Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Day 81: Watten

Distance: 13.9 miles
Neolithic Cairns: 2

Bleak. That's the adjective we heard, more than once, when we described our route from Lybster north. The normal route to John O'Groats goes up through Wick along the A99, a busy highway. There's also an alternative route, which follows an unnamed road north away from the coast, passing by Loch Watten. In the past three days we've had our fill of walking on A-roads, so we opted for the bleak route through the moor.

The road goes through the flow country, the largest expanse of blanket bog in Europe. We expected that there would be nothing but grasses growing on wet peat, but we were wrong. There were sheep pretty much scattered everywhere. There were wind turbines, and lots of construction of new turbines. There were thankfully almost no cars. There were even a few farms, though some, it seems, have seen better days.

The scenery alternated between open moor and forest. Seems that some of the flow country has been planted with trees, at the expense of the environment, for the tax benefit of wealthy Britons. At least, that's what Wikipedia says. They named Phil Collins as one of the bog destroyers! C'mon Phil, wasn't it bad enough what you did to Genesis? Do you have to wipe out the flow country too?

About half way along, we came to one of the most important neolithic archeological sites in Britain: the Camster Cairns. These stone structures have been here for five thousand years, back before the bogs formed, when this area was scrubland. The cairns are big igloo sort of structures made out of rock. You can crawl into the middle of them through a super tiny tunnel on your hands and knees. We both wimped out and just stayed on the outside. In the picture, the cairn is the big pile of rocks. The other thing is just a sheepfold, probably only a hundred years old, but I think it looks cool, so I didn't crop it out.

When the cairns were first excavated they found human bones and other artifacts in there. So archeologists think they were burial sites. Unfortunately, the cairns were first excavated a couple of hundred years ago before they had iPad apps to keep track of stuff, and so all the things collected back then has since been lost. We were happy about the nifty boardwalks leading to the cairns, so we could get to them without putting our boots on.

For lunch we found a nice rock outcropping and had the oat cakes, babybel cheeses, and apples that we'd picked up yesterday. Dawn got to eat a bag of hula hoops, too. I got a little peckish last night and ate my whole bag of pita chips before bed, even though I didn't mean to. I made my sad face at lunch today and Dawn split her hula hoops with me. Yay!

See how this is just a regular post so far, as if we're just going to keep doing this, day after day? That's because it has not yet sunk in that tomorrow is really our last day. If we had the kind of terrible, stormy weather that Ken had up here last year, then maybe the end would be easier to anticipate. But spring has arrived, and we've got a real nice rhythm down each day, so it's hard to imagine how soon it will be over.

But all good things must come to and end. We especially appreciate the kind words from commenters that they'd like us to keep going - but we miss our kids and friends and family. So after walking to John O'Groats tomorrow, we really will catch that bus down to Wick, then the train to Inverness, and then the airplane home.

It's a long walk tomorrow, something between sixteen and twenty miles, depending on who you believe. We're planning an early start; breakfast is scheduled for seven, and we hope to be on the road well before eight and get to that sign at the end of road in the mid afternoon.

Location:Watten,United Kingdom


  1. So glad you made the long trek without any serious incidents. We miss you too.
    I am waiting for my flight home here in Calgary airport. Hope to see you soon. Can't wait.

  2. Best of luck tomorrow. I can imagine it is very bittersweet reaching the end of this epic trip of a lifetime.

    I plan to get up at the buttcrack of dawn to put in my last 16 miles of running and will be reaching virtual John o Groats roughly when you reach the real John o Groats 8 time zones ahead. Hold up your hand for a virtual high five when you get there! :-)

  3. wow - enjoy your walk tomorrow, I hope the sun shines and you enjoy every step. I also hope you see some more sheep, but it doesn't look like sheep country any more.

  4. I was looking (again) at your Walk as depicted on the
    Google Map view. Zooming way out, to see the UK, Ireland, and Western Europe in one frame gives a sense of scale to your achievement. All those blue Google placemarkers marching north through England and Scotland!

    The whole thing is amazing to contemplate.

    Fortunately for us, we didn’t have to imagine it, because (and I know this is corny) you shared the adventures that happened between all those little blue map markers. We have really enjoyed the daily photos and commentary, even though you have offered no refutation of Larry’s “same church” contention. Except for that, the blog has been stellar! I hereby nominate it as the most entertaining of all previous LEJOG blogs. I have already contacted the Pulitzer people about the Hadrian’s Wall entry. Also, I have submitted the “sheep in mid-baa” photo to National Geographic, who will certainly use it on the cover of their future “Wool” issue. (Thank me later.)

    Also, I never got around to complimenting Michael and Jan on their guest posts, so I’m doing that now: Two Thumbs Up! Your wit and style is quite similar to Al’s, although I can tell the difference because Al uses more weather-related adjectives.

    After tomorrow, I know that many of us will miss our daily read of DAATAW. But you guys are such talented bloggers that you should continue, occasionally and unexpectedly, to post about a random excursion around Corvallis. (Keep the RSS feeds active!) Seriously, you could make a walk down to Sam’s Station an interesting blog entry! And on the way there might even be sheep!

    We’ll be thinking of you tomorrow,
    Tony & Donna

  5. enjoy the walk tomorrow. get naked and jump in the sea. cant wait to see you guys. kaitlyn is walking now. ask erin what 'wtfff' stands for. get me some wine gums and a big country t-shirt. let the brits know cavendish may rule the sprints but hesjedal is going to win the giro. he is making the westshore proud


  6. Soak it up! There are only noisy cars, computers screens, and the modern ruckus rush.

    Ken and Heather are at the Lands End today! Remember that?



  7. It has been great fun following your adventures. I will miss the blog post with my morning tea. Can't wait to catch up with Dawn at the next knitting adventure!


  8. Have a fantastic walk to JOG tomorrow -- may the sun shine on you and the wind be at your back! I'm sure you will have mixed feelings as you sign the register! Enjoy your walk!!!
    So proud of you both!!!!

  9. you've made it! it's a huge accomplishment and i'm sending you a big "well done!" and "congratulations!" i've also enjoyed your blogs (obviously) and will miss the daily adventure.

    looking forward to seeing you at home!

    hugs, julie

  10. Hope your last breakfast is hearty and the best haggis around (if that's possible in flow country)! You two are awesome. Looking forward to the bookend photo at the JOG signpost!

  11. Andrew from LadockMay 24, 2012 at 7:26 AM

    Wow! Hope the day is going well, it was great meeting you all those months ago and have really enjoyed reading your blog every day.

  12. Have enjoyed reading your blog - look forward to seeing you in July.
    Aunt Doreen

  13. I will miss the daily blog, but look forward to your return. Thank you for sharing your adventures.