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
- 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
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:
|Cornwall & Devon
|CW or OD?
|Scotland West or East?
|North of the Great Glen
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
- The Scottish Borders
- Edinburgh to Perth if you are going through the
- North of the Great Glen
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.
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
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
Linda Brackenbury and David Cotton have routes to Crieff, with nice
walking over the Ochil Hills but some road walking before
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
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.