For some in our group, today began at about 1:00am with the Northern Lights. It was as if nature had laid on a spectacular fireworks display to mark our impending achievements. At 6:00am under gradually lightening skies we each slowly began to prepare for our final day of riding. The mood amongst the group was completely different from any previous morning. A confused mixture of emotions – euphoria at the prospect of actually reaching our goal. Sadness at the thought that as a group this might be the last time we would ride together. Apprehension at the prospect of the ride ahead as some of us had been told that it was going to be as hard as anything we had faced so far. But above all, a sense of achievement that both individually and collectively we had each shared a unique experience.
So after the usual hearty breakfast and with relatively little fanfare we loaded our kit into the support van, gave our bikes one final check over, climbed onto our saddles, pushed away, clipped into our pedals and rode off. We headed upwards out of the spectacular natural harbour at Tongue, pausing to help one of our number who had the misfortune to suffer a puncture within the first mile.
The rest of the day passed in a blur – a high speed blur. With a following tailwind we sped along the north coast of Scotland under blue skies. Yet again, nature had provided the most spectacular backdrop for the final day of our adventure. The immense wilderness of yesterday gradually receded behind us, with the massive mountain summits forming a hazy and distant backdrop. But they were still a brooding presence ensuring that we couldn't forget them. We rode down and up through a series of valleys carrying rivers northwards to the sea. The descents were fast, the ascents were sharp but no matter; with nearly 1000 miles in our legs we sped along, often freewheeling with our bikes clicking, clacking and whirring in a sort of avant-garde cyclists symphony.
As we progressed eastwards the countryside took on a more gentle and nurtured appearance as the peat and heather moors transformed into a softer and more cultivated landscape of arable and pastoral agriculture. Wide, straight, open roads, more reminiscent of East Anglia, were the order of the day. The miles were rolling by.
We sped through Thurso in a blur and after a quick discussion we set off for Dunnet Head, the most northerly point in mainland Britain. The few extra miles that this diversion involved were at best a minor consideration. At this point we could have ridden anywhere we chose as we were all on an incredible high. We paused to look out at Stroma, the most southerly of the Orkney Islands. A fierce squall was working its way across the sea – a reminder of the power of nature, and for some of us, a reminder of how lucky we had been with the weather over the trip.
After a quick photocall we retraced our route which brought us back to the ever smiling Ray and some refreshments. Then in a slightly subdued atmosphere we rode on together for the last time. Before leaving Tongue at the start of the day we had agreed to all meet and pedal into John O’Groats together. And so, we finished as we had started in Land’s End thirteen days ago. Fifteen cyclists, who had come together to ride the length of Britain.
Each of us knew we had shared something that mere words can hardly describe. And now, there was nowhere left to ride.
Miles today 76
Total miles from Land’s End 1016 (+ 17)
Miles to John O’Groats -25