Although it’s been more than a month since I completed my walk I haven’t spent much time reminiscing. After a year of planning and nearly 3 months of walking it’s hard to believe it’s over … perhaps I’m experiencing denial and still have 4 steps to go to complete the grieving process? Whatever the reason I figure it would be helpful to summarize my thoughts on my journey from Land’s End to John O’Groats.
The euphoria felt when reaching the signpost at John O’Groats lasted about two seconds but was quickly replaced by the realization that I enjoyed the 72 days of plodding far more than I thought I would. This may seem like an odd thing to say considering the time and money invested in an End-to-End walk, but I reckoned that after a month or two I may have had enough and that some serious mental fortitude would be needed to see it through. But this wasn’t the case at all, I loved almost every minute of it. OK, the A9 was no fun and at times finding accommodation was very frustrating, but in the end those were just tiny roadblocks in what was a truly fantastic experience.
I stuck pretty close to my intended route in England and never altered it all in Scotland. I tinkered with the distances I walked each day and this resulted in the occasional detour, Nether Stowey, Hartington and Tideswell come to mind. I was very happy with my decision to start with the South West Coast Path as it was one of the most spectacular sections of the entire walk. At times it was a real slog but when I completed it I felt I was ready to tackle anything else that lay ahead of me. I also enjoyed the few days I cobbled together along the Pennine Bridleway before picking up the Pennine Way at Diggle. Sections of the Yorkshire Dales and all of the West Highland Way were really crowded and so finding b&b accommodation was very difficult. The A9 was a march, simple as that.
If you read my blog it’s no surprise that I preferred footpaths to roads. To each his own of course but I felt the experience of walking along a footpath was markedly better. Farm lanes and rarely used b-roads were fine although the hard surfaces were still tough on the lower body. I enjoyed walking 15 to 18 miles days but the 20+ days were hard work and I found I didn’t get much time to enjoy the countryside I was walking through.
LEJOG vs JOGLE
I never really considered walking north to south so it was always going to be a LEJOG for me. The main benefit that I experienced was that the sun at my back for almost the entire trip. This was great for photographs and it meant I didn’t spend weeks squinting into the sun … although I’ve been told its not always sunny in Britain?!
Time of Year
How can I not be happy with my decision to walk in the Spring when I had such glorious weather!? Trust me, I know how lucky I was. My only caveat is that it appears that the popularity of End-to-End walks is growing exponentially and it can only be a matter of time before non-campers will have a hell of a time finding accommodation in the peak LEJOG season (March to June). The West Highland Way is already too popular for its own good. If I was doing it again I might consider tinkering with the time-frame and then pray for decent weather.
B&B vs. Camping
I’m happy with my decision to B&B it rather than camp. It meant a few less kilos in my backpack and a shower every night. I also met some wonderful people along the way. Obviously this is not the low-budget way to do an End-to-End walk but if you’re from overseas then you’ll have already dropped a couple of $K before you even set foot on a path. But you shouldn’t underestimate the time required to secure accommodation along the way – this was the only part of my daily routine that I didn’t look forward to. If you have family or friends who are willing to help then I suggest you take them up on their offer. If I did another End-to-End walk I would seriously consider investing in an ultralight tent and sleeping bag to provide some flexibility in those difficult sections, but I’d leave the cooking kit at home and find food along the way.
The quality of accommodation varied quite a bit although most of the privately owned B&B’s and Guesthouses were very friendly and offered good to excellent value for money. Unfortunately I found this was not the case for many of the pubs and hotels I stayed at, some notable exceptions include the excellent Exmoor Forest Inn in Simonsbath and the Abbey Hotel in Tewkesbury.
My daily expenditure fluctuated but when averaged out I managed to stay within my budget of £45-50 per day. A b&b with a shared bath cost £25 to £35 per night while en-suite rooms fetched £35 and up. I opted for the former whenever possible but I found most places add bathrooms when they remodel and then raise their rates accordingly.
I took full advantage of the large breakfast included in the price and rarely needed to eat again before supper. B&B and Guest House owners take pride in their breakfasts and the vast majority of them were excellent. In some places, especially Scotland, a fresh fruit salad was on offer – a nice break from the traditional fry-up. A good pub supper accompanied by a pint (occasionally two) set me back £10 to £12.
I had separate budgets for trains and buses but these were negligible when compared to the overall cost of accommodation and food. Getting to Cornwall and home from Scotland cost much less than I thought because I booked my train online and many weeks in advance. I occasionally used buses to commute back and forth to points along my walk and although bus fares in Britain are expensive they really didn’t add up to much.
I put a lot of time into testing my gear before I left and so everything performed as expected. Every bit of kit I carried was used except for the emergency bag, a sink stopper and most of the stuff in my first-aid kit. I only used my fleece cap once and so it went home with my first batch of maps. The only items I purchased in the UK were a cheap pen knife and two pairs of socks. I collected a few bits of paper along the way and so I figure on most days I was carrying about 12kg. plus water which weighed an additional 1-1.5kg.
Two pieces of equipment that merit special attention were my Osprey pack and my Ecco shoes. The Osprey is easily the best pack I’ve ever owned and I would not hesitate in recommending it to anyone. It’s dependable and well-made … it required no repairs and I had no problems with zippers, straps, webbing, etc.. I put over 1500-miles on my Eccos and reckon they had a couple hundred more left in them. They deserved a better fate than an Edinburgh landfill but they were surplus to requirements once I was reunited with my spare pair of shoes. They are a fantastic piece of kit and worth every penny of the $200 I spent on them. I only suffered with blisters once and that was down to a 26.5 mile march just 12 days into my walk.
I purchased 50 Explorer series (1:25000) maps last year and used 44 of them during my LEJOG. That’s a lot of money to spend on maps but at the time (2009) the electronic versions were even more expensive. I expect this will quickly change and that within a few years everyone will be using digital maps for their End-to-End walk. I love the detail of the Explorer series maps but I will admit that the less detailed Landranger series (1:50000) would be fine on well-marked national trails such as the SWCP and in most of Scotland.
I brought all of my maps with me to Britain and then posted most of them to a friend who kindly offered to ship them on to me at various stages throughout my walk. I usually carried 8 or 9 maps with me at any one time (weighing roughly 1kg) and then mailed the old ones home by surface mail when I picked up a new batch. The Poste Restante service worked well and the maps were always there when I went to pick them up. Moving this paper back and forth obviously cost more money and so it’s not a terribly cost-effective solution of finding your way around Britain.
Although I took two guidebooks with me I rarely ever used them. They were great for planning my route but on the day I preferred to find my own way using my maps and GPS.
I broke up my 72-day walk with 9 rest days although I budgeted for almost twice as many. At the beginning of my walk I took a day off every 8 to 10 days and purposely held some back for later in the trip. While it makes sense to keep a few in hand in case of sickness or injury I felt rest days became less important as the walk wore on. In the end I finished my walk about a week earlier than planned.
I began my training nearly a year before my trip. I started out with 10-mile walks with a very light pack and gradually increased the distance until I was walking 18-miles with a full pack. I did these walks every 3 weeks, in addition to the several miles I walked every day to and from work (I don’t own a car). While this training regime didn’t prepare me to walk an average of 18 miles every day for nearly 3 months it did accomplish several things. Firstly, it helped me break in my walking shoes (I put 150 miles on two pairs of Eccos) and toughen up my feet. Secondly, it conditioned my mind to walk for 5 to 6 hours and to ignore the inevitable aches and pains. Lastly, it gave me ample opportunity to test all of my equipment in a variety of temperatures and weather conditions. I’m sure I would have been even better prepared had I walked more often prior to my trip but in the end my training regime did the trick.
I’m really glad I blogged. It was great to share the journey with others and to know that so many enjoyed following along. I made a lot of new friends and met many fellow walkers along the way. Best of all I have a very detailed account of my adventure which I can re-read in the years to come. I encourage you to blog too but don’t underestimate the time it takes to keep on top of it. I spent one to two hours every night writing mine up.
I have to give my little HP netbook a pat on the back. I wasn’t too sure how my $200 investment would work out but in the end it did everything I asked of it. I’m not a big fan of Windows but the performance was reasonable as long as I made sure it had lots of memory to play with. My iPod Touch was my electronic Swiss Army knife and worth every gram … even if I rarely listened to music. My Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1 camera took a lickin’ and kept on clickin’. I dropped it more than once and it spent the whole trip in my hip belt exposed to the elements without a case.
Finding a Wifi signal was easier than I expected and so there were only a handful of nights where I found myself without an internet connection. I’d estimate that 75% of the b&bs and Guest Houses I stayed at offered their residents free Wifi and I can’t imagine it will be long before every establishment does. If they didn’t have it I often “borrowed” a signal from a neighbour, even if it meant setting up in the bathroom! When all else failed free Wifi was always on offer at a Wetherspoon’s pub.