Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Planning the Route

I've planned the route to follow the best, most scenic, coastal, waterside and hillside footpaths and, where practical, avoid road-walking in urban areas. I've also chosen to walk north to south, John o'Groats to Land's End, so that I'll have the benefit of walking towards warmer weather in the late summer and the psychological advantage of walking 'downhill'. The real disadvantages will be keeping the sun and prevailing southwesterly winds in my face.

Northern Scotland: John O'Groats to Fort William
The first stage strikes south following the cliffs of the rugged east coast Highlands to Inverness then southwest along the Caledonian Canal, Great Glen Way and Loch Ness past Ben Nevis to Fort William.
Far North Way: John o'Groats (YHA, C), 18 miles along A99 past Wrath Hill to Keiss and along the links and coast to Wick (C), 21 miles, initially along the cliffs past the Castle of Old Wick and Thrumster to Whaligoe, Lybster, Lathertonwheel and Dunbeath (C), 16 miles past deserted village of Badbea to Helmsdale (YHA), 11 miles to Lothbeg (C) and Brora (C), 23 miles along A9 then coast path past Dunrobin Castle to Golspie, along the coast and Balatar Wood to the A9 and minor roads around Lock Fleet to Embo (C), coast/beach path to Dornoch (C) and Dornoch Bridge (C), Glenmorangie Distillery, Tain, Balintore, Nigg Ferry, Cromarty, Rosemarkie (C), Fortrose, Avoch, Munlochy, Kessock Bridge, Inverness (YHA)
Great Glen Way (73 miles): Inverness (YHA), Drumnadrochit, Lewiston (YHA), Invermoriston (YHA, C), Fort Augustus (YHA), [Invergarry (YHA)], Neptune's Staircase (C), Fort William

Southern Scotland: Fort William to Gretna
From Fort William my route follows the popular West Highland Way along the edge of Rannoch Moor and Loch Lomond joining the Kelvin Walkway to the banks of the River Clyde. My route then strikes southwest to Lanark and by various paths and tracksto join the Southern Uplands Way at Wanlockhead as far as Beattock then south along the Annandale Way to Annan, Gretna and the Scottish border.
West Highland Way (96 miles): Fort William, Glen Nevis (YHA, C), Kinlochleven (C), Bridge of Orchy, Tyndrum (C), Crianlarich (YHA), Inverarnan (C), [Ardliu (C)], Rowardennan (YHA), Cashel Farm (C), Milarrochy (C), Balmaha, Drymen, Easter Drumquhassie (C), Dumgoyne, Milngavie
Kelvin Walkway (11 miles): Milngavie, Temple of Boclair, Maryhill, Kelvinside, Kelvingrove Park (YHA), River Clyde
Clyde Walkway (40 miles): River Clyde, Glasgow Green, Uddingston, Blantyre, Bothwell, Hamilton, Crossford, Kirkfield Bank (C), New Lanark (YHA), Falls of Clyde, Douglas Water, Douglas (C), Crawfordjohn, Leadhills, Wanlockhead
Southern Upland Way: Wanlockhead, Beattock (C)
Annandale Way (53 miles): Beattock, St Ann's, Lochmaben (C), Hightae, Dalton, Hoddom (C), Brydekirk (C), Annan (C) and on to Gretna (C)

Northern England: Gretna to Edale
From Gretna my route takes me south to pick up the Cumbria Way through the Lake District then forks east along the Dales Way to meet the Pennine Way heading south to it's traditional starting place at Edale.
Cumbria Coastal Way: Gretna (C), Metal Bridge, Rockcliffe, Cargo, Carlisle
Cumbria Way: Carlisle, Cummersdale, Dalston (C), Bridge End, Caldbeck, Skiddaw House (YHA), Keswick (YHA, C), Portinscale, Borrowdale (YHA, C), Rosthwaite, Stonewaite, Langdale (YHA, C), Chapel Stile (C), Elterwater (YHA), Skelwith Bridge, Ambleside (YHA), Troutbeck Bridge, Windermere (YHA), Bowness-on-Windermere,
Dales Way: Bowness-on-Windermere, Staveley, Burnside, Sedbergh (C), Dent (C), Cowgill (C), Stone House, Ribblehead, Ribbleway
Pennine Way: Horton in Ribblesdale (C), Malham Tarn, Malham Cove, Malham (YHA, C), Gargrave (C), East Marton, Thornton-in-Craven, Dale End, Cowling (C), Master Stones (C), Jack's Bridge, Lumbuts (C), The White House, Standedge (C), Crowden (YHA, C), Snake Pass, Kinder Scout, Upper Booth (C), Edale (YHA, C)

Central England: Edale to Bath
From Edale my route is south through the Peak District to Castleton then down through the Midlands to Stratford-upon-Avon and Chipping Campden before meandering south along the Cotswold Way to Bath.
Limestone Way: Castleton (YHA, C), Miller's Dale, [Blackwell (C)], Flagg, Monyash (C), Bradford, Youlgrave (YHA), [Birchover (C)], Winster, Upper Town, Grangemill, Parwich (C), Tissington (C), Thorpe, [Ilam (YHA)], Ellastone, Rocester
Staffordshire Way: Rocester, Uttoxeter (C), Abbots Bromey, Colton, Rugeley, Cannock Chase

Heart of England Way/Coventry Way: Cannock Chase, Wandon (C), Cannock Wood, Cresswell Green, Lichfield (C), Darnford, Drayton Bassett, Drayton Manor (C), Broomey Croft (C), Kingsbury, Whitacre Heath, Shustoke, Church End, [Meriden (C)], Berkswell, Balsall Street, Baddesley Clinton, Kingswood, Lowsonford, Henley-in-Arden
Monarch's Way/The Greenway: Henley-in-Arden, Wootton Wawen, Snitterfield, Stratford-upon-Avon (YHA, C), Long Marsden
Heart of England Way: Long Marsden, Quinton, Mickleton, Chipping Campden
Cotswold Way: Chipping Campden, Broadway (C), Slanton, Winchcombe, Cleeve Hill, Dowdeswell, Birdlip, Pope's Wood, Painswick, Edge, Westrip, King's Stanley, Dursley, North Nibley, Wotton-under-Edge, Hawkesbury Upton, Old Sodbury, Tormarton, Pennsylvania, Cold Ashton

The Westcountry: Bath to Land's End
To skirt Bath and Bristol the final section of my route forks southwest over the Mendip and Quantock Hills to Minehead then follows Cornwall and Devon's spectacular north coast to my ultimate destination, Land's End.
Limestone Link: Cold Ashton, Northend, Bathampton, Monkton Combe, Midford, Coombe Hay, Dunkerton, Radford, Hallatrow, Hinton Blewett, West Harptree
Monarch's Way: West Harptree, Priddy (C)
West Mendip Way: Priddy (C), Draycott
Samaritan's Way South West: Draycott, Rodney Stoke (C), Westbury-sub-Mendip, Glastonbury (C), Street (YHA), Walton (C), Moorlinch, Chedzoy, Bridgwater, Goathurst [Enmore], Timbercombe, Trescombe [Flaxpool (C)], Quantock Hills, Bicknoller
Macmillan Way West: Bicknoller, Williton, Hungerford, Withycombe, Dunster, Minehead (YHA)
SW Coast Path: Land's End: Minehead (YHA), Porlock (C), Porlock Weir, Countisbury, Lynmouth, Lynton, Lynbridge (C), Woody Bay, Hunter's Inn, Coombe Martin (C),Watermouth (C), Ilfracombe (C), Lee, Mortehoe (C), Woolacombe, Croyde Bay (C), Croyde (C), Braunton (C), Chivenor (C), Barnstaple, Instow, Appledore (C), Westward Ho! (YHA), Buck's Mills (C), Clovelly (C), Stoke (C), Morwenstow, Maer (C), Bude (C), Widemouth Bay, Wanson (C), Penhalt (C), Crackington Haven, Beeny (C), Boscastle (YHA), Tintagel (YHA, C), Trebarwith Strand, Porth Isaac, Polzeath (C), Padstow (C), Trevone, Harlyn, Trevose Head (C), Treynarnon (YHA, C), Porthcothan (C), Mawgan Porth (C), Trevarrian (C), Whipsiderry (C), Newquay, Crantock (C), West Pentire (C), Perranporth (YHA, C), St Agnes (C), Porthtowan (C), Portreath (YHA), Coombe (C), Gwithian (C), Black Cliff (C), Hayle (C), Lelant (C), Carbis Bay (C), St Ives (C), Trevalgan (C), Zennor, Pendeen (C), Botallack (C), St Just (YHA, C), Sennen Cove (C), Sennen, Land's End, Penzance (YHA)

YHA = Youth Hostel, C = Campsite

Well, that's the plan!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

I'll Walk the High Road: John o'Groats to Land's End

Now that I've decided to do it there are several yes/no choices that need to be addressed:
No, I will not to get fit in advance but will use the first few weeks in preparation by including light training days - backpack free strolls around interesting towns or short circular local walks or simply shorter hike days, after all, I'm in no great rush - I want to enjoy this. Yes, I'll camp out most nights. This allows more freedom as you don't have to book ahead and if you really do get stuck you can fly-pitch - tread lightly, leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but photographs. The downside, you do have to carry camping gear. No, I will not cook but aim to eat light, mostly a fruit and liquid breakfast, a take-away picnic lunch and splurge on a sit-down dinner - hopefully I'll have earned it. Plus, I'll squeeze in morning coffee and afternoon teas as and where I can, so there is no need to carry cooking gear.
No, I will not have back-up but will be self-sufficient and launder clothes as I go, mostly at campsites and hostels which usually have reasonable facilities.
No, I will not buy OS maps en-route or carry a guide book or pratnav. I'll take A3 size copies of Landranger map sections along my route, annotated with campsites, hostels and food pubs/restaurants beforehand. These lightweight copies can then be discarded or easily posted home leaving my library of OS maps pristine. I will also rely on some route strip-maps such as those edited and designed by Harvey Maps.
Yes, it will be a fair-weather hike with warm sunny days and balmy nights.

Kit list:

  • Rucksack
  • Tent and repair kit, combination padlock
  • Mattress and pillow case
  • Sleeping bag
  • Walking boots, trainers and sandals
  • Socks - three pairs double-skinned cotton, one wool
  • Trousers - walking, evening and shorts
  • Boxers - three silk
  • Vests - two cotton
  • Shirts - long sleeve, two short sleeve and tee-shirt
  • Fleece - jacket, pullover and hat
  • Mackintosh (just in case)
  • Compass and whistle
  • Map photocopies of route - annotated with campsites, hostels, pubs and restaurants
  • Map carrying case and waterproof document case
  • Camera and waterproof case, mini-tripod
  • SD cards, USB card reader
  • Torch, rechargeable AA batteries and charger
  • ATM card, cash, credit card, YHA card
  • Money belt, waterproof wallet
  • Travel alarm clock
  • Reading glasses and case, spares
  • Diary and pen
  • JOGLE verification form
  • Candle and lighter
  • First-aid kit - water purification tablets, plasters, blister plasters, antiseptic wipes, Vaseline, thermometer, scissors, sterile water, antihistamines, strong pain killers, super glue
  • Sewing kit
  • Knee support
  • Shower bag - soap, shampoo, razor and spare blades, travel towel
  • Dental - telescope toothbrush and paste, dental tape, mouthwash
  • Chord washing line
  • Plastic cup, hand-held immersion heater, tea bags and coffee granules
  • Plastic plate and knife
  • Water bottles
  • Plastic wine glass
  • Penknife with corkscrew (for taking stones out of horses hooves)
  • Sense of humour
Budget guesstimates:
Accommodation (campsites, hostels, B&Bs or pubs)
Food and drink
Internet and laundry £ 3/day
Total budget
So, say 100 days walking, trip total: £3,300 or £1,000/month

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Back in Bangkok

Friday 17 June: My flight to Heathrow is not until Wednesday night, so I have five-days of shopping and making running repairs in Bangkok. I'm so impressed by the injection-free, unhurried, careful, painless filling given to me by Dr Pagaree at Dental Time Khao San on Jakra Pong Road that when she suggests that I also have my two old stained front-fillings replaced with new ones, I agree. I've never looked forward to going to the dentists before.
Tuesday 21: I must have walked past Wat Bowonniwet many times but today I see it from a different angle and pop inside, it's a delight.
Wednesday 22: Another very good massage at Wat Pho, then a haircut, before I head to the airport for my flight home. I've now been travelling for two years and two days, I'll be glad to get back to Great Britain.
Some more photos of Bangkok.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Laos: Vientiane

Monday 13 June: I arrive at Nong Khai, Thailand's border town with Laos, refreshed from a good nights sleep and a relaxing breakfast on the sleeper from Bangkok. Border formalities are, well, informal and we transfer on to a Lao National Railway's international train running along their new track, all two-miles of it, across the mighty Mekong river to Thangalang, Lao's only station. It's the only railway line in Laos (the French didn't build one).
From Thangalang it's a jumbo (large tuk-tuk) ride into the capital, Vientiane (pronounced 'Van-Chang'). It's too late to get to the Russian embassy so I have a set lunch in Le Vendome, a small French restaurant near Mixay Guesthouse, a good B&B option. Lunch is 22,000 Kip which I pay and later work out to be £1.70. Great deal, great food - I could stay here a while.
Unlike the French version, Vientiane's Patuaai or Arch of Triumph has four arches. It's just as ugly as the original but has better views, is in a nicer setting and has less traffic.
Tuesday 14: By the time I find the Russian embassy, with a poor scale-distorted map, it's closed and it's a long walk back home along the river.
Wednesday 15: I peddle my way on a Chinese cycle back to the big ugly concrete Russian monolith where t
he man at the embassy says "Nyet". Under Russian law I can only be issued with a tourist visa in my country of residence. If I had a 3-month Lao visa he would gladly provide me with a Russian tourist visa. Helpfully, he suggests I post my passport back to London and do it that way.
If I DHL my passport to an agency in London it will cost me more than £300, nearly as much as the flight home from Bangkok. So, sadly I decide to take the sleeper back to Bangkok and fly home from there. After all, I do want to do some hiking in Britain while it's still sunny.
Following another good lunch at Le Vendome I cycle north to
Vientiane's most spectacular temple of gold, the one that looks like a missile site from the distance, That Luang.
Thursday 16: Just enough time to see Wat Si Saket and select a nice French Bordeaux to accompany dinner on the night train to Bangkok.
Photos of Vientiane.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Bangkok yet again

Thursday 9 June: Arriving at Hua Lamphong station at 6am I catch the river bus to Bella Bella House, take a room and head directly to the Russian embassy on the other side of the city. "Sorry Sir, we cannot issue you with a tourist visa as you don't have a proper Thai visa." I explain that British nationals don't need a Thai visa, just a little rubber stamp at the border which I have - it doesn't help. I'll have to try again in Laos but I know I can only get a Russian transit visa in China which means I wouldn't be able to break my Trans-Siberian rail journey in Russia. This rather defeats the point of doing it.
So, time to do some running repairs before catching the sleeper to Vientiane in Laos on Sunday night. At Mission Clinic in Kho San Road I renew my Japanese encephalitis cover with the first of two doses of the new live vaccine and get a very average traditional Thai massage.

Saturday 11: Buy a Laos guidebook, get my trainers repaired and visit my favourite temple, Wat Pho, for a very good, but expensive Thai massage at the medical massage school there. In the afternoon I take a look around the marble temple, Wat Ben, with it's collection of bronze Buddhas.
A few more photos of Bangkok.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Krabi and Ko Phi-Phi

Sunday 5 June: Two nights at the delightful Chen Chay Lay guesthouse in Krabi is all I need to recharge my batteries. I finish reading Mike Parker's book Map Addict. It's mostly about Ordnance Survey maps but he does mention several people I know in the mapping business - he can't be much of an addict as he spells Bridgwater wrong on page 282.
Tuesday 7: Ferry to Ko Phi-Phi Don, one of my favourite islands in the Andaman Sea, then on to Phuket for a comfortable night in Talang Guesthouse in the surprisingly appealing old part of the town. I wish I could stay longer but I need to get to Bangkok to get Chinese and Russian visas for the journey home so, bus to Surat Thani (5hrs), second-class sleeper to Bangkok (16hrs).

Photos of Krabi and Ko Phi-Phi.

Homeward bound, Bali to Krabi

Monday 30 May: Taxi to Denpasar, Bali's capital for the bus to Gilmanumamuk (4hrs), ferry to Ketapang on Java (1hr) and overnight train, executive class, to Surabaya's tidy, well organised, Gunbeng station (6hrs).
Monday 30: A day to kill in Surabaya, so I take a stroll inland, along the Kali Mas river to the main place of interest in town, the curious
House of Sampoerna, a Dutch colonial-style building, where dusky maidens hand-roll and package Indonesia's best-selling cigarette brand, at lightening speed, all day, every day.
The forty rows of twelve rollers' work in pairs, one rolls while the other trims the ends and stacks the finished cigarettes. A roving supervisor randomly pushes the odd cigarette through a template. I put my stop-watch on one of the packagers. She pushes a flat paper carton into a mould, arranges twenty cigarettes in it, adds a card insert, folds the pre-glued carton closed, seals the ends and stacks it with the others - twelve seconds dead. Her body twitches as she works, her hands a blur to my eyes. All day long, with clocks on every wall and piped music. Originally set up by Leim Seeng Tee, cigarette baron and inventor of the 'healthy' clove infused cigarette, in 1932, it's a bizarre combination of factory, tobacco museum, very good cafe (with non-smoking area) and art gallery.
They also runs free mock tram tours of the city, not much to see. Unusual day.
In the evening I take the executive-class overnight train from Gunbeng station to Jakarta's Gambir station (10hrs).
Wednesday 1 June: A day in Jakarta where dinner is a great chicken tandoori at Pappa Indian restaurant in Jalan Jaska area where I stay for one night for a wash and brush up.
Thursday 2: A green number 14 bus (40min) takes me to Jakarta's port at Tanjung Priok (pronounced . . . Pre-oak) where I join Pelni's KM Bukit Raya bound for Kijang (pronounced Key-jang) on Pilau Bantan. I have a second-class 4-berth cabin all to myself for the entire voyage (40hrs) on the 327 foot, 6,400 ton vessel.
Saturday 4: Arriving at Kijang two-hours early at 5:30am I jump on a bemo to Tanjung Pinang (1hr) to catch the 7am ferry (3hrs) to Johur Bahan in Malaysia. From here it's a train ride to Kuala Lumpur for the evening express sleeper to Hat Yai in Thailand, phew.

Monday 6: Minibus to Krabi (5hrs).
Photos Bali to Krabi.

Saturday, 11 June 2011


Friday 27 May: The sweet smell of clove infused cigarette smoke and I know immediately that I'm back in Indonesia. Three days rest in bustling Kuta, the primary Balinese resort, before the long haul home - laundry, hair cut and a massage.
I was diagnosed with a trapped nerve in my neck when in Adelaide " . . . if it's painful, take painkillers, see a physio . . .". Fortunately there was an Irish physio on the Kakadu trip, David, who treated me for free " . . . do these exercises, a massage might help . . .".
So, here I am in a back room in Kuta, "Sir, you like happy ending?". "No just a massage.", I can't afford a happy ending.
Saturday 28: Neck still hurts.
Photos of Bali.

Kakadu National Park

Wednesday 25 May: This is a two-day trip into Kakadu National Park, Crocodile Dundee country, with an overnight stay in the bush, camping under the stars, but first, once again, we make a stop at the Adelaide River. This time there is an enormous male 'Saltie' basking on a mud bank. Too lazy to jump for mere morsels he is aiming to herd one of the smaller females onto the bank to dehydrate her - easy meat. Magnificent brown Kites swoop down on the boat trying to steal scraps as we return to shore.
Once in the park our first stop is Nourlangie Rock, a sacred Aboriginal rock art site, with views over Arnhemland escarpment.
Dinner is a Kangaroo stir-fry and entertainment is didgeridoo music by the camp fire. We erect mosquito-net dome tents which I share with the only girl in the party, Sharon from Banbury, Oxfordshire who now lives and works in Melbourne.
Thursday 26: Many of the four-wheel-drive tracks are still flooded from the 'wet' so today we visit three upland swimming holes with waterfalls, culminating at the spectacular Barramundi Gorge (Maguk) with superb views towards Arhemland from the upper swimming pools. The lower pool, at the bottom of the falls, was made famous in the movie Crocodile Dundee - the tree trunk is the site where he camps out with the female journalist. It was filmed in the dry season, so no waterfall. On the way back to Darwin we stop at a bar where the trained Water Buffalo that Dundee magically tamed in the movie is stuffed and mounted, nice touch.
Friday 27: Time to head homeward. I'm out of visa time and there are no freighter ships scheduled to call at Darwin, so I take a short flight back to Bali in Indonesia.
Pictures of Adelaide River and Kakadu National Park.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Litchfield National Park

Monday 23 May: This is an organised day tour out of Darwin and the only way I can do it. First we take a boat trip on the Adelaide River to see the 'Salties' or Salt-water Crocodiles 'jumping' for lamb-chop baited lures. Actually, this is their natural behaviour when snapping-up fruit bats or unwary water-foul. Not really jumping, it's more tail-powered swimming. Great photos though as these large prehistoric reptiles appear quite suddenly above the murky ooze. Back on the river bank there's more pictures with a large Olive Python before proceeding to the park proper.
Next we stop to look at a whole field of Magnetic Termite mounds and one huge monolith created by Cathedral Termites before heading to the lowland Wangi Falls where Crocs may still lurk from the recent wet season, no swimming. In more mountainous country, is Florence Falls and Buley Rock Hole where a chili swim in each is welcome respite from the heat, good day.
Photos of the Adelaide River and Litchfield National Park.

Thursday, 9 June 2011


Saturday 21 May: Nearly everything in Darwin is new thanks to a little lady called cyclone Tracy who leveled the city on Christmas eve 1974, just 30 years after the Japanese unsuccessfully tried to do the same. The State Library of Northern Territory, housed in the new state parliament building, is ideal for my purposes with free internet and a set of Lonely Planet country guides. I spent all my free time there planning a route home.
Sunday 22: A long walk north takes me to the Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory which disappointingly, apart from the maritime section, isn't a patch on the Alice Springs equivalent. I walk back along the coast and am delighted to discover I'm on Ian Fairweather walkway. A Scotsman of some repute, I've seen his impressionist paintings in a number of galleries but found them difficult to get in to. He painted and lived in poverty in a homemade shack on a island near here. His friends built him a proper house nearby but he refused to move but instead he stored his artwork in the house. Also an adventurer who fought in both world wars he built a raft from beach debris and sailed to Indonesia where he was imprisoned for a month - no visa. My sort of guy.

Photos of Darwin.

Thursday, 2 June 2011


Friday 20 May: The Ghan stops for two-hours in Katherine but there's not much for me here save a rusty unused bridge from the once busy narrow railway, now superseded by The Ghan.
Images of Katherine.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Mt Conner, Ayers Rock and The Olgas

Wednesday 18 May: Once gain I'm obliged to take a day tour to a place I'd enjoy much more if I had more time and travelled there independently.
Named after Scottish explorer John McDouall Stuart it's a long straight six-hour drive from Alice along Stuart Highway, with only two right turns, to get to Ayres Rock (Uluru). There are actually three rock outcrops in the area and first we stop to view the flat-topped Mt Conner (Atila), with a large salt-pan lake on the other side of the road, before continuing to the the majestically imposing base of Ayres Rock and a pool, once an important source of water for Aboriginal folk.
We continue on to see the mystical 36 domes of The Olgas (Kata Tjuta) and spend some time exploring the large conglomerate rock formations and rock-pool reflections in Walpa Gorge.
Returning to Ayres Rock in the slightly cooler afternoon the fitter in the party scale the heights of the great monolith. It's a steep shadeless but thrilling climb with rewarding views back across to The Olgas. Exhausted, we retreat to a distant picnic spot viewpoint to watch the sunset and changing colours of The Rock while sipping red shiraz.
I could stay here for days trekking on the various trails but, sadly, it's time to leave.
Photos of Mt Conner, Ayres Rock and The Olgas.