Walking End to End in Great Britain: 2000-2011
Walking "end to end" from Lands End at the southwestern tip of Cornwall to John O'Groats at the northeastern corner of Scotland has become an established tradition in the UK. It is not a trail like the Pacific Crest or Appalachian trails; rather it is a journey with each walker (or cyclist) choosing their own route. My path followed the coast of Cornwall and Devon along the Southwest Coastal Path, then north on Offas Dyke, a national trail along the border between Wales and England. From there, I turned inland toward the Yorkshire Dales and then into the Lake District along the Cumbria Way. Just north of Carlisle, I entered the "Border" region of southern Scotland. When I reached Glasgow, I followed the West Highland Way and the Great Glen Way to Inverness. The final leg was along the North Sea to John O'Groats. Over the course of 11 years, I walked a route covering 1231 miles, although not in any orderly progression from south to north. Rather I pieced together sections, making sure that I connected with the ending points of previous walks. My own personal journey during those years was probably greater than 1500 miles since some sections were covered more than once (and of course those extra miles for getting lost!)
Here is a catalog of 12 trips over the eleven year period to complete the End to End Walk.
May 6-30, 2000: Chepstow, South Wales to Prestatyn, North Wales: (Offa's Dyke Path): 182 miles
June 6-8, 2000: Kingshouse Hotel, Scotland to Ft. William, Scotland (West Highland Way): 34 miles
June 16-22, 2003: llkley, Yorkshire to Windermere, Cumbria (Dales Way): 82 miles
Sept. 21-26, 2003 Land’s End, Cornwall to St. Ives, Cornwall (Southwest Coast Path): 40 miles
April 29-May 5, 2004: St. Ives Cornwall to Crackington Haven (Southwest Coast Path): 77 miles
May 28-June 4, 2004 Coniston, Cumbria to Caldbeck, (Cumbria Way): 58 miles
September 4-14, 2006 Chepstow, South Wales to Barnstaple, North Devon 140 miles
September 12-19, 2007 Prestatyn, North Wales to Settle, Yorkshire 90 miles
Sept 22-29, 2007 Southwest Coast Path, Devon: 18 miles
Sept 30-Oct 21, 2008 SW Coast Path, Northern England, Southern Scotland: 175 miles
May 18-June 11, 2009 Southern Scotland, Glasgow, West Highland Way, Great Glen Way: 217 miles
June 7 – 17, 2011 Inverness Scotland to John O’Groats: 117 miles
Total 12 trips 1231 miles
The "Best and the Worst"
Most Difficult Sections: Southwest Coastal Path and Offa's Dyke Path (Wales)
Favorite Path: Dales Way in Yorkshire
Easiest Walk: Great Glen Way, Scotland
Most Beautiful Bits: Beaches of Cornwall and Devon
Friendliest people: Everywhere, but especially along Offa's Dyke
Biggest Disappointment: Trash along the Irish Sea in northern England
Most Disagreeable Day; Southport to Preston along a four-lane road
Favorite villages: Dornach, Scotland; Tintagel, Cornwall; Hay-on-Wye, Hereford; Burnsal, Yorkshire
Rain, Rain, Rain: Cornwall in April
Best Pubs: Oh there were many!
Best Ales: In Wales and Yorkshire
Most Spectacular Vistas: Devon Coast, West Highland Way
Best Day: The last, as I walked to John O'Groats
Other Walking Trips in the UK and Europe
Over the past several years I have walked, either alone or as part of a group, additional walks in the UK and Europe. Here is a catalog of those journeys:
2005- Dales Way, Yorkshire England
2006 - Wye River Valley, Welsh-English Border
2007 - Northern England & Devon
2008 - Dordogne and Le Lot, France
2011 - Shropshire Way, UK
2011 Cleveland Way, Yorkshire England
2013 South Downs Way and Shropshire, UK
2014 Isle of Colonsay, Inner Hebrides, Scotland
2014 Coast-to-Coast Path, Lake District and North Yorkshire
2016 South Downs Way Winchester, Eastbourne (Partial)
2017 Thames Path (Partial near Goring)
2018 Lady Anne’s Way (Yorkshire - Partial)
Logistics and Other Stuff
Great Britain (England, Wales, and Scotland) is walker friendly place. There are thousands of walking paths, many of which are well sign-posted and easy to follow. Some, like the Southwest Coast Path are national trails and quite long. Most cross private land - in and out of farmer fields. Other sections are along quiet country lanes. A few times on my end to end walk I had to walk sections of "A" and "B" roads with significant traffic. Guidebooks are easy to obtain as are Ordnance maps.
Lodging: My lodging was primarily B&B's and small inns. In the early years of the walk and along less-traveled parts, I seldom made advance reservations. Rather I would walk to a village and look for signs of B&B's. In more popular areas (e.g. Yorkshire and the Lake District) or when I was traveling with others, I made most reservations before departing. The internet now makes this easy.
Baggage: If I was walking alone (which I did for about half of the journey) I carried a small backpack with clothing, rain gear,lunch and personal items. This usually weighed about 20 lbs. When I got tired of carrying, I would find a location and stay for 2 or 3 nights using local transportation to get out and back to trail heads. When I traveled with Pam or in small groups, we used baggage services to transport our bags from one location to the next. (These services are widely available on the popular long-distance paths). Services such as http://sherpavan.com/ will book your accommodations and carry your baggage along the chosen route.
Daily Distances: Walking distances often depended on terrain and the availability of accommodations. Distances varied anywhere from 8 to 20 plus miles a day. When walking alone, I often cover 15-18 miles a day; with groups this would drop to 10-15 miles a day. On some trips, the distances dropped to 8-10 miles a day.
Transportation: I used trains and buses to reach trail heads and return to airports (Glasgow, Manchester, London Heather and Gatwick). On a few trips, I rented an automobile and did day hikes from various locations. But renting cars adds stress and I've now abandoned this approach. On a few occasions after running out of time or getting lost, I hitchhiked back to the trail or to my B&B.
Best time to go: Most of my walking in the UK has been in May/early June or in September. Summer has too many tourists and can be too warm; April and October can be too wet and cold. 60 degrees Fahrenheit is just right for walking.
Gear: Quality rain gear and waterproof footwear are essential. Beyond that, it is often a matter of personal choice. Over time, I have drastically reduced the amount of clothing I've brought, but increased the electronics (GPS, phones, IPods, etc). One piece of advice: Go light!
Training: I usually start two or three months before my walk and work toward covering 2/3 of the time and/or distance of the longest day planned. (I find it easier to keep track of how long I've walked rather than how far.)