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
- How did you plan your route?
- When is the best time of year to do the walk?
- Which route should I take?
- Which is the best direction in which to do the walk?
- How can I avoid walking along the A9 in northern Scotland?
- I want to cycle from Land's End to John o'Groats. Is your route suitable?
- Can I walk along all roads marked on my map?
- What about bicycle trails? Can I walk along them too? If so, on which side?
- Where can I find out about rights of way?
- Can I walk across farmers' fields?
- You bought 54 maps for your walk, but there's no way I want to spend that much. Are there any cheaper options?
- Actually, cheap isn't good enough – I don't want to spend anything on maps. What can I do?
- I'd like to say a little prayer before I head off. Is there anywhere I can do this?
- How demanding is the walk?
- How fit do I need to be before setting off?
- How can I do the walk safely?
- Do I need to book accommodation in advance?
- What's the difference between B&Bs and guesthouses?
- How can I find accommodation?
- What about camping?
- Can I camp in farmers' fields?
- Should I bring along my friend and his campervan?
What to Take
- How did you manage to carry so many maps?
- Do you recommend walking poles?
- Should I do the walk in boots or trainers?
- Which boots should I buy?
- What happens if I take too much stuff?
- Which backpack should I buy?
- How do you avoid blisters?
- How easy is food to get on the way?
- Can I hook up my computer to the Internet as I walk?
- How can I charge up my PDA?
- Do I need a Global Positioning System?
- How did you put your route into Google Earth and Google Maps?
- How much does the walk cost?
- I want to walk from Land's End to John o'Groats, but I only have a month. Is it possible?
- How do you stop from smelling like something the cat dragged in?
- When did you find time to write?
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).
Once I'd decided on my general route, I bought the Ordnance Survey maps for the first section – Land's End to Bath – and estimated how far I thought I could probably walk in a day, erring on the side of caution for the first few weeks. From this I came up with a schedule for the first couple of weeks, and this gave me enough information to start the walk. I learned the rest by actually doing it, and it didn't take long before I knew exactly how far I could walk in a day, and which types of walking I liked the best.
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.
For information on average temperatures and rainfall, check out the Met Office climate averages. And bear in mind that the weather in the UK is famous for being changeable... for a reason.
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.
In order to walk across the country, the only places you have to include on your itinerary are Land's End and John o'Groats, so you should take the route you want to take. There's one thing that's true about walking in Britain, and it's that there is always some kind of route from A to B, whether it's along tracks, minor roads or (as a last resort) more major ones. If you want to steer clear of suburbia, then there is plenty of green land to choose from, and if you plan carefully, you can easily avoid conurbations. Even in the industrial Midlands, there's no need to walk through cities unless you want to. All you need to do is look at the map and join up the roads and rights of way; you'll see that there are plenty.
One thing that's for sure is that you'll still be changing your route when you're on the walk – it's inevitable! That's why I think it really helps to be flexible, because you can't predict how things will go... you can just give it your best shot and revel in the variety.
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?
I've left my original answer to this question below, but there's now a much better walking route from Inverness to John o'Groats that avoids the A9 and A99, so if you're planning your own LEJOG, you might want to check out the John o'Groats Trail. I haven't tried it, but it's got to be better than playing chicken with the traffic! Here's my advice from when there wasn't such an obvious trail, in case it's useful.
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.
The following advice from Peter Wickenden might also be useful: 'My wife and I did the LEJOG walk as a retirement project -. The unavoidable bits of the A9 between Tain and Brora were by far the worst bits of road walking of the entire trip. We avoided the northern section of the A9 by taking the alternative route suggested above (it's 21 miles longer than the direct route). Unfortunately, the decommissioning works at Dounreay nuclear power station are generating almost as much traffic along the A836 north coast road as on the A9. The A897 is very quiet and goes through beautiful scenery, particularly if you take the short cut between Kildonan and Lothbeg on the A9 just north of Brora. There is a B&B at Forsinard (Forsinard Guest House, which does evening meals, 01641 571 262), otherwise there is nowhere to stay until Helmsdale. We tried to keep our distances short, so we walked to Kildonan Station, got the train to our B&B in Helmsdale, and then took the train back to Kildonan.' Thanks for the tip, Peter.
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.
Top of the pile, motorways are off-limits for walkers. You want to avoid them like the plague anyway, as they're deeply unpleasant for people without built-in carburettors.
Next up are A-roads. On the whole, you want to avoid walking along A-roads for any further than is necessary, because heavy traffic is a miserable walking companion. Besides, if you're walking across Britain to soak up the culture and see some beautiful countryside, you're going to be bitterly disappointed by A-road culture...
That said, most A-roads are pretty friendly to walkers, and all roads except motorways are also rights of way for pedestrians (although some A-roads may be closed to pedestrians if they're particularly lethal – this is quite rare, though). A large percentage of A-roads have houses dotted along them, and people walk along the verges quite happily – there are often pavements in more built-up areas, and most A-road traffic lights also have pedestrian crossings. However, there are some A-roads that are rights of way but are extremely busy and not pedestrian-friendly at all, and there's no real way to tell from the map; for example, the A9 and A99 in northern Scotland are both pretty hairy to walk along, but you have no real choice.
Dual carriageways are slightly scarier than 'normal' A-roads, if only because they are busier. Quite a few of them (but by no means all) have fences of some kind along the central reservation, and you'd be pretty mad to try crossing these with a backpack. However, you can always track down the nearest set of traffic lights – which will almost certainly have a pedestrian crossing – or a turning point for u-turns, which gives you a break in the fence.
Even if you avoid walking along A-roads, you'll spend a lot of time crossing them. If you're following a right of way (which you'll be doing for the vast majority of your walk, as it's not legal to roam randomly across most of the English countryside), then if that right of way crosses an A-road, there will be a pretty easy way to get to the other side. My experience of getting lost trying to cross the A50 Uttoxeter bypass is the exception rather than the rule; I crossed hundreds of A-roads on my walk, and I got hopelessly stymied just once in the whole trip, so this shouldn't be a cause for concern. If there's a fence blocking your access to the A-road, then you probably don't have the right of way to get onto the road; if there is a right of way, then it shouldn't be blocked by a fence. OK, sometimes you come across farmers who lock gates that should be left unlocked, and very rarely you find some awkward sod who's blocked off a right of way onto his land, but if you know you're on a right of way and there's a fence, you're entitled to climb over it. I challenge you to find a right of way onto a dual carriageway that's blocked by a fence, though, as these rights of way are often well-used.
When major roads cross water, there's almost always a pedestrian option available (note that this isn't the case with railway bridges, though some do have walkways). If there isn't, you're entitled to walk along the A-road, and normally there's enough space to the side of the carriageway for this to be no problem at all. There is no such guarantee with motorways, though there may well be a separate walkway that's not associated with the motorway.
In comparison, B-roads and minor roads are often much more walker-friendly, particularly in places like Cornwall where you can walk for ages without coming across any traffic. Just be careful going round corners, because it only takes one nutter who thinks he's Stirling Moss to spoil the party for everyone.
Finally, there are tracks marked on Ordnance Survey maps as black dotted lines. In England and Wales, you can't legally walk along these, because you have no right of way, so instead you should go along the pink ones (on 1:50,000) or green ones (on 1:25,000). If a path crosses farmland, then there's no harm in asking the farmer whether you can use it, but although you might find some paths that are very handy, gate-free and save you loads of time, technically you shouldn't be there without permission. Then again, you can always claim that you're lost...
In Scotland the situation is slightly different, as there is much more right to roam. There I happily walked along black dotted paths; indeed, you won't find rights of way marked on the Scottish maps, as the law is different there, so black dots are the only way to go.
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.
As for which side you should walk on, those that are explicitly shared with pedestrians have signs that indicate which side is for bikes and which for walkers, so there's no issue. When there isn't such a sign, I always figured that I'd walk where I wanted, and the bikes could go round me; they're the ones with speed and steering on their sides, after all. On rural shared paths, such as along rivers, bikes tend to avoid the pedestrians, as the right of way tends to go to the 'lowest' form of transport – i.e. on foot. Just don't weave around too much, or you're asking for trouble...
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.
First up, you can do the walk perfectly easily using 1:50,000 Landranger maps instead of 1:25,000 Explorer maps, which cuts the number of maps you need by about a half. Second, if you want to include national trails like the Pennine Way, the West Highland Way or the Great Glen Way in your route, then each of these has an associated national trail book that contains OS maps of the route, route guidance and historical information, all bundled up in a much smaller package than the equivalent set of maps; these three paths require 17 Explorer maps between them, but just four national trail books (that's two for the Pennine Way and one each for the West Highland Way and the Great Glen Way). Together, these three books are are more compact and a lot cheaper than 17 maps (though they possibly weigh about the same, as they're crammed with information and aren't particularly lightweight).
Digital maps are also another option, though buying them for GPSs or mapping software packages can still cost the earth (and that's without considering the cost of a device to load them onto). However, eBay is a good place to look for bargains for slightly older but perfectly adequate kit, and a number of LEJOG walkers have had great success with budget PDAs and mapping software, as well as completely free maps taken from the Web (see the next question for more details). Map prices have also tumbled recently, so if you're reasonably technical and don't fancy buying paper maps, this is an excellent option. You can find out more on my maps page.
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.
(Note: if you absolutely have to have the 1:25,000 Explorer maps, or you're not interested in having my route superimposed on each map, then you can do a similar thing with Bing maps, which offer that scale of Ordnance Survey map; the reason I don't offer 1:25,000 maps on my site is because there's an annual charge of £1000 + VAT for the 1:25,000 licence while other scales are free, and as my site is a hobby that's almost totally non-commercial, I can't really justify the expense.)
Essentially, you want to get the route map up on screen, grab a screenshot of the relevant area, then repeat the process until you have a bunch of images that together cover your route. You can then copy those images to your smartphone, or print them out. Others have done this, and while it is a far cry from an interactive GPS mapping system, it's a lot cheaper and works really well.
First up, you'll need to be able to select areas of the screen and take screenshots of them. If you have a Mac, then this functionality is built in – just press Command-Shift-4, select an area, and it saves the screenshot to the Desktop (where you will probably want to rename it). Windows Vista and 7 come with the Snipping Tool, which does a similar job, or you can use programs like Gadwin PrintScreen, or even the PrtScn button. It's pretty easy stuff to work out – Google is your friend here, if you get stuck.
As for getting the maps on screen in the first place, try this:
- Visit the relevant section of the walk.
- Click on the 'View a map of this walk' link in the More Information sidebar.
- Click on the 'Full screen' link above the map.
- Click on the 'OS map' link above the map.
- Zoom in until the map is as detailed as you require.
- 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).
- Scroll the map along the route and repeat the process until you 've got screenshots covering the whole section.
- 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 should point out that my maps aren't necessarily accurate enough for navigation, and they do include any mistakes I made – but if you use your head and don't treat it like a satnav, you should be fine.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.
In my case most of the problems were physical. I didn't mind being on my own, as I enjoyed the peace and the chance to drift off into my own little world, and besides, I met people most days either on the trail, in the pub in the evening, or at my B&B. But when your body is in genuine pain and you have to get up early to pull on wet boots and hit the trail under grey skies... well, it can be really testing. Walking from Land's End to John o'Groats involves pain for everyone who tries it, whether it's physical, mental or both. The most important point, though, is not to underestimate how hard it is to walk across a whole country. It is really challenging, and you will have periods when all you want to do is throw in the towel and head home. However, it wouldn't be a challenge if it wasn't difficult, and it's dealing with this adversity that makes it so rewarding. The good bits are truly great, and if you plan things conservatively, there's no reason why you won't have a good chance of completing the walk. Just be cautious; build in more rest days than you think you need, because if you get it wrong, it could be over quicker than you think.
Another piece of advice is to do the walk in boots that you know you find comfortable – if you do nothing else, get a great pair of boots and break them in properly! Comfortable boots and a sensibly packed backpack will make all the difference; if you carry too much stuff, you'll get tired, and tiredness leads to injury. Of course, doing a few week-long walks back home before tackling the End-to-End route is a great way to ensure you've got the equipment right – the first few days of a 2-3 month walk are not the best time to discover that your boots hurt, your pack digs into your shoulders, and you're exhausted after the first mile...
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.
If you have time, I'd strongly advise doing at least one long, multiple-day walk beforehand, with all the kit you intend to take, just so you can get a handle on what you can cope with; I didn't do this, and I paid the price. It turned out that I started out with a pack that was far too heavy for me, but once I dumped the extra weight, life improved hugely. If I'd done a test walk beforehand, I might have spotted this earlier.
Finally, try to build as many rest days into the first few weeks as you can get away with, as you'll need them. It's hard going for the first two or three weeks, but things do start to improve, and that's when you can have fewer rests.
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.
A good thing to take is a mobile phone. If you can get a signal – no guarantee on the moors, of course – then it can literally be a life saver. I also took a silver emergency blanket, in case I got stuck somewhere exposed, and a plastic whistle, but I didn't need to use either of them. Apart from that, common sense is your best ally, along with not trying to rush. Mainland Britain isn't exactly a wilderness, and most of the time you'd be discovered pretty quickly if you did have a problem, but it pays to be prepared.
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.
In small towns and villages on the tourist circuit, there's normally quite a bit available, but in the middle of nowhere you might only have one choice and it might be full or closed, and sometimes you come across a festival that's got everything booked up well in advance. Phoning ahead at least warns you in advance whether or not there's a dearth of accommodation.
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.
Wandering into a town and tracking down a B&B is a perfectly reasonable approach for the larger settlements; Barry, with whom I shared quite a few days on the walk, rarely bothered to book ahead, he just wandered in and found somewhere to stay. (I, on the other hand, panic if I don't know where I'm staying, so I booked a few days ahead each time.) However, villages are less likely to have B&Bs, and out of season those that they do have may well be closed, so if you're heading for a smaller blob on the map, you might get caught out if you don't know where you're heading. Boring though it is, the best way to ensure a convenient night's sleep is to plan your route and to do your research; the alternative is to throw caution to the wind and accept the odd difficult night, which isn't a terrible idea, as Britain is a populous place, and people are pretty happy to help out visitors. You're highly unlikely to get in serious trouble, but it depends on how much you value predictability; I found I'd stew it over in my head all day if I didn't have anything booked, but that's just me.
Generally, I found Tourist Information Centres to be pretty useless, as the ones I dealt with only covered the more expensive B&Bs, and they tended to assume I had a car; most of the TIC employees I spoke to were all at sea when it came to long-distance walking, and they tended to see 'a few miles away' as an acceptable distance (something you really don't want to hear after a long day on the trail!). However, they're a useful starting point when you're stuck, and some centres are genuinely helpful; I just found these to be in the minority. The B&B listing sites you can find on the web do a better job – you could try Trip Advisor or Visit Us. You could also try Google's local search, or visit Google UK and restrict the results to the UK only.
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.
Whatever, with regard to where you can camp, it won't take you long to work out what's acceptable and what isn't. The best way to find out is to try it.
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.
You might be tempted to feel sorry for your friend being chained to the van all day, but I don't think I'd be bored driving the van – the countryside is lovely, and besides, they get to shelter in the rain, which is more than can be said for the poor walkers! Sleeping in a van might be a bit of an effort, though you could always pop into a hostel or B&B every now and then, but the big advantage of having transport like this is that you don't have to carry loads of gear with you; you just need to take a day pack, which transforms the walk (I did this for two or three days on my LEJOG walk, and it was a delight). In an ideal world I'd have a van, a couple of mates doing the driving, and a nice warm B&B booked for the night.
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.
Barry, whom I bumped into along the LEJOG, also didn't like carrying large numbers of maps, so instead he worked out his route in advance, scanned a strip along his route into his PC, and printed these strips onto paper. The resulting strip maps – with two strips per side of A4, giving four strips on one piece of paper – were perfectly good for navigation, and took up almost no weight or bulk compared to my piles of folded maps. He scanned the purple 1:50,000 OS maps, too, where I was using 1:25,000. There's no doubt that my maps were better, but they were very heavy and very bulky; I found plenty of people managing perfectly well with 1:50,000, so you could consider this as another way to avoid the bulk.
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...
The boots I used for my walk were Goretex Berghaus Storm GTX boots, and they ripped my feet to shreds... though quite a few people seem to like them. Their best feature for me was a pair of gaiters that fitted over the entire boot, making them almost impregnable in the wet, but their worst feature, apart from the comfort, was that the tread wore out. Road walking really decimates boot tread, so if you are thinking about using a lot of roads, you want something with good tread. Tarmac is seriously abrasive; they destroyed my Berghaus boots, which I'd bought new for the trek (and which the man in the shop said would easily last the distance – but bear in mind that very few shop assistants have walked across an entire country).
In Fort William, by which stage my Berghaus boots had finally given up the ghost, I bought a pair of Raichle boots that were soft, and the man in the shop said they wouldn't need a lot of breaking in. They nearly destroyed me; they simply didn't work with my feet, perhaps because I'd walked for so long in a different pair, and the sudden switch was too much. They're now much more broken in and they're bearable, but just because something is soft, it doesn't mean it won't rip up your feet. You have to try it to see.
I also met a couple who were walking the four corners (a longer version of LEJOG that takes in the furthest northern, southern, eastern and western points of Britain) and they recommended Scarpa boots as the best in the business. They said that Scarpa boots didn't need breaking in, and when I got back from LEJOG, I bought a pair. I was still trying to break them in after three years, so I ditched them, throwing away £150 in the process.
So what have I learned from all this? Well, my main tip is to get your boots professionally fitted. Some outdoor shops will just flog you boots in the same way as shoe shops – you try them on, hobble round the shop for 30 seconds, and then make a decision with no idea whether it's the right one. This is OK for normal shoes, but for walking boots it's well worth going to a reputable outdoor shop and getting them to fit your boots properly. An ill-fitting boot can do you permanent damage, and a decent boot-fitter will take things like pronation and differing leg length into consideration (I have one leg longer than the other, like most people, and over 1000 miles, it has a noticeable effect). You should also try on as many boots as possible, and ideally you should take your time deciding. Don't feel pressured into buying if you're not 100% sure; if you get it wrong, the pain can go on for miles and miles and miles. And miles.
Another thing to consider is to try lightweight boots. Much is made of the supporting aspect of boots that cover your ankles, but there's a lot to be said for smaller and lighter shoes. I've owned beautiful leather boots, but get them wet and they're like concrete wellingtons, they never dry out, and the care you have to put into the leather will drive you nuts (but there are lots of people who adore their leather boots, so it's definitely a personal thing). As I've done more and more walking, the weight and size of my boots has dropped, to the point where I'm considering extremely lightweight shoes for my next big walk. I have no idea whether this will work, but it's worth a go.
Also, don't be afraid to give up on a bad pair of boots. I was gutted that my Scarpa boots didn't work for me, especially given their high cost, but it was a massive relief never to have to wear them again. I should have ditched them much earlier.
In summary, I don't know which boots I'd buy if I did it again, but I know what I wouldn't buy. I've had to get used to it, but boots and me just don't mix. If you've done a fair amount of long-distance walking and have a good pair of boots that you're happy with, then you'll know what you like; if you're still looking for boots and intend to buy a new pair for LEJOG, then you really must break them in first, or you'll be giving up as quickly as you've started. Your boots are the most important piece of gear you'll take, so it's a really good idea to take the time to get them right.
And if you still don't find a good pair, you're not alone, and I don't think there's a solution except to keep looking. One day, hopefully, you'll find your sole mate...
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.
The reason it's great is that, for me, the harness is the most comfortable one I've found. It doesn't matter how many pockets your pack has or what capacity it has; if you're in agony every time you walk in it, more pockets won't make you happy. I'd recommend that you try on lots of different packs, with weights in them, and see what you feel comfortable in. The harness is absolutely the most important part of the pack, in my experience.
If you've found a harness that you like, then you can narrow the choice right down. In a perfect world you'd have a few pockets and good capacity, but to be honest things like pockets on the outside aren't as essential as you think. I strapped a water bottle to the right side of my belt and my camera to the left, and I hung my map round my neck, so I didn't need to dive into my pack except at stops, when it's just as convenient to pull things out of the top of your pack as side pockets (the Macpac has a big zip pocket in the top, which is handy for things you might need when you take a rest). Then again, having pockets is not a bad thing, if they're available with a harness that fits you.
The Macpac I bought was a 65-litre capacity, which I found about right. I always packed the heavy stuff right at the top, because I found that was the most comfortable way to do it, and the wide waist strap kept the weight off my shoulders. All the weight ends up pushing on your feet whatever you do, but walking poles are worth considering. They really help on the knees and feet, as they distribute the weight down the poles onto the ground, and they help cancel out any balance problems you might have with top-heavy packing. Highly recommended.
So I would get a pack with a great harness, and some walking poles; you really wouldn't want to walk this kind of distance with anything other than a dedicated walkers' backpack. My Macpac is not that useful for travelling – I tend to use an old travel pack that zips open along the side – but it's great for walking. I think the two types of pack are quite different, so I'd tend to avoid travel-related packs when looking for a walking companion.
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.
I'm not sure I'd get too excited about wi-fi hotspots in the countryside; outside of the major towns and cities, they're as common as hen's teeth, and if you're going to be sticking to the countryside, wi-fi is a non-starter. Yes, some cafés have wi-fi, and it is definitely on the increase, but you can't rely on finding reliable wi-fi when walking LEJOG, especially if you're used to the coverage in the major cities.
If you really need connectivity in the middle of nowhere, then mobile internet (i.e. 3G) is the way to go, though you still need to be somewhere with a decent signal. Phones like the iPhone will try to connect over 3G, but will fall back to other networks (Edge and GPRS in this country), so although you may still get an internet signal, it can be glacially slow. Things improve wherever there are lots of people, not surprisingly.
I don't know how many internet cafés there are in smaller communities, as I rarely need to use them in my own country (I use my mobile phone), but it's certainly becoming a more reliable option, as they're always springing up everywhere. As for hooking up your PDA to the computers in an internet café, the question they will ask is: what for? I'm sure some cafés would be happy to assist, but some might not be so keen. I never had problems abroad because the locals were so keen to learn, but I'm not sure you can rely on that in the UK.
In short, if you really want to be connected, get a 3G smartphone or PDA and accept that you won't always be able to connect to the internet.
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.
However, if you're staying in B&Bs, you'll have no problem charging up your PDA every night. It might be a bit trickier in campsites, but most will provide access to the mains, so you should be OK.
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.
GPS is also great for keeping a record of where you've walked; you can set it to record a waypoint every few minutes, and you can then upload them to your PC and see your walk in great detail. As someone who digitised his route by hand, I can't tell you how wonderful this would have been...
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.
With that sort of distance, you should try to avoid hills, as they'll make it difficult to do the distance. Also, try to carry as little as possible, and consider persuading someone to drive along with you. If you do this, you can get away with carrying water, small amounts of food, maps and clothes, which will help; if you're having to carry everything with you, you should concentrate on keeping the weight right down, as over that kind of distance, you'll feel every ounce.
But most of all, I'd try to enjoy it as you go. Don't rush through it and forget to look around you. After all, the memories will be with you for years, and you want them to be good ones...
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...
Luckily, my boots hardly ever got wet inside, so they didn't smell too evil; I only got wet feet once on the whole walk, and that was on the Pennine Way in weather that made it impossible to keep anything dry. I found that my boots dried out overnight quite happily without me having to do anything, but then again I wasn't camping, which made life much easier.
Some kindly B&B owners would wash and dry batches of clothes for me, but I only asked if it was an emergency or if I was staying more than one night. Sometimes they would charge and sometimes not, but I was always happy to pay. I used laundrettes when I could, and washing rooms in the bigger Youth Hostels, and I made sure I bought clothes that would dry easily. It seemed to work pretty well.
Besides, you get used to your own smell, and nobody expect hikers to smell of roses. It's all part of the challenge!
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...