Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Michaels Post-journey journey (part 1)

John O’Groats didn’t seem to me to be the right place to end our trip – It was hardly the end of a long
road and looking out north what could you see – Land, albeit an island or two! The journey to Thurso confirmed my doubts, How can this be the end when you can so easily catch another bus that goes a totally different way to the one you arrived on – There must be a true end beyond here., somewhere on Orkney.

So whilst Jez made his way back south, I wanted to push on north – but at this point some subtle rule bending was needed. Getting Orkney requires the use of a boat (obviously)… However, a scheduled boat that you can 'turn up for and pay'? It fitted the principle of being a “scheduled service” – but on water! 

Having taken advice from a driver the previous day, I set off on foot to walk from Thurso to the ferry terminal at Scrabster. The boat sails at 0845 and passengers must be booked in by 0815. The connecting bus arrives at 0824 which he felt might be too late. “If they have all the passengers they sail early” was the warning and a very accurate reflection of what happened. At 0835 we set sail from Scabster on the Northlink Ferry across to Stromness on Orkney.

The sailing takes 90 minutes and sunrise was seen over a still sea.  It seemed a good day to sail, but why was I crossing to Orkney? Looking at the Bus Map there was one route that stuck out, going out east almost as far as you could go. This looked like the true end of the road – the right place to finish. The final timing point confirmed this, Deerness Lighthouse Corner. Now that sounds like a place you cannot go much further than!

Stagecoach X1
The bus to Deerness runs a few times a day and I planned to catch the 1300 departure from Kirkwall, giving me some time on Orkney to explore a little.  At Stromness I caught the 1040 bus (route X1) towards Kirkwall. The X1 is the main route across the Orkney Mainland running hourly and also serving the “other” ferry terminal at St Margaret’s Hope.  Wishing to see something of the Islands I stayed on when we reached Kirkwall and continued to St. Margaret’s Bay Ferry Terminal, where we were due at 1145.

In the winter there are two ferry routes from the north of Scotland across to Orkney, The Scrabster to Stronmess which I had used was a large boat, on a service heavily supported by the Scottish Government. The second crossing is from St Margaret’s Hope to a small harbour called Gills Bay, mid way between Thurso and John O’Groats. This is a private venture, with no subsidy and operated by a large, vehicle carrying, Catamaran.   The contrast could not be greater between operations. The ferry was due to leave at 1150; as we arrived in the bus at 1145 someone was on hand to usher any connecting passengers from the bus to the boat. Not being there 30 minutes early, this was integrated transport at its best! At 1150 the thrust from the Catamarans engines spring the vessel into life and it was soon out of sight at a goodly rate of knots.

Stagecoach 3
I returned to Kirkwall and then waited for the service 3 at 1300 to Deerness. This would take me to “the end”. It seemed that few wanted to share this momentous event with me other than the driver - I was the sole passenger on the journey.  We left on time and arrived Kirkwall Airport where the driver advised me we had to wait 4 minutes. For some reason best known to someone somewhere the journey has a 4 minute wait at the airport.  Not that anyone was around; no one had jetted in with the intention of getting the bus to Deerness, so quite why anyone would want the bus to sit for four minutes was beyond both me and the driver, especially as other parts of the route are quite tightly timed.

At the allotted time we continued our journey to Deerness, via Tankerness, an enjoyable ride around the lanes – with the sea always in view, somewhere or other. My driver, who was the “regular driver”, gave a running commentary about who lived where when we went past and all that was happening in the community.  Eastward we continued until we reached the terminal at Lighthouse Corner.  Looking around there was no obvious lighthouse at this point - a road junction it was possible to turn the bus round at. My driver explained it was named because of the number of lighthouses you can see from that point (perhaps best observed at night!).

Reaching this outpost how was I going to record the fact that I was here?. Nothing for it... I would have to do a “selfie” (which I am assured by my daughter is the correct name of a photo you take of yourself!) with the bus in it!

Michael - not quite learned the art of the "selfie"

Thus ended the trip, not so much LEJOG but more LED. To be honest that doesn’t have the same ring to it! At least we have set a benchmark for eccentric bus (& boat) trips: Lands End to Deerness via Ipswich. If anyone wants to go one better it will be a challenge: With the inclusion of Ferries it could start from St Agnes (in the Isles of Scilly) to Haroldswick on Unst (in Shetland) by bus and boat, via Havergate Island in the east and Skomer in the west!  I think I would be prepared to accept that as going one better!

So that was it – the end of the line. All that was left was to return!  The journey back  was busier – we had two passengers, although no one boarded (quel surprise) at Airport Terminal Building.  From Kirkwall it was the 1435 Stagecoach X1 back to Stromness giving a good hour or so to explore the town before boarding the Ferry back. Stromness is a interesting town. The main street just feels like it should be traffic free – it would make an excellent pedestrianised area. It isn't though, and lorries squeeze past cars.  

The 1645 boat back to Scrabster was also quiet, which gave a chance to dine in the restaurant!  Not sure such a crossing needs such facilities, but it may explain the subsidy!  (Mind you the service was quick!). 

The evening is a repeat of the morning - there is a bus connection, but arriving too late to provide a reliable connection to the boat. However, it did offer the foot passenger off the boat a coach, not just to Thurso, but onward to Inverness.  Also, having the bus timed to arrive after the vehicles had disembarked from Orkney and those those waiting to travel were on board saved the bus from being caught in the various traffic movements!

Stage one of the journey home complete.

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