All around me I hear red deer belling; it’s mating season and I’m in the midst of it. Luckily I set up my tent within the walls of an old cemetery, hoping to keep those aggressive deer outside. While lying in my tent I’m seeing a shadow flying over my tent; one has just jumped over the walls and my tent! Just when I’m starting to realize I’m not alone, I see two feet trying to push through my tent. A piece of antler is trying to lift up the tent’s canvas. The antler is getting bigger. My heart is beating like a steam train at full speed and slowly I’m seeing the deer’s head peaking in my tent. While trying to play dead another head appears. I’m moving very slowly when one of the deer bites my hand and lisping with his mouth full “aren’t you the lucky one ending up in Deerland!” I try to get up, push the deer away and jump out of my tent, over the cemetery wall. Next to me I hear a giant deer roar and wake up with a scare.
I wake up because a giant red deer is belling loudly very close by. I’m actually in my little tent, on an old cemetery surrounded by a bunch of rutting and aggressive red deer. This is a moment when I’m actually scared. Scared of being attacked. During October the deer change into fighting machines to test each other’s dominance. It isn’t unusual for these animals to attack sheep, cows or even humans in this testosterone-driven times. And I’m looking at some 10 testosterone-bombs. Now and then I hear them fight, horn against horn. I’m a long way from the town of Inverness.
North of Inverness there is not much to find. Some small towns and big roads. But these soon change into small roads and even tinier towns. The more I bike north the tinier the villages get, up to the point the ‘villages’ on the map end up being only one or two houses. This is where it really gets beautiful, far stretched plains, with once in a while a small patch of wood and a tiny lake. Here I go with Wesley; feeling A-Okay while the hills are looking upon us. Struck with silence of the striking landscape we’re rolling, ending up one night at an old cemetery. This is where I’m going to stay for the night. In my book this is truly ‘the middle of nowhere’ as far as you can find such a place in Western Europe. No other sound than the wind blowing and nothing else to see but far stretched hills.
From the middle of nowhere I’m going to the edge of nowhere and soon I’m somewhere. At the northern part of the Scottish coast to be exactly. It’s 30 kilometers to John ‘Ó Groats and quite impulsive I decide to drop by the Orkney Islands. It is already dark when I arrive on the island and I still have to cycle for two hours to get to the nearest camping. In these two hours I cross a big part of the island, but haven’t got a single clue of what I’m surrounded with. Mountains? Hills? Cliffs? Trolls? I smell a plentitude of seawater and occasionally see a small village. It’s exciting to bike in the pitch dark while exploring a new place, your fantasy shines a bright light on the dark lands and fills in all the blanks. I know for sure there are trolls.
Orkney is an island with a huge history of different cultures. The early Norsemen got ashore and built their settlements. Some of these are still visible and the massive stone circles are testament of these. Some stones are a few meters high and I wonder how folks got these here hundreds of years ago and placed them where they are now. These massive stones have a big air of mysterious stories surrounding them of course. It is said that during Yule and Hogmanay the stones walk up to the nearest water, bend over and drink the water. If you would witness the stones drinking the water it would lead to one year of bad luck. The locals wouldn’t go near the circles after sunset during these periods.
During the nights I hear John ‘O Groats calling across the sea and cliffs, so I decide to follow the calling after spending three days on the island. From the ferry it’s not far and within the hour I’m standing near the sign ‘John ‘O Groats’. I’ve made it. From Land’s End to John ‘O Groats. But not in the way I wanted. I’m standing in front of the sign with mixed feelings. And with the realization, this is it. There is only one thing left; drink a beer and head on to the most eastern part of Scotland to put up my tent for one final night in the fresh Scottish sea air.
Now the ‘real’ life starts again. Cooking dinner in a kitchen, sleeping with the window open to get some fresh air and knowing where I will be sleeping. Even if it were only 50 days, sometimes it was cold, the food wasn’t all that good and my shoes were wet, I enjoyed and will miss every single second of it.
One plus point, I don’t have to worry about any rutting red deer now!
Check the raw sleep-out Facebook page to see how I’m trying to add adventure in the ‘real’ life.