Lands End to John O'Groats - 2010

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History

The history of walking between Lands End and John O'Groats dates back to 1871 and is described in Wikipedia as follows:

The first recorded end-to-end walk (actually from John o' Groats to Land's End) was undertaken by the brothers John and Robert Naylor in 1871.[1] Since then the walk has been undertaken many times, more particularly since 1960, after a well publicised road walk by Dr Barbara Moore. In 1960 the entrepreneur Billy Butlin organised a road walking race, which gave further impetus to the idea.

Since the 1960s, walkers have mostly chosen off-road routes, using the growing network of long-distance footpaths. A classic account is from 1966 by the travel writer John Hillaby.[2] Off-road walkers usually complete the journey in two to three months. There is a considerable choice of off-road routes, but all are much longer than the shortest road distance, usually 1,200 miles (1,900 km) or more. The walk is still undertaken by road walkers, often doing the walk, like Sir Ian Botham, for charity, or as a "challenge walk". They typically take a month or even less.

The first naked walk from Land's End to John o' Groats was done by Stephen Gough.

The first recorded walk from Land's End to John o' Groats via the summit of every UK mountain above 3,000ft was undertaken by Steve Perry. It included 15 mountains in Snowdonia, 4 mountains in the Lake District and all 284 Munros in the Highlands of Scotland. The walk was completed between 18 February 2003 and 29 September 2003.

 

My Route

There is no "official" route for walking the 2,000 kilometres from Lands End to John O'Groats.  I researched a number of alternative routes, each of which has advantages and disadvantages.  My primary criteria included

  • staying off roads as much as possible,
  • visiting areas of scenic beauty,
  • avoiding large metropolitan areas, and
  • utilising renowned national trails where feasible.

In the end, I decided that I would try to follow the route described by Andy Robinson in his book "The End to End Trail" published by Cicerone.  He has a website here.

His route seeks out hills and wild country where practical, rather than cultivated farmland, and is described by him as follows:

Section 1: Land's End to Barnstaple (Devon) The first section follows the spectacular northwest coast of Cornwall and Devon all the way. Most of it is on the South West Coast Path, which is a waymarked National Trail.

Section 2: Barnstaple to Knighton (Welsh borders) The route leaves the coast at Barnstaple and crosses Exmoor, the Quantocks and the Mendips to skirt Bristol and reach the M42 bridge over the Severn Estuary. Across the bridge it picks up the Offa's Dyke Path, another waymarked National Trail, and follows it up the Wye valley and over the Black Mountains to Knighton, halfway up the Offa's Dyke Path.

Section 3: Knighton to Hebden Bridge (West Yorkshire) From Knighton the Trail heads northeast through the Shropshire hills to cross the Severn again at Ironbridge. It then continues in a more easterly direction into Staffordshire, joining the Staffordshire Way and following it across Cannock Chase and north towards the Peak District. It crosses the Peak along limestone valleys and gritstones edges on the line of the Alternative Pennine Way, to reach Hebden Bridge in the Calder Valley.

Section 4: Hebden Bridge to Jedburgh (Scottish borders) Just north of Hebden Bridge the Trail joins the Pennine Way, following it as far as the Scottish border in the Cheviot Hills. It then makes a beeline for Jedburgh, following Dere Street, a Roman road.

Section 5: Jedburgh to Fort William The route crosses the Southern Uplands via Melrose, Peebles and West Linton to join the Union Canal west of Edinburgh. It follows the Union Canal to Falkirk, then the Forth and Clyde Canal most of the way to Glasgow, leaving it for a disused railway track which is eventually joined by the West Highland Way. The Trail now follows the West Highland Way along Loch Lomond, along the edge of Rannoch Moor, and past the foot of Ben Nevis to reach Fort William.

Section 6: Fort William to John O'Groats Initially this stage follows the Caledonian Canal to the northeast along the Great Glen, before cutting north into wilder areas of the Highlands. The route visits Glen Garry, Strath Cluanie, the head of Glen Affric, the tremendous Falls of Glomach and Kinlochewe, to reach the head of Loch Broom on the west coast. From here the direction changes to northeast, crossing wild and remote country to Oykel Bridge, round the northwest end of Loch Shin, then out of the mountians to the lower moorland around the Helmsdale and Thurso valleys. The last few miles follow the cliffs of the east coast to Duncansby Head and John O'Groats.

 You can find a map showing his route here.

Gear

I'm going to try and travel quite light, to maximise the enjoyment from hiking.  I know from previous long hikes that my fatigue and injury risk clearly rise in direct proportion to the weight of my pack.  Not surprising, really!  My gear includes

  • CamelBak Vantage 40 litre Hydration Pack with a 3 litre bladder.  Originally bought for multi-day backcountry hike/run, but seemingly large enough for this trek.

  • Marmot Helium EQ 15 Sleeping Bag

  • Tarptent Contrail One-Person Tent

Entertainment

I will have a small Sony AM/FM Walkman Radio (I love listening to the local radio stations, want to be aware of the weather forecasts, and am a current affairs addict) with me along with an iPod Nano with the 750 greatest songs of all time.

Communications Equipment

I plan to carry a mobile (cell) phone as well as my Dell Mini 9 Laptop and a wireless modem.  I will purchase the mobile hone plan and wireless modem when I arrive in the UK.

Timing

I plan to begin hiking in late April and to finish in late June.  Apart from fitting with personal commitments in Australia, this time period has the advantage of spring weather and long days.  It should also beat the summer tourist season meaning accommodation may be easier to get when needed.  One disadvantage will be that I arrive in Scotland after the start of the "midge" season, but I'm hoping that will be bearable.

Daily Schedule

I will stick roughly to the schedule used by Andy Robinson which requires an average of 32km per day.  Because of booked return flights to Australia, I can't afford to drift too much behind this schedule.  I know I will need some rest days here and there and will hope to walk a little further some days so as to build up "credit" that can be used for rest days.

Accommodation

I will be carrying a light one-person tent and will hope to use it about 50% of the time to keep costs down.  Many walkers use Bed & Breakfasts as their preferred accommodation and I'm sure I will stay in those some of the time.  There are also hostels along the route which are will offer cheap accommodation and laundry facilities and I intend to use those where available.

Food

I hope to be able to survive without carrying much food at all to keep the weight down.  The planned route will pass through at least one or two stores or pubs each day and I will buy food there.  Cost is also an issue here, so I hope to avoid buying all meals.  For the latter part of the route, which passes through relatively uninhabited highland areas, I may need to stock up with as much as five days of food.  I won't be carrying a stove so will survive on cold meals where necessary.

Drink

I also hope to survive without carrying more than a litre or two of water, given that opportunities to resupply should occur several times a day.  I'll be a bit wary of drinking from streams, but it should be OK at higher elevations.  I will carry some water purification tablets just in case.

Clothing

I will wear shorts and a T-Shirt for hiking and carry some high quality lightweight thermals in case it gets colder.  I will also carry a high-quality lightweight rain-jacket and trousers and a spare pair of shorts and a T-Shirt for "town" use.  I have some lightweight Nike hiking boots, but may switch to running shoes if these prove to be uncomfortable.  I hiked most of the Appalachian Trail years ago in running shoes.

Training

In early February, I badly aggravated a chronic right knee injury that I have tolerated for the last four years, and haven't been able to run of cycle since.  I have, however, been able to walk increasing distances sine the start of March and will be in reasonable shape by the time I start hiking.  However, I anticipate that the first few weeks will be tough as my body adapts to the trail and am mentally prepared for that.  To take the pressure off the bad knee, I plan to hike using trekking poles for the first time in my life (I've always been anti-trekking poles up to now, seeing them as a gimmick.)

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