Henry and Petes verry long walk

LEJOG – End to End

Jan, 2011

Experienced walkers – and there are many of you – need read no further, because you will be embarrassed at how little I really know about becoming an “End-to-Ender” or, indeed, about long distance walking generally.

So, here’s what I’ve learned since starting to put my mind to this expedition in June 2010: 

Geography and history

Land’s End to John o’Groats is considered the longest distance between the north and south continuous land extremities of Britain, officially   603 miles (970.434km) as the crow flies, and 874 miles (1,406.56m) by road (according to the sign at Land’s End). Actually, its not.  Duncansby Head, to the east from John o’Groats, is two miles (3.2 km)  further from Land’s End, and Googling it produces a dozen more distance answers. .

Land’s End in Cornwall is, well, like it says,  where the land runs out and the sea starts. John o’Groats is named after a Dutchman, Jan de Groot (Big John), who was granted a ferry franchise to the Orkney Isles by King James IV of Scotland in 1496 after acquiring the islands from Norway. I can imagine Big John standing at the dock and telling medieval Scottish fishermen to ‘pay up!’ before they got on his boat (notice I didn’t say ‘cheap Scottish fishermen’). 

The first known continuous walk appears to have been made in 1871 by two wealthy Cheshire brothers, Robert and John Naylor, whose book From John O'Groat's to Land's End, Or, 1372 Miles on Foot; A Book of Days and Chronicle of Adventures, was not finally published until 1916. It is still regarded as a magnificent read, though I haven’t seen it. Their walk appears to have been stimulated by two books published in 1864 and 1865 called A walk from London to John o’Groats, and A Walk from London to Land’s End by Eilhu Burritt, the then US Consul to Birmingham.  

It wasn’t until 1960, however, that the journey started to become popular, when Dr Barbara Moore-Pataleewa of London, a health and fitness enthusiast, walked the whole distance in 23 days with nothing more to sustain her than honey, nuts, fruit, and vegetables. Archive Pathe film shows the Russian-born ‘Breatharian’   striding along the A30 in Cornwall escorted by a policeman on a moped. She is wearing plimsoles but no backpack, waving to crowds and popping into a van to munch  an apple.  That year she also walked 3,300 miles from Los Angeles to New York in 85 days. She died in London in 1977, aged 73.

(Breatharianism seems to have something to do with the Hindu Karma, and internal forces, sustaining the body by sunlight rather than diet.  Oh, and by the way, The Breatharian Institute of America says we’d all better sort out our negative karma by the Spring Equinox of 2013 because that’s when the Ascension will hit and we’re all DOOMED if we don’t). 

Billy Butlin then organized a road walking race, and in 1968 naturalist and travel writer John Hillaby published his now-classic book Journey through Britain, an account of his walk from Land’s End to John o’Groats almost entirely on tracks and bridleways.   Slowly, the popularity of distance walking grew and footpaths were joined to become long distance paths.   But as relatively few people can spare the time for the longest journeys  more was made of shorter ones, perhaps the most famous being the Lyke Wake Walk across the North York Moors, which I first heard about as a local journalist in York in the 1960s.  The walk, first done in 1955 by policeman Bill Cowley (whose Constable books formed the basis of the TV series, Heartbeat) requires hikers to cover 40 miles east to west across the rough moor within 24 hours and report it to the Lyke Wake Walk Club within 28 days. The club is organized, has knees ups, female club members are called Witches and male members Dirgers. You get the idea.

If you haven’t got time to walk a long route, however, the modern idea is to run it.  The record run for LEJOG is nine days two hours, apparently, and one chap has run it solo and in full backpack in 17 days. Comedian Eddie Izzard also ran it along roads. If you haven’t got the legs for that there are records for doing it by car, bicycle, skateboard, wheelchair, hitchhiking, and even by public transport.

And a certificate to prove it!

Bemused by where to start, I contacted the Land’s End to John o’Groats Association  http://www.landsend-johnogroats-assoc.com/  which helped sort me out with contacts and other walking groups.  They’re the ones who first told me I’d get a certificate if I could prove I’d done the walk by collecting independent stamps and signatures along the way, and that qualification did not mean I had to do it all at once. I didn’t even need to do it in the same YEAR – which was a relief.  I don’t mind admitting I like collecting mementos  of  where I’ve been and what I’ve done. Land’s End to John o’Groats without so much as a BADGE at the end of it?  I’m with Tony Hancock when he goes to donate blood and asks for a badge afterwards, to be inscribed:  “He gave so that others might live!” though probably not to be read in quite such an over-theatrical way.

Actually,  there’s another, more commercial  group, that appears to do a good line in memorabilia:  the Land’s End to John o’Groats Club    http://www.endtoenders.co.uk/index.php  which I haven’t yet contacted.

From there to the Long Distance Walkers Association http://www.ldwa.org.uk/  which represents 43 local LDW groups around Britain. It has an excellent website and an annual £13 membership fee which opens the doors to a regular magazine, Strider, to all the other groups, to discounted books, maps, and details of 1,200 paths and trails covering 68,000 miles.  It also gives an online searchable  walking route database that ties to a the UK Trailwalkers Handbook .  I know this WILL be excellent, but only once I know  where I want to go, since it lists the routes by name – and there are 720 main routes and 190 shorter ones.

Strategically, I haven’t yet finally decided how I want to do this. Through the LDWA I have bought  the handbook’s companion detachable wallchart, a magnificent wall poster showing every major path in the country, and all marked from 1 to 610:  from the 1066 Country Walk (actually thats No 2) to 638,  the Yorkshire Square Walk.
Somewhere between those numbers I will link up 168 - the East Devon Way, to 307 -  the Liberty Trail, somewhere around Lyme Regis.  And the 116 - the Cotswold Way, to the 228 - the Heart of England Way, heading up to Stratford on Avon.  But there is no trail between the 613 - the White HorseTrail, and a line to Lyneham- Malmesbury and Nailsworth, where a friend owns a brewery in a pub (I imagine we will be thirsty by then).  So I guess I’ll have to track down those little green dots on the map all on my own.
In the Midlands I like the idea of walking along canal tow paths, which brings back good memories of longboating on the Warwickshire Ring.  So I’m in touch with the Inland Waterways Association http://www.waterways.org.uk/ who have sent me some details of canals and marinas, and I have another great Waterways World wall chart of all the navigable waterways in England for route planning.

We will be very nice to the Scots

Once we’ve reached Hadrians Wall on the Pennine Trail I’m in a quandary.  The trail heads EAST along the wall when I want to go NORTH or WEST. It is slowly dawning on me that we will still be  barely past the halfway mark to John o’Groats. From the map I appear to want to take the shortest route across the Scottish border to Langhorn on the River Esk, then to Moffat on the M74, then up to Lanark and somehow around Glasgow to Milngavie and 606 - the West Highland Way.

But others before me have marked out routes across the border that suggest quite a different approach: eg mountain collecting. The Pennine Trail actually starts, or ends, at Kirk Yetholm, unknown to me before I started this and far closer to Berwick on Tweed than to Carlisle where the map says I ought to be. Kirk Yetholm, to the north of The Cheviot,  now looms quite large in my planning. It seems to have been found as a route-marker by Hamish Brown, whose 1981 book Hamish’s Groats End Walk is almost a bible to End to Enders.  He was a tough Scot who was a professional mountaineer and lecturer , walked and climbed in the Alps, Himalayas, Atlas Mountains of Morocco and loved to ‘bag Munros’ – mountains over 3,000-feet in Scotland. On his way south from John o’Groats to Land’s End – via Wales and Ireland - it looks like he decided to bag the Cheviot too. 

It is largely his route that many End to Enders follow over the border, so I guess Henry and I will too. Besides, he did it with his dog Storm, a Collie, to whom he dedicates the book: “the best of friends.”      (Brown also describes a nightmare situation where he and Storm were attacked by such a continuing swarm of flies and mosquitoes one evening as they walked  up a beck that it almost drove them mad. They escaped the torment only when they reached  a grassy knoll exactly at 8.30pm and every insect suddenly vanished, leaving them ecstatic.  The problem for my planning  is that this was not in western Scotland, as I expected, but much further south, in Northumberland.  Brrrr!)

And if anyone knows a good off-road route from Inverness to Thurso or John o’Groats please let me know, or we will find ourselves stuck in what I read is the most remote part of Britain – the ‘flow country’ of Sutherland.

The ‘How to’ art of long distance walking

And then there’s the question of how to READ the route: OS paper maps or hand-held satellite map readers?  Which one is best and which best for me, or Henry?

At least from the LDWA I’m  learning about long Distance walks. There are ‘challenge walks’ that usually involve off-road hikes that cover some 30 miles over 10 hours. There are ‘Group walks’ and ‘Marshalls walks’ and ‘Kanters’.  They are not really human-dog events, but the friendly organizers of the Surrey LDWA are apparently happy to have Henry join me on a 15-mile hike, as long as he doesn’t trip up anyone (so far he’s done 11 Parkruns with me at the back of a pack of some 650 other runners at Bushy Park with no-one landing heavily in a mud puddle because of us. (He’s even won a 1st Dog prize bag of treats too!) So we should be OK. 

Mostly, I’m hoping to pick up the group’s experiences of long distance walking – from whether to carry ski-like walking poles to how to toughen up my feet.  I’ll have to wait to get to Crufts in March to get the expert view on Henry’s feet.  And how to train.  At the time of writing we have just four months to get into shape and prepared for walking some 15 miles every day for months.  I have some ideas but I want to absorb every tip, every experience.   

As I said at the start of this, the experienced long distance walkers will be embarrassed reading this by now.  So, I’ll sign off. Time to get in some practice miles.

Walkies, Henry? 

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