Rafe Watson was supposed to arrive at my house promptly at 0630 so to make our journey in ample time to Kings Cross Station for the Edinburgh train at 0800, and so obviously he turns up tardy and smiling at 0650. “I looked at myself in the mirror in the morning and decided I needed a shower and so I had a shower. I also don’t have a phone charger.” Rafe Watson has cut our commuting time to an hour and we may miss our train (we don’t) to Scotland because of his need for cleanliness. He has also been at the beer festival the previous night, yet denies any correlation. I suspect a hangover (later confirmed).
London is thankfully quiet enough in the mornings to allow two bicycles to course easily amongst the sullen commuting traffic. By the time we have gotten to Shepherds Bush the sun is bearing down from the blue skies and we are perspiring somewhat. At Marble Arch on the approach into Oxford Street, I am sufficiently reassured that perhaps we will still make our train. Rafe Watson feels otherwise and so we press harder and announcing ourselves to as many bus drivers as possible, chasing them through the heart of the capital. We complete the 15.8km in 43 minutes.
The Edinburgh train is boarded in time and we wander slowly up the English plains. We talk about friends and politics. Rafe Watson has brought a book. It is called ‘The High Window’ and features a curious crime fighting Phillip Marlowe on its cover. I have no book. Rafe Watson orders a tea from the buffet car and this will be his second caffeinated drink of the morning. I drink water and we take turns using the on board facilities which are pleasantly acceptable.
There are a series of trains to be taken till our arrival at John O’ Groats. In time, the trains empty as does the terrain and the bridges and buildings become hills, lakes and unrelenting landscapes, as intimidating as they are beautiful. The cars are now cattle and horses. The people, non-existent. By now the hours are closing as we encroach upon our destination but the journey has rendered us stubborn and weak. The sun is closing upon the day as we finally arrive into Thurso.
Only it’s not as we discover. In the final part of our journey to the very height of the UK, we realise we are northwardly enough to enjoy a peacefully pleasant persistence of sunlight which is useful, as we are helplessly lost in the highlands. We begin to worry and suddenly it is not so light any more. We cannot find our booked guesthouse. Questions are fired rapidly and rhetorically. We turn to the first guesthouse we encounter on the road. The windows are dark, the doors are closed. There are no vacancies. Do we go on and risk further rejection? Should we return and risk wearing ourselves out further and still not find it? On a corner is another hotel with its dim lights flickering. People are singing inside and we enquire hopefully. There is a room. “You’re just above the bar, is that ok?” the owner offers in his heavy Scottish drawl. We mumble our thanks and collapse into bed (separately). We just want to sleep.