The Walker’s Guide to LeJog

A walk from Land’s End to John o’ Groats (“LeJog”) is one of Great Britain’s most ambitious thru-hikes. Unlike other thru-hikes, LeJog has no set trail; the walker must make their own way between Land’s End on the most south-western tip of the island in Cornwall, to the most north-eastern tip at John o’ Groats in Scotland.

Preparing for such a long walk can be daunting. It requires quite a bit of time and careful planning. Below, I outline how I planned my walk, what worked and the unforeseen obstacles I encountered along the way.

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Route

Background

In order to discuss how to walk for Land’s End to John o’ Groats, it is necessary to address the legal infrastructure of walking in the UK. The laws regarding walking in the UK are very different from other countries. Because the vast majority of British land is privately owned, walking any appreciable distance in the country requires the walker to walk through privately owned land.

The right to walk through private land did not become an issue until the industrial revolution when much of the population moved from agrarian villages to cramped and polluted industrial cities. Workers, who a generation previous, lived in and freely walked through the countryside, now found themselves drawn back to the countryside for a respite from the filthy reality of the industrial revolution.

The aristocracy initially tried to block city dwellers from walking through their estates. Where there once existed an ancient right of way through moor, wood or wheat field, now stood a stone wall, a thorny hedge and/or the threat of sanctioned violence or incarceration. Huge swaths of land were off limits to everyone except the landowner. Following decades of populous organization and civil disobedience, the English government relented and passed laws that codified the ancient tradition of Rights of Way. Consequently, in England and Wales, a walker may walk along any legally recognized footpath, even when that footpath cuts through a wealthy person’s land. Scotland took the notion a step further and codified the Freedom to Roam, which grants the walking traveler the right to walk through any land (subject to certain exceptions) in Scotland, as long as the walker obeys basic etiquette.

As a result, the British countryside is honeycombed with an enormous network of footpaths. A brief glance at Ordnance Survey Explorer map reveals a dizzying labyrinth of dotted green lines, each of which indicates a footpath. Over the last few decades, a number of long-distance footpaths have been developed, largely by stitching together already existing footpaths.

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Traditionally, the distance between Land’s End and John o’ Groats by road is 874 miles. While there are many walkers who opt to walk the road route, most walkers, who prefer freedom, natural beauty and soft terrain, favor the footpath. There is no set footpath route between the two points, however, most walking routes end up around 1,200 miles.

LeJog: A Challenge, Not a path

One of the main reasons I was drawn to LeJog was the ability to change my route on the fly. I wanted to ramble; something difficult to accomplish on other long-distance trails with static routes. And it was so. With so many footpaths available, the ability to head a different direction presented itself almost hourly. There were many mornings I woke up and did not know where I would be later that day, often changing my planned path on a whim. Early on, when I realized I was ahead of schedule, I took a 20-mile detour south to visit a small village of one of my literary heroes. It wasn’t until the morning I started walking south that I had decided on the detour.

My goal was to be intentionally unintentional. Go where the wind blew, as long as that wind was generally blowing north. And generally, I felt like I was being spontaneous. However, the truth is that I stuck to my mapped out route 2/3rds of the time. And much of the time that I was not on that route, I was on an alternative path that I had mapped out long before I started walking.

Initial Planning Questions

Before you get down to the specifics of your route you’ll need to answer a few preliminary questions:

  1. How much time do you have? A typical LeJog footpath heavy route can be accomplished by a fairly competent walker in two to three months, and often less if you are a glutton for punishment and stick to the shortest routes possible. Some people choose to meander the whole country and take as much as five or six months. It took me 12 weeks. The walking season in the UK starts in early Spring and runs into October.
  2. Do you plan to camp or stay in BnBs? The British countryside is strewn with campsites. It should be noted that wild camping in England is generally illegal (exceptions include Exmoor and Dartmoor) but is generally tolerated in wilder areas in the north. In Scotland, wild camping is legal (exceptions include managed areas such as Loch Lomond) as long as the camper is being respectful. On my journey, I stayed at campsites most of the time and wild camped when there was no other option. I prefer to camp at a campsite simply because I like to finish my mileage by the late afternoon, relax and spend the night in a pub without feeling like I need to worry about my gear or finding a wild camp spot. Some campsites can get very busy during the caravanning season. Often, even when a campsite is full, they will make room for solitary walkers. While I never made reservations, there were a handful of times a campsite warden wrung their hands in frustration before finding me a spot.
  3. The cost of a campsite generally reflects a) how busy the site is and/or b) the campsite’s facilities. The cost on my trip ranged from as little as £5 and up to a whopping and indefensible £20 (on a slanted pitch in Peebles at Rosetta Holiday Park). Here is a link to a .gpx file will all the campsites I could find along my route (and some notable pubs). It is not exhaustive and I can’t promise all the information is still accurate. More campsite information can be found at https://www.ukcampsite.co.uk/.
  4. Of course, some people wild camp the entire journey, which is much cheaper.
  5. Staying in accommodations the entire trip is doable. It requires a lot of money and significant planning. Staying at accommodations every night generally requires you to book in advance, especially in the summer, which has the effect of making your walk completely inflexible. Should you get hurt, desire to walk more or less than your previously planned or take a detour, you’ll have to juggle your reservations. Finding accommodations on the trail can be tricky. As a result, you may find that your route will take you into more populated areas much more often than if you camped. As you move north and start walking on more popular long-distance trails, you should find it easier to find accommodations on the trail, often with an option of baggage transfer.
  6. Are there any areas you particularly want to see or avoid? Do you want to walk through Wales? Do you love coastal walking or prefer to slosh through the moors?  Do you want to be alone or meander in and out of villages, towns and cities? Many ambitious walkers incorporate a National Three Peaks Challenge in their walk. Consider any special points of interest as you plan your route.
  7. Which direction do you want to walk? Most “end to end” walkers choose to walk south to north but some walk north to south, aka JogLe. Many of the long-distance footpaths employed by LeJog walkers are typically walked south to north.  If you walk north to south, you will greatly reduce your chances of camaraderie on the trail, as most walkers will be headed in the opposite direction.Keep in mind that the southern counties of the island can get very hot in June and July and the temperature will cool off the more north you go. The day I left nuclear hot Arizona a heat wave started in the UK, which lasted weeks and resulted in the hottest summer in England’s recorded history. If the heat really bothers you, and you want to start in June or July, consider starting in the cooler north. By the time you get south, the hottest part of the summer will have passed.

Planning Methods

Planning for a roughly 1,200-mile journey is daunting. It took me months to iron out all the details. It can be a bit complicated but also a lot of fun. While there are few trails in which virtually all walkers gravitate, there are many, many alternatives along the way

It should be no surprise that planning begins with a good map. I know no better map than the Ordnance Survey Explorer Series Maps (“OS Map”). At a 1:25k ratio, OS Maps have incredible detail, including, most (if not all) public footpaths (including national trails), permissive footpaths, and bike routes.

Random Map

Buying a digital OS Map is not cheap. I shelled out around $200 for the entire island – a very large file that I downloaded to my PC through a program called Memory Maps. Memory Maps on PC is a very powerful tool for planning walks and navigating while walking. Benefits include being able to draw routes over and adding points of interest to the OS Map. Once on your phone, you can access your OS Map with all your routes offline. When I walk, I turn on airplane mode, pop open my map and use my phone’s GPS to show me my location on the map within a few meters.

The program is not without a few glaring issues: 1) as far as I could tell, it’s not possible to draw routes from only your phone, which means you must have your whole route planned out before you set out, 2) the Apple computer version is next to useless (although iPhone app is ok) and 3) the app, as far as I could tell, has no way to measure the distance to your next point along your route – which makes planning on the fly a guessing game. Note: while the applications are free, besides the map (which you can download on up to five devices), there are a few other fees for cloud storage of your route information.

A much cheaper option is a monthly or annual subscription to the OS Maps through the OS company itself. This is a very popular option among walkers. Unfortunately, I don’t know if you can draw out routes over or add points of interest to the maps.

The second powerful planning tool I used was the GPS information found in the member’s section of the Long Distance Walker’s Association website. An annual membership to the LDWA will set you back £15-£18, which is well worth the cost. The LDWA has an archive of 1000s of long-distance footpaths, many of which are not signposted or indicated on the OS Maps. When planning your routes, these small connecting routes are extremely helpful in linking up with other routes.

Their path searching tool is extremely powerful. In the planning stage, I would search all known paths in a given area radius. Open the link to the path and download the GPS data directly into Memory Maps. After a few clicks, it was obvious whether there were any connecting routes. Where there were no obvious connecting routes or if I wanted to take a more direct route, I would simply draw out a new route over footpath markings on the OS Map.

With the OS Map overlaid with GPS path data found on LDWA, I was able to plan the bulk of my LeJog route, complete with alternate routes. It turned out, however, that I vastly overestimated the accessibility of random footpaths and some long distance trails in the LDWA database. Let’s talk specifics.

Here is a .gpx file with my walking GPS log for the entire walk. This is for reference only. Even though I made it through some of these sections, it was often not without unnecessary toil.

Cornwall – A Rambler’s Nightmare

From Land’s End the LeJog footpath walker has two options: 1) The South West Coast Path (the “SWCP”) or 2) a network of questionable inland footpaths. As far as I know, there are no well established long-distance trails north other than the SWCP. As such, many walkers opt to strike north and west on the SWCP. However, many walkers, and I mean almost everyone I talked to that started out on the SWCP, greatly underestimated how difficult backpacking on the SWCP can be. It’s a rugged undulating path that will immediately test the limits of your fitness. I know of a few experienced hikers who ended up with joint injuries in their first couple weeks. Secondly, the SWCP is very indirect; 10 miles of northernly progress may take you 20 miles of walking on the SWCP because it dips in and out of every tiny geographic feature of the coast.

LeJoG Route #1

I don’t particularly care for coastal walking. I get bored with the one-note scenery and I knew that the SWCP would be more of a physical challenge than I wanted to start out with. So I chose to walk inland. At the last minute and against my better judgment, I changed my route to include a 10-mile walk along the SWCP headed east and north to Penzance. Granted I was I was tired from my 22 hours of traveling the day before, but that bit of the SWCP reinforced my decision to go inland. It was a rough start, which hit bottom on a washed out part of the trail that took me over a slippery boulder field. I spent an hour and a half in that boulder field, falling twice and twisting an ankle. It wasn’t until I met up with another bewildered walker that a local eventually showed us the trail, requiring a scramble up a little cliff with absolutely no signage. By the time I finally got off the SWCP, I was exhausted, sore and nearly out of water.

My inland route was basically along a path I found in the LDWA database called the Land’s End Trail. After a few days, it became clear that much of the Land’s End Trail had not been walked in many years. In the course of three days, I had to bushwack through no fewer than half a dozen overgrown woods. One so dense I resolved to keep pushing forward because I was sure I could not get back the way I had come. I was covered in thorns, the last one of which finally popped out of my knee 14 weeks later.

The other issue with this route was the landowners. Gates were locked. Barbed wire installed. Guard dogs on the path. A giant earthen mound at the end of one overgrown tree tunnel. I even had a landowner 1) tell me there was never a footpath on his property, 2) when I referred him to my map he said my map was old 3) when I told him it was the most current map he told me the footpath was gone but the map maker would only take it off the map for an extortionate fee. Every day, I was presented with another set of physical obstacles.

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Overwhelmed and a bit defeated, I opted to walk a few days along the dangerously narrow Cornish country lanes until I could hook up with a traversable path.

In Bodmin Moor, I decided to cut across the moor to shorten my route. I did not follow a footpath and, predictably, found myself calf deep in the moor. It was at this point that I learned that you cannot trust google maps to help you navigate on foot. The app suggested I walk along the A30. That was not possible.

While I had a hard time walking in Cornwall, I found the Camel Trail bicycle path a very welcomed obstacle free day. The Camel Trail runs along a decommissioned railway. It was the first of many decommissioned railways, which are often (but not always) accessible on foot.

Alternative routes:

  • South West Coast Path:
    • Pros: signposted, designated on the OS Maps, great villages and obstacle free.
    • Cons: Longer, redundant scenery, difficult at times.
  • Mary Michael Pilgrim’s Way
    • Pros: Occasionally signposted. Fewer obstacles.
    • Cons: Very few signposts. Not designated on the OS Map, Not well traversed. Meandering, leading to a much longer path.

Devon and Somerset: Finding a Rhythm

Once I crossed into Devon, life became much easier. The footpaths were generally accessible except for the odd wheat or corn field where a footpath was not maintained.

I walked a good bit on the National Bicycle Route 27/Granite Way into Okehampton. Easy, quick walking. Along the Devonshire Heartland Way into Crediton then into Devon following random footpaths through the Culm Valley. I blazed my own trail through southern Devon so I could visit a famous pub in Spreyton (the Tom Cobley Tavern). A last minute 20-mile detour to Odcombe to see the hometown of a literary hero. Through the Levels to what turned out to be my favorite pub (Halfway House in Pitney) of the whole trip. More random footpaths, blowing through Glastonbury and into Wells, where walking became much easier.

LeJoG Route #2

In Wells I picked up the West Mendip Way, the first regularly signposted and maintained long distance footpath of the trip. Up and over the Cheddar Gorge, and along the Limestone Link into Bath. Both of those footpaths were fantastic.

Alternative routes I considered:

  • South West Coast Path:
    • Pros: signposted, designated on the OS Maps, great villages and obstacle free. However, many people complain about the landowners in Somerset as they come off the SWCP. I did not have the same issues on my route.
    • Cons: Longer, redundant, difficult at times.
  • Mary Michael Pilgrim’s Way
    • Pros: Fewer obstacles.
    • Cons: Very few signposts. Not designated on the OS Map, Not well traversed. Meandering, leading to a much longer path.

Midlands and Peak District: Easy Miles

LeJoG Route #3

In Bath, I met up with some friends from the States. We walked along a portion of the Macmillan Way known as the Cross Cotswolds Pathway. This easy section runs east and parallel to the annoyingly hilly Cotswolds Way (which I had walked a few years prior). We followed the path, occasionally bouncing over to the Monarchs Way up to Burton on the Water. The Macmillan Way is a much longer trail. Assuming the rest of the trail is like the portion we walked, I can recommend it heartily. It was varied, interesting and well signposted, albeit with tiny white stickers.

From Bourton on the Water, we followed the 100 mile Heart of England Way, a very pleasant but often boring trail. We made two detours from the Heart of England Way, one into the tourist honeypot of Stratford Upon Avon and finishing in Burton Upon Trent, where we were treated to a spontaneous lock-in by a very generous and fun-loving publican.

I said goodbye to my friends and bounded north in a two-day 65-mile dash up the canals, through Derby, and then along two great trails: the Derwent Valley Heritage Way and the Limestone Way, both of which I would love to revisit. I landed in Edale, exhausted with a mysterious and increasingly annoying shin injury.

Alternative routes I considered:

  • Cotswold Way:
    • Pros: Signposted. Designated on the OS Map. Great villages and obstacle free.
    • Cons: Annoyingly hilly.
  • Severn Way
    • Pros: Signposted. Designated on the OS Map.
    • Cons: Often extremely muddy.
  • Offa’s Dyke Path
    • Pros: Signposted. Designated on the Os Map.
    • Cons: Often isolated.
  • Monarch’s Way
    • Pros: Signposted. Designated on the Os Map
    • Cons: The portion I walked was a bit more overgrown than the Macmillian Way.

The Pennine Way: Remote Desolation

I intended to take a day off in Edale before setting on the hardest portion of my entire walk: the Pennine Way (the “PW”). When I woke up the next morning I convinced myself I was well enough to start the hard slog up Jacob’s Ladder.

By the time I was at the top, after cursing the youth and vigor of a group of recent university grads, I was in serious pain. There was simply nowhere to stop. I had enough provision for two days but I wanted to stop somewhere I could relax for a couple days, like a chill village with a cafe or pub. I’ve done enough walking in the UK to know that I can wing it. I know that at the end of the day on a long distance path, there’s almost always somewhere to stop and relax, restock and rest. Unbeknownst to me, the trailblazers of PW wanted a path that specifically avoided such comforts in favor of a wilderness experience or as much as a wilderness experience as possible in England. So it was with a little annoyance I found myself in an isolated campsite that afternoon, eating dinner out of my backpack. The one silver lining was that I managed to beat the university grads, who got lost and shuffled grim-faced into the camp a few hours later.

I had to come off the trail after a few days to restock. At that point, I cast quite a pathetic site. Bearded, exhausted and limping in intense pain. It was a bout of shin splints – something I have never had to deal with.

LeJoG Route #4

But I pushed on. On day 4 of the PW, I came slightly off the path to stop in Hebden Bridge. Once I arrive, and reading reports of a huge two to three-day storm on the way, I decided to rent a room for a couple nights. It turned out to be a wise decision. While the storm was not quite as intense as planned, it drove most of the mulish walkers off the trail for two days. Also, I had a great time in Hebden Bridge, a place I plan to revisit this summer.

After two days off I set off to rejoin the PW, this time with an Austrian backpacker I met at my BnB. I was still in a lot of pain but every day I was a little better. With Klaus’ company, the lack of stabbing pain and a much more approachable section of the PW, I was in much better spirits.

Klauss and I dutifully followed the PW except for a minor detour here and there until Alston. A quick note about Alston. The one campsite in town was very sketchy but very cheap. The facilities, accessed from a dark tunnel with no door, were in the basement of an old government building and looked like the set of a post-apocalyptic horror film, complete with “I killed my self here” graffiti on a bathroom stall door. From Alston, I picked up the mostly boring but very efficient South Tyne Trail, over the picturesque Lambley Viaduct and into Haltwhistle, where I booked a BnB and spent two days in one of the local pubs.

Klauss was exhausted and tired of the tedious PW so he quit, which is not uncommon among many PW walkers at that point. North of Hadrian’s Wall is the most demanding and remote section the trail.

I set off into the wilderness alone. I skirted a few miles of annoyingly hilly section of the PW that runs along Hadrian’s Wall. When I finally cut north, feeling I was entering the loneliest portion of my walk I met another lone backpacker from Nottingham, Adam. We walked the rest of the PW together. The last 75 miles of the PW was tough. A lot of staring at your feet while walking. Outside of Bellingham, no services until the end of the trail in Kirk Yethom. We slogged on, taking advantage of one of the rescue huts in the Cheviots.

The last day of the PW was the wettest day of my walk. In many ways, because it had been so dry and I managed to miss what little rain had fallen, I felt like I was somehow cheating. The PW is supposed to a boggy, muddy slog. Up until the last day, it was pretty dry with very little mud. That last day in the Cheviots was wet and slippery and I felt like I was finally on the PW.

Alternative Routes I Considered:

  • The Pennine Bridleway
    • Pros: Signposted. Quite a bit easier than the Pennine Way.
    • Cons: It appears to me it’s not quite finished and it meanders quite a bit. Potentially a good bit of road walking.

Getting to Glasgow: Decisions, Decisions

Now into Scotland, I had two choices. I seriously considered cutting east along St. Cuthbert’s Way to the Holy Island but I was not too excited about the prospect of walking along the eastern shore up to Edinburgh. I was also interested in exploring the border towns. I decided a couple slow and easy days through the border towns would be more enjoyable.

LeJoG Route #5

So I set off west along St. Cuthbert’s Way to Jedburgh. Then onto the delightfully easy Border Abbeys Way to Kelso and Melrose. If there is one campsite to call ahead for, it’s the campsite in Melrose. From Melrose I opted for some light road walking along the picturesque National Cycle Route 1 to Innerleithen and then along the Tweed to Peebles.

From Peebles I had another choice. I initially intended to cut west for Glasgow but I had some extra time so I opted to go north. I picked up the unwaymarked and apparently largely untraversed St. Wilfred’s Way, which was challenging in parts, all the into Edinburgh. After a couple days of Fringe Festival, I set out on the easy, very uneventful John Muir Way, which consisted of gentle level coastal paths and miles and miles along the Union Canal. I passed J.K Rowling mansion, wild camped in an old growth forest and spent a day exploring sleepy Falkirk. From Falkirk, it was an easy 25 miles into Glasgow where I stayed with a cousin until my wife arrived.

Glasgow to John o’ Groats: Go North, Quickly

Most modern LeJog walkers end up in Glasgow. The West Highland Way and the connecting Great Glen Way offer a beautiful, well-traversed, well-signposted, well-provisioned, unobstructed route to Inverness. In earlier years, many more walkers chose to brave the wilderness of the western highlands up to Cape Wrath from Fort William. I’d venture that the vast majority of modern LeJog walkers are not equipt to walk the Cape Wrath Trail. It requires a good amount of fitness, real navigation skills and a willingness to enter the wilderness for prolonged periods. At this point in your LeJog walk, you’ll finally be able to imagine finishing and the prospect of the path of less resistance is too strong (more on that below) to ignore.

LeJoG Route #6

My wife and I set off up the West Highland Way. I saw more walkers and backpackers in almost any given hour than I saw during all my previous days combined walking LeJog. It was a bit overwhelming to be sharing the trail with so many people. It was a great walk. Not too challenging and conclusively the most picturesque portion of my entire walk. But also the most touristy.

After spending a few days with my wife’s family in Fort William, I set off by myself up the Great Glen Way. At this point, I was getting anxious to finish so I set off on Tuesday late in the afternoon and cruised into Inverness, 80 or so miles away, on Thursday afternoon, barely stopping to take in the scenery.

This seems to be a very common feeling for LeJog walkers. The closer I became to John o’ Groats, the more I pushed myself.

From Inverness, there are two options to get to John o’ Groats: walking the busy A9 motorway for about 100 miles or walking the not quite finished coastal John o’ Groats Trail for 150 miles. I fully intended to walk the JoGT but I could not check my impulse to move as quickly as possible, so I set off up the motorway, occasionally following discrete sections of the JoGT. It should be noted that almost everyone I know who tried to walk the JoGT eventually ended up on the A9. The path is largely untraversable from July to October due to the growing season.

So it was about 100 miles on the asphalt. Shambling into John o’ Groats was one of the most bittersweet moments of my life. A very unceremonious asphalt laden end to an otherwise fantastic walk.

Alternative Routes I Considered:

  • The John o’ Groats TrailPros:
    • Much more scenic than the alternative A9.
    • Cons: Sparsely signposted. An additional 50 miles longer than the A9. Much of it is untraversable in the late summer/early autumn
  • Cape Wrath Trail
    • Pros: Very scenic. True wilderness.
    • Cons: Technically challenging. Very remote.

A Word About Mileage

When planning, you must be honest with yourself about the number of miles you can walk in a day. The best way to gauge your ability is to get out and hike. Be aware that just because you can bag 25 miles a day on a weekend hike, it doesn’t mean you will be able to hike 25 miles day after day. One of the most difficult physical obstacles to long distance walking is the cumulative effect that walking a lot of miles every day for weeks has on your body. I was able to train up to 17 miles a day, so I started out with a soft goal of 17 miles a day.

On paper, my route, as planned, was around 1175 miles but my actual walking route was 1,322 miles. Many of those additional miles were from detours but more of them just were the result of underestimated mileage. Those first days, it took me close to 24 miles of actual miles to finish up my 17 “map miles.” While the map is a very good indication of how many miles there are from point A to point B, it’s always been my experience that, whether on a meticulously mapped National Trail or just winging it on a random footpath, it takes more miles to actually walk the route than planned. On a well developed long-distance trail, I’d say it’s usually of a factor of about 10%, meaning, if the map says it’s 10 miles, I should count on walking 11 on my gps tracker. On random footpaths, that factor can be as high as 25%, often solely because there are more obstacles on less traversed footpath.

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When planning how many miles you think you can manage a day, be sure to account for all these extra miles. Also note, that my 1,322 represents miles backpacked and does not include the extra miles I put in every night to get to and from meals.

Rest Days

I took 16 rest days with 65 walking days. I could have easily lived with half as many rest days but because I had friends joining me on specific dates, I’d often force myself to slow down or spend a few days somewhere before they arrived.

Plan for rest days. Sometimes you just need to rest. You’ll very likely be injured to some degree or another and a couple of rest days could have a significant impact on how much you enjoy yourself and your ability to continue.

Fitness

I highly encourage anyone considering LeJog to train. The best training is hiking, specifically with your gear. Get out there, find some hills and get under your backpack. Learn your gear and make adjustments accordingly. If you don’t have your backpack and shoes worked out before you start, you are inviting trouble.

I put in 500 miles over the course of a few months, 300 in the last 6 weeks. That may have been a bit of overkill but on day 1, I was putting away many more miles than anyone walking LeJog that I talked to. Try to work up to what you intend for a daily average on the trail. Be sure to give yourself a week of rest before you hit the trail.

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If you can’t hit the trail that much, get a plyo box for step ups and put in as much time as you can at home. Again, in your gear, if you can. These step ups will allow you to train your negative strength, which you can’t get from machines like a stair climber.

Gear

Gear is highly personal. It’s all about finding what works for you. There is a ton of information out there for anyone wishing to really geek out. The maxim to heed is: the lighter, the better but not stupid light. My pack weighed about 8kg (roughly 18 pounds) without water and food. That’s pretty light for someone camping and was the result of spending a good deal of time stripping down to essentials and spending money on ultralight gear. I probably could have dropped another 2kg but I would have sacrificed a good deal of comfort. When you find yourself trying to drop a few more ounces by sacrificing crucial warmth or waterproofing, you’re stumbling into stupid light territory.

Getting your weight down requires a lot of thinking and arguing with yourself. First, make a spreadsheet and list every item you want to bring, including the weight to the fraction of an ounce. Unless you are very experienced, you’ll find your pack reaching into the 15kg range, if not more. Nothing will put an end to you LeJog adventure faster than a pack that is too heavy. It will wreak havoc on your joints and slow you down. You must -MUST- have a frank discussion with yourself about every single item in your pack. There are times when a few extra ounces are worth the extra comfort but most of the time if it’s not absolutely necessary, you should lose it.

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Here is a list of my equipment. It took me months to strip away many of the items I wanted to bring:

  • Zpacks Arc Zip Backpack, with chest and hip pockets. Ultralight, highly customizable backpack
  • Zpacks Duplex Tent with lightweight stakes. A very light two-man waterproof tent. Perfect for an extremely tall man and all my gear.
  • Walking poles. I am a firm believer in walking poles. I have bad ankles and they keep me balanced. I can walk faster with the poles. And lastly, they hold up my tent so I don’t need any other tent supports. Multipurpose items are almost always a good idea.
  • Zpacks 40F (4.5c) sleeping bag. An ultralight down sleeping bag. Temperature ratings on sleeping bags are a bit misleading. Some people may find a 4c bag way to hot or not warm enough.
  • Thermarest Neo Air (large, I’m very tall) with pump sack (I fully endorse the pump sack). This was a splurge item which added at least 4 ounces to my pack. I could have probably got by with the regular size. But I was much more comfortable, and for me, the weight penalty was worth the weight.
  • Dry Bag Pillow. Stuff clothes in it and use it as a pillow.
  • One pair of hiking pants.
  • One pair of wool lightweight baselayer pants. Mostly for sleeping.
  • One pair of hiking shorts.
  • Two pair Exoffcio briefs. Great underwear for hiking.
  • One synthetic collared, long sleeve, sunproof hiking shirt.
  • One synthetic technical long-sleeved t-shirt. 90% of the time, my sleeping shirt.
  • One wool t-shirt. A town shirt.
  • Midlayer fleece.
  • Two pairs of wool hiking socks.
  • Lightweight semi waterproof gloves. In the summer you will rarely need gloves. But when you do, you’ll really need them.
  • Very light waterproof jacket.
  • Various rain gear: backpack cover, rain gaiters, rain kilt
  • Beanie.
  • Electrical bag: a 6000mah battery to keep devices charged. Headlamp. Various cords for charging. Type G adapter with usb ports. Stock ear pods.
  • Toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, travel size deodorant, anti-chafe balm (highly highly recommended), comb, floss, facial razor, small amount of laundry detergent, small pocket knife w/ scissors, small lightweight towel.
  • Medical: small stock medical kit (band-aids etc), Kinesio tape, knee straps (highly recommended), hiking foot salve, a handful of painkillers and sleeping pills
  • Bag of random items: whistle, sewing kit, various repair items, lighter, spoon and fork, eyemask (really helped on those early light mornings).
  • Poo bag: lightweight trowel, toilet paper, small container of Purell. You’re going to need it.
  • Notebook and pen.
  • Hiking umbrella. This was intended to keep the rain off, which it did, but also was very useful on hot sunny days. I attached it to my backpack for handsfree use.
  • Small Sawyer Squeeze water filter and bag.
  • Two 1.5 liter disposable plastic water bottles.
  • Wide mouth neoprene canteen. I can’t recommend this one enough. Use it so you don’t have to exit your tent to relieve yourself at night.

Shoes. Your footwear will mostly depend on your personal preference. I used to hike in “waterproof” hiking boots but decided on light mesh trail runners this time. My chief concern with trail runners was lack of ankle support, which I remedied by always using poles, and wet feet. My feet were often wet, but they dried fairly quickly. My experience with boots was that they could stay dry most of the time but could not hold up to wet grass and brush. In the UK, that’s a problem. On the Coast to Coast, my boots became soaked through and heavy and did not dry completely for many days. The trail runners worked well for me. I have no intention of returning to boots for summer hiking any time soon. Do your research and pick what works for you. Make sure you settle on something you can easily replace on the trail.

The most useful bit of gear I carried was a smartphone with a full OS Map of the island, internet connectivity and GPS. For American folks reading this, getting cell service in the UK is easy and cheap. Make sure your phone is unlocked. Purchase a UK service sim card, which can be purchased online or on just about every block in London or any other city. I used Vodaphone, which worked 95% of the time. £30 buys you a month of service with domestic minutes (use your data to call outside the country using various messaging apps) and generous data allowance.

Get your gear dialed in. Train with it as much as possible. I spent a lot of time working out how to make items accessible without taking my pack off. I strapped my poles to the front of my pack for quick access and stowage, filled hip pockets with my most used items and made full use of my chest pouch. I could don nearly all my rain gear quickly without taking the pack off. Water, umbrella, everything within reach.

Food and Water

Yes, you can cook all your own food. But be aware that many campsites do not allow open flames and ban barbeques. I never cooked my own food. I really enjoy unwinding in a dark corner of a pub at night with a few beers and a hearty meal. The downside to not carrying cooking gear is that morning coffee can be often hard to find.

One aspect that sets walking in the UK apart from hiking in most of the rest of the world is that you are never far from a village, and more times than not, your footpath is intended to take you to the next village, town or city. Most communities will have some provision for food. I managed 177 pubs in my 80+ days on the trail. There was only a couple of days where I couldn’t get into a pub.

For the nonEnglish, it’s important to know that pubs in England can have weird food hours. Some pubs open for a short period for lunch, close and reopen for dinner. Some have no lunch. Many pubs, don’t serve food on certain days or don’t serve much food at all. In rural pubs, you may find that a pub has a limited Sunday menu. Then there is the issue of “booking” a seat. I’ve been turned away because a pub is fully booked, which merely means that every table has been booked for the night and you can’t get service even if the booking is hours away. I can’t speak to Wales but in Scotland, pubs generally keep consistent food hours.

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Finding the pubs and working out their unique hours can be maddening. Fortunately, I have a tip and it may be the most useful tip in this whole post: use The CAMRA Good Beer Guide App. CAMRA is an organization dedicated to preserving England’s traditional method of serving beer, known as real ale. If you are not familiar with real ale, see my post here. A few decades ago, real ale was on the brink of extinction. CAMRA brought back the tradition in a big way. As part of their efforts, they published a guide to advertising pubs which served real ale. CAMRA recently built a new app that allows users to access info and ratings regarding, not just pubs in the “Good Beer Guide” but any pub that serves real ale. These days, real ale is served in almost every pub and the result is an extremely robust location-based app which is rich in information important to a hungry rambler. The app boasts 40,000 entries. In the app, you will find easy to understand hours and food service times. Always call before if you are going to rely on a single pub for a meal. You must purchase a subscription for the app, which will set you back, £1-£5.

Most villages will also have a village store (often also the Post Office), Co-Op, Spar or gas station convenience store. These are great for cheap and light meals. Often they have a great deal for a premade sandwich, soda, and chips. This was a popular lunch option for me. Also a great source of fruit and granola bars, which was my morning staple. Grab enough for 3 or 4 days.

On the rare occasions in which I knew I would not have somewhere to stop for dinner, I kept a store of tuna, chips, maybe some bread.

Water is easy to come by in the UK. Every campsite has a clean water source. All water from a spigot on the island is potable. I carried three liters and never ran out and had to use my filter. I’d bring a filter anyway.

Resources

As noted above, I believe your best resource is the OS Map and the LDWA website’s database of paths.

One popular book resource is the Cicerone End to End Trail Guide . I did not find the guide particularly useful. It was published over a decade ago, in an age of no smartphones and fewer maintained long-distance footpaths.

The Lands End to John o’ Groats Association website has a good bit of information on in concerning routes and walkers’ accounts. For a few pounds, they will send you a guide (although I didn’t find it very helpful) and put you in contact to talk to someone about your route.

Need inspiration? Read John Hillaby’s fantastic account of his 1960s LeJog adventure.

A blogger named Mark Moxon also has a helpful guide to walking LeJog.

Loch Lomond

The American’s Guide To Planning A British Walking Tour, Part 3: The How

So you’ve decided a walking tour is for you and settled on the perfect trail. Now what? There are three ways to work out all the details: DIY, Easy Mode, and Hybrid. DIY means you personally plan and reserve every service and accommodation yourself. Easy Mode means you hire a self-guided tour company to work out all your details for one large fee. And the Hybrid method, as the name implies, is somewhere in between.

Do It Yourself

The DIY method requires a moderate level of planning acumen. There are many moving parts and you must be flexible and able to understand how each part affects the whole. You will be required to juggle emails, place numerous international phone calls, and make decisions about services or accommodations without a ton of information.

There are two advantages to planning the trip details yourself:

First, cost. Planning yourself can be significantly cheaper than hiring a tour company. Particularly if you are going by yourself, most tour companies will charge an extra fee on top of the quoted price because their price assumes at least double occupancy in each booked room.  On the other end of the spectrum, if you are planning to go with a larger group of 4 or more, planning yourself can also be considerably cheaper by finding rooms that can accommodate a larger group, thereby consolidating the number of rooms booked and saving money.

Secondly, by planning every detail you will force yourself to research the route to a much greater degree. Likely you’ll be consulting your guidebook and websites to research each town in which you plan to stay overnight. Through this exercise, you will familiarize yourself with each village, its history and what services are available therein.

Initial Planning

Before you begin to make reservations, buy a reputable guidebook for your trail. I recommend the Trailblazer Guide series. Your guidebook will contain most of the information you need to plan your trip and will also serve as your go-to map on the trail. Additionally, many of the trails have websites that are run by societies dedicated to that specific trail. These websites often contain planning information, including route detours, route planning information, and accommodation information. One site that is particularly helpful is Sherpa Van. In addition to providing reliable baggage transfers (discussed below), Sherpa Van’s website contains a wealth of content written by walkers for most of the accommodations in villages along the most popular routes. Tripadvisor is also helpful but be sure to filter your reviews to show reviews by walkers.

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After you have received your guide, the first order of business is to determine how many days you will be walking. With a guidebook, this becomes somewhat organic. The routes often work the best with a walk planned around a certain number of days based on the terrain and distance between villages.

Now that you’ve settled on a walking duration you must determine how many travel days and rest days you want to have. You need to afford yourself enough time to get the trailhead and be ready to walk first thing on the morning of your first day. It is highly recommended that you stay near, preferably walking distance to, the trailhead the day before you start. Not only does this make getting to the trailhead a no-brainer, but it will also make your baggage transfer easier.

Rest days are helpful but not always necessary. I like a rest day after the last day of walking. You can also plan a rest day in the middle of the walk. Make sure you pick a place where you can be entertained for a night and entire day. Some villages are very small and may not have businesses open for lunch.

You should now have a total number of days needed to accomplish your walk. My Dales Way walk looked like this: Day 1: fly overnight direct to Heathrow. Day 2: connecting flight to Leeds. Land, taxi to Ilkley. Day 3: Hang out in Ilkley Day: 4-9 walk to Windemere on Bowness. Day 10: Rest in Windemere on Bowness. Day 11: Travel to Manchester. Day 12: Depart from Manchester. I need a roundtrip ticket for a 12-day window.

I afforded myself enough time on Day 2-3 to get to the starting village and relax before beginning. This bumper time became crucial when my plane was delayed and I missed my connecting flight, with no chance of picking up another flight to get to Ilkley on time. I ended up ditching the airport and finding a train that got me into town way off schedule but with plenty of time to sleep before starting. Plan for delays.

dales-way-map

Air Travel

Because air travel is likely to be the significant cost of your journey, much of your planning will revolve around when you can find the cheapest ticket. I do not have many tips regarding finding the cheapest ticket. There are many dedicated air travel websites that can help you with the tips and tricks. I will say, though, I’ve had good luck with booking multicity round-trip tickets, for example, flying into Heathrow but out through Manchester. Airlines call these “open jaw” tickets. Also, the further out you plan, the higher the chance of scoring that awesome ticket. I like to set up Google Flight alerts for a few different options.

What exactly is a cheap ticket these days? The unavoidable fees and taxes associated with international travel these days are egregious. I booked one ticket direct to Heathrow using points. The fare was free but the fees and taxes were still $650. It appears at the time of writing this that taxes and fees have been reduced to around $400. After the Brexit vote, there seemed to be a bit of a panic and I was able to find tickets with very low fares, some $150 or less. Total price: $800.

Flexibility will be the key to finding the best ticket price. Plan early and be willing to leave and return at unpopular times. BA flies direct to Heathrow from PHX once a day, but it’s a red eye. It’s a tradeoff I’d gladly put up with — missing a few hours of sleep to not be traveling for 15+ hours.

 

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Timing Is Everything

 

Once you’ve found an affordable ticket, don’t book it. Reserve it. You need to make sure you can secure accommodations before you commit to a ticket. Of course, if your trip is planned for a less popular trail or is still over six months out, you’re likely going to be able to secure accommodations for any trail and can pounce immediately on a good ticket. Just don’t wait long to try to book your accommodations.

Accommodations

By now you should have a rough idea the area you want to sleep in after each day’s walk. It’s time to start researching your accommodations. For purposes of this post, I will not be discussing camping options. While camping is definitely an option, I’m not experienced enough to comment on it. Just know that with camping, baggage transfer (discussed fully below), which makes your walk much more enjoyable, will likely not be an option.

On the trail, you will find a few different lodging options. Commonly, in the villages, you will find family-run inns (a restaurant or pub with attached apartments) or bed and breakfasts. In between the villages, there are country houses with rooms for rent. Occasionally, in a larger town, there may be a small hotel. Most accommodations offer a full English breakfast built into the cost.

It’s important to realize that most of these accommodations are owned and operated by locals and are modest. Rooms are not always the most comfortable or hotel pristine. If you don’t feel like the guide or websites are giving you enough information about an accommodation try Trip Advisor. Not all rooms are “en suite.” En suite means that there is a private bathroom in your room. If the description does not mention en suite, it’s likely that the bathroom is shared with other guests.

One of the elements of a good accommodation is the personality running the place. The innkeepers can make your night. Pay attention to this detail in the reviews.

Break out your guide and start contacting your preferred accommodations, starting with accommodations in the area towards the beginning of your trip. Work your way through the days to the last days of your trip. Most accommodations answer emails within a day. You may need to call some accommodations. Many, but not all, room reservations require a deposit. Don’t put a deposit down until you have determined there is accommodation availability for the duration of your walk. Be sure you have directions to each accommodation.

If you can’t find an accommodation right on the route, consider looking for accommodations a few miles off the route. Many accommodations will pick you up from and drop you off at the trail. Some will even drive you into town for dinner.

I like to have email confirmations of all my reservations. Once you have reserved all your lodging for the walking portion of your trip, you can confidently purchase your air travel.

Lunch

Breakfast is usually included with your lodging. Dinner is usually available around your accommodations. Occasionally, lunch might be tricky to find. This can happen for a couple of reasons. First, there might not be a single restaurant or store on the route until you finish for the day. Secondly, while there might be a pub or two, they don’t serve food all day. Many pubs are not open for lunch and those that are, often stop serving food at 2pm. To address this issue, many accommodations provide simple packed no frills lunches for an extra fee. If you think you need a packed lunch, it’s important that you make arrangements before you check in.

You may also be able to buy a premade sandwich and other vittles in the occasional village convenience store. On the Dales Way, I was enjoying one such lunch. As I was chewing on my bacon sandwich I was thinking about how much of a badass I was for not stopping for lunch. Unfortunately, I was walking so quickly that I was breathing pretty hard. The result was a big lump of chewed up bacon sandwich in my windpipe. Eyes bulging, I managed to finally cough it up. Lesson: you’re not a badass for walking and eating at the same time.

Baggage Transfer

Remember, a British walking tour is not like a wilderness hike in the U.S. This is intended to be a pleasant walk, not an endurance challenge. One of the great services provided along the British footpaths is baggage transfer. When you hire a baggage transfer company, they pick up your baggage in the morning from your lodging and drive it to your next accommodation. This allows you to travel lightly with a day pack and a few necessary supplies.

Hiring a transfer company is easy. I recommend Sherpa Van but there are plenty of other providers. The cost for Sherpa Van is roughly £8 per day, per bag. You must work out all your accommodations before hiring a baggage transfer company unless you use the Hybrid method discussed below.

Easy Mode

If you don’t have the time or inclination to get bogged down in the details of your walk, consider hiring a self-guided tour company to take care of your arrangments. A tour company will send you the necessary maps and guides, arrange all your accommodations, hire baggage transfer providers, and provide support along the way if needed.

I’ve used Mac’s Adventure. They were great but there are many other companies out there. You will still need to arrange your own airfare and transportation costs. Do not book airfare until your tour company has confirmed your trip.

Hybrid

While booking my Coast to Coast walk I stumbled onto a Sherpa Van service of which I was previously unaware. In addition to baggage transfer services, and for a small fee, Sherpa Van will contact any accommodation listed on their site to make your reservations for you. In the event that your preferred accommodation is not available, they will arrange an alternative for you. This method allows you the freedom to pick your accommodations (subject to availability) while not needing to contact them each directly and juggle dates, reservations, and confirmations. The fee is per person. For 14 nights worth of accommodation, I paid roughly $50 to make all the arrangements. Money well spent.

Transportation

Whether you do it yourself or hire a tour company, you must arrange your own transportation to the trailhead and onward after you’ve finished your walk. The UK has a fantastic public transportation network. Trains can get you close to almost any part of the country and, when they can’t, taxis or buses take you the last few miles from a train station. Sidenote: while some of the bigger cities have Uber, it is virtually non-existent in the rural areas.

If you land in Heathrow, there’s a great (albeit expensive) new train, the Heathrow Express, that runs directly to Paddington Station (note: book online in advance to save on Heathrow Express tickets). Otherwise, the underground is a lower cost, much slower, alternative. From Paddington, the country is your oyster. Buying train tickets well in advance can save you money and make your transportation experience slightly less stressful.

paddington_station_panorama

Consult your guidebook concerning transportation to your trailhead. A good guide will have information on closest airports and train stations. Google maps also is a great source of public transit routes, times, prices, and links to buy your tickets.

Gear

Luckily, with baggage transfer, you won’t be bogged down with unnecessary gear during your walk.

Essential Gear

First and foremost, the most important element to your gear is your shoes. Nothing will ruin your walk faster and more thoroughly than miserable feet. Robust hiking boots are not necessary but you will need more than tennis shoes. Many trails have very steep elements. You will need traction. More than traction, you need water resistant shoes. Britain is wet. Very wet. Some trails include miles and miles of bogs. Get shoes that can resist a lot of water and mud. Wet feet are not happy feet.

Likewise, wool socks are highly recommended. Preferably with an extra pair or two in your day pack. Wool will not only keep your feet warm but also dry relatively quickly should your shoes fail.

Simple first aid items are helpful. Motrin, blister pads, moleskin, anti-chaffing bar, and a spare ace bandage have all helped me in the past. Don’t forget the toilet paper.

You will need a daypack with a water bottle. A small 20L-30L backpack is fine. I really like having pockets for my water bottle on the side. A bladder will work as well but I prefer to just buy a liter or two of water rather than having to ask to fill a bladder. If your daypack is not waterproof, buy a cover for it.

It will probably rain. You need rain gear comfortable enough to walk in for an entire day if necessary. I like a waterproof, light, wide-brimmed Boonie hat, a rain shell jacket, and wicking material hiking pants. It’s important to be able to get your rain gear on quickly; the weather can change fast.

While most of the trails are very well way-markered, a good guide and/or map are essential. On a long, less well way-markered trail, consider a detailed map and compass.

Keep a folder with all your travel info handy. Include travel insurance information, accommodation directions, and email confirmations. Do not count on your phone.

Nice to Have Gear

Hiking clothes are nice to have. I have a single pair of hiking pants and a handful of hiking long sleeve shirts that I wear and wash while walking. Clothes made for hiking are breathable and dry quickly.

Walking poles make ascents and descents a little easier. I started with a cheap collapsible one and upgraded to more robust poles.

It doesn’t get terribly cold in the summer but having a few layers on hand can make your walk more comfortable. I have a fleece, pair of gloves, and beanie handy.

One item I highly recommend is a digital map. They are not cheap, but a Harvey digital map can save you miles of unintended wandering. Follow the instructions on the website to load it to your GPS enabled phone and let it track your position while you walk. With a 5 second glance, you can determine whether you’ve strayed from the preloaded highlighted path. I will not hike without one of these maps.

Odds and Ends

There are a number of small items you should consider taking care of before you head out.

Travel Insurance

The main purpose of travel insurance is to reimburse you for any accommodations or transportation reservations that get canceled. That’s all fine and good but one of the other perks of travel insurance is more relevant to our endeavor. Travel insurance provides emergency services, such as airlifting and other ambulatory services. There’s nothing terribly extreme about a walking tour, but some of these areas are very remote. If something should go wrong, you will be covered. World Nomads is what I use.

Cash/Credit Cards

Carrying cash in the countryside is generally advised. Most small businesses prefer cash. Generally, the threat of pickpockets and thieves is much lower than in the touristy spots. Most villages will have an ATM. A good guidebook will have information about cash withdraw services.

When you do need to use a credit card, try to use a card that does not impose foreign transaction fees. The U.K. is light years ahead of us on touchless (or as they say, “contactless”) technology. Apple Pay, Google Pay, so on offer quick and easy payment options.

Phone

Set up international roaming service for your phone or you might encounter a nasty bill. WIFI is available in most pubs and accommodations but you may find yourself with very spotty or nonexistent service occasionally. Also, data signals are very sporadic. I find with a data plan and an eye out for WIFI networks, I can find at least one place to make a call a day. If you have an unlocked phone, you can pick up a £30ish sim card loaded with a generous data plan at almost any wireless store.

Beer Tourism

I love real ale. Finding a pub that serves a proper pint is a big deal to me. Unfortunately, not all pubs are equal. There are some truly awful establishments out there. Also, there are many local looking pubs that are owned by huge restaurant groups that produce a dining and drinking experience on par with Applebees. If you want to find the best traditional pubs and the best traditional beer, you must do research beforehand.

The Campaign For Real Ale (“CAMRA”) produces a number of products that will put you on the right track. If you want to do a good bit of research for your trip, buy the most current version of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide. The beer guide is an amazing resource that has led me to a number of gems I would have never found otherwise. The problem with the guide is that it’s too big to carry around. Luckily, CAMRA recently released a fantastic new app that contains all the information in the guide plus a ton more. In order for the app to work, you must pay and small annual subscription and have access to cellular data.

Education

A little bit of education will enrich your experience. Learn about the villages that you intend to visit. An overview of history and architecture will not only put context to your environment but you may impress a local by demonstrating a genuine interest in their culture. As an American, you’ll be walking through culture older and richer than anything you encounter at home. If you can put meat on the bones of history, the British countryside will become more than a pretty or charming place.

This concludes the American’s Guide To Planning An British Walking Tour. Click here for Part 1: The What and Why and here for Part 2: The Where, When, and Who.

The American’s Guide To Planning A British Walking Tour, Part 2: The Where, When, And Who

The Where

You’ve decided you want to take a walking tour but you’re not sure how to pick one. This is where the fun begins! Now the daydreams take form, colored in by the information your about to sift through.

First, determine how many days you want to walk and how much mileage you are comfortable walking in a day. Multiply your desired walking days by the daily miles and you’ve arrived at a rough mileage goal for your walking tour. Now that you’ve narrowed down some variables, it’s time to start researching.

If this is your first foray into a walking tour in the U.K., start by looking into one of the U.K.’s national trails. National trails are well maintained by the government and are therefore well signposted, providing the walker with a trail that will require little navigational skill. Additionally, you should have no problem finding information, including detailed guidebooks, lodging and travel information for a national trail.

national-trails

The distance of the national trails ranges from 80 miles all the way up over 600 miles, with most in the 100-200 mile range. Narrow your choices down to trails that meet your mileage goal. Now research each of the trails and see if any are particularly interesting. Would you prefer pastoral countryside or rugged coastline? Scenic villages or historically relevant cities? Wales? Scotland? Find a trail that excites you.

If there is a trail that you’d love to walk but it’s too long, don’t be afraid to walk the most interesting stretch. Many people walk trails in segments. There are no rules here.

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Another great way to research trails is to look at websites selling self-guided walking tour services. These sites often have great descriptions of the trails with pictures and reviews. Also, these sites will advertise popular, safe and well-marked trails that are not necessarily national trails. I particularly like Macs Adventure. If you want to really geek out, visit The Long Distance Walkers Association website, which details over 1,400 routes in the U.K.

Keep in mind that not all mileage is created equal; some trails are more challenging than others. Make sure your research includes an understanding of the terrain you will be walking.

The When

The walking season in the U.K. is generally April through late Septemeber or early October, with August being the busiest time of year. If you decide to try for a hike in Spring or early fall, check historical weather data for the area. Temperatures averages can change significantly week to week during these months. Winter hiking is not unheard of, but many accommodations shutter during the winter.

Whenever you go, be prepared for rain. There’s simply no way can guarantee a dry walk but historical weather data is helpful hedging your bets.

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There are a couple considerations when deciding which day you should start walking. First, plan to stay near the trailhead the night before you start. Secondly, consider starting on a day other than Saturday. Saturday is a popular starting day. Not only do you run the risk of a lot of traffic on the trail but lodging along the trail will be more difficult to reserve.

Planning a walking tour requires quite a bit of planning and making reservations. Generally, it’s not something you can do a few weeks before you leave. On the popular trails, during the summer months, you’ll likely need two months at a minimum.

The Who

Do you need to be in shape to walk a long distance British footpath? Yes and no. Yes, you should be able to walk at least 10 miles a day. No, you don’t need to be an athlete or experienced hiker. Remember, British footpaths are generally not nearly as rugged the average mountain trail in the U.S. Most of the time you will be walking through cleared pasture, which means there are very few obstacles. Many people well into their 60s and 70s can be found on the footpaths. On the last mile of the Dales Way, I encountered some Americans (the only Americans I ran across the entire trip) just finishing up the same trail: a group of rotund Alaskan women near their sixties. How fit do you need to be? As fit as a rotund Alaskan woman near her sixties.

Common sense rules here. Comfortable hiking gear and walking distances you know you can handle will make the difference between a wonderful stroll and a mildly taxing hike. Know your limits and learn to take your time and enjoy the journey. If you’re just plain out of shape, don’t try to walk 15+ miles a day and choose a trail that is not hilly or boggy.

I love walking alone. I encourage anyone who thinks they might like walking alone to give it a try. For those who would rather be with other people, limit your group to roughly four people. Many of the accommodations on the trail have limited lodging. The more people in your group, the more difficult it will be to secure lodging for the whole group in the same area every night.

This has been Part 2 of The American’s Guide To Planning A British Walking Tour, for Part 1: The What And Why, click here, and Part 3: The How.

The American’s Guide To Planning A British Walking Tour, Part 1: The What And Why

During my walks, many of the British folk I meet are baffled why I would come all the way across the ocean to hike in their backyard. They have a point. The United States is unmatched in terms of pure natural aesthetic and diversity. From the Grand Canyon (virtually in my backyard) to the coast and virgin redwoods forests of California to the bucolic farm country of New England, there’s really no place like the U.S.

Of course, natural beauty is not the only reason to go for a hike. Before I discuss why someone may want to take a British walking tour, I want to briefly talk about what a British walking tour is exactly. (See my post from last year for a more detailed explanation.)

Generally, the type of walking tour with which this blog is concerned is a self-guided hike on a long distance end-to-end British footpath. While these trails generally dip in and through rural farmland and villages, they never really stray too far from civilization. A day’s walk will usually include breakfast, lunch, and dinner in three different and distinct villages. Every night, a walker will lodge in a B&B, inn or the occasional hotel. This is not the type of wilderness hiking we are accustomed to in the U.S.

So why go on a British walking tour? I’ll give you four reasons:

Tangible History

Most Europeans I’ve talked to don’t share the American’s fascination with historical sites. When you grow up in a place where there are remnants of Neolithic settlements, the Roman empire, and medieval societies, history loses its novelty. With the exception of the isolated and sporadic native American ruins, there are very few signs of human history in the U.S. A 100-year-old house is considered historically significant enough to exempt the owner from certain real estate taxes in some U.S. states. Meanwhile, living in a 300 old structure in some European cities not uncommon.

In England, I can walk through neolithic long barrows, iron age hill forts, Roman ruins and maintained medieval structures, all in a single day. Walking into a slouching 17th-century pub and having to crouch to avoid hitting my head on the ceiling, teaches me more about the nutrition of 17th century Europeans in a more tangible way than any museum exhibit could. It’s a study in living history that just doesn’t exist in the U.S. (Sidenote: in looking for a picture of a tall man in a pub, I found my English doppelganger.)

6ft-7ins-tall-man-banned-britain-smallest-pub-takes

Tall man, short pub.

In the Dales, I visited a 12th-century Norman church that was built on the remains of an Anglo-Saxon church, which itself was built on the remains of a Roman settlement. In the church stood three 9th-century Anglo-Saxon crosses covered in flowing designs and, in the corner, were two 4th-century Roman altars discovered in the oldest part of the foundations of the church. It’s such a thrill to see and physically touch the tangible continuity of culture. I could run my fingers along grooves in stone carved by an ancient Roman. Real. Tangible. History.

Infrastructure, Physical and Legal

English and Welsh law recognize a unique principle  known as “Rights of Way.” This right grants the walking public access to a network of public footpaths and bridleways that honeycomb the countryside. These footpaths are trails that often run through private property. In Scotland, a walker has the “Right to Roam” over almost any private land as long as they act responsibly. Over the years, long distance paths (each often referred to as a “Way”) through and to points of interest have developed. These trails, while often passing through protected wilderness areas, most of the time, pass through rural but largely uninhabited areas that are dotted with villages and towns.

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Contrasted with the American system of trails, where we generally hike there-and-back routes through rugged and remote virgin nature, the British walking experience includes interaction with people, culture, and history. The British walking tour means, more times than not, you’re in a small village, each with a unique history and feel, for lunch and another village for dinner. In the U.S., if you find a trail that passes so regularly through inhabited areas, you’re likely to find yourself eating at Burger King and staying in a Motel 6. Not quite the same experience.

British long-distance footpaths are well marked with regular waymarkers. The waymarkers are regular enough that you could almost get away with walking an entire 100-mile route without a map. That being said, there’s a thriving British walking trail guidebook market. These guides provide the walker with detailed maps as well information on local points of interests.

With established routes, the locals have fostered a cottage (literally) industry of services that cater to walkers. B&Bs, inns, and the occasional hotel, offering comfortable lodging and hot meals, are conveniently located along the trails. Baggage handling services are available on many trails (more on that later).

Lastly, unlike the U.S., most of the trailheads for a long distance footpath are accessible by public transportation. The country has an outstanding train system that will likely get you within walking distance of a trailhead. In rare cases where a train doesn’t run to a trailhead, a train can get you within a few miles and buses and taxis can take you those last few miles.

Active And Authentic Cultural Experiences

For the American, Britain offers all the benefits of experiencing a different culture without the stress of an insurmountable language barrier. True, American and the British are not that different. But they are different enough that we can confuse each other whilst speaking the same language, and that’s kind of amusing. Alright, mate?

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Walking the countryside is an excellent way to bypass the crowds, high cost, and gimmicks of the tourist honeypots and actively experience the history and culture of Britain firsthand. Exploring the ruins of an off-the-beaten-path hill fort or simply chatting with a local over a pint of real ale brewed down the street will result in a more authentic and more memorable experience than passively whipping around on a double-decker site-seeing bus in London.

Beauty

While we don’t need to leave the U.S. to experience bucolic beauty, rural England has it in spades. Thatched roofs, dry stone walls, and cobblestone bridges, the British countryside reflects the charming reality of the absurd rococo romanticism of Thomas Kinkade.

 

There’s something very special about sauntering through an old sheep field, into an ancient forest, and then into a picturesque British village.

Thousands of years ago, Britain was more or less a giant forest. Over the millennia virtually all the forests were felled. What was left was a land sculpted by men. Asymmetrical property lines resulting in patchwork landscape. We tend to think of nature as a place unmolested by humans, but in England, there are very few places that can claim such a description. Nature in England has been tamed and domesticated. But it’s an ancient domestication, resulting mostly from the hands of ancient people rather than the earth churning mega machines that spit out strip malls that we have in the U.S.

There’s nothing quite like it in the states.

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In summary, Britain offers a unique and accessible walking experience not available in the states. It’s a uniquely beautiful place filled with history and culture that an American can experience without feeling isolated by a language barrier.

This has been Part 1 of The American’s Guide To Planning An British Walking Tour, click here for Part 2: The Where, When, and Who and Part 3: The How.

The Virtues of Traveling Alone

When I turned 18, my father offered me a choice between two birthday/graduation gifts: a new computer or a solo plane ticket to Europe and month long Eurorail pass. I chose the computer.

It wasn’t until nearly a decade later, after finishing law school (a few hours after taking the California bar, to be exact), that my wife forced me to travel out of the country. We had a great time. It was the first time I experienced the joy of international travel. During this trip, my interest in the English walking tour was renewed while driving through the Lake District. Incidentally, we spent the night in a filthy inn not more than a mile off the Dales Way in Kendal.

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Falling in love with real ale in northern England 2005. Old Speckled Hen, if memory serves.

It took a few more trips to Europe and some soul crushing life events to finally spur me to go out and travel on my own – to finally do something that always scared me. And I am so grateful that I did.

I often wonder if my life would have taken a different course had I took that trip as an 18-year-old. It’s not like I didn’t want to. But I was terrified at the prospect of being on my own so far from home. I was not confident to trust myself to be spontaneous. But knowing myself now, I believe I would have gained the confidence to take more chances in life. Maybe I would not be so hesitant to try for the things that I want.

Why do we hesitate to pursue things we dream about? Granted, there are often real obstacles in the way our dreams. But, speaking for myself, more often than not, I made obstacles where there weren’t any. Truthfully, I wanted obstacles to keep me from being bold enough to do something daring. I made excuses because I was either too scared or too timid to pursue the thing I wanted. I know that I’m not alone in this.

When I talk about my trips, one of the first questions is always, “who did you go with?” People often seem surprised that I go by myself. I don’t often get asked why I go by myself, but I suspect people wonder.

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It’s not that I don’t like traveling with other people. Some of my most fulfilling adventures have been with my wife and close friends. However, there is something about a trip alone that satiates a special metaphysical longing. There are also more practical reasons I intentionally travel alone.

The first reason I travel by myself is because it scares me. What if I unwittingly upset a local or get lost or mess up a lodging reservation? What if I get lonely? What if I need help? Traveling alone forces me to confront my petty fears. Not only do I confront them, I come to realize how petty they are and thereby produce a new level of confidence. This confidence banishes that nagging fear that leads me to create obstacles that keep me from doing what I want.

Similarly, I want to be spontaneous. I’m not a spontaneous person. But I want to be. Any amount of spontaneity I currently have is attributable to my wife making me do stuff of which I was previously too afraid. Spontaneity scares me. It makes me uncomfortable. Those petty fears are at the root of it again. On the trail, by yourself, it is hard not to be spontaneous. When your plan includes venturing to point A from B with a whole lot of mystery in the middle, you end up on unexpected adventures or meeting new people. When I’m traveling with someone else, spontaneity suffers. There’s often less room for spontaneity because there are always more plans or we might be less willing to strike up a conversation with strangers because we are content with each other’s company.

Traveling alone also allows me to think without distraction. To this end, during my first walk, I made a decision to turn off my phone (not that it ever had service anyway) and not listen to music. I don’t want distractions. I certainly don’t want to feel like I need to keep a conversation going. I want my brain to take my thoughts where ever it wants. I feel more creative and introspective when I’m walking alone. And that’s not just a perception. There’s solid science to the notion that walking boosts creativity. The older I get, the more I seem to need time to clear my head and reflect. It is a necessary catharsis.

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Silence also provides an opportunity to take in my surroundings without interruption. Whether it’s in an old pub or out on a remote part of a footpath, I can take in more of the environment than if I was with someone else. Maybe I linger a little longer in an old church. Maybe I spend an extra few minutes taking in a sunset because I don’t need to hurry because my partner is tired or needs to pee. As I noted in a post last year:

Walking and talking are two very great pleasures, but it is a mistake to combine them. Our own noise blots out the sounds and silences of the outdoor world; and talking leads almost inevitably to… [a] farewell to nature as far as one of our senses is concerned.

― C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life

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Lastly, when I travel I alone, I do what I want. I could happily hit three different pubs in a day, but I know that is not most people’s idea of fun. Roman villa a mile off the trail? I’m going. But I don’t really get excited about shopping or botany. Alone, I don’t have to subject my interests on anyone and I don’t have to be subjected to someone else’s interests. It’s me time.

In summary, I travel alone because it transforms me closer to the person I want to be. A person who is willing to step out of his comfort zone to obtain those things he wants. A spontaneous person willing to take adventures as they present themselves. A person with clear thoughts.

I didn’t take that trip when I was 18 but I want to be a person who is bold enough to take the next one.