I couldn't have had a better send off this morning. Kacey, our landlady, made a fantastic breakfast of home made granola and smoked salmon with scrambled eggs. I'd had lots messages from friends and also from my girls and my parents which had made me feel like I had a squad behind me willing me on, and some on this blog from people that I don't know personally that really moved me. Kacey, David and I agreed that there's nothing wrong with tears. It's a good job they were on the same page.
The first four or five miles were easy walking, mainly on the quiet lanes I'd enjoyed yesterday. The sun was working on the clouds, and this time my focus was the island of Stroma which looked so near that I could touch it.
I had decided last night that I would listen to music early in the walk today, as I would probably be busy with emotion later on. The first song had been suggested by Jo yesterday, at Dunnet Head. 'Come up and see me' by Cockney Rebel is a classic, but as the first song that I listened to today it definitely set the tone - 'you've done it all'. Gulping back tears, I sang along instead.
My most treasured friend Philip had sent me three songs, hoping that one might fit whichever emotions I was feeling today. I listened to them in the order that he sent them, so I danced a bit to 'Celebration' from Kool and the Gang, then felt a bit choked with pride by 'Heroes' from my hero, David Bowie, and then finally proper tears for Whitney's 'Onemoment in time'. They were great choices. I have walked so many miles with Philip in my ear, encouraging me, telling me jokes when I'm walking up steep hills so can't respond except by breathing heavily and swearing a bit, listening quietly when I'm telling him it's all too much, talking me across high bridges or through fields of scary cows. He's been a huge support, and I'm so grateful.
As I turned off the music, I was then drinking in what was left of my time in this special place. Kacey had said that people underestimate Caithness, that it hides its light a little. It is understated, but so beautiful. I admired the neatly stacked pile of peat, smelling earthy and robust, and then enjoyed the board in a primary school talking about the local wildlife, and thought how wonderful it would be to grow up in an environment where you would expect to see puffins, dolphins and whales.
I love comedy, and spending time at the Fringe from tomorrow is a great thing to look forward to. My favourite comedians are the ones who are intelligent and trust that the crowd are intelligent too. I love the sets when small references from the beginning are woven together into the ending. That’s how it felt today. Lots of memories rushing in from this year and last, combining in today’s final walk.
I came out onto the main road, but it fortunately wasn't too busy. However, in the finale of an occasional series entitled 'what I've spotted on the verge of the A836' I can report an entire bath. With taps.
There was a mill described on my OS map, but it appeared long converted to apartments. The Orkneys were changing at my side, with the final islands becoming visible as I progressed. And then to my left I could see my final destination. The multicoloured hotel signifies the area where the end of the walk lies. So the next five miles could be said to be an exercise in procrastination. I didn't want to finish. But also I did want to go to the actual point that is as far away from Lands End as possible, and whilst going to Duncansby Head I couldn't miss out the Stacks nearby.
I took a side road signposted to the headland. Looking at the map last night, I'd thought that I might be able to cut across country to get to the Stacks first before going to the lighthouse at the end of the point. I was looking for evidence of this on the ground when I bumped into Jilly. She was so kind, retracing her steps to make sure I could see the path I should take. She thought I'd been doing the John O'Groats trail from Inverness. When I told her how far I'd come, she was almost as emotional as me. Which is saying something. I felt sent on my way with such goodwill, and the hug was great too.
I was back on grass, and therefore my lovely battered boots could do one final stint.
A bit of a pull upward, and then I could see the Duncansby stacks. What a sight, and in the sunshine too. They are 60 metres high, and testament to the power of erosion.
I found a bit of grass, poured my final thermos tea and sat in awe.
Looking towards the lighthouse, another fragmented section of rock was visible. From the particular angle of the place that I was sitting, the effect of that rock and the one behind it combined to look like a determined woman walking. I was delighted.
I finished my tea, packed up my rucksack for the last time and then suddenly the prevarication was over. It was time to get there. I walked with determination, checking out the beautiful views on the way, but with my eyes on the prize.
The lighthouse at Duncansby Head is not the most beautiful perhaps, but it told me that I had done what I'd set out to do. There was a man in front of it, and I asked if he'd take a photo for me. He asked what I'd been doing, and I told him and burst into tears. Instead of being startled, he was warm, kind and seemed really proud of what this total stranger had achieved. He took a photo of my pink and teary face, looking both ecstatic and overwhelmed. He was called David, and was American, and I was so overcome by everything that I forgot to take a picture of him. But thank you, David, for being absolutely the right person for me at that monent. He gave me the warmest hug, and I thought how appropriate it was that the person who saw that milestone was a stranger. I have had so many wonderful interactions with strangers on this walk, it was like a celebration of all of them in meeting Jilly and David this morning.
He didn't have a suggestion of a song to play for my final couple of miles, but he wanted something Celtic. So I suggested my wonderful Skippinish jigs to him. I hope he enjoyed them.
Then with less than two miles to go, I headed back along the coast towards John O'Groats. The sea was so blue, the sand was so white. And I was nearly at the end. The ferry chugged across the often wild and dangerous Pentland Firth as my pace quickened. I decided that I would listen to the music that I had just recommended. So I was piped in to my final destination, dancing, laughing and crying with 20th Anniversary Jigs in my ear. That piece will always be everything to me.
And there, in front of the colourful buildings was David. I felt utter joy at what I had done, and could see in his face how proud he was. He has been the most extraordinary support to me on this trek and in the years of planning. He has supported me unfailingly, never questioning my ambition to be away from home for months, only trying to help make it happen. Last summer he was there as I came home broken, and he was my cheerleader through all the rehab and tedious painful recovery. He was there with me at the beginning of Scotland, just in case it all went wrong again, and these last few days has been quietly there for me as I've been adjusting to the idea of it all being over. And, most importantly, he's been encouraging me to think about what new adventure I might have. But for now, this was about celebrating the end of this one.
I had the obligatory photos at the equivalent sign to the one I had at Lands End. Many thanks to Sophie for straightening it, and Janna for photoshopping the correct total mileage on! I could have walked this in fewer miles, and fewer days, but for my journey 107 days and 1,269 miles felt exactly right.
I sent messages to my lovely girls who have been my cheerleaders throughout this adventure, and to my wider family and friends. The support I've had from them through messages and texts, calls and suggested songs has been invaluable and massively appreciated. David and I had a bottle of John O'Groats beer together, had some lunch and then took another photo at the End to End post, which is the marker for those who have done this huge walk. I don't know how many people do it in a year, as there's no official records made of it. But I'm guessing it's not more than two or three hundred at most.
Yesterday, I discovered that the organisation that issues the certificates to mark the walk might have closed down. I've been getting accommodations to sign a form every week or so to prove that I've done the journey, and then the plan was that I would send off for the certificate. I'm glad I've got that form, but I realised last night that I have no need for a paper certificate. My momento is in my strong legs and bruised feet, my weather beaten face and my ruined boots. And of course the photos, this blog and all the memories. But also in the little compass tattoo that I had done last autumn as a testament to the English leg and in hope of completing the whole walk. I can't put those things on a wall, but I don't think this walk is meant to go on a wall anyway.
I am writing this in Aviemore, where we're staying en route to Edinburgh tomorrow. In getting here we drove down the A9, and I was so glad to have taken the longer route through the Flow country instead of this horribly busy main road. We went past places I walked to, we went over the scary bridge towards Inverness, and with every mile I was leaving the adventure behind and returning slowly to real life. As promised, I saved Sophie's music choice till when I got to the hotel. 'Into the West' was a perfect song. I had come to journey's end.
At dinner this evening there was a piper outside the restaurant. He played Highland Cathedral, which is what David played as I finished my first walk of this Scottish leg. Those of you who've been following this from the beginning will know I love a bit of symmetry.
I am planning to do one more entry to this Scotland blog, maybe in a week's time, to give an update on the fundraising and suchlike. But for now, thank you so much for reading and following. I can see from the statistics that there really are a lot of people who have been checking in every day. That means such a lot to me, I'm so glad that my story has struck a chord in some way. I have really no idea what will happen next, but I am guessing that I've not finished with adventures, or writing about them.
Things I’ll miss
Waking up every morning wondering what the unexpected adventure will be.
Meeting new people and finding out their stories.
The physical act of walking for hours.
Checking my route the night before and imagining how it will look on the ground.
Listening to music I’ve not heard before.
Drinking tea from my thermos in amazing places.
Writing the blog.
Reading the messages people send, both on the blog and privately.
The feeling of progression.
Things I won’t miss
Strapping my feet and sorting out blisters.
Though, even as I write that, a bit of me is saying that I will miss those things, because they’re part of the journey.
Distance travelled : 10 miles
Total ascent: 697 feet
Calories burned : 1375
Local tipple - Gold from Cairngorm brewery
Dinner at the Cairngorm Hotel - very good
Haggis and mozzarella bon bobs
Fish pie with vegetables
Sponsors' music, thanks to Jo, Philip and Sophie
Come up and see me - Cockney Rebel
Celebration - Kool and the Gang
Heroes - David Bowie
One moment in time - Whitney Houston
Into the west - Annie Lennox
Video of the day