So, I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time in the last few weeks looking at maps and reading guidebooks, yet still I haven’t finalised the route I’m going to be taking on my walk. Partly that’s because I think it’s best not to set a route that’s too definite, just to allow me to change and improvise along the way if some other direction looks preferable and partly because it feels a bit too much like tempting fate to be doing detailed planning for the later sections before I’ve even started the walk. So, here’s the plan so far:
You don’t actually start at John O’ Groats – the Scottish equivalent of Land’s End is Duncansby Head, a couple of miles to the east of the village. But, the road leads through John O’ Groats anyway, and it sounds more poetic, so you can assume that’s the start of the trip. From there, it’s south on the A99 through Wick until it meets up with the A9, then following that south along the coast through Caithness. Most of that section is following the road, but there are some diversions onto pathways along the way. While walking along roads can be dull, it’s a good way to start the walk, I think, allowing me to have a long warmup before hitting any hills. Also, having read a few accounts of people who’ve started from Land’s End and travelled north, it’s a somewhat dull end to the walk, so probably a good idea to get it out of the way early.
Eventually, after crossing the Dornoch Firth, Cromarty Forth, Black Isle and the Moray Forth, I’ll get to Inverness and the start of the first proper long-distance path of the walk – the Great Glen Way. As the name suggests, that follows the Great Glen (Loch Ness, Loch Oich, Loch Lochy and the Caledonian Canal) to Fort William, where the West Highland Way begins. I’m actually going the backwards route down the WHW – the conventional way is to start at Milngavie (just outside Glasgow) and go northwards but needs must, and maybe some other time I’ll get a chance to walk it in the ‘proper’ direction.
At Milngavie, I’m going to turn away from my destination and walk towards the east (and a little to the North), following the Millennium Link canal paths through Falkirk and Linlithgow to get to Edinburgh. A friend of mine is performing on the Fringe this year, and if I get my timings right I should be able to arrive in Edinburgh on or around my birthday (August 18th) which will make it a good time to stop and rest my feet for a couple of days – it won’t be the first day off I’ve had of course, I’m not that mad, but I suspect it’ll be the most enjoyable.
From Edinburgh, I head south-easterly towards Kelso and Kirk Yetholm, the start of the Pennine Way, which will hopefully be my route through a lot of England all the way down to Edale in Derbyshire. A lot of end to end walks tend to jump across to the west at this point, to follow Offa’s Dyke along the Welsh border to the Severn, but as a Midlander by birth, I’ll be walking through the heart of the country, heading down past Buxton, Ashbourne, Uttoxeter and Lichfield, then through Birmingham to my home town of Redditch, for another couple of days break.
From Redditch, it’s south through the Vale of Evesham to Broadway, where I’ll pick up the Cotswold Way (which starts nearby at Chipping Campden) and follow that to its end at Bath Abbey. After that, it’s west across the Mendips and the Quantocks to Minehead in Devon, where the South West Coast Path begins and will roughly take me (allowing for cutting corners and including a stopover to visit a friend near Barnstaple) all the way to Land’s End, where I’ll probably sit down and refuse to move for a couple of weeks. If everything holds up, I should hopefully make it there around the end of September, about two months after I set out from John O’ Groats.
So, that’s the ‘where’ and the ‘when’ explained a bit more. Coming next, more of the ‘how’.