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Walking Land's End to John o'Groats with Mark Moxon

Doing the Walk Yourself: Frequently Asked Questions

Welcome to my FAQ for those planning their own Land's End to John o'Groats walk. If you have a question about the walk that isn't answered here, feel free to ask it in my Guestbook and I'll do my best to help.

Planning your Route

Training

Accommodation

What to Take

Technology

Miscellaneous


How did you plan your route?

My first port of call was Andrew McCloy's book The Land's End to John o'Groats Walk (available from Amazon) which proved an excellent starting point. The book describes a recommended route that's very close to the route I ended up taking, but it does include some other options if you want to avoid tracks like the Pennine Way or the West Highland Way. Another good route book is The End-to-End Trail by Andy Robinson (also available from Amazon).


When is the best time of year to do the walk?

Most people tend to start in late spring and walk through the summer, though there's no right or wrong time to walk across the country. I started in May and ended in August, and because I walked from south to north, I managed to enjoy spring in the warm south and summer in the cool north (for more on which way to walk, see my article on LEJOG or JOGLE?). If you're walking from north to south and want to avoid weather extremes, then the best plan is probably to set off from John o'Groats in July and end up in Cornwall at the end of September.


Which route should I take?

First up, a caveat. Although I've walked from Land's End to John o'Groats, this only means that I'm familiar with a 10m-wide strip of Britain, along the route I took. As a consequence, I know plenty about the Pennines, the Staffs Way, the Cotswold Way and so on, but I have no idea what it would be like to walk, say, from Edinburgh to Inverness direct... but some general advice might help you decide which route to take.


Which is the best direction in which to do the walk?

One of the biggest decisions you will have to make is whether to walk from Land's End to John o'Groats (LEJOG) or John o'Groats to Land's End (JOGLE). It's such an important decision that I've written a whole article on the subject called LEJOG or JOGLE?


How can I avoid walking along the A9 in northern Scotland?

The final few days to John o'Groats take you along the busy A9 and A99, and there's not a great deal you can do about it. However, if you really want to avoid the A9 (and who can blame you?), then you can turn northwest along the A897 at Helmsdale and head for the north coast at Melvich; from here you can strike along the A836 to Thurso, and then east along the lanes to John o'Groats. The hard part is finding places to stay along the A836 and A897, but there are some options – you'll just have to plan carefully. Although it's still A-road walking, it's a lot quieter and some people prefer it.


I want to cycle from Land's End to John o'Groats. Is your route suitable?

I'm afraid my route is not suitable for cyclists, as most of the tracks I took were for walkers only. Not being a cyclist, I don't know much about cycling from Land's End to John o'Groats, but you might find The Ultimate Links List of Land's End to John o'Groats Cycle Trips useful. It contains loads of links to people who have cycled LEJOG, and some of them may well be able to help you plan your route.


Can I walk along all roads marked on my map?

This is a good question, because you can't walk across the country without bumping into a fair few roads, and it's important to know whether they're barriers or byways.


What about bicycle trails? Can I walk along them too? If so, on which side?

That's a good question, and I've walked along plenty of cycle trails without having any idea what the legal situation is! Most of these trails have signs indicating that they're shared pedestrian/bicycle trails, in which case there's no problem, but I'm sure there are some bike-only trails out there that I have yet to find. However, it would be a churlish cyclist who got stroppy with a walker on a bike track, as long as you got out of the way. I've always viewed bicycle tracks as pedestrian-friendly, and I think most walkers share this view.


Where can I find out about rights of way?

The Ramblers Association website is a very handy place to check about things like walking rights and rights of way. They've got a good article on access for walkers in Britain, a summary of footpath law, and a section on the new right to roam laws.


Can I walk across farmers' fields?

You can walk across farmland, but only along public rights of way. If you take a look at the Ordnance Survey Explorer maps, then in England and Wales the entire country is criss-crossed with thousands and thousands of green rights of way, along which anyone is free to ramble. In Scotland they have different laws – you can basically go anywhere as long as it's not specifically prohibited – but in England you should stick to rights of way, or you may find a farmer taking pot-shots at you. They really don't like you straying onto their land.


You bought 54 maps for your walk, but there's no way I want to spend that much. Are there any cheaper options?

There most certainly are – my recommendation to use Explorer maps is easily the most expensive one, and you don't need to go down that route.


Actually, cheap isn't good enough – I don't want to spend anything on maps. What can I do?

If you want to follow my route, you can use my site to generate lots of small strip maps, covering the entire walk, and you can copy these to your smartphone or print them out on a colour printer. The maps on my site are genuine 1:50,000 Ordnance Survey Landranger maps, and extracting them from my site will cost you absolutely nothing – you just need a fair amount of time and patience, though it does enable you to get to know the route really well, so it's time well spent.

  1. Visit the relevant section of the walk.
  2. Click on the 'View a map of this walk' link in the More Information sidebar.
  3. Click on the 'Full screen' link above the map.
  4. Click on the 'OS map' link above the map.
  5. Zoom in until the map is as detailed as you require.
  6. Grab the relevant part of the route as a screenshot, and rename the saved file (I find it useful to name the files sequentially, so they appear in the correct order - try something like 01_01, 01_02, 01_03... for section 1, 02_01, 02_02, 03_03 for section 2, and so on).
  7. Scroll the map along the route and repeat the process until you 've got screenshots covering the whole section.
  8. Repeat for each section, and you're done.

Once you've finished, simply copy these images to your smartphone (if you've got an iPhone, for example, you can use iPhoto on a Mac, or iTunes on a PC), and you should find you have a bunch of images, in the correct order, showing the route marked out on genuine OS maps. You can then use to navigate your way across the country, saving a fortune over the paper map or GPS approaches.


I'd like to say a little prayer before I head off. Is there anywhere I can do this?

If you'd like to pack some prayers alongside your wet weather gear and your sandwiches, then you're in luck, because there are two churches in west Cornwall that are more than happy to cater to the spiritual needs of those setting off on the long trek from Land's End. The first is St Sennen Church, which is just one mile east from Land's End along the A30, and the other is St Buryan Church on the B3283 between Land's End and Penzance. To plan your pre-trek visit, you can get in touch through the links above, or by contacting Reverend Canon Vanda Perrett at The Rectory, Rectory Road, St Buryan, Penzance TR19 6BB, by email to canonvanda@gmail.com, by calling 01736 810216, or by leaving a message on the Land's End Churches page on Facebook.


How demanding is the walk?

There's no denying that at times, the psychological and physical stresses of walking across an entire country are a real challenge. I'm particularly glad I wrote about all my experiences as I walked, as time has a habit of erasing bad memories and accentuating the good ones... but I found myself having to dig deep an awful lot.


How fit do I need to be before setting off?

You certainly need to be fit to walk across the country, but you don't need to be superman, as the very act of walking will fitten you up as you go. Before setting off for Land's End, I did six days of the London Loop in the month leading up to my departure, carrying a backpack loaded with between 6 and 8 litres of water; I did the last two days' worth in one day. It seemed to work; I don't think it would have been that handy being much fitter, as there's always going to be an element of having to get fit while doing the walk itself.


How can I do the walk safely?

Well, I guess the best safety advice is not to put yourself in danger, whether that means staying put instead of trying to climb a mountain in the driving rain, or just ensuring that you take rest days when you need them. These days you'd be hard pressed to do things like falling into waist-deep bog on the Pennine Way, as they've put down paving stones to protect the landscape, but all it takes is a twisted ankle on a lonely moor, and you're in trouble.


Do I need to book accommodation in advance?

It all depends on how organised you want to be, and how sure you are of your route. I always booked ahead, because I'm that kind of person (I'd only fret otherwise). I always rang up at least a couple of days in advance, so I really can't tell you what it's like to walk into a place without somewhere already booked, but I can tell you that Barry, the friend I bumped into all the way to John o'Groats, often turned up in plances unannounced, and he never seemed to have any problems.


What's the difference between B&Bs and guesthouses?

B&Bs tend to be people's houses and you stay in a room, while guesthouses are slightly larger and more hostel-like... but then again I've stayed in plenty of guesthouses that felt like B&Bs and vice versa, so I wouldn't pin too much on the distinction.


How can I find accommodation?

I found that the main hassle with accommodation was finding out where there might be suitable B&Bs, but luckily I had my girlfriend in London looking for suitable candidates on the Internet, and this made life much easier. I told her my route, and she emailed me details of B&Bs in the vicinity; she was even able to work out the OS coordinates from the postcodes, which made my life a lot easier. However, if you don't have a friend who can help out, there are other options.


What about camping?

I didn't do too much camping on my trip because I damaged my foot in Devon and had to send my tent home, so I'm not sure I have any genuine advice to pass on. There are certainly plenty of campsites around in the more touristy areas of the country, and these are a lot cheaper than B&Bs and hostels, so you shouldn't have any problems finding somewhere to stay. I also met quite a few people who would camp out in the countryside, and they seemed to find it pretty easy, though I don't know what it's like first-hand. Essentially, though, it's a good way to save money on accommodation, and lots of people do it, so if you can handle the weight of the camping gear, I'd recommend it.


Can I camp in farmers' fields?

I met people who camped in the wild all the time, and they seemed pretty happy with it. I never did it, so I can't offer any advice; strictly speaking it's illegal, though you're unlikely to run into difficulty unless you leave a mess or end up camping on top of a load of crops. I've been told it's best to track down the farmhouse to ask for permission, but sometimes that's not possible. Most farmers will take it in their stride, but there will always be some who don't see the funny side.


Should I bring along my friend and his campervan?

It's not a bad idea. Walking with a campervan in tow makes life much easier, as it's the weight of your backpack that really grinds you down. It also gives you the chance to take a few days' rest somewhere interesting and spend the time driving round the sights. I saw precious little outside of the thin strip of my walk, but with a van you can really get stuck in. I envy you.


How did you manage to carry so many maps?

I was lucky; my girlfriend brought up various batches of maps when she came to visit me on the trail, and my parents live just off my route near Penkridge, so I was able to leave another load of maps with them. There's no way I could have carried the whole lot in one go, that's for sure.


Do you recommend walking poles?

When it comes to walking poles, I am a complete convert, and yes, I highly recommend them. I'd never used them before my End-to-End walk, but now I walk with them everywhere. They take a considerable amount of strain off your knees, which makes a big difference over long distances, and on rocky hills they make balancing much easier. Once you get used to them, they're like old friends! I'd definitely investigate them; they're inexpensive and well worth the effort.


Should I do the walk in boots or trainers?

I did the walk in boots, bought new for the trek. Unfortunately they didn't last the distance and after 800 miles they had a hole in them. I ended up having to buy a new pair in Fort William and breaking them in on the Great Glen Way, which is something I really don't recommend. Trainers would not have been suitable for the route I took, as a lot of it was along rough trails, but if you're thinking of road walking (which some people do), trainers are an option. The best solution is to get a comfortable pair of boots that will last the distance, but as I've never found a pair of boots that didn't rip my feet to shreds, I'm not the best person to ask for recommendations!


Which boots should I buy?

I have to be honest – I have never found a pair of hiking boots that I've been happy with. I always get blisters and strange pains in my feet, and people's recommendations have never done the trick; I've met plenty of walkers who swear by their boots, but I've tried more than a dozen popular makes, and I just end up swearing at them. The only real advice is to find a pair of boots that you are comfortable walking in, and to break them in before you set off. I'm still working on finding such a pair...


What happens if I take too much stuff?

This happened to me, and when I decided to give up on camping, I managed to shed something like 6 or 7kg from my pack. I obviously had plenty of other rubbish kicking around – as the 'What I Sent Home' section of my What to Take page shows. If you decide to shed some weight from your pack, it's easy to mail it home from the Post Office, or even to mail home just that extra pan you never use. My mate Barry also mailed his tent home from Glastonbury, and it transformed the walk for him too.


Which backpack should I buy?

Unlike my boots, I loved the backpack I took on my LEJOG walk; I still use it and I'd buy the same one again. It's a Macpac Ascent Classic, and it's great.


How do you avoid blisters?

Actually, I don't. I always get blisters, and I just live with it; I was still getting sore patches as I walked into John o'Groats, so don't ask me! People recommend all sorts of things – wearing two socks, applying moleskin to sore patches, covering your feet in Vaseline, soaking your feet in surgical spirit, and so on – but nothing has worked for me so far. Hopefully you'll be luckier than me.


How easy is food to get on the way?

Pretty much any settlement along the way is going to have either a pub, a takeaway or a local store, so you shouldn't have a problem finding food. I always ate my evening meals in a pub or such like, and I ate breakfast in my B&B, so I only carried enough food for lunch and snacks, plus a bunch of muesli bars and dried fruit for emergencies. If you're camping then you'll have to carry more food with you, but you only need to carry enough to get you to your next settlement, plus something for an emergency.


Can I hook up my computer to the Internet as I walk?

You can, and there are three main methods: wi-fi, mobile phones and internet cafés.


How can I charge up my PDA?

Actually, I never charged up my PDA, because my trusty old Palm m125 runs on normal AAA batteries, so I just made sure I always had a spare set in my pack and picked up new batteries as I needed them. When I bought my PDA, I was planning to head off to Africa, so I went for a non-rechargeable PDA to avoid the challenge of having to recharge in the desert. I still like the freedom this gives me, and it's probably the main reason why I still use an old, clunky model rather than a more modern version.


Do I need a GPS?

No, you don't need a GPS, but having one might add an extra dimension to your walk. You can buy sets of GPS waypoints for walks like the Pennine Way – they're not expensive – and given the awful signing on the Pennine Way, I can understand the appeal. However, if you're going to be a safe walker, you need to know where you are on the map at all times, and while using a GPS is fine, relying on one is not a good idea, as then a failed battery could give you a major headache.


How did you put your route into Google Earth and Google Maps?

I actually used a script that I wrote myself to digitise my route. It displays a Google map, and when I click on the map, it displays the longitude and latitude of the resulting point in a format I can copy out and paste into a text file. I then apply a few regular expressions to the file, and out pops a Google Maps XML file, as well as a Google Earth KML file. This system proved to be in tune with my needs – it pays to be a programmer sometimes!


How much does the walk cost?

It all depends on how you do it. The best way to keep accommodation costs down is to camp as much as possible – otherwise you're stuck with hostels and B&Bs, which cost money. If you can manage the extra weight, it's definitely the best way to save cash. I stayed in B&Bs and hostels, and I kept a detailed log of everything I spent, which might help you budget your own walk.


I want to walk from Land's End to John o'Groats, but I only have a month. Is it possible?

Yes, it is possible, but you wouldn't catch me trying it! If you really want to do it in a month, then my best piece of advice is to get really fit beforehand – 41 miles a day is a long way for anyone.


How do you stop from smelling like something the cat dragged in?

That's a really good question. Basically, for a lot of the walk, I smelled something awful, and just learned to minimise the effect on other people. I had one set of clothes for walking and one 'smart' set of clothes for the evening, and I washed them all as often as I could – normally on rest days – but it simply wasn't practical to wash them every day. I had a couple of pairs of socks, so that I would always have a dry pair to put on in the morning, and I tended to rinse out my shorts and T-shirt when the weather was good enough to dry them overnight. But I can't pretend I was super-clean; my girlfriend will attest to the fact that I wasn't...


When did you find time to write?

I did most of my writing in the pub in the evening, and I would spend my rest days catching up where necessary. When you're walking solo, you spend a lot of time alone, particularly at meal times, so I'd either fish out my Palm and start writing, or pull out the maps and get planning. Typing away in a pub is a great way to meet people, and it's always dry, you can normally get a table, and they serve inspiration in a glass. I didn't try writing in my tent when I had it, but there's no way I would have managed it; it was way too cramped, and the company was poor. Thank goodness for pubs...