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

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Planning your route

There are endless variations in off-road routes from Land's End to John O'Groats. Your choice will depend on many factors: time available, whether you intend to camp, whether you have walked any of the long distance paths before and do not want to repeat, whether you live anywhere near the potential routes and fancy some R&R at home on the way.  You also need to decide on your rules:  will you allow lifts to and from accommodation or food (I didn't)?  Will you allow yourself ferries (I did)?

Since I did the walk in 2004, three more end to end guide books have been published, some routes have been improved, and there is even more information on the Internet - including other walkers' websites. If I was planning the route now, these would be the main sources I would use:

Walking e2e by Linda Brackenbury, published in 2015, takes a different approach, describing a more direct route avoiding national trails.

For an outline of my own route, click here. There is a map of my route here.

Other walker's books and websites, particularly those of Mark Moxon, Richard Fosh and the Slaters, are also well worth reading to give you a flavour of what to expect. For a quicker, lowland route, mostly using minor roads, have a look at Daryl May's website or Steve Blease's book.

The general outline of your route planning decisions is likely to be:

  • Cornwall and Devon: coast or inland? For me, the coast wins every time - tough, but some of the best scenery in England, although Andrew McCloy's main route is inland.
  • Cotswold Way or the Offa's Dyke Path? Some end-to-enders find the CW meanders too much (but short cuts are easy to find).
  • Pennine Way? Most end-to-enders use some or all of the PW, but Andy Robinson and Mike Salter both use alternatives - useful if you have already walked the PW.  Linda Brackenbury found a route west of the PW, by Bowland and the Howgill Fells. Steve Blease also avoided the PW, using the Bollin Valley Way to by-pass Manchester, but also took in the Lake District.   Geoff Gafford left the PW at Horton-in-Ribblesdale and took a more westerly route.  Some walkers have followed the Alternative Pennine Way, but the guide book for that route is now 20 years old and hard to find.
  • West or East in Scotland? The West Highland Way is busy; the Cairngorms route is probably tougher but involves more road walking.  If you are prepared to camp in the wild or use transport to reach accommodation, you could take a central route, as Linda Brackenbury did (using taxis to reach accommodation), crossing the Corrieyairack Pass.  For another central route using hill tracks from Killin to Fort Augustus and camping in the wild, read Mike and Gayle Bird's blog.  For a central route for campers, using hill tracks from Spean Bridge to Killin (walking north to south), read Steve's Long Walk.
  • North of the Great Glen: if you are not camping, you will have to keep near the east coast (unless you are prepared to use transport to reach accommodation, as John Butler and Linda Brackenbury did). If you take a tent and are prepared to navigate in the wild, you have many more options. Andy Robinson is your best guide for this. He picked up a tent in Fort William.

These are the choices each walker made:

  McCloy Robinson Salter BrackenburyButler Cotton My route
Cornwall & Devon Inland N Coast N Coast InlandS Coast N Coast N Coast
CW or OD? CW OD (part) neither neitherCW neither neither
Pennine Way Yes northern half No NoYes Yes Yes
Scotland West or East? West West Both CentralWest West East
North of the Great Glen Coast Mountains Both MountainsMountains Mountains Coast

Both Andrew McCloy and Andy Robinson describe alternatives, but in less detail than their main routes. Mike Salter has eastern and western alternatives in Scotland.

The trickiest parts to plan are:

  • Somerset: getting from the South West Coast Path to the start of either Offa's Dyke or the Cotswold Way
  • The Midlands: how to avoid urban walking and uninteresting country
  • The Scottish Borders
  • Edinburgh to Perth if you are going through the Cairngorms
  • North of the Great Glen

Somerset

There are plenty of good routes from the SWCP at Barnstaple to the Quantocks, but from there nice walking routes are harder to find. Andy Robinson, Mike Salter and Linda Brackenbury all have good descriptions of routes from the Quantocks to Chepstow. Andy Robinson uses fewer roads. He crosses the Avon by the M5 bridge, whereas Mike Salter and Linda Brackenbury use the Clifton Suspension Bridge and then a mostly off-road route across the Downs and the Blaise Castle Estate in Bristol.

Andrew McCloy and John Butler both describe routes to Bath, and Andy Robinson also shows you how to reach the Cotswold Way by the Limestone Link.

There is now a waymarked route from West Somerset to Bristol, known as the Samaritans Way South West

The Midlands

If you use the Cotswold Way, the choice is east or west of Birmingham. John Butler went east, as I did. I found the Heart of England Way and the Staffordshire Way quite pleasant and varied. Andrew McCloy goes to the west of Birmingham using the Severn Way, with an alternative route by the Heart of England Way.

Mike Salter also goes west, through the Forest of Dean and over the Malvern Hills, using the Worcestershire Way and canal towpaths.  Linda Brackenbury passes through the Forest of Dean, then takes parts of the Shropshire Way through the Shropshire Hills and crosses the Cheshire Plain to reach Greater Manchester.

If you want more dramatic scenery, you'll need to use Offa's Dyke. Andy Robinson leaves Offa's Dyke at Knighton with a route along Wenlock Edge, which seems better than the more northerly routes across the Cheshire Plain suggested as alternatives by Andrew McCloy.

The Scottish Borders

McCloy, Robinson, Butler and Cotton all follow St Cuthbert's Way to Melrose. Some, like me, pick it up at Kirk Yetholm (the end of the Pennine Way), some take the short cut over the border by Dere Street to Jedburgh - it depends on whether you want to take an extra day to complete the PW.

From Melrose, most people head west on the Southern Upland Way, then through Peebles to the Pentland Hills just south of Edinburgh. Andy Robinson has a good description of this route. Don't follow me from Peebles - I got lost!  A good option now is a new waymarked route, the Cross Borders Drove Road, from the Southern Upland Way at Traquair through Peebles to West Linton, from where you can access good paths in the Pentland Hills.

David Cotton takes the Southern Upland Way in the other direction from Melrose, then heads over the Lammermuir Hills to Edinburgh. The downside with that route is that it leaves you on the wrong side of Edinburgh, with a lot of road walking.

Mike Salter, as usual, is different. He crosses the border well to the west, near Newcastleton. His route involves road walking over the border itself, but seems a good off-road route to Peebles.  Linda Brackenbury also crosses the border at Newcastleton.

Edinburgh to Perth

There does not seem to be a very satisfactory route from the Forth Bridge to Kinross. My route seems as good as any, with the least road walking. It would be improved by walking right over Benarty Hill - there must be a route down to Vane Farm, and I should have been more persistent in looking for it. From Vane Farm, the Loch Leven Heritage Trail now provides a walking route to Kinross or Milnathort. That leaves the road walking through Cowdenbeath to Kelty as the only really bad part of this section.

Mike Salter describes the route I followed from Kinross to Perth, which was fine. Andrew McCloy (in his Cairngorms alternative) has a route by Forteviot, but it seems to involve more road walking than my and Mike Salter's route.

Keth and Lynne Barnes went mostly west of the A90, using National Cycling Route 1 then minor roads.

Linda Brackenbury and David Cotton have routes to Crieff, with nice walking over the Ochil Hills but some road walking before the hills.

For an interesting variation from Dunfermline over the Ochil Hills to Aberfeldy, have a look at Jim's blog (walking north to south).

North of the Great Glen

If you are camping and self-sufficient, there are a number of options for a route through the mountains. Andy Robinson heads north into the hills from Fort William, touches the west coast again at the head of Loch Broom, then heads north east to the Crask Inn and the Flow Country. Mike Salter, John Butler and Linda Brackenbury head into the hills from Fort Augustus, and follow routes inland by Lairg and the Crask Inn through the Flow Country to Caithness. David Cotton heads northwest from Beauly en route for Cape Wrath, but he has a lot of road walking.

For mountain routes north of the Great Glen, it is worth looking at North to the Cape by Dennis Brook and Phil Hinchliffe, and the Cape Wrath Trail website.

If you are not camping (or using transport to reach accommodation), a lot of road walking is unavoidable here. Andrew McCloy and Mike Salter both describe routes north from Inverness, all on roads except for sections near Dornoch, Golspie and Brora.  For a route closely following the coast you can buy a guide from the Scottish Coastal Path website.  There are currently attempts to develop the John O'Groats Trail from Inverness to John O'Groats, although some sections are at present overgrown and hard to follow.

You could avoid some road walking by heading a little inland. Andrew McCloy describes a route through Strathpeffer to Dingwall, and Andy Robinson suggests a hill route from Dingwall to Ardgay (although he has not tried it). Phil Bean (walking north to south) found a route by Strath Brora and Rogart, and also south from Edderton.

Another possible route would be to follow the coast of the Black Isle to Cromarty, then use the Nigg Ferry (if you allow yourself ferries) and follow the coast to Tain. David Cotton followed this route in his Coastwalk (in reverse), although he did not use the ferry. Allan Ricketts went that way.

Keith and Lynne Barnes were able to avoid the A9 between Brora and Helmsdale by following the beach.

In Caithness, Andrew McCloy turns inland to Watten and the north coast. But this route is all roads. There is good off-road coastal walking in Caithness north and south of Wick, which David Cotton describes in his Coastwalk and Jay Wilson describes on his John O'Groats Trail website.  Andy Robinson also has a good description of the last part of the coast route from Westerloch to John O'Groats, a fine walk.

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Updated January 2016. Copyright Martin Hockey 2016.
email: mhockey29@gmail.com