At Land’s End.  John O’Groats. Scotland

Having left Aviemore, we proceed northwards along the A9. The Scottish landscape is extremely picturesque and colourful. We are en route to the farthest end of the country.

But along the way, we stop to visit the Urquhart Castle, one of medieval Scotland’s largest castles and important strongholds.

The Castle was built in the early 13th century on a rocky hilltop overlooking the Loch Ness, home to the famous Loch Ness Monster (who was not around during my visit, unfortunately).

Made entirely out of rock and stones, this castle too, like many others in Scotland, is set in the most strategic and dramatic location. It gained the title of a ‘Royal Castle’, and was used by Kings of both Scotland and England – King Edward I of England occupied it in 1296, King David II of Scotland stayed there in 1342. It was at the center of a tug-of-war between the English and Scottish which lasted from the 14th to the 17th century. It was also fought over by the Crown, the Clan MacDonald and the Grant family. After several turbulent centuries, the castle was abandoned in the early 1600’s, and was nothing more than ruins by the end of that century.

After spending a couple of hours exploring, we head off northwards. Although it is a clear and sunny day, the further north we drive, the colder the weather gets.

And finally we arrive at John O’Groats, the farthest point in the United Kingdom.

Our accommodation for the night is a two-bedroomed self-catering caravan. It’s pretty comfortable and compact and good enough for the night.

John O’Groats was a settlement that took the name from Jan de Groot, a 15th century Dutchman who once plied a ferry from the Scottish mainland to Orkney, which had been acquired from Norway by King James IV (1488 – 1513). According to local legend. “o’ Groats” refers to John’s charge of one groat for use of his ferry, but it actually derives from the Dutch de groot, meaning “the large”. People from John O’ Groats are known as “Groaters”. Today, there were a few of them around.

A mound near the John O’Groats House Hotel marks the site where Jan de Groot built his famous house in the reign of James IV. His seven descendants quarrelled about precedence and Jan de Groot solved this problem by building an octagonal house with eight doors, one for each of his seven sons and himself, and an eight sided table so that no one occupied the head of the table.

Located right next to the old John O’Groats hotel, a signpost was installed in 1964 to mark ‘Journey’s End’ at the very top tip of mainland UK.

This iconic signpost is probably known to be one of the most photographed signs in the UK. It even hit the headlines in 2020 as it was reported that a group of tourists had damaged the John O’Groats landmark. Sigh…sometimes tourists can be a pain in the arse.

Displayed over the lawn are the sculpture of the Nomadic Boulders,  aimed to capture the tidal races in the strait that separates the Orkney Islands from Caithness in the north of Scotland. These massive sculptures are the works of artists’ Mathew Dalziel and Louise Scullion. Research shows the forces that swirl around the coast can move boulders the weight of small cars great distances across the seabed. The sculpture features boulders of local red sandstone, which were tossed up on a nearby beach after a storm, suspended on three great arcs of bronze. It has been specially designed to withstand the winds of more than 100mph that can batter the area.

We opt for a “wildlife” ferry cruise in the hopes of seeing the cute puffins and seals.

We cruise through the Pentland Firth.

Past the Duncansby Head Lighthouse.

And close in on 200ft high cliffs covered with thousands of Storm Petrels and Guillemots.

And go even closer to the famous Stacks of Duncansby.

There are plenty of puffins peddling furiously in flight. We did spot the seals too, but my camera phone could not capture those pictures clearly.

John O’Groats is extremely picturesque and gives me a sense of calmness and serenity. And as expected, the locals are so very friendly, but I must confess, I could barely decipher their accent although the twinkle in the eyes is unmistakable!

And I did manage to find a teapot for my expanding souvenir collection.

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