I took my first English walking tour in 2015 after nearly two decades of daydreaming of such a walk. At the time, I thought it was a once in a lifetime trip. As the summer of 2016 approached, however, I began fantasizing about going back. I thought my wife would not be keen on the idea but to my surprise, she was all for it.
I was back a mere week from my 2016 Dales Way walk when a friend approached me about a group walk in the summer of 2017. Within the course of a week, a group of 5 friends committed to a walk. My enthusiasm for English walking tours was apparently contagious.
As excited as I was for a group walk, I felt like I would be forfeiting my cherished alone time. Another outlandish idea began to form. How about a group AND and solo walk? It was in my 40th birthday that I found the dubious justification that I needed to take two walks in one summer. Initially apprehensive, my wife quickly supported my scheming.
So in the summer of 2017, I took two walks, totally just over 300 miles. I was hardly back from the Cleveland Way when I began to think about this summer’s adventure. It was about this time that I began to reflect and realized that I was happier than I had been in years, maybe decades. I found something about which I am truly passionate. Something I can look forward to every year. I could hardly have a conversation without annoyingly steering it back to my walks. At the same time, I found myself frequently fielding unsolicited questions from friends and acquaintances about my walks. My identity, personally and outwardly, became entangled with my new found passion.
I immersed myself in walking history and literature. My skeletal ideas about walking grew flesh and became more focused and nuanced. I feel like I’ve tapped into something that has been largely forgotten.
As my thoughts turned to summer 2018, I identified a few long-distance trails that were interesting. But another idea began to form: I wanted to ramble. Ramble in the truest sense of the word. No itineraries. No reservations (RIP Chef). Go where the wind blows.
It wasn’t long before my daydreaming took on an absurd scope. Could I walk from the most two most extreme points in Britain? As I tried to figure out where those extreme points were, I stumbled onto “LEJOG.” LEJOG is an acronym for Land’s End to John o’ Groats. While not technically the most extreme points, Land’s End, on the southwestern tip of England, and John o Groats, on the most northeastern tip of Scotland, are the two most extreme inhabited spots on the island.
LEJOG is not a path, it’s more of a challenge. The challenge is simply to get from one point to the other. It’s a very popular cycling challenge but it’s also frequently taken up by walkers. Because there is no set path, the walker is free to set their own course. The shortest route, which is all road, is 838 miles. The inspired walker employs footpaths, avoiding roads at all costs, resulting in a typical distance of 1,200 miles. While it’s possible to cover the 1,200 miles in two months, if you want to explore and not tax yourself, three months is recommended.
Three months. That is a hard sell. At first, it was a fantasy. The fantasy began to annex more and more mental real estate. I started to talk about it with my wife in sincere abstract. To my utter astonishment, my wife began to encourage me to do it. Not mere acquiescence but advocation.
Every time I think about writing this post I feel the need to defend myself. There’s a part of me that feels like I am doing something wrong. By disappearing for three months, I am asking a lot from my wife, kids, mom and all the people who help with keeping the household together – a chore which is amplified by the demanding needs of my disabled son.
It’s a very hard sell. But ultimately it’s a choice that’s up to my wife and I. Most spouses would not even consider taking on so much for their spouse’s midlife fantasies. I don’t know why my wife is such a supporter but she is. And I love her for it.
I’ve reached a place in my life where I am done accepting excuses to forgo the things that make me happy. As long as I have Anna’s support and my absence doesn’t put undue stress on my other obligations, I choose to say yes. In fact, I feel an obligation to say yes.
I have serious reservations about such an ambitious trip. Besides the domestic issues, I don’t know if I can pull it off, physically or emotionally. I’m terrified that I will become bored or injured. I love being alone, but I’ve never been alone for so long. Can I endure it? Will it be fun? Whatever the risks, I choose to say yes. If I fail, at least I tried.
I plan to have friends meet me for discrete portions of the walk, hopefully with enough frequency that I won’t go for more than a month without seeing a familiar face. My wife will join me towards the end to walk a trail that ends in the Scottish town where she was born.
Late June to late September, summer solstice to the autumn equinox. Roughly 1,200 miles, perhaps significantly more. As little road as possible and avoiding cities. I’ve cobbled together a network of footpaths that will take me from the most south-westerly tip of England to the most north-easterly tip of Scotland. More accurately, I’ve cobbled together a number of potential paths I could take, picking and choosing as I go. A true ramble.
In a bid to keep costs low and my itinerary open, I’ll be backpacking and camping. Britain is full of campsites and it’s legal to camp anywhere in Scotland. My biggest challenge will be finding reliable sources of food. While most villages have a pub, they tend to be hit or miss whether they serve food, often choosing not to if it’s busy or they just don’t like your looks. In the rural areas, reliable grocery/convenience stores can be hard to find or open for only a few hours a day.
I’ve outlined a route from which I will detour and rejoin as the mood strikes. This route takes me inland through Cornwall and Devon, mostly along either the Mary Michael Pilgrim Trail and the Lands End Trail. A quick cut over to Cheddar and up to Bath to connect to the Cross Cotswolds Path, Heart of England Way (with a detour through Burton Upon Trent), Limestone Way, Pennine Way, east to Glasgow through Melrose, West Highland Way, Great Glen Way and as much of the John o’ Groats Trail as is traversable in September.
I’m not taking a computer so regular blog posts may not be feasible. I plan on making weekly vlogs with my phone. Otherwise, I’ll try to post to Instagram and Facebook regularly. See the sidebar for links to my social media accounts.
I’ve put in about 500 backpacking miles since January, 300 of those miles in the last month and a half. It’s been difficult. The heat and daily obligations meant that I was up at 4 am many mornings, sometimes earlier. I am about as conditioned as I am likely to get. I hope it’s enough.
While I’m certainly not soliciting monetary support, in the past I’ve had people try to buy me beers on the trail as a gesture of emotional support. Therefore, I’ve added a button to the sidebar where you can buy me a pint or 12 and send a little note. One of my goals is to drink enough beer to equal the volume of a UK beer barrel, 288 imperial pints. If you feel compelled to encourage me in this worthy endeavor, I’m all mouth.
You are hereby cordially invited to virtually join me as I embark on my next once-in-a-lifetime adventure.