Isles of Wonder IV – the route

One thing I have forgotten to do is to do a blog post about my route.  If you are planning a Land’s End – John O’Groats walk, and come across my blog, then hopefully this post is of some use.  

IMG_0022Planning the route

Of course some people walk Lejog using the shortest route possible, and walk on lots of roads.  I knew I didn’t want to do that.  I wanted to be in the hills wherever possible, and see as much beautiful countryside as I could.  For me, the most straightforward thing to do was to use our National Long Distance Footpaths.  These are a national treasure as far as I am concerned.  I bought a copy of Cicerone’s guide to the National Trails by Paddy Dillon, and this helped me to see that there are plenty of trails that can be joined up:  the Southwest Coast Path, Offas’ Dyke Path, and of course the entire Pennine Way.  The trails were great – it’s so much easier to walk long distances on a signposted route.  There also tends to be more accommodation available. I also bought The End to End Trail, by Andy Robinson.  I didn’t follow his entire route, and I certainly didn’t follow his daily mileages (I wasn’t fit enough) but it was useful for some parts of the walk – especially when I left Offa’s Dyke Path and made my way across Staffordshire and Derbyshire to the start of the Pennine Way.   Finally, I read plenty of blogs – there’s a great list on Mark Moxon’s website, which is a useful resource for Lejog planning. I used Harveys maps of the long distance trails, and some OS maps, but in the main I read OS maps straight from my phone.  I used an app called ViewRanger, and bought credits so that I could download 5km square segments of the bits of maps I needed.  It worked superbly. My approach to planning the stages and timing of my walk seemed to be different to the norm.  I didn’t have a fixed finish date.  I was determined that I wanted to take the walk at my pace, speed up or slow down as needed, and enjoy every day as it came.  I didn’t want to have to rush to finish by a certain date. I usually planned for about a week ahead – booking my accommodation and working out that week’s stages.  (I didn’t camp, apart from once).  As it happened, I learnt a great deal from adopting this method.  At times, especially earlier on, I felt a self-induced pressure to speed up or keep pace with other walkers. I had to win a battle in my own head to get myself to put that competitive instinct to one side.  It was a battle worth fighting, as I found that the walk really was one to savour and not one to be sped through.  By starting slowly, with really quite short daily mileages, I was able to slowly build fitness, and I avoided injury.

The actual route

These were the main sections of my route.  (There’s also a day by day list at the end of this blog post):

  1. Southern part of my route

    The southern part of my route – click to enlarge.

    Land’s End to Barnstaple using the South West Coast Path – 189 miles.  Of course I started my walk on the Isles of Scilly – but this was really just a circular day walk.  It was important to me though to start on the islands, and then embark on the linear walk at Land’s End.  If you doing an end to end journey, and starting from Land’s End, then don’t underestimate this first SWCP stretch.  It’s not a level cliff top jaunt; often you’ll ascend and descend about the same height as the highest Lake District fells.  Especially if unused to walking all day, day after day, I’d recommend doing some very short days, and include an early rest day.  The scenery is a joy though – and I loved doing it in winter, without the crowds.

  2. Barnstaple to Chepstow – 135 miles.  Some people choose to continue going around the north coast of Devon on the SWCP.  I decided to go a bit more directly: over the Exmoor Hills; then roughly following the Coleridge Way; up and along the Quantock ridgeline; down and across the Somerset Levels; up over the Mendips to Bristol; through the city of Bristol (surprisingly green and full of footpaths); and over the M48 bridge to Chepstow, and into Wales.  For this section I had to do my own thing: looking at the public footpaths on my map, and working out the best way to go.  It was wonderful walking, and seemed to go quite quickly as I passed through all the little hill ranges.
  3. Chepstow to Craven Arms using Offa’s Dyke Path – 99 miles.  Back on a National Trail; and therefore navigation was a lot easier.  I loved Offa’s Dyke Path.  The Dyke itself isn’t an impressive feature in the same way as Hadrian’s Wall, but the countryside is fabulous, as are the small towns that the route passes through: Monmouth, Hay-on-Wye, Kington, Knighton.
  4. Craven Arms to Edale 106 miles.  I’d been anticipating that this would be my least interesting section.  Andy Robinson’s book, whose route I mainly followed at this point, was to blame for that.  He is disparaging about the northern Midlands countryside. But I found myself enjoying it.  My route took me along the top of the Wenlock Edge, through Ironbridge, skirted north of the great Birmingham/Wolverhampton conurbation, and onto Cannock Chase.  From there I headed north past Uttoxeter and quite nearby to Alton Towers, and into the Peak District (where for the first time I remember feeling a bit fitter, rather than tired all the time).  Whilst there were no National Trails to follow within this section, there were loads of footpaths, including the Shropshire Way, the Staffordshire Way, and the Limestone Way.  The counties zip by, and there are plenty of villages and small towns to stay in.  Also, always looming excitingly (and intimidatingly ahead) was the Pennine Way.
  5. The northern part of my route - click to enlarge

    The northern part of my route – click to enlarge

    Edale to Byrness using the Pennine Way – 244 miles.  The Pennine Way is brilliant for end to end walkers.  It’s like a south-north motorway – except with no traffic and, in fact, very few walkers.  I had been a bit nervous about the PW – it’s a high moorland route, and can get quite wild.  But it was fine; just a couple of days of nasty weather.  I want to walk it again sometime.  I veered off a couple of days walking before the end of the PW (Kirk Yetholm) as it would have been a diversion from my route into Scotland.

  6. Byrness to Crieff – 154 miles.  After leaving Byrness I crossed over the Scottish border, which was a real thrill.  My route through Scotland was a bit more of my own creation – a combination of following bits of other people’s routes, and my own ideas.  My route took me through the Scottish Borders (awesome walking): Jedburgh, Melrose, Innerleithen, (mainly following St Cuthberts Way and then the Southern Upland Way), Peebles, West Linton (using the Tweed Trails). Then through the Pentland Hills via the Cauldstane Slap on the  Cross Borders Drove Road (path). That took me to the flat central belt, which, although it’s jammed full of cities and towns, has some wonderful canals which make for quick and easy walking.  My route took me along a feeder canal, then the Union Canal to Falkirk, and then through a bit of not so nice road walking to the Kincardine Bridge.  There is a pavement on the bridge (it was hard to find this out in advance), and thus I could cross over to Fife, and walk through some woods and fields to Dollar.  From there, a lovely section through the Ochil Hills to Auchterader.  Finally, on a roasting hot day, I walked from Auchterarder to Crieff:  this final bit wasn’t such a good route as footpaths on maps turned out not to exist on the ground, and I had quite a bit of road walking – albeit on quiet lanes.
  7. Crieff to Inverness through the Highlands – 108 miles.  From what I can see, most walkers head north through the Highlands via the West Highland Way.  I was keen to try and alternative, partly because it was June and peak midge season, and partly because I thought that the WHW route involved a bit of a dog leg; heading over to Glasgow along canals, and I was keen to go more directly north.  Anyway, my route seemed to work out fine.  From Crieff I went north to Aberfeldy, using a vague footpath that followed some of General Wade’s road network, plus a section through a big forest.  A few times the footpath petered out, and I had to walk on the road for a bit, but in general it was ok.  From Aberfeldy I used the new Rob Roy Way footpath for the short stretch over to Pitlochry, then used footpaths along the river to get to Blair Atholl.  Then one of the best parts of the whole trip: through the Cairngorms: up Glen Tilt, then through the Lairig Ghru and on to Aviemore.  I wild camped as I did this segment – just once though, as I put in a 34 mile day, just for the fun of it.  From Aviemore to Inverness, I had to do a bit of research, as it was not obvious whether there were usable footpaths.  But for those of you thinking of going this way – in reality it works out fine, and there are footpaths.  I walked from Aviemore to Boat of Garten, then headed west under the A9 and onto another of General Wade’s old roads (track) over to Sluggan.  From there to Slochd, Tomatin, and Faille (grid ref: NH712 380), then down the hill to Milton of Leys and Inverness, all courtesy of Gen Wade.
  8. Inverness to John O’Groats – 171 miles.  I found this last stretch a bit tricky to plan. I walked over the Kessock Bridge to the Black Isle, up the coast of the Black Isle – a combination of footpaths and a bit of road walking, to Cromarty.  Then over on the little ferry to Nigg, and then north to Tain – again a combination of footpaths and roads.  From Tain, footpaths took me to the Dornoch Firth Bridge, and from there I walked to Bonar Bridge and then Lairg – half road half footpaths.  Then I walked up the single track A836 to the Crask Inn.  Finally, I could now walk across country, heading west for 25 miles on wonderful footpaths through remote country to Kinbrace.  I loved this day.  From there I walked north for about 7 miles on the deserted seeming road to Forsinard, then west again for 16 miles on good tracks through the Flow Country (miles of deserted peatlands – a stunning area) to Lochmore.  From there it was mainly road walking, heading west via Westerdale and Watten to Keiss on the north sea coast.  A lot of walkers head up the final stretch to John O’Groats on the busy main road.  This isn’t necessary.  I walked along the cliff top (following Andy Robinson’s route), and it was wonderful.  Amazing cliffs, not a soul to be seen, and a truly memorable way to arrive at John O’Groats.
  9. Shetland – I then went on to Shetland via Orkney by public transport and did a short walk to the top of the northernmost island.  But this was really a finale and not part of the continuous journey.

In hindsight the only part of my route that I would do differently is the last section from Inverness.  I loved the bit from the Crask Inn onwards, but before that there was really too much road walking.  I think I’d try go a bit more cross country – maybe from Dingwall, over Ben Wyvis, on to Allandale, up Glen Cassley to the north end of Loch Shin, and then across to the Crask Inn.  Alternatively, it would be great to go up the West Highland Way, and then on and up the west coast using the Fort William to Cape Wrath route – but turn inland after Ben More Assynt to head over to the Crask Inn.  Anyway, the great thing about Scotland is the Right to Roam – which means that there are infinite route choices.

Gear

I never did a gear post.  Lots of other people do, so there’s plenty out there if you want to see what people wear/take.  You’ll find people evangelising about the need to wear trainers for long distance walking, and others who swear by boots.  Likewise for tents, tarps, different types of rucksacks, etc etc.  My conclusion is that you need to find what suits you.  Do try to take as little as possible.  In the UK you can buy stuff anyway, if you get stuck.  I wore shoes for half my walk and boots the other half – both are fine (so long as you wear the right size for your feet – oops!)   Experiment beforehand with different bits of equipment – borrow stuff from other people to try it out, like lighter rucksacks, walking poles, etc.

Daily stages

Here are the daily stages and mileages that I did.  If you’d like to read each blog post from the trip, it all begins here; just keep clicking ‘Next Post’ to read on.

trip days from to distance running total
1 Isles of Scilly Isles of Scilly 9 9
2 Lands End St Just 6 15
3 St Just Zennor 10 25
4 Zennor Hayle 13 38
5 Hayle Portreath 12.4 50.5
6 Porthcothan Padstow 14.5 65
7 Padstow Port Isaac 11.7 76.7
8 portreath perranporth 12 89
9 perranporth crantock 8 97
10 crantock porthcothan 12 109
11 port isaac tintagel 9 118
12 tintagel crackington haven 11.5 129
13 crack haven bude 10.2 139
14 bude 0 139
15 bude elmscott 13 152
16 elmscott clovelly 7 159
17 clovelly westward ho 11.2 171
18 westward ho barnstaple 14 185
19 barnstaple Parracombe 12 197
20 Parracombe Warren farm 12 209
21 Warren farm Wheddon x 11 220
22 Wheddon x Bicknoller 15 235
23 Bicknoller Chedzoy 20 255
24 Chedzoy Wedmore 14 269
25 Wedmore Compton Martin 11 280
26 Compton Martin Bristol 14 294
27 Bristol Aust nr M48 bridge 11 305
28 Aust nr M48 bridge Bigsweir 17 322
29 Bigsweir Monmouth 7 329
30 Monmouth Pandy 17 346
31 Pandy Hay on Wye 17 363
32 Hay on Wye Kington 15 378
33 Kington Knighton 13 391
34 Knighton Clun 8 399
35 Clun Stefford (Craven Arms) 12 411
36 Stefford Much Wenlock 16 427
37 Much Wenlock Jackfield (Ironbridge) 5 432
38 Jackfield Bishops Cross 14 446
39 Bishops Cross Cannock Chase 12 458
40 Cannock Chase Uttoxeter 16 474
41 Uttoxeter Swinscoe 12 486
42 Swinscoe Taddington 18 504
43 Taddington Tideswell 5 509
44 Tideswell Edale 8 517
45 Edale Snake Pass 8.5 525
46 Snake Pass Edale (low) 7.5 533
47 Edale Standedge A62 12.5 545
48 Standedge A62 Mankinholes 14 559
49 Mankinholes Ponden Resevoir 13 572
50 Ponden Resevoir Thornton in Craven 16 588
51 Thornton in Craven Malham 11 599
52 Malham Horton in Ribblesdale 15 614
53 Horton in Ribblesdale Hawes 15 629
54 Hawes Hawes 0 629
55 Hawes Keld 12 641
56 Keld Balderdale/Bowes 12.5 654
57 Balderdale/Bowes Langdon Beck 15.5 669
58 Langdon Beck Dufton 13.5 683
59 Dufton Melmersby 15 698
60 Melmersby Park Village nr Haltwhistle 23 721
61 Park Village nr Haltwhistle Housesteads 10 731
62 Rest day 0 731
63 Housesteads Bellingham 14.5 745
64 Bellingham Byrness 16 761
65 Byrness JEDBURGH 19 780
66 JEDBURGH Melrose 19 799
67 Melrose Innerleithen 20 819
68 Innerleithen Peebles 7.5 827
69 Peebles West Linton 12 839
70 West Linton Uphall (nr Broxburn) 19 858
71 Uphall (nr Broxburn) Kincardine Br 22 880
72 Kincardine Br Glendevon 17 897
73 Glendevon Crieff 18 915
74 Crieff Amulree 10 925
75 Amulree Pitlochry 17 942
76 Pitlochry Blair Atholl 8 950
77 Blair Atholl Rothiemurchus 34 984
78 Rothiemurchus Aviemore 4 988
79 Rest day rest day 0 988
80 rest day rest day 0 988
81 Aviemore Tomatin 20 1008
82 Tomatin Inverness 15 1023
83 Inverness Fortrose 18 1041
84 Fortrose Cromarty 12 1053
85 Cromarty Dornoch Bridge (nr Tain) 16 1069
86 Dornoch Bridge (nr Tain) Bonar Bridge 16 1085
87 Bonar Bridge Lairg 10 1095
88 Lairg Crask Inn 12 1107
89 Crask Inn Crask Inn 0 1107
90 Crask Inn Badanloch Lodge 22 1129
91 Badanloch Lodge Forsinain 13.5 1142
92 Forsinain Loch More 16.5 1159
93 Loch More Westerloch (by the coast) 21 1180
94 Westerloch (by the coast) Nybster 5 1185
95 Nybster John O Groats 8 1193

Finally, if you are planning an end to end walk, and have any questions that I can help you out with, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.  Just leave a comment here on my blog, and I’ll get straight back to you.

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