John O’Groats to Manchester the Journey Home via Orkney, Aberdeen and Edinburgh

After 21 days in the saddle and over 1200 miles cycled it was now time to make my way back to my family in Manchester. I found John O’Groats to be a nice little place, yes it is a tourist trap but the shops and eateries where enough to kill a coupel of hours. After the formalities at the John O’Groats sign and a chance to speak to a couple of others who had completed the ride that day I eagerly awaited the John O’Groats Ferry that would take me North again on to the Orkney. 

I took some time to visit the gift shop next to the pier in search of a memento to mark my ride.  The shop is awash with gifts but I have to say that options are limited when it comes to Lands End John O’Groats, the majority of souvenirs are geared towards the North Coast 500 and I had to make do with a fridge magnet. I was disappointing that the gift shop did not have anything to commemorate my 21 days in the saddle.  It was interesting to hear the views from the lady in the gift shop about the North Coast 500 and the impact it is having on the Highlands which is not all good.

End to End Fridge Magnet
End to End Fridge Magnet

The End of LEJOG and the John O’Groats Ferry

The John O’Groats Ferry leaves the pier twice daily and sails the short distance onto Orkney.  The 40-minute journey leaves the British mainland behind and offers some spectacular views of the coastline.  The cost of the journey is only £16 and there is ample cycle storage on the boat.  On this occasion, there were only 4 other passengers on the ferry so I was able to kick back, relax and wallow in a sense of achievement after completing MyLejog.   After 40 minutes or so the ferry lands in Burwick on the South side of Orkney.

The John O'Groats Ferry to Orkney
The John O’Groats Ferry to Orkney

Arriving in Burwick I had one goal, cycling up to the capital of Orkney, Kirkwall to catch the North Link Ferry back to Aberdeen that evening.  The ride from Burwick to Kirkwall was excellent, the southern tailwind pushed me along making the hills so much easier.  After the dreadful headwind of the North Coast earlier that day, the tailwind was a dream.

The route North took me over three causeways that link the islands as well as Scapa Flow which was an interesting stop along the route to read up on the rich naval history this place has to offer.  The sunken battleships still visible alongside the road are a stark reminder of what took place not so long ago.

After 20 miles I descended into Kirkwall in search of a bite to eat. I passed Kirkwall Cathedral which dominates the skyline and I have to say is on par with Gloucester Cathedral and York Minster.  After Fish and chips, I made my way to the Hatson Pier Terminal to wait for the overnight ferry to Aberdeen.  The ferry terminal is situated about a mile out of Kirkwall and I have to say offers very little in the way of facilities.  If I was to do this journey again I would spend more time in Kirkwall rather than the bare waiting room.

Scapa Flow
Scapa Flow

North Link Ferry from Kirkwall to Aberdeen

The John O’Groats ferry departs Kirkwall at around 11pm, at a cost of £34 for the journey and an extra £18 for a sleeping pod it is an absolute bargain.  The ferry was relatively quiet, I quickly found my Sleeping Pod and had a shower before going to explore the boat.  After a couple of drinks, I made my way to my pod and got to sleep.

Northlink Ferry Sleeping Pod
Northlink Ferry Sleeping Pod

The sleeping pod seemed like a great idea, the £18 gave me a nice reclining chair, access to a warm shower, a sleep mask, ear plugs, and a blanket.  In reality, it was awful after about an hour my legs started to ache and the onset of cramps made me think again.  Getting my stuff together I made my way into one of the near-deserted lounges and made camp on one of the reclining seats.

At 6am the ferry awakes and breakfast is served, for £10 a fully cooked Scottish breakfast awaits and before long we entered Aberdeen harbor at 7am.  I was allowed to take my bike off the ferry and then re-board the boat to make use of the facilities until 8am. This was good because my ongoing train was not until mid-afternoon.

After lunch with a friend in Aberdeen and chance to ride part of the excellent Deeside Way, it was tiem to start my final part of the journey back to Manchester.  I boarded the train in Aberdeen and found my bike reservation which was made the day before by calling LNER.  The fist part of the journey took me to Edinburgh where I then changed to a Trans Pennine Express to Manchester again booked via LNER the day before. The cost of the rail ticket was only £55.60p which again was a bargain. 

I eventually arrived in to Manchester Oxford Road and made my way down Oxford Road, a route I have cycled thousands of times. 

That was the end of MYLEJOG and what an experience it has been. Each day waking up in a new place and setting off through the British countryside. With very few low points and plenty of highs it is a journey I will never forget.

The Easy East Coaster has proved to be a fantastic choice and if you are considering cycling End to End and want an alternative route to see the sites of the North East coast then I thoroughly recommend this route.

LNER Bike Reservation
LNER Bike Reservation on the Aberdeen to Edinburgh Train