From Edinburgh to John O' Groats and back to Dalwhinnie in a day...
Yep, you read the title correctly, we really did from Edinburgh to John O' Groats and back to Dalwhinne in a day with Mildred the wheelchair and a tired PTSD suffering Pink Sparkly Miss.
So, we were in Edinburgh for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, and as we were there, I thought it would be a good idea to ‘pop’ to John O’ Groats. Now, when I came up with this cunning plan, I didn’t give any thought whatsoever to the logistics of it. That’s not my department, everyone knows I have no concept of time and distance, everyone should have been on the ball and said … Pink Sparkly Miss, are you sure you want to do this!
The trip to Edinburgh from our house is 363.7 miles precisely, and an estimated travelling time of 6 and half hours if you don’t stop. I didn’t check the time it would take; 363 miles doesn’t sound far so I guessed it would be ok. Now if you’ve read my other posts you will know I suffer with PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress disorder, and, you will also know that car travel can be a trigger for flashbacks etc. I figured that it was ‘only’ 363 miles, I would be perfectly capable of getting through that. And I have to say it went not too badly, in part because it was a lot of motorway and dual carriage way driving. I won’t say I enjoyed the journey up, but I did it without too many issues.. result.
The Journey to John o’ Groats was a mere 273 miles in comparison so I naturally assumed I would cope. Hmmmm! Well that was a silly mistake to make wasn’t it. What I hadn’t considered was the fact as you left built up areas the roads got significantly narrower, and there was a lot more braking involved. I didn’t do quite so well this time; the sparkly pink unicorns were being utilised almost constantly. It sounds ridiculous I know, but I can’t look at the road when I travel, I have to read, or do puzzles to distract me or I’m in deeeeep doodoo! Given that the roads were smaller A roads and very bendy it took almost as long for us to get there as it did from home to Edinburgh.
We passed through some torrential rain on the way, but we arrived at John o’ Groats to brilliant sunshine. I was a tad relieved to be out of the car. Disabled parking is available, but you do have to pay £2 for it. Directly in front of the disabled parking space is a disabled toilet, you will need a radar key to get in which is available in the gift shop if you don’t have your own. The toilet is relatively clean and big enough for a wheelchair and room to spare which is always good.
As everything was easily accessible, except for the ferry to the islands, we had a little wander around, took the obligatory photos by the sign, as you do, popped into the gift shop for me to buy a magnet and we were ready for the off. There isn’t a whole lot to see there, apart from the sign and a few coffee shops, but I think it’s a place everyone should go to, just to see the vast wilderness along the way.
Remember that torrential rain we’d driven through, well it damn well followed us to John o’ Groats. Rude! Not wanting to get caught in it, we hotfooted it back to the car loaded up Mildred and me into the car and decided to foxtrot oscar! Along the way the rain had become heavier and it was pouring down. This wasn’t good for me because I anticipated there was going to be even more braking than I cared for. Also, a lot of screeching coming from the passenger seat of the car. Sparkly pink unicorns weren’t doing the trick and it ended up in complete melt down with the Pink Sparkly Miss in a reclined seat with her eyes squeezed tight shut, all the way to Dalwhinnie. Fortunately, there was an ex traffic cop at the wheel. Yes, I’m a wimp, and I am fully aware of this fact thank you very much.
Dalwhinnie is a 3-hour 172 mile drive from John o’ Groats and we had accommodation booked here for the night. A lovely former work colleague and friend of my Mr lives there and is a tour guide in the Dalwhinnie Whisky Distillery. Not having seen them for a while we had arranged to have a meal with them at http://www.locherichthotel.com which is where we were also staying. The Loch Ericht is a hotel that is child and pet friendly with a selection of rooms catering for every requirement. Located at the base of the UK largest National Park, The Cairngorms, it offers beautiful views of the mountains and is a good base for hiking and discovering nearby Lochs and lakes.
The room was basic, but very comfortable and to my utter delight was furnished with two large electric radiators. The summer rain and the cooler temperature had got right into my bones and I was freezing. So much so, we sent an SOS to bring hot water bottles when we met our friends for a meal because my pain levels had shot into orbit. I’d made the school-girl error of forgetting my own, it usually goes everywhere with me. The hotel is attached to a restaurant which is open to the public and is popular with the locals, which is always a good sign. We weren’t disappointed. Inside had a log burner blazing away in the fireplace, a bar, (always a winner) and an reasonable menu. The chef there used to work in Harry Ramsdens and the food he produced was excellent and very reasonable. We all had a delicious fish and chips that was the size of a small whale, washed down with bottles of Cider. We were too full for dessert, an almost unheard-of phenomenon for me. Restaurant closes to the public at 8pm, but residents and guests can stay on as long as they want. Given we’d had a tough few days we retired to bed not long after 8 in readiness for our long day ahead. Check out time was 10am although, it was pretty, and we had our breakfast there and was very tempted by the enormous slabs of cake on display. They were sizes unlike any I’ve seen before.
We had a tour booked at Dalwhinnie Distillery https://www.malts.com at midday, and if you get the opportunity to go, then do it. It’s the coldest whisky distillery in Scotland with average annual daily temperatures of 6 degrees. This low temperature enables them to produce some rather special whiskeys. Their winter and summer whisky have very different and unique flavours.
The tour took around 45 minutes. The distillery itself isn’t wheelchair friendly, but I was able to mange on crutches. Once you’re out of the mashing shed it is wheelchair accessible. In the gift shop they play a video of the process from start to finish, so if you are unable to access the distillery you can still learn about it. The guide we had was very knowledgeable and very funny! We were able to sample some of the whisky, however since Scotland has an almost zero tolerance on alcohol and driving, the guide would only allow the drivers to sample one whisky. We have Whisky Passports, which allow you to sample a further 4 whiskeyis, with chocolates they’ve had specially made to compliment them. Two of the samples were 63 & 64% proof, and we were able to bring them home in bottles, the fumes were enough to knock out a horse!
I mentioned the chocolates, these were divine, and available to purchase in the shop if desired. We had 8 to accompany our samples so felt we had enough. As you’d expect there was whisky on sale ranging from miniature to full size bottles along with several limited editions. You’ll be spoilt for choice!
Book your tours in advance online as they are very popular. Due to the location the weather in the winter can be harsh, so allow extra time if you plan to visit. Also, there are frequent roadworks and A9 dualling works so allow for traffic delays. There are several different tour options you can take, and they are all detailed on the website. You can contact them at Email: firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
Our tour over, we called by our friends for a cup of tea and return the hot water bottles before heading home. On our departure we were presented with a little goodie bag full of yummy Scottish treats, one of which was Tablet, oh how I love tablet, and I now have a supplier on tap! I suspect if I eat too much, I will be toothless in the not too distant future!
The return trip was done all in one hit, with a brief stop for a wee at Gretna, we made it home in good time. Shattered? Yes. Happy? Yes. Ready for next adventure? HELL YES!
So that’s John o’ Groats and Dalwhinie done and ticked off the list. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and found something in there of use. Thanks for reading, much love. The Pink Sparkly Miss. X