One fine day I found myself in John O’ Groats, a corruption of a the name of a Dutchman, Jan de Groot, who settled there about the 15th century, so the story goes, and ran a ferry that plied its trade to The Orkney islands. De Groot had seven sons. To minimise confrontation and to give equal status to all, Jan had built an octagonal shaped table for all to sit at when they had their business meetings.
On the site where the de Groot family lived, grew a hotel known as The John O’ Groats Hotel. Over recent decades the hotel has been allowed to fall into disrepair. A community project, it is not clear which community, was officially sanctioned to ‘tart it up’. That meant some outer walls were painted in various mismatched styles. The local community indicate they do not like it. In many ways, the decaying building seemed much more in keeping with the ancient history of the area. The hotel is now undergoing re-modelling and refurbishing.
Because of the ‘end-to-enders’ as they are called, (they are the large numbers of people who cover the miles from Lands End to John O’ Groats annually by various means of transport) there is a mistaken belief that John O’ Groats is the most Northerly habitation and/or the most Northerly place in the U.K. Neither is true. The most Northerly point is five miles away.
I heard a local photographer has rights over the iconic signpost used to take photographs of arrivals to Groats. When the photographer is not there, neither is the signpost. Even when the photographer is there the post is not always erected till there is obvious business. Another trader has created an alternative signpost with distances, which is fixed to his shop wall.
It is very popular with visitors. I saw people taking pictures of themselves by it with their mobile phones. It adds to the interest of the John O’ Groat Harbour for present day ferry passengers, when the seasonal ferry plies its trade to and from Orkney; the fixed post is permanently there, and that was more than one could say for the ‘official’ signpost and its photographer.