Welcome to my LEJoG blog and to all Walkers! Read this first….
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton
Glad you could join me. This is the introduction to the 50FootHead LEJoG blog, with a self-explanatory double meaning: preparation for anyone considering a rather long “amble” from Land’s End to John O’Groats. It includes links to the sites and books I found most useful when preparing my walk, additional tips and other considerations. Don’t set off without taking this on board. Seriously, don’t.
First and foremost, you’ve got to want it. Really want it. Whether it’s a “bucket list” item, or you want to stay fit, or you want something to occupy you in retirement, or you just want to challenge yourself. I’m not here to assess your motivation: only you can do that. But it’s got to be strong, because no matter how much you enjoy walking or love Britain, there will be times when you wonder why the hell you bothered doing this. You need to be able to keep your eyes on the prize.
Secondly, I’m writing this preamble about one third of the way in, before I actually publish all the retrospective blog posts that bring me up to date. I’m then editing it just after “going live” as it were. If you’re reading this and want a more complete impression of what the walk is like, see below. You cannot do better than the following, which I found enormously helpful for advance planning and convincing myself the endeavour was possible:
First and foremost:
- Andy Robinson’s book (2007, reprinted 2014; 61 days; 1,206 miles)
And for a LEJoG walk blog, start here:
- Mark Moxon’s blog (2003; 70 days plus 19 rest days; 1,111 miles)
- Martin Hockey’s blog (2004; 76 days plus 6 rest days; 1,306 miles)
For a more recent LEJoG blog, with up to date information on footpaths etc, the following is outstanding:
- Dave Walks LEJoG (2017; 71 days plus 11 rest days; 1,269 miles)
What makes 50FootHead different?
(Apart from the anonymity – see ‘About 50FootHead’ for that)
1) A sectional walk
The main difference is that I am walking LEJoG in sections, and specifically aiming at people doing the same. As resources for walkers with the time and money to complete the walk in one go, the above are pretty much unimprovable. Hockey and Moxon each provide links to many other books and blogs, some of which also cover sectional walks. Moxon’s are bang up to date, including even walks that are planned for 2019.
That said – and sincerely meant – my personal opinion is that a lot of walkers might read these and, unless they’re sufficiently youthful, supremely fit and/or unencumbered by self-doubt, find themselves overwhelmed and daunted by the prospect, writing themselves off before they’ve even started. This is particularly true if you start with Robinson, who completes the trail in just two months. Hammering his way through consecutive 20-mile-plus days, there is little hint that the ordinary mortal might be desperate for Compeed if trying to maintain such a punishing schedule. When he concludes with some wild camping in the remote Highlands of Scotland (instead of the usual B&Bs-on-the-A9 route), the overall impression is of some kind of superhuman. By contrast, Moxon describes his various aches and pains most entertainingly, and includes plenty of rest days. But overall it still takes him only nine more days of walking than Robinson.
I expect my route to be of comparable length (1,100 – 1,300 miles). But I expect to be walking for around 90 days, and I don’t want any readers to think that they need to finish quicker than that. This LEJoG blog is geared towards encouraging people to believe that the End to End is achievable, at your own pace, over however many years. With two vital caveats:
- You need to be fit enough
- You need to be able to afford it
Taking these in turn:
Don’t be afraid – you don’t need to be super-fit. Just in reasonable cardiovascular condition, with stamina being more important than strength. I would say I was still slightly overweight when I started LEJoG, and didn’t lose the 2 stones that brought me back to pre-illness status until 2018 (days 8 to 39). You could use this walk as a weight loss strategy. However the deciding factor for me was not the walking per se, but the acquisition of a Fitbit, which allowed me to identify where those unnecessary extra calories were coming from.
It is certainly worth doing all the cardiovascular work you have time for as preparation. Try hill walking near home, cycling, treadmill work, any sport. You will feel the benefit when you’re walking on consecutive days, or on coastal routes with cliffs and water courses (see days 1 to 14 especially).
Walking is an inexpensive hobby, but there’s no getting away from it: LEJoG is not a cheap undertaking. Money is a good reason to complete the walk in sections over several years, unless you have substantial savings. My budget is about £50-£70 per night for accommodation. Some B&Bs and hostels will be lower than £50, and some hotels and high-end B&Bs slightly higher than £70. I don’t camp. Distance walking is not glamorous and can be hard, and I need home comforts at the end of the day. Thus a B&B is my usual minimum, with hotels being more common. I sometimes go for a youth hostel, but at my age try for a private room rather than a dorm if possible.
My preferred site for finding accommodation is booking.com. If that fails, the Trailblazer guidebooks below are my first choice for well-known trails. Trip Advisor is useful for the sections in between. Only on rare occasions have I needed to venture away from these resources.
Other things that must be considered:
- bus or train fares for getting to and from your start and end points
- taxi fares in more remote areas
- food and drink, the biggest expense being your evening meal. It is easy to keep the cost of lunch and daily sustenance down. For example by filling water bottles from your hotel tap rather than buying new ones.
Partly because of the need to save money, there will be little comment here about tourist attractions in places where I start and finish stages. For an early example of this, Tate St Ives was a nice idea, but one I resisted. I don’t regard myself as unusually “tight”, but after illness and unemployment I’m certainly less of a spendthrift than I once was.
2) The route
The second key difference is that most LEJoG guides and blogs tend to assume that you want to avoid urban walking, particularly in large cities. By contrast I always intended to walk through:
- Bristol (because the Clifton Suspension Bridge made the ideal conclusion to one section)
- Birmingham (because I used to live and work there)
- Edinburgh (because, in common with many, I regard it as the most attractive city in Britain, and also because I had never walked Arthur’s Seat)
- Glasgow (because of its proximity to the start of the West Highland Way)
Therefore my route is at least partly dictated by the above, and this means it is not necessarily ideal for all. As the blog goes on, you will no doubt be able to discern whether these good intentions actually ended up paving the road to hell… But to be honest, large parts of my route will coincide with many other LEJoG walks, e.g.
- The South West Coast Path (Land’s End to Barnstaple: Parts 1 and 2 i.e. Exmoor/North Devon and Cornwall).
- The Pennine Way
- The West Highland Way
- The Great Glen Way
For the South West Coast Path and Pennine Way, I unreservedly recommend the Trailblazer guides which are linked above. At the time of writing I have reached Kirk Yetholm. I expect the Scotland guides to be just as valuable.
Where I vary, you will find that lots of chosen routes vary – there’s plenty of advice out there but in the end you have absolute discretion when it comes to making your way through the following:
- The Cotswolds/South Midlands versus Wales
- The North Midlands
- Kirk Yetholm to the West Highland Way
I will try and provide as much detail as I can on the routes for individual stages. This is particularly important in those latter sections which are not already covered by a recommended guidebook. You should compare my routes to the ones in the major blogs and books listed previously, and make your own decisions. At the time of writing I can pretty much guarantee I won’t even recommend one or two of my own decisions to others!
3) Words and pictures
I have always enjoyed writing, and have little interest in photography. All of my photos are taken on an iPhone. Therefore the balance between words and pictures will always be heavily weighted towards the former. Expect around 3-5 photos per day. Compared to the blogs linked above, my average number of photos per day will be closest to Martin Hockey’s and the number of words closest to Mark Moxon’s. Dave’s LEJoG blog is easily the most photo-heavy of the three. It’s also a delight to read, by the way.
And finally: the most important variable is actually…
…your footwear. Spend time and extra money buying the right pair of walking boots. Every single distance walker and every guidebook will tell you this, and it applies even if you are walking in sections rather than all at once. If you only take one piece of advice from the pre-amble, let it be this.
Ready to go?
Then let’s begin…
Picture needs no further explanation, surely!
See Day 1 (29 April 2017)…. in which Ben achieves Zen.