Wild Walking UK

Reflections on my 2019 Land’s End to John O’Groats and Three Peaks walk: final thoughts

Caution: you may end up looking like this by the end of the walk…

It’s May, and I’ve been home for 3 weeks. I thought I would look back on the walk now that I have had time to stop and think about the whole experience. You can read about the walk itself from the start here.

I have already written a blog about the gear I used and how it performed, which can be found here.

I have been surprisingly settled since I’ve been back and feel very proud of what I managed to achieve. I’m really enjoying being home with my family, though, and haven’t missed the walking at all. I have also been sleeping better than I can ever remember.

It has been interesting to look back on the walk and think about what I could have done differently and what changes I would make to my kit if I were crazy enough to do it again.

Lessons learned

I was extremely lucky with the weather – it was a lot warmer than expected for the time of year. 

Yes it’s February

If I had known this beforehand, I would have taken fewer clothes. I could have easily saved over a kilogram of weight in my pack. Another 250g could also have been saved if I had not taken the solar panel. However, I did use it a lot because I was camping rough every night and was never anywhere long enough to charge my phone fully.

Now having done the walk, I found that I spent a lot more time in cafes and pubs and could charge things more often than expected. So I should have just taken more USB plugs so I could top up everything at the same time, and this would have saved the weight of the solar panel.

I set off with from Land’s End with about 15kgs on my back but during the walk I reduced this to about 11kgs. I did this by posting home some clothes (due to the unseasonably warm weather) and by carrying less food. As I was passing shops, cafes and pubs nearly every day, I reduced the amount of food I carried to an absolute minimum and was really careful to work out exactly how much I needed to get to the next resupply point. This did catch me out a few times, though – because I was getting up so early I passed some before they were open.

11kgs was a comfortable weight to carry. I usually walk at about 2 miles an hour but this increased to nearer 3 by the end, due to the lighter pack and the increase in my fitness. By the time I reached John O’Groats I had an overall average of about 20 miles a day.

Regretting not carrying ice axe and crampons

If I was planning to climb the 3 peaks again, I would start the walk a month or two later because I needed an ice axe and crampons to climb them safely. I was VERY lucky not to have had an accident. Another good reason to start later in warmer weather is so I could carry fewer clothes and a lighter sleeping bag. This could save about 2kgs. Starting later in the season would also be better for longer days, as I was often getting up later and stopping earlier than I wanted to due to loss of daylight.

The down side to starting later would be walking through Scotland when the midgys are about (usually from about mid May to October). However, they aren’t too much of a problem if there’s wind, strong sunshine or rain.

Initially I wasn’t resting enough or eating enough calories. I would get to the afternoon with no energy and couldn’t focus properly. My food mainly came from small stores and I really struggled to find appropriate meals with a high enough calorie content. I just wasn’t eating enough or the right sorts of things. Due to the cold weather I wasn’t stopping and resting either, as I kept moving to stay warm. Once I figured this out, I started stopping for longer rests and eating good meals in cafes and pubs whenever possible. When I did this I found I could walk a lot further in the day and felt a lot better.

I never thought about the whole 1200 mile walk as it was just too overwhelming. Instead I focused on a day or two ahead at most. I found that I was better just walking until I was tired and then stopping. If I ever thought that I’ve got to walk 20 miles today, I stopped enjoying the walk and struggled to complete the distance.

I am OK with my own company but rarely felt lonely anyway because I was meeting so many interesting people along the way. As I was walking on my own people seemed happy to stop me for a chat or engage me in conversation when I stopped at a pub or cafe.

Allowing plenty of time for the walk made it a lot easier and reduced the stress. I had allowed 3 months to do it but finished in 2. I was able to do short days when the weather was bad or I felt tired, and I never felt I was behind schedule. I was also did a lot higher mileage when I felt like it, which wouldn’t have been possible if I was walking to a plan. I don’t think I would have completed it if I had planned it any more than I did.

I had to leave my family at home for this walk. My wife had to work and her 2 children are still at school. We found the kids loved the map of the UK that we had pined to the wall. They marking my position with blue tack and moving it up the country as I went. This really helped them keep in contact with me and give them a sense of the size of our country.

Speed of the walk and wild camping.

I hadn’t plan on walking it so fast.

This was helped by wild camping because I could stop as and when it suited me. Each day I just walked as far as I felt comfortable.

It was nice, without the stress of having anything booked and having to cover a set mileage each day to get to a booked accommodation.

As the weather was so good a lot of the time and as I got fitter, I realised that I was doing more miles each day. 

A wild camping spot was sometimes difficult to find. Sometimes I had to camp after dark and be gone before it was light because I was on private land and didn’t want to risk upsetting the land owner. However I was never asked to move on or had anyone complain about where I was camped.

Choosing where I stopped would have been a bit easier if I hadn’t restricted myself to wild camping every night. There were plenty of campsites or B&Bs I could have used. It would have been easier if I hadn’t started in February too, because many places were still shut for the winter. 

Final thoughts 

If I walked Land’s End to John O’Groats again I would not make any bookings or do too much planning , so I would be as free as possible to change the route as and when I chose to or the weather dictated.

I would definitely carry a tent again as it allowed me real freedom. However, I would use accommodation on a regular basis as and when I had the opportunity, at least once a week. This would mean I could wash and dry everything more often. It would also be good for recharging everything fully overnight.

I would probably walk it in the summer to save the weight of all my winter kit that I needed. As when walking for so long weight is everything. Even emptying the small amount of weight from my rubbish bag as I passed a bin was a positive.

I loved the walk and would recommend it to anyone able to make the time for it.

Next time, I would mix this with B&Bs

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