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Aug 022017
 

One of the two traditional photos people take on this road trip.

Who doesn’t enjoy a road trip, especially when it offers a varied range of travel experiences, and has some special significance associated with it.

In Britain, the concept of traveling the length and breadth of the country, from Land’s End in the southwest corner, up to John O’Groats in the northeast corner, has taken on a very special status, and has become a ‘bucket list’ aspiration for many Britons to do this journey.  It is sometimes referred to as the ‘End to End’, and sometimes as an acronym – LEJOG (and lesserly, JOGLE, which specifically implies going from JOG to LE).

To do it ‘properly’ requires doing the journey as a single event, starting at one end or the other and then proceeding steadily to the other end, with no breaks in the middle.  It doesn’t count as the true achievement if you travel a portion of it each year over a two or three year process.

Other countries also have road trip traditions, of course.  In the US, perhaps the best known is to travel Route 66, but in truth, this is a relatively modern ‘tradition’ that only started to become prominent some time after the interstates had replaced the US Highway (in the 1960s), and probably some time after it officially ceased to exist in 1985, although the pivotal nature of the route was recognized back in 1946 with the song ‘(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66’.

History of the Route

In Britain, people have been traveling between the two points for a long time, although their significance only came into being after 1707 and the union of Scotland and England (we understand that prior to that time there were at least popular expressions referring to the diagonally opposite extremes of both England and Scotland to indicate something all-encompassing, but probably it was not an aspirational journey in those days).  The concept of driving the distance is relatively modern, and prior to the advent of the motor car, other methods of transport such as by horse were used.

The ultimate and original method, and still a very popular method to the present day, is to walk (but probably more people make the journey by car than on foot!).

The oldest officially recorded end-to-end walk was by two brothers in 1871, they subsequently published a book about their adventure (in 1916, now available free at the Gutenberg project).  As an example of the different lifestyle that prevailed back then, it took them nine days to make their way, in roundabout fashion, from where they lived, midway between Manchester and Liverpool, up to John O’Groats for the commencement of their walk back, on a journey that involved trains, boats, stagecoaches and walking.  The actual walk from John O’Groats down to Land’s End took nine weeks, and they say they covered 1372 miles.

They took their inspiration, both for the walk and book, from an earlier walker (actually, not even a Briton – Elihu Burritt, the US Consul in Birmingham) who did two journeys – from London to John O’Groats, and from London to Land’s End, and published two books, one for each journey, in 1864 and 1865.

It seems the two brothers started another tradition too – not only does one make the journey between the two points, but one then publishes an account of the experience, complete with plenty of epic prose and weighty philosophy about the lessons in life one has learned – here is a recent example.  Perhaps these days the equivalent way of recording and sharing the journey involves Facebook, or Twitter, or Flickr!

It is probable that the significance of the journey was acknowledged well before 1864, but we’ve not uncovered earlier records of the journey.

The route as the crow flies between Land’s End and John O’Groats (602.70 miles between signposts)

The Distance

The earlier account reports a 1372 mile walk, but that was not a direct way of traveling.  These days you can still walk the distance, and Google suggests the distance, by foot on practical, walkable, pathways, is 811 miles, which they estimate might take about 268 hours – something less than a month, probably, although note the route not only takes 811 miles, but also involves a total elevation gain of 30,148 ft and a matching elevation loss of 30,272 ft.

If traveling by car, the distance seems to have been shrinking.  The traditional distance, as shown on the marker posts at each end, is 874 miles.  It is not known if that was ever an official distance, because there are very many different ways of traveling the route.

In 1964 a road atlas showed the shortest distance using public roads as being 847 miles.  A 2008 road atlas suggested the distance had reduced to 838 miles.

Currently (Aug 2017) the distance is reported by Google to be 839 miles, and a typical journey time is about 14 hrs 40 minutes, assuming no stops.  Bing Maps says 837.5 miles from carpark to carpark, and suggests a journey time of 14 hrs 59 mins.

These distances are optimized for shortest travel time.  The shortest actual distance using minor roads and not bypassing city centers is reportedly 814 miles.

If traveling by boat, the distance is a little harder to exactly assess, because it depends how close on-shore you travel when going around points, but going around the east coast shows about 900 miles as the shortest distance, and 700 miles around the west coast.  Shorter still would be to travel to Inverness, then through the Caledonian Canal, and down the West Coast – about 630 miles.

If flying between the two points, Google Earth reports a distance of 602.70 miles between the two signposts.  There are indeed people who have succeeded at doing this journey – the straight line/as the crow flies route, and by ‘foot’ (using a paddle canoe for the over-water stretches) as well as by air.

Different Ways of Traveling

We’ve already mentioned walking, by horse, and by car.  But there are many more ways to do it.  Running instead of walking (the record being 9 days 2 hrs).  Bicycling.  Motorbike.  Hitch-hiking.  By public bus services.  By train.

And now that you’ve considered these positively (dare I say) pedestrian variations, let your imagination run wild.  Plenty of other people have not allowed themselves to be inconveniently constrained by practicality.  They have flown by fighter jet.  Microlight.  Wheelchair.  Skateboard.  By motorised supermarket trolley.  Unicycle.  Traction engine.  Boats of various different shapes and sizes.  By bathtub on wheels.  One person even played golf the entire way, knocking a golf ball ahead of him the entire distance, setting a new record for length of hole on a ‘golf course’.

Can you think of a new way to make the journey?  Pogo stick, perhaps?  Roller skates?  Donkey?  Camel?

Or, if we may suggest, by Travel Insider Tour!  Our 2018 Grand Expedition of Great Britain includes the journey between Land’s End and John O’Groats – and in a comfortable luxury coach, rather than on a camel!

A Purpose for Traveling

‘Because it is there’ is the traditional answer to the question ‘Why did you do that?’.  But some people prefer more purpose in their endeavours, and so they will do the journey as a way of raising money for a charity, getting a number of sponsors to each agree to pay a sum per mile or some sum per successful completion.

It is perhaps a complicated way to raise money, but people regularly raise thousands of pounds, because it is a bit of a challenge (okay, not quite such a challenge by car, perhaps!) and because of the special place in British hearts the concept holds.  Sometimes entire groups will get together and do the journey en masse – all walking or cycling or traveling whatever other way they choose to.

Variations

Just as there are many ways to travel between the two ends of the journey, there are some commonly taken detours.

One is to include the highest peaks in England, Wales, and Scotland as part of the journey (this almost certainly involves walking up to the top of the peaks rather than driving, of course).  The three peaks are Scafell Pike in England, Snowdon in Wales, and Ben Nevis in Scotland.

You might point out that most routes don’t go through Wales, but because it is sort of ‘in the middle’ and definitely a part of Britain, these extended itineraries often look to include a Welsh component.  Over-achievers will even add something in Northern Ireland, and a few will seek to include the Republic of Ireland to their journey, too.  Why not – there are no rules and certainly no restrictions on the route you can take!

Another variation is to tour the ‘four cardinal points of Britain’ as part of the journey – the extreme north, south, west and east points of mainland Britain.  In that order they are Dunnet Head (close to John O’Groats), Lizard Point (not very far from Land’s End and close to Penzance), Ardnamurchan (in Scotland, just over from Tobermory on Mull), and Lowestoft’s Ness Point in Suffolk, England.

Other variations can be anything you wish.  Another sometimes adopted variation includes London, Cardiff and Edinburgh (the three capitals).  Or how about ‘the long way around’ – going right around the world the longest way possible, rather than in a semi-short line.

Is there an official way of traveling?  Would a purist prefer to go from south to north, or from north to south?  Our vague feeling is that from south to north is slightly the more common route, but – in case you haven’t guessed already – there really are no rules at all, and any way is a good way.

And Now That You’ve Completed It…..

The second of the two ‘book end’ photos that people traditionally take on their journey.

Congratulations.  If you’ve recorded your journey, you are now eligible to become an official member of the Land’s End – John O’Groats Association, and even to receive a certificate from them to show your feat (better check their qualification requirements first – our sense is they are fairly permissive in terms of what proof they require).

Another form of recording, as mentioned in the photos at the top and bottom, is to take the traditional pictures alongside the ‘official’ signposts at both ends.  This usually involves an ‘official’ photographer who will seek to charge a hefty sum for clicking the button on your camera – as you can see, there is a ‘work around’ possible at Land’s End that is almost as good as the (expensive) official photo!

Good news – just because you have now completed your journey doesn’t mean that your life no longer has any purpose.  Did we mention that some people also strive to do a roundtrip journey?  Or maybe next time you choose to do it on a bicycle.  Or running.  Or via hot air balloon.

There are still plenty more ways to experience the ‘End to End’ journey between Land’s End and John O’Groats!

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  9 Responses to “From Land’s End to John O’Groats – Britain’s Ultimate Road Trip”

  1. Sounds inviting, VERY inviting!

  2. David, your tour itinerary is most captivating with lots of variety. And surprisingly, I haven’t at all got tired of fish & chips.

    Quaint, colorful towns such as you have incorporated in the itinerary are definitely a draw for me. Any chance of including an interesting railway ride for a couple of hours? The mountainous areas of Wales might offer something.

    I also suggest stopping at a seaside town on a fine day and have us stop at a Co-op store or take-out place to get fixin’s for a picnic lunch. There’s no place like the beach for enjoying fish & chips! Gawd, I can taste it now!

    How’s that for further teasing? :o)

    • Hi, Hugh

      Glad the concept continues to hold your interest and appeal.

      It might be possible to include the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway on the day we travel to Chester – it would add about two hours to the day’s activities, and we need to see what their timetable will be for next year (but based on this year, it looks like times could be worked around).

      I’ve done the seaside picnic thing before, in New Zealand; it does make a nice change indeed. That’s something we can decide based on weather as we tour, the day we drive around Cornwall, or the day we head north from Cornwall – both of those days might allow for that.

  3. Another point I wanted to mention re South to North or v.v.

    If this past trip was any indication weather-wise, it seemed starting in the south was the way to go.

    • The weather issue really is a random variable rather than something to plan around. It is true that this year, we had better weather later in the tour and worse weather earlier in the tour. But in some previous years, we’ve either had all good weather, or better weather first and worse weather second.

      I prefer the south to north route for a slightly different reason – I like going from the ‘higher energy’ south to the ‘lower energy’ north – the tour becomes increasingly relaxing and remote. If done in the opposite direction, each day sees more traffic, and more ‘cares of the world’ in general. I always like to start a vacation journey at the point of highest energy, because that is sort of how you are when first landing; then allow the cares of the world to steadily drain way.

      But this is very much an abstract feeling, and a personal one. Others may well feel differently. And for people choosing to do the ‘End to End’ tour in a day or two, rather than spreading it over an easy meandering week or two, perhaps it doesn’t matter at all!

  4. Hugh, Don’t think I know you, but you sound like the type of person (off the beaten path) that my wife and I would enjoy traveling with. We just signed up – so go ahead and join the group! The train ride sounds interesting. Mike C.

    • Thanks for the tempting offer, David. My car of 20 years is about to croak, and I must do some juggling in the finance department. I’ll let you know in about a month if I can swing it.
      I’ll be in touch.
      Hugh

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