Walking from Lands End to John o'Groats

April 2015: Wikipedia says that the shortest distance by road between these two British extremities is 874 miles. Probably over a thousand on foot. The call of the wide open countryside has lured me back to try again.

Will I make it? Am I as fit as I was ten years ago? Find out here over the next few weeks and months.


Walking Lands End to John o'Groats - Crediton Sunday 03 May 2015

Start: Okehampton
Finish: Crediton
Miles walked today: 19
Total miles: 146

The Youth Hostel is very good. It even has wifi - with a good connection. There was only one other person in the dormitory (which slept eight).
In the morning I made myself a coffee, and compared notes with a pleasant man from the Midlands. A retired electrician, he was spending a few days walking on Dartmoor.
By 8.00 I was walking. A tough day, the lanes and paths were not only tacking either side of my chosen direction, but the brown contour lines on the map were also much too close together. At one point I went over, not taking enough care on slippery stones. No harm done, but a good reminder to myself be careful...
A day also of intermittent rain. Wet weather gear on... rain... rain stops... get very hot... gear off... rain starts... wet weather gear on... you get the idea.
I duck into the Mare and Foal at Yeoford for a pint. Cries of "Lands End to John o'Groats!" go up from the locals, all watching Chelsea v Crystal Palace. It seems like I'm not the only one...
After seeing Hazard get a very dubious penalty, and score, I wander into Crediton. Stopping at the first bench I come to, I Google for accomodation and phone:
who have a room. Silvia and Peter make me very welcome, and have time to make me a coffee. They have been running their b&b in their lovely house for twenty years, and have a wealth of experience and stories.

Walking Lands End to John o'Groats - Tiverton Monday 04 May 2015

Start: Crediton
Finish: Tiverton
Miles walked today: 15
Total miles: 161

A couple of things about yesterday:
A very kind woman offered me a lift into Crediton. She had a car full of kids, but took the trouble to stop. I didn't accept, of course.
And in a tiny lane I saw a yellowhammer stepping out his courtship dance to his intended. This tiny bird has a bright yellow head, while his mate is less colourful. The male spread his wings and hopped towards her. She played hard to get. He was persistent, until I walked past and spoiled their fun.
Silvia's kipper fillets got me off to a good start, and I set off for the relatively close Tiverton. I rescued a slow worm warming itself on the tarmac at Shobrooke. The next village, Thorverton, was picture perfect, then my route climbed up high above the Exe valley, with stunning views. A sharp descent saw me join the river Exe, and the rest of the day's walk was through woods and meadows - and sewage farms - following the course of the river into Tiverton.
Great excitement here - a launderette - then a 15 minute stroll to Chestnut House.
I got a message - and a donation - from Gordon, who lives near Northampton. I suspect he's a Chelsea fan, as he didn't see anything dodgy with Hazard's penalty yesterday. Thank you Gordon, it's so good to get unexpected support :)
Ken is still busy suggesting beers to try. I'm doing my best, old sausage.
Oh, and I took a picture of what I think is an orchid growing on a grassy bank today. Can you confirm, Chris or Tina? It's the pinkish coloured flower. The yellow flower is tiny, on a plant which looks like a nettle. Chris identified this once before, but I've forgotten... can you help again please, Chris?
Finally, it's good to know that the apostrophe is still roaming wild and free in Devon. As well as the pedant police :)

Walking Lands End to John o'Groats - Taunton Tuesday 05 May 2015

Start: Tiverton
Finish: Taunton
Miles walked today: 23
Total miles: 184

Juventus lead Real Madrid 1-0 in the champions league semi final. It's halfway though the first half and I have one eye on the TV and one on my phone as I type this. Oh - 1-1 - Ronaldo has scored yet again.
Lying on the bed at Acorn Lodge B&B I also have an eye (yes, I do have three eyes) on the door as I expect Rigsby or Miss Jones to walk in. Acorn Lodge is lovely, it's just that it has a certain... atmospheric quality.
My feet and legs hurt a bit today. What did I expect? I've just limped the short distance to Taunton town centre and had a bite to eat and a beer in the Black Horse. Taunton has a wealth of features, but the centre of town is a bit sterile. Lot of big names, little local character.
The Grand Western canal was the basis of my route today. The beginning of the day is all tow path, barges, and dog walkers. Later, paths where the canal used to be, and finally lanes into Taunton. It's very windy, at my back, mainly, and there are some heavy showers. Another day of dancing around, trying to get my over trousers on and off.
At one point I disturbed a deer, and the birds were very vocal. The countryside is impossibly green, the trees are now almost fully in leaf.

Denise has kindly confirmed that the pink plant in yesterday's photo was indeed an orchid. She sees lots of the same where she lives in Kent. Thanks Denise!
Update: Chris says it's a broad leaved marsh orchid, and the other flower is a yellow archangel.

Walking Lands End to John o'Groats - Street Wednesday 06 May 2015

Start: Taunton
Finish: Street
Miles walked today: 24
Total miles: 208

A day of wind, sunshine and showers. At least the wind was still at my back.

Rigsby and Miss Jones - Lionel and Marlene - give me a delicious breakfast

and I start by following the Bridgewater and Taunton Canal, then later the River Tone. Herds of bullocks frisk around me in the lush green meadows alongside the river. I act all nonchalant and don't get trampled to death.
Late in the morning I catch a glimpse of Glastonbury Tor (a conical hill topped by the roofless St Michael's Tower).
I had two objectives at Othery - get a beer and follow the lane into the heart of the Somerset Levels. The pub was shut, and the lane closed to all traffic including walkers. Apparently a bridge was down, and as the Levels are criss crossed by drains, there would be no chance of walking around. A choice: go back a bit and divert, or walk to Street youth hostel on a potentially busy road. For the sake of my feet, I chose the shorter route along the road. Not much fun, but I made it.
The youth hostel was quite a walk from the town, of course, but I needed food so made the journey. Exciting fact - it's the oldest youth hostel still in use.

Cowslips I think.

Walking Lands End to John o'Groats - Cheddar Thursday 07 May 2015

Start: Street
Finish: Cheddar
Miles walked today: 15
Total miles: 223

Last night in the hostel there were four other people staying - a couple from Macclesfield doing a cycling tour of Somerset, and two Australian sisters doing the "big trip".
The cycling duo were surprised at the strength of the wind, dodgy on two wheels. The Australian sisters had entered a draw for tickets to the commemoration of Anzac Day in Gallipoli, and been very fortunate to be picked. As well as seeing Turkey they had been to Paris and Ireland. They're currently doing a whistle stop tour of the UK which took my breath away. Just yesterday they had been in London (start of the day), Whitchurch (Jane Austin), Winchester (cathedral), and finished in Street. Phew.
Yesterday was a bit tricky, and I started today with sore feet and a slightly down feeling. Two things perked me up: a coffee (which I sipped as I walked to Glastonbury), and the sun, which makes a huge difference. By the time I reached the edge of Glastonbury I was feeling much more positive.
A woman had stopped her van and was taking photos of a tree.
"It's a Foxglove tree, very rare." she explained. I took a photo (below) which isn't too good.
Today's route was across the Levels. Paths through meadows and the occasional lane. All rather pleasant. I came to a farmyard where a sign forbade me to continue. I needed to follow on for a couple of hundred yards to cross a drain and join a footpath. I didn't fancy going back, so went around the gate and followed a farm track onwards. There was a big solar farm, newly installed, and security cameras everywhere. A man called out and asked what I was doing.
"It's private land," the security guard said.
"Oh. Sorry. I just want to get over the bridge to the path," I said.
In the end, he relented, and walked me to the bridge, and off the farm. During the brief walk he asked me what I was doing, and we ended up shaking hands and wishing each other luck. Nice guy, Nigel.
I noticed lots of yellow flowers along the drains and verges. Self seeded rapeseed? Anyone know?
A short while later I sat for a few minutes at the side of the path. Birds were singing, the sun was shining, it was perfect. Put me in mind of:

At Rodney Stoke - a pub. And... it was open! Some locals asked about my destination, and later, eavesdropping, I learned that they were planning to attend the election count late tonight.
The whole election thing has passed me by, fortunately. It's going to be fascinating, whatever the outcome. I don't want to get all political, but humour me for a moment:
Play the video, stand up, raise your right hand, clench that fist tight, and sing along:

The people's flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyred dead,
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts' blood dyed its every fold.

And so on. You get the idea :)
Cheddar has a youth hostel. I didn't realise until walking in and seeing the red triangle on the map.
Feet not so bad as I write this in the hostel. I might have some company tomorrow, too :)

Walking Lands End to John o'Groats - Tickenham Friday 08 May 2015

Start: Cheddar
Finish: Tickenham
Miles walked today: 15
Total miles: 238

You didn't sing loud enough, did you?

I'm sitting on the bed at the Star Inn feeling quite content.
I've eaten, and carried out Ke - Anon's instruction to have a pint of Proper Job. Jim is on the train as I type, speeding west. The Archers has just finished, and my feet are feeling not too bad tonight.
I slept reasonably well at the youth hostel, and after a coffee and croissant I was walking. Rain was forecast, although it never amounted to much. I climbed up for a mile or so north of Cheddar, then a flat and slightly bleak landscape, and then down again ending up at the village of Wrington. A friendly post woman directed me to the Little Red Beetle cafe, where there were lots of ladies enjoying a morning coffee.
Immediately after the village, on a quiet path, I heard thunder. No, it must be an airforce jet. Then, very low, a Ryan Air airbus floated overhead, en route, presumably, to Bristol Airport.
Wrington Warren lived up to its name. A glorious patch of woodland, with some towering cliffs, which eluded my efforts at navigation. I eventually emerged, west of my planned path.
There were lots of grassy seed heads (picture below) with haloes of tiny flowers. I've always liked these, not sure why. They seem to sum up, for me, everything about a spring meadow.
Onward over the North Somerset Levels, skirt round Nailsea, and eventually arrive at the Star Inn, where Jim had managed to book a room this morning.
Sarah was very kind and welcoming, and we had a long chat about her father, who had been looked after by the local hospice. If you read this Sarah, thanks for taking the time to talk.

Walking Lands End to John o'Groats - Severn Road Bridge (English side) Saturday 09 May 2015

Start: Tickenham
Finish: Severn Road Bridge (English side)
Miles walked today: 18
Total miles: 256

I'm lying on a double bed in a Travel Lodge in the motorway services on the English side of the Severn Road Bridge. Sherpa Jim Son is lying next to me. It puts me in mind of Morecambe and Wise.

Should I get my pipe out? Or a stick of celery? Will SJS show me the first draft of the latest play wot he wrote?
We are full of a delicious steak dinner we treated ourselves to in a nearby pub, after a longer day than expected.
Earlier, we had called many of the numerous B&Bs in the area, and all were full. The Travel Lodge had a double room, but was a little further than we had planned on walking.
Last night Jim got the train from London and met me at the Star Inn. It was so good to see him.
Our day started late (for me), we weren't walking until 10. SJS insisted on carrying my back pack. The day brightened, and the sun shone. It was a day of contrasts. Woodland paths, lanes, housing estates on the edge of Bristol,

and views of both bridges over the Severn - and Wales on the other side.
The last few miles were along the bank of the Severn Estuary in glorious evening sunshine. SJS is feeling the weight of my pack, but refuses to hand it back. Thanks Jim. Nice to walk with a light pack today :)
Pub first, then back to the room to compare short, fat, hairy legs.

Walking Lands End to John o'Groats - Llandogo Sunday 10 May 2015

Start: Severn Road Bridge (English side)
Finish: Llandogo
Miles walked today: 14
Total miles: 270

Behind the curtains to my right I can see bright daylight. I reach for my phone and check the time: 8.45 ! I look to my right and see a pair of short, fat, and, presumably, hairy legs under the covers. Little Ern! Or Jim, in the real world. Who actually has perfect legs. Like his Dad...
We're walking over the older Severn bridge now. Some of the down cables have strange metal objects clamped to them (photo below). I would really like to know what these are. Anyone know? Nigel? Ken? Tim? Mike? They aren't present on the shorter cables, and don't have anything connecting to them. A mystery - for now.
Chepstow! A late breakfast together, then Jim and I embrace, and he heads off to the station :(
My afternoon stroll takes in Offas Dyke:
Offa's Dyke is a great frontier earthwork built by Offa, King of Mercia from 757 to 796 A.D. It gives its name to a long distance footpath, one of Britain's National Trails, which runs from Sedbury, near Chepstow, to Prestatyn through the varied and little-frequented landscapes of the Welsh Marches.
and the Wye Valley Walk. How amazing would it be if over 1200 years after your turn on life's merry - go - round your name is still mentioned daily by many people.
The scenery is stunning. Most of the time I'm high above the river, in the wooded hillsides. Occasionally, the trees part and at the "Devil's Pulpit" there is a view of Tintern Abbey, far below. A shame SJS isn't here to see it.
The score overall today is Wales 2 - 2 England. Every time I cross the River Wye I change countries. The pub I'm staying at
in Llandogo is definitely in Wales.
Chris has emailed me about the grasses with haloes:
You prob don't want to know but - just in case- those 'grassy' flower heads are plantains. they are weeds with strappy leaves. Of course in our garden
they never get as far as having flowers.........! If you get an insect bite the leaves are supposed to reduce the itching if you chew them slightly then rub them on the bite.

I did want to know - thanks Chris!

PS An email from Ken:

These objects are called Stockbridge dampers. They dampen wind-induced vibrations of the cables, reducing cable fatigue. As wind passes across the cables, they shed vortices which cause them to vibrate at low amplitudes - in the millimetre range - but at high frequency, around 60 hertz.
The oddly shaped masses are called dogbones, for an obvious reason. They are tuned so that they flap when the cable starts to vibrate. The flapping of the dogbones dissipates the energy of the vibrating cable. They are also used on high-tension power lines and for large road-sign support spans.
The dampers are tuned so that they flap and dissipate energy when the cable starts to vibrate
It's all here under comments for Cable Clingers on Wed 24th October, 2007) : www.newscientist.com/blog/lastword/labels/Technology.html

Fascinating. Thanks Ken!

Walking Lands End to John o'Groats - Ross on Wye Monday 11 May 2015

Start: Llandogo
Finish: Ross on Wye
Miles walked today: 18
Total miles: 288

In my room in Ross on Wye this evening, I did something I hadn't done for a long while... I had a bath. The short term effect was wonderful.
Today I followed parts of Offa's Dyke and the Wysis Way (a 55 mile walking route which forms a link between Offa's Dyke and the Thames Path) and a miscellany of lanes, paths and disused railways from Llandogo to R o W.
How many different shades of green are there? I don't know, but I must have seen most of them this morning. The sun shone, the views were glorious, I climbed high above the Wye, and then plunged down to walk alongside it. Several times.

Walking Lands End to John o'Groats - Great Malvern Tuesday 12 May 2015

Start: Ross on Wye
Finish: Great Malvern
Miles walked today: 24
Total miles: 312

I think I could be lured over to the dark side... maybe our friends Dotty and Tim have the right idea? Could a bath each night mean less pain? I'm not going to find out tonight though. The charming B&B in Great Malvern has a shower.
I started walking well before eight with a belly full of porridge. As I followed the river out of town I fell into conversation with a lady dog walker. Among the topics we discussed was her recent trip to Iceland. She was the second person to urge me to visit that cold country. Maybe...
Not being totally sure of my destination tonight I headed roughly in the direction of Ledbury, and hoped to reach Malvern.
During the later part of the morning the local footpaths and I fell out. Clearly marked on my map, the paths were either non existent or rarely used and overgrown. I ended up crawling through hedges, tackling barbed wire, diverting around huge fields of crops, and, at one point, tramping through someone's front garden. By lunchtime, and Ledbury, I was bloodied but undefeated.
Ledbury is the most attractive town I've seen so far on this walk. All back and white buildings, narrow lanes, a beautiful church, and one of those buildings on stilts:
The Market House, erected in 1653 by the celebrated John Abel, styled the "Kings carpenter", is a dominating structure of brick and timber supported on 16 massive posts of either Spanish chestnut or English oak. Legend has it that the supporting pillars were once part of the Spanish Armada, but it is more likely that they were obtained from the Malvern "Chase"
The Market House was originally constructed as a grain store, but now serves the purpose of a Council chamber.

Sitting drinking a bottle of pop under the market house, I can smell something cooking. Behind me sausages are sizzling and smelling delicious. I try to buy a sausage bap, but the owner of the stall is absent and the neighbouring stall holder refuses to sell me food. She says it's not allowed, as she's not trained. We are having a heated but good natured discussion during which I try to persuade her to rebel, when the sausage lady returns. She serves me a delicious and tasty snack, and explains that she's a farmer and that she makes the bangers herself. The two women ask me where I'm headed, and promise to look at this lowly journal. I do hope you have seen this, both of you.
In a further act of kindness Mrs Sausage wraps some bangers in foil to sustain me during the afternoon.
Great Malvern sits to the East of the Malvern Hills. My afternoon takes in some woodland trails, then a slog to the top of the afore mentioned hills. At the top, a sign tells me I'm leaving Herefordshire and entering Worcestershire. Another county. There are stunning views to the East, and I sit near the priory Googling for a room.