After less than four hours sleep, I awoke on this last morning of the walk, feeling somewhat reluctant to rise, and no wonder, after such a heavy week. However, this was quickly shaken off, and by 6 o'clock we were on our way for John o' Groat's.
All the humor was very grim with 73 ½ miles facing us. We felt that a responsibility was resting upon us. Now that the task was so near completion the mental strain was increasing every minute.
One of the party voiced his feelings by saying that "If we did not finish quickly, we should all be in a lunatic asylum." The laugh that followed did us all good.
Dunrobin Castle, on the right, about a mile out of Golspie, looked imposing. This is the seat of the Duke of Sutherland. There we were told by a carter, who signed our book, that we had passed the residence of Mr. Andrew Carnegie the night previous.
By the time Brora (6 miles) was reached the feeling of weariness that possessed me at the start of the morning had begun to wear off.
The waves beating on the shore seemed to speak of rest just ahead, and stimulated me to fresh effort.
By the time Helmsdale (17 ½ miles) was made, I was quite ready for the breakfast awaiting me there.
A telegram was sent from this point to the hotel at John o' Groat's asking them to be expecting us about 2.30 the following morning.
When we left, one of the party was doing a little propaganda with a small group of natives around him listening to his earnest appeal for vegetarianism.
Now we were crossing the Ord of Caithness, a wild, mountainous stretch, consisting mainly of moorland, used for shooting purposes. When we saw the look of gentle trustfulness in the eyes of the deer we wondered how anyone could find in their heart to shoot them in cold blood.
In a very exposed part of the Ord we saw a white tombstone bearing the following inscription: "On this spot perished William Welch," then followed the date, which I forget. Enquiring from a shepherd as to what this meant, he told us that William Welch was a wandering tramp who was found dead on that spot after a very cold night. He had left this world for the better land he was so fond of talking about, and so great was the loss felt, that the people round about had erected this simple stone as a declaration of their love for him.
The story was very touching. In my imagination the blanks were filled in. I thought of him, dying all alone ; beaten by the cold; yet not alone, for the One who gave His life to bless the earth was now taking him lovingly to his reward; and then I thought of another Tramp in Gallilee, one who walked 50 miles out and 50 back again to see a poor sick girl.; and then began to wonder how long it would be before people would begin to realize that the only life which can be called life is to be in harmony with our own consciences. That life lived well, is a life of usefulness and joy, be it lived by a tramp or a king. Any other life is death, no matter what the world says.
These thoughts, and many more, ran through my mind as we crossed this barren land.
The roads were not of the best by any means, the sudden drop at Berridale being the worst of all. Another rather steep bit of road at Dunbeath (famous for its castle) did not help us in any way.
The monotony, occasioned largely by the almost treeless condition of the landscape, was relieved somewhat by the majestic cliffs and the sea on our right.
After leaving Brora, we never lost sight of the coast for very long all the way to the finish.
At Latheron Wheel Hotel we had our dinner. When I came out again I felt very fresh, but this feeling soon wore off. The walk was telling on me, as may be expected.
Our next pause, and last, was to be at Wick. Thither our advance agent had gone from Helmsdale to prepare a good meal to stay us during the last stage of the walk.
At the hotel a call for salads was responded to by an enquiry "whether a raw cabbage would be suitable?"
Long before Wick was reached my eagerness was very apparent to my cyclists. When one of them kept falling slightly in the rear, I requested him rather sharply to leave me alone, go to Wick, and get the others ready.
At last this town was reached, and a good reception awaited me. The doors of the Railway Hotel were besieged by the natives while we were having our meal.
After staying here 45 minutes, I was off again.
I seemed quite fresh, for I moved along freely and strong, but this wore off very soon.
By the time Wick had been left four m1les behind, those who had started to walk with us to the finish had all fallen out, and we were left with ourselves. All the party was walking, the bicycles having been left at the hotel at Wick.
A milestone on our right, shining in the darkness, told eight miles to Wick. All except myself imagined that we had gone a mile further; a certain sign that we were longing for the end.
I was glad that my friends were all walking, they would now understand more about the task. The milestones were like beacon lights to us, and when one read half-a-mile to John o' Groat's, we all felt glad indeed.
"Now it is all over" whispered one. "Now it is not” said I "until we knock at the hotel door. It is possible, even yet, to sprain my ankle on this rough road."
A light on our left caused us all to exclaim—"there it is!" We soon found that we were mistaken, for it was an ordinary cottage with a light inside. The sleeper within was aroused, and the information elicited that our destination lay along by the sea shore, about a quarter of a mile ahead.
I could have declared that we had gone at least half-a-mile from the last stone, such was my eagerness.
After what appeared a fairly good distance for a quarter of a mile, a light was seen on our right, and this, we all said, must be the hotel, and we were not mistaken this time.
By a winding road the door was reached.
A rather load summons to open, a short wait, a rustle of skirts, and we were admitted by the proprietress, who was waiting up for us.
How glad I was to reach the end. I had enjoyed the walk, although it had its times of hardship and sometimes misery: what task worth doing has not?
The clock facing us on entering told 2.33 a.m. The greatest athletic feat I had ever accomplished was concluded in 16 days, 21 hours, 33 minutes; and my other partial failures were more than made up for.
A hot bath, a good meal, and I retired to take a well-earned rest, with a card bearing these words facing me:—
"They that wait upon the Lord,
shall renew their strength."