UPDATED Sunday 1st August; Jonathan Dawson completes 10 day Charity bike ride to John O’Groats

RR’s Editor, Jonathan Dawson, has successfully completed his 10 day charity bike ride. Starting at Hexham and riding the 470 miles to John O’Groats. The daily blog below shows the various rail trails and disused stations along the journey. If you enjoyed the blog, please any feedback on the Facebook page.

One final quite from Jonathan “It has been an exhilarating experience for me and I am frankly amazed I managed to get to the end! What makes it all the more worthwhile is that the trip has raised almost £2000 for the anti-trafficking charity, International Justice Mission.”


Day 10 (Sunday 1st August) – Thrumster to John O’Groats

It’s the end of the line…

We had an amusing incident at our last wild camp. We had just pitched the tents in what seemed an ideal spot when the landowner turned up and said ‘You can’t camp here.’ He explained that he had suffered too many inconsiderate campers, leaving rubbish, starting fires, etc.

Then he asked me what I did for a living. I said was a church minister, to which he immediately replied: ‘You’re very welcome ‘!

There’s not a lot of rail-related information to report from the last 25 miles of my trip but I can say that I reached John o’Groats at about 10.15 this morning, after a 500-mile charity ride in aid of the International Justice Mission.

Left camp this morning at 7.30 as we are due on Edinburgh by 6pm at the latest! It was a hard slog for two and a half hours against a really cold wind and with quite a bit of steady climbing. I’m glad I brought gloves!

First stop of interest was Watten Station (as was) on the open line between Wick and Georgemas Junction. JD Bike Ride

The platform is in good condition and the station house retains some nice features: a clock and some signs.

Following the recent correspondence in the magazine about the pipeline ‘railway’, it was interesting to pass its start point at Hastigrow, in an otherwise featureless landscape. JD Bike Ride

Being held up by as flock of sheep ranked as the next most exciting episode until I created the umpteenth rise and… JD Bike Ride

the Orkneys came into view.

A few more miles along the coast and there were my son and daughter holding up the traffic by stretching a banner across the road for me to break!

The obligatory photo at the signpost, a coffee to warm up with on an extremely bracing morning, and we were done. JD Bike Ride

My thanks go to Alan Green and Nigel Nicholds for faithfully transmitting my daily updates into a user-friendly blog for the website and Facebook page respectively. And they also go to all of you who have shared and followed my journey. I trust some of it has been of interest.

It has been an exhilarating experience for me and I am frankly amazed I managed to get to the end! What makes it all the more worthwhile is that the trip has raised almost £2000 for the anti-trafficking charity, International Justice Mission.

Day 9 (Saturday 31st July) – Embo to Thrumster

Thanks to everyone who has followed my journey; I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have. I should also have plenty of material for future magazines, including perhaps a feature on the Wick and Lybster Light Railway, some of which I was able to follow today.

Leaving camp early to beat the traffic on the A9 and to get in as many miles as possible so as to minimise tomorrow’s distance, progress was serene from The Mound to Helmsdale. JD Bike Ride

Leaving camp this morning

The once private station was a treat JD Bike Ride

Dunrobin Castle Station

The Far North line leaves the A9 at Helmsdale and for good reason; three big hills await. A coffee stop with son and daughter in the middle of them was most welcome, and at least the last of them was managed without any walking! JD Bike Ride

It’s on the sign!

It was a relief to leave the hills behind and time to do some railway sightseeing. JD Bike Ride

Lybster station (now a golf clubhouse – sacrilege)

JD Bike Ride

Occumster station

And the piece de resistance…

Thrumster Station – what a delight! Worth cycling 475 miles to see!! JD Bike Ride

After all this on a rather wintry, windswept day, 55 more miles behind me and just 25 to go to reach John o’Groats. One more night of wild camping first…

Day 8 (Friday 30th July) – Inverness to Embo

We are closing on our goal but along the way have managed to visit quite a good number of railway sites. In a separate post I have uploaded a video of a Strathspey Railway train leaving Boat of Garten.

Today I left Inverness and cycled over the Kessock Bridge and across the Isle of Cromarty. I did note a ‘Station Court’ in Munlochy, so some detective work is necessary there. JD Bike Ride

Boarding the ferry

I caught the tiny ferry from Cromarty to Balnapaling which can only carry two cars at a time, plus a few bikes and foot passengers. We certainly got our money’s worth though as the ferry journey was doubled in length by having to dodge round an oil rig being towed out to sea! JD Bike Ride

Towing the rig

I visited the site of Nigg Station- the line is open and the settlement still named after the long-closed station, but it was 5 miles from the actual village of Nigg!

Fearn Station, the next stop north, is still open though and must be one of the most remarkable survivors, being in an extremely rural area. JD Bike Ride

I’ve never seen this on a platform either… JD Bike Ride

Tain is a pleasant little town before the crossing of Dornoch Firth by the lengthy 1991 bridge. It felt like being at sea as I was battered by the side winds in the middle.

Dornoch is very pretty but not in a downpour, yet the station remains had to be recorded. JD Bike Ride

Dornoch Station – platform and building

Nearing the end of a 54-mile day, a rarity in these parts: a trackbed walk!

About a mile is walkable between Dornoch and Embo. JD Bike Ride

Embo Station House is allegedly in situ, but not worth a photo in my humble opinion. Google Earth it if you want to check.

Just a few miles along the coast to end the day before reaching the idyllic camp spot found and chosen by my son and daughter right by the water’s edge. 54 more miles in the bank and about 80 to go.

But one last find, a most random relic…languishing in the middle of a field and serving as protection from the wind for the sheep – the old platform at Skelvo, a station that isn’t near anything. JD Bike Ride

Skelvo Station

Day 7 (Thursday 29th July) – Newtonmore to Inverness

A week…380 miles…lots of railway highlights…and I’ve reached Inverness. Only the Far north stands between me and my destination.

Today was probably the hardest day yet…a late start due to a slow puncture and the need for some running repairs, headwinds, decidedly unpleasant gradients and perhaps accumulated tiredness all combined to make the 58 miles tough going. JD Bike Ride

A Scotrail service at Kingussie

Progress was good as far as Boat of Garten, 25 miles out. Coffee had to be taken at the Strathspey Railway JD Bike Ride

JD Bike Ride

Boat of Garten, Strathspey Railway

After that it was tough going but overall 58 miles in a little over 7 hours, including a decent lunch stop, was alright. JD Bike Ride

Strange lot, these Scots! Can you imagine a Rice Crispies World Championship? JD Bike Ride


Ploughing on, I got over the second Cairngorm summit in two days… JD Bike Ride

Then it was a case of head down and knock of the miles… JD Bike Ride

With the odd distraction: this is Findhorn Viaduct. JD Bike Ride

While this is Nairn.

Soon afterwards, I reached the suburbs of Inverness and the prospect of a proper bed for the night. 120 miles to go or thereabouts…

Day 6 (Wednesday 28th July) – Killin to Newtonmore

Which it was with a vengeance as in a mega-day‘a ride I covered 63 miles and reached our originally planned stop of Newtonmore.

Glenoglehead Viaduct (A huge highlight from Day 5 I forgot to mention) JD Bike Ride

Leaving Kenmore at the head of Loch Tay at a more decent hour than yesterday, the ride into Pitlochry was pleasant even though it included the first rain of the trip while I was actually cycling.

Logierait Bridge JD Bike Ride

After Pitlochry Brian what I had envisaged would be ‘the long slog’. After some miles, I reached this jolly sign JD Bike Ride

I didn’t need gritting – well, maybe my teeth – but it was what John Betjeman would have called a ‘steady’ climb! I think I understand how a steam engine must have felt.

Reaching the top was so satisfying, therefore, especially when greeted by this sign JD Bike Ride

It says it’s the highest point on the Scottish cycle network. Although the climb is not a rail trail as such, it feels like one and runs alongside the main line. JD Bike Ride

The railway summit

A belt down the other side and on to Newtonmore sets me up for the run to Inverness. Thanks for reading my blog and I hope you find something of interest in it.

Day 5 (Tuesday 27th July) – Callendar to Killin

The trail out of Callendar JD Bike Ride

The trail from Callendar to Killin was perhaps the single stretch of line I was most looking forward to. I have to say it contained some of the best railway rambling I’ve ever done, and some of the most frustrating (more on that in a magazine article one day).

The highlight was going off piste without bike along the recently cleared trackbed to the restored Lochearnhead Station (see below). JD Bike Ride

Killin was frustrating as I couldn’t find the viaduct and my odometer packed up and then disappeared in the undergrowth.

The road along Loch Tay offered glorious views and even more hills and a storm was brewing behind me, rumbling thunder accompanying me along the valley.

Approaching Killin JD Bike Ride

Cutting the tale short, we ended up erecting the tents in a thunderstorm in the dark in what was a very truncated day to begin with. Only 40 miles cycled and ground to make up.

Day 4 (Monday 26th July) – Linlithgow to Callendar

57 miles today from Linlithgow to Callendar. Leaving the comforts of my friends’ house and ending the day in a tent in a forest! But my son and daughter have arrived with the support car and are joining me in the wild camping experience!

Railway interest today was again abundant and varied: great views of the Forth Rail Bridge as I cycled across its road cousin; some interesting remains in Dunfermline…

Forth Railway Bridge, pictured from the South Queensferry branch. JD Bike Ride

The truncated Buffie Braes Viaduct in Dunfermline (I think that’s its name)

The excellent West Fife Way took me from Dunfermline to Alloa. Very little in the way of railway ‘furniture’ to be seen, except for this surprising survivor at Bogside Station

Forth Railway Bridge, pictured from the South Queensferry branch. JD Bike Ride

Bogside Signal Box

The trail on to Stirling is also very good and uses some trackbed sections. Here I caught my first views of the hills and tomorrow enter the Highlands.

Forth Railway Bridge, pictured from the South Queensferry branch. JD Bike Ride

Between Alloa and Stirling

Day 3 (Sunday 25th July) – Penicuik to Linlithgow

One of the best rail-related days today as much of the itinerary was on old lines turned into trails. I can do my homework on the various branches when I get home if anyone wants to know the details – or feel free to correct or supplement what I have written by posting yourselves.

The Penicuik-Dalkeith Walkway meant I started on a trail straightaway from near the site of the branch terminus. On a beautiful morning, this was a gorgeous ride. JD Bike Ride

Highlights included Auchendinny Station and tunnel (picture below) JD Bike Ride

Platform remains on right, bridge over river and short tunnel ahead. JD Bike Ride

Firth Viaduct is a gem tucked away in the countryside JD Bike Ride

The clue’s in the name!

Rosslyn Castle Station

Here I popped up to the road, went a quarter of mile up the lane – and found this JD Bike Ride

On a rival line, Rosslynlee Station, which has a decidedly Hansel and Gretel feel to it.

I returned to Rosslyn Castle and continued to Dalkeith. Bonnyrigg Station is a curious survivor amidst the urban sprawl…

Bonnyrigg Station JD Bike Ride

The trail then disappears into suburbia, winding through housing estates and wasteground, with the occasional section on the trackbed.

I passed Eskbank Station on the reopened Waverley line, Musselburgh and Brunstane Stations – where a remaining pier shows where my path would have crossed the Brunstane line JD Bike Ride

Where’s the bridge gone?

Next up was the Innocent Railway, surely the most dramatic way to enter Edinburgh JD Bike Ride

First though was this sign at the start of the path…(picture below) JD Bike Ride

Well, now there’s a challenge. On balance, I decided to push on – after all, I was wearing a cap 😝

The path was full of…people, not rocks JD Bike Ride

View on the Innocent Railway

And then the tunnel JD Bike Ride

The exit from the tunnel is somewhat inauspicious, as it deposits you in a rather dreary complex of flats. But a quick zoom through the streets of Edinburgh- mostly downhill in this direction- brought me to the Royal Crescent and two more tunnels JD Bike Ride

Scotland Street shut JD Bike Ride

Rodney Street open

Edinburgh has a system of paths and cycle trails to die for, a number of which are on old railway lines. JD Bike Ride

Trinity Junction JD Bike Ride

Trinity Station- a highlight of the day despite the fence.

Then it was time to head west, on the old line to Craigleath, where I switched on to the Barnton branch to Cramond Brig.

Lots of overbridges and other railway remains made the day greatly enjoyable despite being another scorcher. The gradients on rail trails are also much more congenial. JD Bike Ride

A rather handsome structure at Barnton

At Dalmeny, I reached the old South Queensferry branch just where it left the open railway over the Forth. It offers a delightful ride, with possibly the best view of the iconic bridge. In fact, the line goes under the stone viaduct which leads to the bridge itself (see below). JD Bike Ride

Forth Railway Bridge, pictured from the South Queensferry branch. JD Bike Ride

The trackbed path ends… JD Bike Ride

Well, you never know what you might find in a Morrison’s car park! JD Bike Ride

Then my last leg for today was on to Linlithgow to start with friends. 46 miles, the shortest so far, and a welcome rest from the roads.

► Click here to see Day 1 and 2 Report and Photographs…