Wick to Lybster


Wick to Lybster

My first day started early.  Up at 6 o’clock to KCS at 6:45 where Pete, the KCS boss had kindly offered to take me to Penrith Station to begin my journey.  Today my task was to get from Keswick, Cumbria to Wick in the north east of Scotland.  Three trains in 11 hours.

Taking a fully (over?) loaded bicycle on a train is no fun – three trains in a single day is worse.  Every time I had to board or exit a train, I scrambled back and forth with the bike or some of 6 bags – paranoid that the train driver would leave me, or my equipment stranded.

The feelings of trepidation from the days before my departure had manifested in to a sense of dread.  I’d spent so much time preparing the equipment I would need – had I neglected to prepare myself mentally for the task?  Was I ready to go?  Did I want to go?  I wasn’t sure.

Somewhere between Glasgow and Inverness the train ground to a halt.  A very short delay assured the driver – signals not operating due to power failure… Hmmm…

Eventually we crawled to the next station and were stuck there for another half hour… It became clear that I wasn’t going to make my connecting train to Wick.  I was briefly frustrated, but the delay gave me time to realise that it really didn’t matter.  I could catch another train.  I could find a campground in Inverness.  Heck, they could leave me in this town I’d never heard of in the middle of Scotland and that’ll be fine.  Being in a town I’ve never heard of in the middle of Scotland is, after all, what I’m planning to be doing for at least the next few weeks…

In the end the bike, bags, four other passengers and I missed the connecting train and were shuffled off in a people mover from Inverness to catch up to our scheduled train on the way to Wick.  In the end, the delay didn’t change anything – but it helped me get in to the right mindset for travel.  I’ve seen too many grumpy travellers over the years – grouchy and frumpy at every single thing that doesn’t go their way – or the way they expect.  I won’t let myself be that traveller.  I was finally able to get myself out of the doldrums and realise how lucky I am to be going on a trip like this.

Immediately after loading up the bike at Wick station it started, of course, to rain.  The campground was only a half mile away, it was mostly empty – a few caravans and a chap with a tent like mine.  I couldn’t help but glance enviously at his motorcycle.

Having forgotten to set my alarm that night, I awoke the next day at the crack of midday.  Actually half past.  I cursed at myself – I’m not going to get very far starting this late in the day… Still, I needed to catch up on some sleep and my ride today to get to John O’Groats was only about 17 miles.

I’d only travelled 800 metres or so when I encountered my first steep hill in Wick.  I hopped off the bike knowing that I could never ride up it.  I puffed and panted, struggling to push the massive weight-on-wheels, muscles insisting that I stop every 20 metres… When I reached the top I was pleased to find a corner store and immediately rewarded myself with a sugary drink and a cigarette.

Thankfully that was the last unrideable hill all the way to John O’Groats.  The bike shimmied more than I was expecting – the whole frame of the bike bending as I pedalled.  This is a characteristic of steel-framed bikes, but the Thorn Nomad is built of thicker steel tubing that most touring bikes – and I hadn’t noticed this shimmy on the few loaded test rides I’d done around Keswick.  I wasn’t sure what piece of luggage was the straw that broke the camels back, but something had to go…

The last stretch towards John O’Groats was a nice long downhill run, and my shimmy had developed in to a nasty death-wobble.  After a quick unladen test ride later I was relieved to find out it was probably unbalanced luggage, and not a buckled wheel or worse…

I arrived at around 6pm on a Sunday to find almost everything closed except the campsite and a tourist trinket store right on the shoreline where I bought some shortbread, vanilla fudge and a few mars bars.


I met a few cyclists in John O’Groats – traditional start/end point for cyclists traversing the two farthest points of mainland UK.  None seemed to be camping though, they all seemed to be travelling extremely light on fast road-bikes, staying in B&Bs each night – and covering 120+ miles per day.  I’ll be lucky if I can do 30 with all the weight on my bike (and me)

Overall the weather was fantastic.  The evenings are beautiful, the sun seems to take forever to drop to the horizon and lights the sky long after having disappeared.  Frustratingly, after plenty of successful tests in Keswick, my camera intervalometer broke, which means no more timelapse photography until I can replace it.  The one I have was ordered from Hong Kong and they take weeks to arrive… Grrrr!

Even after only 17 miles, I was pretty sore the next day.  Being on a saddle regularly will take some getting used to, as well as building up the muscles required for long distance cycling.  I took the next day off and relaxed around John O’Groats, bought some supplies from the local store and generally had a lazy day.

My next port of call was Mano and Louise – a couple from warmshowers.org who had agreed to let me stay at their place.  They live in Lybster, 30 miles from John O’Groats.  I had planned had west and cut across to Wick so I wouldn’t be backtracking, but that would have added another 10 miles or so… 30 miles was enough for my next day of cycling – I don’t want to push my body too hard too fast.

I was fortunately again that the weather was lovely.  I was already noticing that the ride was easier than the ride from Wick – I still made plenty of quick stops to catch my breath and sip some water, but I found riding up the long gradual inclines getting easier already.  Of course this was in perfect mild riding conditions – any hotter than 30 degrees and I would have been breathing fire

It took around 4-5 hours to get to Lybster – I was in no great hurry.  Louise and Mano greeted me at the door.  I originally only intended to stay for one night, but ended up staying for two.  Partly because I was quite badly sunburned (I forgot about sunscreen…) and also because I realised late on the first night that it was my birthday the next day!  Not that it means a great deal to me, but I didn’t particularly want to spend my first night wild camping in a field on my birthday.

Louise and Mano were great hosts – they have a beautiful house in a small bay with a launch for fishing boats.  They cooked me yummy food and even a birthday cake!  I was quite proud that I finished my blood pudding and haggis.  They took me for a tour of Wick and even after only 3 nights of camping, it was bliss to sleep in a nice warm bed again.

I spent ages trying to track down a replacement intervalometer in the UK or at least Europe and finally found one in Switzerland.  I arranged to have it sent to the post office in a town called Alness. It’ll be early next week before I make it down there and I have no idea where I’ll be staying, but that’s all part of the fun.

One Response to “Wick to Lybster”

  1. Ben Noblet says:

    Hey Bro,

    I’m glad you’ve found the appropriate attitude for travelling. If you really don’t care about things then they can’t get you down. I’ve travelled with THAT traveller before (Hi Martin!) and it’s no fun.

    Looks like a gorgeous place to cycle … well the downhill bits anyway!

    Take it easy and don’t push yourself too hard whilst your body adjusts from the last 9 months in the online poker position 🙂

    And keep writing updates like these, even little things that don’t seem interesting to you are great to hear for those of us that miss you!

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