Martin Hockey's End to End Walk: Land's End to John O'Groats


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Barnstaple to Oxford (27 June to 6 July 2004)

Oxford to Edale (11 to 20 July 2004)

Pennine Way (21 July to 9 August 2004)

Kirk Yetholm to Edinburgh (10 to 15 August 2004)

Edinburgh to Inverness (16 to 28 August 2004)

Inverness to John O'Groats (28 August to 4 September 2004)

Land's End to Barnstaple, 15 to 26 June 2004

A warm sunny morning for the off from Land's End. Blue skies, sea and cliff scenery set the tone for the next week. First, the obligatory photo and the signing in at the End to End register - which at least gave me a feel for the number of other nutters attempting the trip. I was not even the only walker setting off that morning. An Australian lady was making a second attempt, camping and therefore slower than I. I overtook her at Sennen Cove a mile and a half from the start, and never saw her again.

First lesson of the trip: many people set off, not everyone makes it. All kinds of things can go wrong, but for most it is injury, in the Australian lady's case, a knee problem. Well, if I could at least walk home to Oxford, that wouldn't be bad.

Last view of Land's EndThe first day was glorious, along the cliffs, across the beach at Whitesand Bay and past tiny coves. I was pretty knackered by the time I reached the B&B at Treen, 16 miles from LE. Next morning was tough going to St Ives, the first chance to stock up on Cornish pasties, blister bandages and money. Then more mundane walking through the outskirts of St Ives, across a golf course and along the road to Hayle.

Day 3 was breezy. The tide was out, and I walked for 4 miles along the beach to Godrevy Point, then back to the clifftops for the rest of the day to St Agnes. Getting into a rhythm now, I managed my first 20 mile day. More beach and cliff walking took me next day to Newquay and back to the real world: B&B landladies who wanted cash in advance, people who didn't carry rucksacks, and my first spot of rain. But also a chance of a curry instead of the ubiquitous pasty.

Walking the beach north from NewquayOn the morning of Day 5 the state of the tide was just right to walk along the beach beneath the cliffs north from Newquay to Watergate. With no other footprints but my own, it was a Robinson Crusoe moment. Later that day, at Trevose Head, I could see right back to St Ives and on to Hartland Point, a week's worth of walking. These long distance viewpoints gave me a very satisfying sense of achievement, to look at distant places and say to myself, "I've walked that".

From the B&B at Trevone Bay, it was a short morning's walk around the coast to Padstow. There I took the ferry across the river to Rock, the one and only time on the whole trip that I used transport other than my two legs. I'm not such a purist as to think it a good use of time to slog up the river for a day to the lowest bridge and a day back the other side. Besides, the official route of the South West Coast Path uses the ferry. That evening at Port Isaac I clocked up my first 100 miles.

North of Padstow, I met few other walkers. Often I walked for hours without seeing a soul. The grand scenery continued. But at times it seemed the route had been designed by a masochist, such as the stretch from Port Quin to Port Isaac, where a three-mile fence forced you close to the sea and barred some obvious short cuts across more level ground. At least all those descents and ascents were good training for the rest of the trip.

The seventh night found me at the Riverside Hotel in Boscastle. Two months later, in Scotland, I watched with horror the TV pictures of the Boscastle flood, when the residents of the Riverside had to be rescued by boat and helicopter. But back in June, there had been little rain, and the Pentargon waterfall just north of Boscastle was reduced to a trickle.

Storm north of BudeThe weather changed at the start of the second week. Strong winds called for care on the clifftop paths. It started to rain steadily on the afternoon of Day 8. I was soaked by the time I reached the B&B at Upton, but the owners of the B&B (who turned out to be Brazilian) dried my clothes. The next day, it was blowing a gale. I struggled north from Bude, but in places the wind was too strong to stay upright. I was forced inland for a few miles, and stopped for the night at a farm in Morwenstow.

Day 10 was back to the fine weather. Back on the coast path, I said goodbye to Cornwall and climbed up to the first building in Devon, the poet's hut (the poet in question being Ronald Duncan). There I found Fletch, the Island Bagger. If you think LE to JOG is a long way, take a look at this:

Clovelly Harbour from the Hobby DriveMore grand scenery to Hartland Point. Heading east from there, the going was easier. Wales was just visible across the Bristol Channel. I stayed that night in a B&B on the cobbled High Street of Clovelly. Next morning, Clovelly was looking good, warm sun, fishing boats in the harbour, just like the postcards. From there the path led through woods and then along low cliffs. I had a quick paddle at the last beach for 1000 miles, then found a B&B in Westward Ho! (not an inspiring town, but I could not miss the chance of staying in the only place with an exclamation mark in its name).

Day 12 started wet. I trudged round Northam Burrows to Appledore to catch the ferry to Instow. But the ferryman had decided to take the day off ("Too rough", he said). So I had to take the detour south to Bideford to cross the bridge. At least I found a good pub in Bideford, and from there to Barnstaple it was easy walking, mostly along an old railway line. My wife Susan had come to meet me in Barnstaple, with a fresh supply of clothes, food and maps. We met on the Long Bridge and walked into town.


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Updated November 2004. Copyright Martin Hockey 2004.