Land’s End to John O’Groats: Across England, Wales and Scotland on Foot (1)

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It’s been 12 years since I did the Big Walk (in the year 2000), but while at my other home (in England) over the Christmas holidays this year, with little to do but practice my (electric) piano and eat far too much junk food, I’ve been trying to keep busy by looking back through my old photos and journals. While Christmas shopping I also found a gadget to digitize all my old color print negatives, and so have spent much of the last week converting all the photos into Jpegs. That handy little negative scanner also finally allowed me to get some of the gumf I collected in preparing for my cross-Britain walk into an on-line version, in case it’s of interest for anyone else considering doing all or part of this epic walk.

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Land’s End to John O’Groats (2)

On the Shropshire Way near Wen, (day 39)

On the Shropshire Way near Wen, (day 39)

Mow Kop Castle (the Old Man of Mow), a folly on the Cheshire/Staffordshire border

Mow Kop Castle (the Old Man of Mow), a folly on the Cheshire/Staffordshire border

   One of the things that especially amazed me during the ‘End to End’ walk was how very beautiful the whole of Britain is. Although a few days stand out as highlights (a couple of stretches of the Southwest Coast Path, the Cheviot Hills in the far north of England and a day or two along the West Highland Way) I don’t have a single favorite part of the route. It’s all constantly interesting, varied and often absolutely enchanting. So I’ve no idea why, after a clutch of lovely photos along the southwest penninsula (the original prints look a lot better than the scanned versions!), it now becomes much harder to find photos that give an idea just how lovely the countryside and the old towns and villages are. It’s just as wonderful, though, and every bit as worth exploring as the southwest coast.

Offa's Dike Path near Knighton (day 36)

Offa’s Dike Path near Knighton (day 36)

Little Moreton Hall (day 42)

Little Moreton Hall (day 42)

Wednesday 12th July: Day 35
Knighton, Powys (Wales): Distance walked to date: 443 miles

Before starting this walk I bought a pair of “1,000  Mile Socks” which are supposed to last a thousand  miles of walking, and more importantly are guaranteed  to prevent blisters.  The socks have already worn through at the heel after just 400 Miles,  but wearing these and other socks I have at least had very few  blisters!   Continue reading

Land’s End to John O’Groats (3)

The impressive Hull Pot, a pothole in the Pennines, day 53)

The impressive Hull Pot, a pothole in the Pennines, day 53)

The Pennines are waterfall country, and this the highest single-drop one in England (although others are a lot higher), Hardraw Force (day 54)

The Pennines are waterfall country, and this the highest single-drop one in England (although others are a lot higher), Hardraw Force (day 54)

It’s often very tempting on such a long walk to ‘cheat’ and take the bus over a boring bit, or during bad weather, but realising that even a small ‘help’ would have ruined the whole trip kept me on the straight and narrow all the way. The only exceptions were when I had to leave the route to find accommodation in a nearby town or village. Most of the time these were close enough for me to walk along the road or a connecting path and back again the following day, but in Scotland (such as in Glencoe) the distances were sometimes so far that I had to get a bus; mum and dad even had to come to the rescue a couple of times during the final days in northeast Scotland (when they acted as a back-up), as there wasn’t any public transport at all! Rejoining the route after taking transport to the nearest town became an obsession though, so much so that if I got off the bus in a different point from where I’d got on it the evening before, I found myself backtracking to the exact point where I’d left the walk, just to be sure I tramped every single meter of the route!   Continue reading

Land’s End to John O’Groats (4)

The finish line of the Land's End to John O'Groats walk at John O'Groats pub (day 97)

The finish line of the Land’s End to John O’Groats walk at John O’Groats pub (day 97)

Near the beginning of the West Highland Way (day 79)

Near the beginning of the West Highland Way (day 79)

Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle (day 88)

Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle (day 88)

A decade ago, prices in Britain (for accommodation at least) were fairly reasonable, and I rarely paid more than twenty pounds for a night in a bed and breakfast (you’ll have to pay at least twice the price to stay in most simple B&Bs now); hostels were cheaper of course, but by the turn of the new millennium the good old days when most of those staying there were walkers and interesting, friendly people with a story to tell  and time to talk had already long since gone, and much of time my companions were families on holiday, or school groups, neither of whom had any interest in talking to me. If I ever do a similar trip across Britain again, I’ll be camping, with a tent on my back, although of course there’s Couchsurfing as well now. Walking every day for three months  across a place with a  highly uncertain climate like Britain, the simple pleasures of the night’s accommodation are sometimes the main thing that keep you going. Accommodation lists are all over the Web now (on the Ramblers Association, local Tourist Info sites, and on the official Long Distance Path websites) and although many of the prices (£50-70 or more a night!) are nothing short of ridiculous, there are a few reasonable bargains still to be had.

Edinburgh Castle (day 72)

Edinburgh Castle (day 72)

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Loch Lomond at Rowardennan

On the Great Glen Way above Loch Ness (day 88)

On the Great Glen Way above Loch Ness (day 88)

Tuesday 22nd August 2000: day 76

Milngavie, near Glasgow: distance walked to date: 1,010.25 miles

I have always assumed that although England, Scotland and Wales are technically separate countries, the distinction in everyday life was purely a technicality, but almost as soon as I stepped off the end of the Pennine Way north of the border, I was made to think again. An innocent cyclist arriving from the south, pulled into Kirk Yetholm just 2 miles over the Scottish border and asked the youth hostel warden, if he was still in England. The friendly Scottish warden politely put him right, saying he was “definitely in Scotland”. Continue reading

Mount Hua (华山): The Most Dangerous Hike in the World?

The notorious Plank Walk below the South Peak of Mount Hua

On the Plank Walk

I first heard about Mount Hua (one of China’s five sacred Daoist mountains, not far from Xian in Shaanxi province) the best part of a decade ago, while planning a trip in central China. Back then the mountain was only really famous in China itself, and I had to look at Chinese language guidebooks to find out much about the place. Looking at the photos of smooth, soaring cliffs of granite, I was immediately determined to go. The photo that really struck my eye was of the Plank Path (長空棧道) on the sheer cliffs of the mountain’s South Peak; it looked so amazing I thought it couldn’t be real. Continue reading

Mount Wudang (武当山): Taiqiquan, Daoist Temples, and Magnificent Scenery

A foggy day near the summit

For some reason Mount Wudang (武當山), a couple of hundred kilometers northwest of Wuhan in China’s Hubei Province, doesn’t make it into the list of five sacred Daoist mountains, and yet it’s sometimes regarded as the most important Daoist Mountain in the kingdom. Figure that one out.

The ‘Hanging’ Monastery at South Cliff

Mt Wudang owes its historic significance to the fact that it was here that Taiqiquan  was ‘invented’ around a thousand years ago: the familiar story – a monk being inspired by a battle between a bird and a snake – happened right here, in this deliriously lovely spot that now attracts fit hikers and lazy tourists alike with its winning combination of ancient and very atmospheric temple architecture and magnificent natural beauty. Continue reading

Beautiful Dehang (得夯): the perfect antedote to travelling in China

Following the river to Xinzhai

Three peaks and just over a week into our Chinese hiking trip this summer, our energy levels were getting low, plus there was a definite need to slow down and relax for a day or two. According to the original plan, the next destination was Wuhan, in transit to Mount Wudang. Now Wuhan must be one of the least relaxed, least relaxing destinations in China, if not on the planet, so we suddenly had an urgent need to revise our plans or run the very real risk of driving each other crazy.

The Tienwen Platform

For all the adjectives that immediately spring to mind when discussing China, ‘relaxing’ isn’t one that comes up often, so leaving Zhangjiajie after an intense two-days’ hiking, it was pure luck that the enchanted Miao minority settlement of Dehang (得夯) was just a few hours away by bus. Continue reading

The real-life inspiration for Avatar: the incredible landscape of Zhangjiajie (張家界)

The First Bridge Under Heaven (the second highest natural arch in the world) with one of the thousands of vast rock pillars in the area, at Zhiangjiajie

Right, I’m going to keep this short: if you ever get the chance to fit Zhangjiajie (張家界) into a China trip, leap at the chance! However to get the most of it, you’d do well to be super-fit and have a couple of days to enjoy the experience to the full, because (although you’ll run the risk of getting pinnacled-out if you stay too long) Zhangjiajie is HUGE, and there’s a lot of magnificent walking to be hade here.

On Yaozizai mesa

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Mount Heng (衡山): The Softer Side of China

The temple on top of Mount Heng, at dawn

Of all the six mountains and scenic areas we visited on our summer hiking trip around China this year, Mount Heng (衡山; the southern peak of China’s five sacred Daoist mountains, and not to be confused with the other Mount Heng, near Datong in Shanxi Province) gave us perhaps the biggest surprise.

The summit of Mount Heng

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Mount Sanqing (三清山) – wow!

On the Southeast Circuit path

The Guanyin Rock towers above the cable car as it approaches the upper station

There’s no doubt about it; whatever you feel about the regime there, the rudeness of the people, and everything else, China is one of the world’s most extraordinary, amazing, friggin’ mind-blowing destinations!  Continue reading