.
After around 3 and a half hours, my train reached Georgemas Junction. Georgemas Junction is a remote station which got only one farmhouse situated next to it. From there, the track separated into two. The track headed north was going to Thurso, while the track heading west was going to Wick. The train will call at both stations. After a brief pause, my train started to travel backward into the north track. There was a beautiful river on the north side of the track. The track was built along this river.
After another 10 minutes train ride, I reached Thurso. Thurso is the north most railway station in the entire United Kingdom. However, this was not the end of the Highland Line. The train paused there for about 5 minutes and most of the passengers left the train there.
Then the train traveled forward again, going back to Georgemas Junction. It traveled along the river again. After Georgemas Junction, the train continued its journey on the west track, heading to Wick.
Some of you may be interested in the interior of this Sprinter. And here it is! The left photo showed the ordinary class and the right photo showed the first class. Apart from the little piece of white handkerchief on the headrest, I really couldn't find any difference between the two.
After 4 hours of rain and sunshine, I arrived Wick, the end station of the Scottish Highland Line, at 1430 hours. Wick was a small town. I needed to take bus 77 from there, which was scheduled to depart at 1500 hours. And in this 30 minutes, I must figure out the location of the bus stop and bought my dinner. Before I arrived, I checked the timetable of this bus route and found that it connected with the rail station. So I expected to see a large bus terminus outside Wick railway station. But in fact, I couldn't even find a bus stop outside there! So I asked some locals around and was told that there was a road work around the station area and the bus was detoured. I was asked to go to the bus stop outside Somerfield, the only supermarket in Wick, to see if the bus stop was moved there or not. Honestly, I was quite worry as time is running out. Wick is a small town but it is not possible to walk through all the streets to search for a bus stop within 30 minutes. Anyway, I reached Somerfield, which is just a five minutes walk from the station. With the help of the locals and the tourist information center outside the supermarket, I was confirmed bus 77 was detour to stop there.
I waited there patiently and forgot about my dinner totally. After the scheduled time passed, I still couldn't see any bus coming. I started to feel nervous, very nervous. 10 minutes later than expected, the bus arrived finally.
Bus 77 runs between Wick Railway Station and John O'Groats. The timetable showed a picture of a modern low floor bus, Optare Solo. But the bus I took was this high floor Volvo bus. I didn't know the model number. Later, my friend Anthony told me that this was possibly a Volvo B59, manufactured in the early 80s. The journey time from Wick to John O'Groats took about an hour and the fare for a single ride cost2.95p.
I reached the north most bus terminus of the British Isle at around 1600 hours. John O'Groats is a famous tourist attraction. But the number of tourists there weren't too many. The weather was quiet nice at that time when I arrived. The sun was shining brightly. But there were strong winds blowing and the temperature was not very high. I thought it was around 8 degree but the strong wind "took away" 10 and that made me feel about -2.
The point for traveling all the way to the north was to take photo with this road sign. John O'Groats was believed to be the north most point of the British Isle traditionally. This was proved to be incorrect but people nowadays still believe it this way. And there is also a south most point of the British Isle. The place is called Land's End in Cornwall, England. The place is located very close to the city called Penzance. I went to Land's End some 12 years ago and took a photo with the road sign, which looked exactly the same as this one, there. And this time, I reached John O'Groats. Theoretically, I have went to the whole British Isle! Done! I could pack up and went back home now!
So, what exactly I saw there in John O'Groats? There were some, around 10, houses in the area.The largest building is the a hotel (upper left). There is also a wishing well (upper right). I saw many people throwing coins into it. The main building is the First and Last House (lower left). Inside the house is a museum, showing the daily life of Scottish fishermen, and a gift shop. There is a small post box inside the shop saying if you bought postcards from them, you can post your postcards there and the cards will be stamped "Post from the First and Last House". But actually, they allow people to post any postcards there even though they were bought somewhere else. I found a place to write postcards to my friends and posted them into this little post box.
Apart from museums, there were quite a lot of nature scenery to see there. Just north of the road sign is the John O'Groats ferry pier. Over the pier is the Pentland Firth. Just 40 minutes of sail towards the north, there are the Orkney Islands. The Pentland Firth is nicknamed as "Hell's Mouth". It was because on the west of the Firth is the Atlantic Ocean while on its east side is the North Sea. The sea will become very rough due to tidal waves. This happens twice every day. There is also a walkway along the coast, a large car park and camping site.
The hostel I booked is called John O'Groats Youth Hostel. It is run by Scottish Youth Hostel Association. However, it is not located exactly in John O'Groats but in a village somewhere near there called Caithness. Bus 77 also serves there. The last departure of bus 77 from John O'Groats was at 1810 hours. I could take this departure back to hostel today but I must walk all the way back on the next day because my local tour finished at 8pm in John O'Groats.The walking distance between John O'Groats and the hostel is about 45 minutes. If I took bus, it would take me about 5 minutes. I took a picture of the map just in case I would lose my way tomorrow.
I took the last departure of 77 back to the hostel. The fare was 90p for this short journey. There were around 10 houses in Caithness. The only shop in the area was the post office, which closed at 5pm.
The hostel itself was a small nice building. It was clean and warm. And most importantly, there were plenty of hot water supply! The staff was also very helpful and welcoming. At that moment, I remembered that I got nothing to eat for tonight. I was told that the nearest take-away shops was 6 miles away, in Wick. Luckily, there were some leftovers in the kitchen. So I had a very nice spaghetti with mushroom cream soup. Yes, there is no free lunch in this world. But there is free dinner.
I had a hot shower and went to bed early. The sun set at around 10:30pm in that area during late May.