The Wrong Head

The best way to combat Post Holiday Blues is to follow up immediately with another holiday. Saturday morning we decided it would be fun to drive to John o' Groats – the very top of Scotland, the last bit of mainland UK before you either fall into the sea and die or swim to Orkney. So we hired a Ford Focus or similar and headed north.

thank you Lonely Planet for unauthorised use of your map

We consisted of myself and Gareth, who you may remember as the noble soul who dragged my unconscious form out of the Radiohead mosh pit last November. We covered six hundred miles on this trip, and I'm ashamed to say I was perched in the passenger seat the whole time. I've had Issues with with Scottish roads ever since the Mothership's traumatic visit. I was a rubbish driver to begin with, but my nerves were shredded after a week of dodging sheep on single track island roads with Mum in the back seat hissing Shaaauuunnnaaa!, her foot stabbing at phantom brakes.

It seemed a feasible plan on paper, to the top and back in a day and a half. But the A9 was choked with roadworks and elderly Germans in caravans, causing much crankiness and scoffing of chocolate digestives. When we finally inched past Inverness, the road was blurred by great slabs of rain. But we pressed on – if you waited for good weather in Scotland, you'd never go anywhere.

We stopped in the lovely wee town of Dornoch for a 4 o'clock lunch. An old man wobbled up and down the street, shouting something about helicopters. He approached us with his can of Strongbow and declared with a burp, "Love is all around".

Entertainment was all around, too…

hold me back   dornach has it all

The rain cleared further up the coast. The sea looked still and silky grey, blending perfectly with the sky. Oil rigs hunched along the horizon like spiders. We finally reached John o' Groats at 8 o'clock.

As Rory says, John o' Groats is John o' Great. But once you've posed for photos at the cheesy sign, there really is bugger all to do, especially when John o' Groats Novelty House is closed.

So we decided to find the actual, official most northern spot in the UK. According to the map Dunnet Head jutted out further than John o' Groats. We could make out a sign in the distance, a D and a Head, so we headed up the road.

It was a gorgeous albeit windswept spot. We gazed out to nothing, congratulating ourselves for reaching The Very Top of Scotland. Woohoo! What a day! And we still had four digestives left!

We wandered past sheep with ridiculous rabbit-long ears until we reached cliffs that teemed with seabirds. Thousands were tucked away into the crevices, dainty puffins dwarfed by fat gulls. Further along we saw what reminded me of the Twelve Apostles in Australia, just not as many. And not drowned in sunlight. We decided to call them The Three Neds.


And then the rain cranked up again. We got drenched, icy jeans clinging unpleasantly to skin, muddy water swishing inside our shoes. Then Gareth's leg disappeared down a putrid hole that almost claimed his shoe. We trudged back to the car and fired up the heating. The air swelled with the scent of peat and gently baking sheep shit. But who bloody cared? We saw puffins! We saw seals diving for their dinner! We were at the very top of Scotland!

Except we weren't at the very top of Scotland at all. As we peered at the map to locate our hotel, we realised we were at Duncansby Head, not Dunnet. And The Three Neds were better known to the world as The Stacks of Duncansby. The Very Top of Scotland was actually ten miles down the road in the opposite direction.

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17 thoughts on “The Wrong Head

  1. Hmm…speaking of which, were those people you introduced me to actually Monkey and Mattay and Rhiannon? Or were they people you were bribing to make yourself look less silly?

  2. Rest assured: John O’Groats is indeed the most northerly point – the D-head place simply looks further north on the map. But the map of the UK is typically printed at a rather odd angle, so please take no ‘heed’ of the map. Yes, you were at the most northerly point of mainland UK, at John O’Groats. And it’s a very boring place, alas!

    So are you and Gareth an item? 🙂

  3. david, but all the signs on the way to dunnet head (which we didn’t bother with) said it was the most northern point, and so do all the websites. it’s very dodgy isn’t it?

  4. Aw noooo! The Novelty Shop was closed? But that’s what makes it John O’Great!

    Still, Top of Scotland – woohoo!

  5. Well, OK, I just made it up to try to make you feel better for not having gone there. In fact, I haven’t got a clue. That’s the result of very drunken commenting. Shame on me! But I really sounded like a knew what I was talking about! …I’ll get my coat…

    They are good pictures by the way. I especially like the Abattoir bit – it made me laugh!

  6. You can blame Meredith for this post from the blue. I love the internet sooo much.

    That took me back to my own wet wanderings in the north. Somewhere up there is a strange wee set of stairs that goes down forever across the cliff and theres a wharf thingy at the bottom where fellers used to go out into the foamy sea bach and kill seals and get tormented by their souls. Scarey and tough.

    Those holey boggy things are dead acidic and more destructive than people think. I was in a youth hostel somewhere up there when a feller came in who had been walking on the moors for weeks, probably practicing for some evil adventure in Patagonia. When he took his socks off, his toenails came too.

    You know theres a lot of strange wild places in the UK. Wales has some lovely bits, and Cornwall, and the Pennine Way.

  7. The key to it is not that it’s the most northerly point – it’s the point that is farthest away from Lands End. If you are looking for the longest journey a pussycat could go in a straight line in mainland Britain then you have to include John O’ Groats – otherwise forget it, it’s naff. Dunnet Head is the most northerly point (both on maps & actually), Lands End the most Southerly, the Point of Ardnamurchan is the most Westerly (not Lands End as most people think) and Lowestoft is the most easterly. John O’ Groats is just famous for being far away from a place – it’s got no fame in it’s own right.

    What’s really freaky is that Edinburgh is further to the west than Liverpool.

  8. Yep, I was wrong. Please ignore my earlier comment. I was drunk and full of nonsense, to a completely shocking degree. (Don’t worry, I’ve already castigated myself about it.)

    Jon, that is very freaky indeed! How come?

  9. Largely because Britain is not a straight up and down country, as most people think, but leans to the left – but not by much (kind of like our current government).

    Hence Edinburgh which is on the east coast is further to the west than Liverpool which is on the west coast and is further east – simple isn’t it.

  10. Once again I’m shamed that you are experiencing a lot more of my own country than I have!

    You didn’t pass Tongue did you? (What a GREAT place name, don’t ya think…)

  11. picky, picky, picky

    gordon – we DID go to tongue! i loves a bit of tongue! i will post about it tonight, just for you.

    and david, don’t be embarassed deary. we’ve all been down the drunken blogging/commenting road before, no worries! and to answer your question from yesterday’s comment, yes we’re an item, it’s been about eight months now. happy days and rockin good times with the loveliest scotsman you could ever hope to meet.

  12. yep, if you’re going to ‘out’ someone it may as well be in a comments thread that noone’s paying attention to. hehe.

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