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Off-road Journey Accounts

Cross Country by Theo Lang, Hodder & Stoughton, 1948

Theo Lang was a journalist and novelist who walked a rambling route from Land’s End to John O’Groats in 1946, just months after the end of the Second World War.  He set off on March 17th and finished just under five months later, having walked about 1500 of the 2200 miles he travelled.  He wrote articles as he went for the Sunday Chronicle, and later wrote them up into a book.  The account is an entertaining one by a professional writer, and has similarities to John Hillaby’s account (see below): if you enjoyed that, then this is worth seeking out.  Highly recommended.

Journey Through Britain by John Hillaby, Constable, 1968 (also Paladin paperback)

The book that must have inspired a thousand attempts at walking from Land’s End to John O’Groats, or so I would imagine: it certainly inspired me when I first read it in the early seventies.  John Hillaby walked from Land's End to John O'Groats in the late 1960s, mainly avoiding walking on roads, and wrote this extremely entertaining book about it.  The only official long distance path at the time was the Pennine Way, which he incorporated into his route (more or less). He followed the northwest coast from Land's End to Newquay, then struck inland and across Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor, where he got seriously lost in a bog. He then headed for Bristol, where he was laid up with crippled calf muscles for a couple of days. He tried to cross the original M4 bridge but found it hadn't been built yet (this is true: read the book).  He crossed on the old ferry instead, then followed more or less the line of what later became the Offa's Dyke path from Chepstow to Knighton. From there he made for Stoke-on-Trent via the Long Mynd (stark naked) and Wenlock Edge, and on to Edale and the Pennine Way. He then went via Jedburgh, Peebles and the Union Canal to get between Glasgow and Edinburgh, then via Stirling to join the line of what is now the West Highland Way at Crianlarich, following it to Fort William.

From Fort William he headed off into the wilds of northwest Scotland, getting lost from time to time. As far as Ullapool he mainly seems to have followed tracks that are now described in the Scottish Rights of Way Society's "Scottish Hill Tracks".  This is not surprising, since he credits Donald Moir with assisting him with route planning in Scotland, and Moir compiled “Scottish Hill Tracks” in the first place.  Tracks north then the road along the north coast got him to John O’Groats.

Highly recommended.

Turn Right at Land’s End by John Merrill, Oxford Illustrated Press, 1979 (since reprinted)

John Merrill is probably the most prolific long distance walker in Britain, and this book is his account of the longest walk in Britain: following the coast all the way round.  He set off on the 3rd of January 1978, finished on 8th November, and estimated the distance he walked at 6824 miles.  Naturally the walk included joining Land’s End to John O’Groats, walking 3800 miles between the two.  Oh yes, and he also walked Land’s End to John O’Groats three months earlier for a warm-up.  This walk qualifies for a “don’t try this at home” warning, and you wouldn’t have thought it would have had many repeats, although at least three further accounts have been written of similar walks since.  His walk necessarily kept to low ground, apart from detours inland to climb the three peaks of Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis.  This was also the definitive “long cut” route, since any way of making the journey shorter was cheating, again giving the walk a different motivational feel to it.  After a mere 3300 miles his foot fractured due to the constant hard walking, and he was laid up for a few weeks while it mended: all I can say is “I’m not surprised”.  The book itself is readable without being great literature: but who am I to judge?  I enjoyed reading it, although unlike many accounts of long distance walks it didn’t make me want to go out immediately and do it myself.  The walk was obviously very hard both mentally and physically, and included a lot of unavoidable road walking and urban and industrial areas.  It is well worth reading for his approach to preparation and his experience of how to cope with very long walks.  Where else are you going to get statistically valid estimates of the life expectancy of boots and socks for instance?  Recommended.

Hamish’s Groat’s End Walk by Hamish Brown, Victor Gollancz, 1981, also Paladin paperback

This is Hamish Brown’s account of his 1979 walk from John O’Groats to Land’s End with his Shetland collie Storm.  The route was an indirect one, taking in mountains in Scotland (to complete his sixth round of Munros), England, Wales and Ireland, and the trip took about five months to complete.  He generally kept to the mountains where he could, camping wild a lot and making up for this by staying in comfortable hotels from time to time: a good way to travel I think.  The book is a very readable account and I found it difficult to put down: I have to recommend it strongly as excellent pre-walk mental preparation.  There is also plenty of practical information in the book: it has a very good section on what he took and why, and an extensive bibliography.  Recommended.

The Great Backpacking Adventure by Chris Townsend, Oxford Illustrated Press, 1987

Chris Townsend is these days a journalist and writes reviews for The Great Outdoors among other things.  He has done many long walks, and in this book he gives an account of a number of them.  In 1978 he walked from Land’s End to John O’Groats while John Merrill was working his way round the coast.  The book includes a 40 page chapter on this walk: an off-road route keeping to the hills.  It is an entertaining read, and the book in general gives insight into the need for the right mental approach to long walks.  Recommended.

Three Degrees West by Stephen Sankey, John Donald, 1990

Not quite End to End: Stephen Sankey and his collie Meg walked from the south coast near Lyme Regis to Westray in the Orkneys, keeping as close as they could to the line of longditude three degrees west of Greenwich.  The book is a straightforward account of their journey, with plenty of photographs.  This preceded Nicholas Crane’s better-known account “Two Degrees West” by nine years.  Crane’s book is excellent, but is outside the scope of this bibliography as it excludes Scotland.

A Grandparents’ Guide from Land’s End to John O’Groats by Eileen & Herbert Witherington, WANDE Publications, 1993

An entertaining account of a walk done in 1991 by a retired couple who didn’t see any reason why they shouldn’t be able to do it, so they did.  They walked relatively short distances each day and travelled light, with no camping: B&B all the way, and a lot of the book is about the B&Bs they stayed in.  They generally avoided difficult walking conditions and ended up doing quite a lot of road walking.  This is the book to read if you want to know how to get from End to End without getting tired or lost and have plenty of time to do it.  Their walk was at the opposite end of the extreme/easy spectrum to John Merrill and Hamish Brown.

Spring Rolls and Coconuts by Peter Lucas, published privately, c.1993

A well-written and highly entertaining account of the author's Land's End to John O'Groats walk in 1992.  He backpacked most of the way, losing essential items at a rate of around one per day, as far as I can make out.  One of the best reads on this list.  Recommended.

And The Road Below by John Westley, Meridian Books, 1994

This is a straightforward diary account of the author’s 1990-1991 walk around the coastline of Britain and Ireland.  He walked 9469 miles, starting in London on 5 August 1990, finishing on 20 September 1991, doing a lot of fundraising for the Multiple Sclerosis Society on the way.

Two Feet Four Paws by Spud Talbot Ponsonby, Summersdale, 1996

This is another account of a sponsored walk round the coast of Britain, this time by one woman and her dog, supported by friends and a dodgy campervan.  It’s a readable account that grew on me as I read it.  The dog chases everything that moves, and the only time it seems to stop raining is when it snows.  The inside of the campervan is generally damp and disintegrating, which seems highly appropriate considering the author was walking to raise money for the homeless.

The Sea On Our Left by Shally Hunt, Summersdale, 1997

Does everyone who walks round the coast of Britain write a book about it?  Here’s the fourth, and it is a well-written and entertaining book.  Richard and Shally Hunt walked the coast in 1995, covering 4300 miles, and it nearly cost them their marriage.  Recommended.

One Woman’s Walk by Shirley Rippin, Shirley Rippin / Logaston Press, 1998

I really enjoyed this one.  It is a well-written and relaxed account by an experienced walker: the route includes the Pennine Way and the West Highland Way.  Recommended.

Midges. Maps & Muesli by Helen Krasner, Garth Publications, 1998

A well-written and entertaining account of a 5000-mile coast walk.

Land's End to John O'Groats - A Dream Came True by Pauline Freeman, published privately,1998

A brief account of Pauline and Michael Freeman's walk in 1997.

One Pair of Boots by Tony Hobbs, Logaston Press, 2000

An account of the author’s walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats in 1997, this is well worth reading.  He set out to follow one of Andrew McCloy’s routes, having done minimal preparation, buying guidebooks and maps as he went along.  The book is full of things like his account of squeezing pus out of his toes and a list of every pint of beer comsumed on the trip (285 pints of 83 varieties).  Therapeutic reading for anyone who tends to overplan their life.  Recommended.

A Walk for Jim by Sally Thomas, published privately, 2001

A moving and readable account of Sally Thomas’s walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats in aid of leukaemia research: her son had died of the disease shortly before her walk.  Her route was largely off-road and avoided hilly country.  It’s a route worth considering if you don’t want to climb many hills.  Recommended.

No Fixed Abode - A Long Walk to the Dome by Douglas Legg, Colby Press, 2002

An account of a 5000-mile coastal walk that in many respects bore more resemblance to the journeys of an old-fashioned "man of the road" than a modern long distance walk. Recommended.

Land’s End to John O’Groats – In Fifteen Years!  by Alan Plowright, Moorfield Press, 2002

This is a curiously disjointed account of a walk from End to End, since the author made the journey in sections, starting with the Pennine Way and ending with Land’s End to Exeter.  The book starts at Land’s End and ends at John O’Groats, resulting in a peculiar lack of continuity as the story jumps back and forwards in time.

Heading North on a By-Pass by Ron Smith, published privately, 2002

Having suffered a heart attack and undergone by-pass surgery, Ron Smith cycled from Land's End to Derby, then walked the rest of the way to John O'Groats. In case you thinking you're starting to see a pattern here, I can confirm that yes, we are all nutters. On the other hand we probably live longer than people who don't tackle an End to End. 

A Journey of Soles by Kathy Trimmer, Hayloft Publishing, 2003

Kathy and her husband Ken walked south to north using footpaths, minor roads and canal towpaths, accompanied for much of the way by their Labrador, Ranger.  A typical example of a charity walk account.

Follow the Spring North by Christine Roche, Trafford Publishing, 2004

An account of a backpacking End to End walk, following a route that had been well-researched. Worth reading for some of the route suggestions. Although this is an account of a walk rather than a guidebook, there is enough information about the route to be able to follow it accurately most of the way. Recommended.

The Sea Ahead by Shally Hunt, Summersdale, 2005

The first half of this book is about Shally and her husband Richard's walk from Dover to Cape Wrath, and the second half covers Bruges to Nice.

Keep Right On to the End of the Road by Kath Jones, Vanguard Press, 2006

A straightforward diary account of a Land's End to John O'Groats charity walk, partly on roads and partly not. It includes numerous references to the late Scottish entertainer Jimmy Logan.

When I Walk I Bounce by Mark Moxon, Exposure Publishing, 2007

A highly entertaining account of a walk largely following Andrew McCloy's route. It is well-written and made me laugh out loud from time to time, which was a first for an End to End book. He manages to express very well what it actually feels like to be undertaking such a long trek - the highs, the lows, the insecurities, the euphoria.  He doesn't like moors though. Highly recommended.

Shake Well Before Use by Tom Isaacs, Cure Parkinsons Press, 2007

A coastal walk by a relatively young Parkinson's disease sufferer.  This is a well-written book, and Tom Isaacs has done a masterful job of making clear how challenging living with Parkinson's is.  His single-minded persistence with the walk is impressive as well.  Recommended.

End to End by Steve Blease, The Book Guild, 2008

An account of a walk on country lanes and off-road routes that in the main avoids the hills, the author preferring easier options to improve his chances of getting to John O'Groats in one piece.   B&B all the way, and his rucksack still weighed 25 lbs despite taking few clothes.  By the time I got to the end I still didn't know how he managed to fill that sack.

Off-Road Guidebooks

Land’s End to John O’Groats by Andrew McCloy, Hodder & Stoughton, 1994, also Coronet paperback

An excellent book in which the author outlines three different off-road walking routes.  This is a guidebook rather than an account of his journeys and is a recommended read for anyone planning to walk off-road from Land’s End to John O’Groats.  It doesn’t give a lot of detail of the routes, so you would still need to do a lot of planning or improvising to follow one of them.  The End to End Trail coincides in part with two of the routes.  Recommended.

The Land’s End to John O’Groats Walk by Andrew McCloy, Cordee, 2002

This is a more detailed description of one of the three routes (the “Central Route”) outlined in his earlier book.  It is still not a detailed route description though: to follow the route described will require detailed planning with maps for the sections not covered by waymarked routes.

Land's End to John O'Groats: A Thousand Mile Walking Route by Mike Salter, Folly Publications, 2007

This is a guide that packs a lot into its 76 pages. The route descriptions are clear, and the route described can easily be followed on an OS map. As for the route itself, it follows a similar route to the End to End Trail as far as the Wye valley (although it avoids Exmoor), then cuts across northeast to pass close by Wolverhampton, on canal towpaths a lot of the way. It then heads north to the Peak District and takes its own route up the Pennines to the Scottish border, only following the Pennine Way for brief stretches. He tends to avoid the higher moors, although he does take in Cross Fell, the highest point on the Pennine Way. From the Scottish border to Fort William the route is similar to that of the End to End Trail, then it follows the Great Glen as far as Fort Augustus. From here he has found what looks like a good cross-country route to Lairg: wild but not as "out there" as the End to End Trail's route further to the west. From Lairg to Kinbrace the route is similar to the End to End Trail again, then it heads up the road to Forsinain and east on forestry and estate roads to meet the River Thurso and follow minor roads to John O'Groats.  There is also an alternative route leaving the main one near Edinburgh to head north via Kinross, Pitlochry, the Lairig Ghru, Inverness and up the east coast. This alternative is mostly on roads after Inverness. Highly recommended: plenty of alternative options to the End to End Trail which should help you plan your trip.

The End to End Trail: Land's End to John O'Groats by Andy Robinson, Cicerone, 2007

My book, so I'm not going to express an opinion about how absolutely essential is it, obviously. Available from all good bookshops.

Page last updated 11 December 2008