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JOG 8-day part-camping

JOG 8-day part-camping


Postby dmirzai » Tue Jun 08, 2021 5:27 pm

Route description: John o' Groats Trail

Date walked: 18/05/2021

Time taken: 8 days

Distance: 225 km

Ascent: 3700m

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I have just completed the John O'Groats trail, South to North, as part of my multi-stage attempt at LEJOG. First thing to note is that the 2021 trail is a much better track than that experienced in prior blogs (2017 & 2019). All credit to the volunteers, who have created a more pleasant walking route north of Inverness when compared to the A99! I also had a heavy backpack, which I'm used to, but I can certainly imagine an assisted walk being much more leisurely.

I set out from Inverness in late May, after a two week hike up from Edinburgh, and completed the JoG trail in 8 days, using a mix of wild camping and inns. The trail is short enough and varied enough to not be overly monotonous, with several challenging sections to test your mettle and a good mix between trail, road, beach and woodland walks. The cliff edge tracks, barbed wire hops and disappearing trails only added to the feeling of accomplishment.

Navigation - I used the OS map app with the GPS trace from the JoG website marked onto it. This is an active coast, meaning that erosion occasionally required workarounds and vegetation growth/heavy rain would also probably influence your path of travel. As mentioned before, beaches are frequently easier to walk on than some of the described routes, as well as providing a welcome respite to the undulations of the designated trail.

Obstacles - I had a very unpleasant experience scrambling off the beach shortly after Helmsdale (after the waterfall), and assume I chose the wrong trail, which only goes to highlight the brilliant job that has been carried out to date on smoothing out the trail. The valley of the Ousedale burn travelling North was very steep climbing down and not for the faint-hearted; I can’t imagine I would have attempted it without the footings that had been put in place!

Waymarking - The trail remains a work in progress; though I think the lack of a two metre wide track and regular waymarkings provided sufficient mental challenge to the independent walker to make the experience more enjoyable. Read the blogs, follow the online maps and be prepared to improvise; if you are a nervous walker, this may not be the trail for you just yet. Don't be afraid to use the A-road as a last resort; I used it for 4 hours during a storm.

Itinerary
Inverness to Evanton (32km / 8hrs / 480m ascent)
A walk out of Inverness and across the Kessock bridge (left-hand walkway) before heading through woodlands and then rural back roads to the Cromarty bridge (left-hand walkway). Then up a short hill to a B-road running parallel to the shore, but much quieter, I stayed at an inn in Evanton.

Evanton to Cuthill (34km / 8hrs / 420m)
While the 4m walk to Alness is along the A-road, there is a path running alongside the road for safety. Again up a short hill to a B-road that takes you to Scotsburn, before you head up to a woodland track that brings you over the hill and onto the Dornoch Firth bridge (right-hand walkway). I skipped Tain, crossed the bridge and wild camped above the high water mark on the beach.

Cuthill to Golspie (30km / 7.5hrs / 90m)
A nice walk into Dornoch, quite touristy and including the striking Dornoch Castle, to make it at last to the coastal section proper. I was lucky with the tides and able to skirt the shoreline around Dornoch Firth, before a short unpleasant section through some farms ahead of a lovely walk through the wildlife sanctuary. I B&B'd in Golspie.

Golspie to Helmsdale (30km / 7hrs / 110m)
Passing the Disneyesque Dunrobin Castle just out of Golspie, the path continues along the coast to Brora. From here, the walk to Helmsdale can be mostly completed on the beach and far removed from the main road with just the occasional train for company. I had dinner at La Mirage then wild camped on the shoreline under the southern bridge approach into the town.

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Helmsdale to Dunbeath (26km / 10hrs / 970m)
The JoG website does give warning that today will be unpleasant. After a short walk along the coast, there's a particularly tough climb off the beach just after a small waterfall - make sure you choose the right path. Then it's a long day walking along the coastline, in and out of the gullies and ravines. I wild camped in woodland just south of Dunbeath.

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Dunbeath to Clyth (23km / 7.5hrs / 800m)
After the very pretty Dunbeath Castle and its grounds, you are back to the somewhat relentless coastal trail along the cliffs, following the path in and out of gullies. I was clearly feeling the weight of my bag, but was grateful the vegetation wasn't more overgrown. I popped out of the trail just before the lighthouse as I was staying at a B&B just off the A-road.

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Clyth to Wick (18km / 4hrs / 40m)
Don't be afraid to change your plans. I woke up to torrential rain and high winds and figured I'd be unwise to walk the same rough paths and cliff edges as the prior two days. A pity perhaps, especially as the walk was supposedly easier than before, but I walked the verge into Wick and took refuge at an inn.

Wick to John O' Groats (34km / 8hrs / 770m)
I went west around the airport rather than the coastal route to guarantee my finish today. The coastal path was better and the views spectacular, providing real impetus at the end of a long walk with tiring legs. Don't cheat yourself out of the Duncansby Head viewpoint if you can help it; the view over to the Orkneys is pretty special on a good day and the descent into John O'Groats feels like a procession.

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Overall
A good trail, more challenging than the Great Glen Way or West Highland Way, but still quite manageable to an experienced walker. Key benefit goes to any LEJOG walker wanting to avoid the A99, as well as any walker who prefers the flora and fauna unique to a coastal walk.
dmirzai
Wanderer
 
Posts: 4
Joined: Apr 25, 2021

Re: JOG 8-day part-camping

Postby CathieLeys » Sun Feb 12, 2023 9:02 pm

Really helpful posts, thank you. I will start LEJOG on April 13 this year and hope to be on the John o'Groats trail by end of June (I'm planning several rest days and visits on my LEJOG or would get there sooner). Will keep you posted on how I get on!
CathieLeys
Scrambler
 
Posts: 1
Joined: Apr 30, 2017

Re: JOG 8-day part-camping

Postby Guernseygirl » Wed Jul 12, 2023 4:13 pm

Thanks for this, Cathie. Wish I'd seen it before I walked it (18 to 28 June). I agree about the stretch from Helmsdale to Wick. By the time I got there some of the vegetation was chest high. Add a couple of rainy days to that and it was seriously unpleasant, if not dangerous around some parts of the geos (there always seems to be a very narrow bit). We came off the trail 3 miles short of Lybster and used the back roads and a disused railway line until we were north of Whaligoe steps. Had the same issues and were back on the A9 about 1.5 miles out of Wick.

Having said that, some parts were truly glorious and it is a very young trail. More consistent waymarking, the new Cicerone guide and a bit of strimming should make it more accessible.
Guernseygirl
Walker
 
Posts: 1
Wainwrights:1   Islands:1
Joined: Jul 12, 2023

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