Saturday, 1 September 2007

The morning after

I awake with a headache, perhaps like a hangover at the end of a party. The tent is a peculiar shape, the wind pushing the guy ropes to their limits. I put on layer upon layer before even venturing to the toilet. The wind blows me back, but I walk on, out to strange collection of buildings that form this tiny but famous place. The gothic hotel that has been closed for ten years is backed by a dark squally sea. The two oceans meeting, clashing and retreating, like the Scots and the English over the years. The sign is still missing; the photographer yet to arrive, but cyclists are already rolling in, and the first coach of the day has disgorged its passengers. The burger van is frying bacon, it’s carried on the wind and I long for hot coffee as I stand on the deserted cliff and breath deeply as the wind pushes my hair into my face.

As we dismantle the tent Hannah is almost blown away, Stuart practises being a human windsock, scarf on head, and Cameron chases a flyaway plastic bag along the clifftop. We have camped at what seems like the very end of the world to mark the end of our journey and the end of the summer. It ‘s the first day of September yet winter has come early to John O Groats.

“I heard you were coming on the grapevine,” says the photographer. “Sorry I wasn’t here last night. Trade was bad yesterday and the boss told me to pack up early.”
“Well if you can get the kids to smile, then you’re doing better than the guy at the other end,” I tell him, thinking back to the identical picture, seven weeks ago at Lands End. We had agreed to be photographed by the Sunday Express for a feature on adventurous families, and by the time the anxious photographer had finished his shoot, the kids were both whingeing and refusing to smile, and the official photographer was getting annoyed with the paparazzi clogging up his pitch.

But this time everyone grins; it is the end of the ‘end to end.’ We are all groated out and hungry for home, but not too tired to smile and shout ‘cheese.’ Back at that Lands End sign, what seemed like so long ago, I inwardly resolved to give this journey my best shot. And here we are.

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