Newsletter vol. 3 no. 1 — Phase 2 Begins

Hello Friends of the John o’ Groats Trail,
My apologies for the newsletter silence over the Winter months.  It doesn’t mean the group has been inactive!  In fact, we’ve had a very successful Winter and have begun the Spring building season already.
There are several topics below.  But first let me say, the most important thing is to get out and walk the trail.  Spring is here, and I would love to see you out there, or hear from you about your experiences, good or bad.  We are getting to the point where most of the trail is walkable.  (For exceptions see Walker’s Update below.)  The Highland Rangers are leading a series of walks along the Caithness stages of the trail over the Spring and Summer; for details contact the Rangers.
Over the winter we’ve been busy applying for grants and the big news is that we have received grants from several funds. The grants will pay for contractors to help us build stiles and bridges, and an improved web site and a map to promote the trail.  We have also received grants from the Caithness and North Sutherland Fund, the Tannach and District Wind Farm Charitable Trust Fund, and from the Your Cash Your Caithness fund.  With these funds we can develop and promote the trail in a better way, and we are calling this new approach Phase 2 of the project.  Our fencing contractor Far North Fencing was out building stiles for the first time today!
We have also begun fundraising activities to accept donations from individuals.  Why is it important to ask for donations when we have grant money?  The main reason is that grants are one-time sources that may pay for initial setup and construction, but they generally don’t pay for maintenance.  We will need to develop a steady stream of donations, and a reliable group of donors, over the years to keep the trail going.  But also, future grant applications will want to see evidence of support from the community in the form of donations.  We are now accepting small donation through our new online giving account, a secure and painless way to give:  
(myDonate is similar to JustGiving, but takes a much smaller percentage of your donation for itself, only about 15p per donation.)  Of course, donations are just one way to be involved, and we understand they are not for everyone.  We appreciate your support in whatever way you can give it: volunteer, walker, donor, or just a kind word!
We have already had three volunteer events in March 2017: one near Whaligoe, one near Berriedale, and another on the Black Isle.  Our volunteers did many tasks, as usual: whin cutting, stile building, and marker post placement.  This allowed us to relocate part of the trail off-road on the Black Isle and to establish marked and walkable routes in the other locations.  Even as we contract for some works, volunteers will remain essential to the trail.  Volunteers know the trail better, care for the trail more, and form a lasting trail community.  They will never go out of “stile”!
We also need volunteers to help organise our lists of landowners and members, to organise events such as landowner and volunteer appreciation events and fundraisers.  If you have any free time to give, please get in touch.
For those of you who may like to come out and help build the trail, we have a separate volunteer mailing list.  If you would like to be on this, please reply to this email and let me know.
Walkers update: Next stages in works are 8 (Helmsdale-Badbea), 11 (Lybster-Bruan) and 14 (Keiss-Skirza).  These are also the roughest areas to walk at the moment.  Check stage status pages on our web site.
Walkers please remember, we are the guests of the landowners.  This trail is all due to the goodwill of landowners.  Please keep your dog on a short lead or at home.  (This is calving season, a very dangerous time to bring your dog with you into a field with cows and calves.  Please don’t.)  And if you see dead or poorly animals or other issues on a farm, please ring me Jay Wilson on 07526 281088, and I will contact the landowner.  Please do not ring the police, unless there is an emergency.
If you know someone who would like to be added to this mailing list, please let me know.  If you are a landowner or farmer with questions or concerns, please email or ring me on 07526 281088.  As always, thank you for your support!
Happy Trails!

Newsletter vol. 2 no. 8

Hello Friends of the John o’ Groats Trail,
Briefly, Caithnesians please see the first item below about a meeting that hopefully will make available some much-needed funding.  And big news for all, we have a bank account and can accept donations!  
The JOGT has been entered in the Your Cash, Your Caithness funding competition.  Our treasurer Sinclair Dunnett will speak for us.  We need as many Caithness supporters as possible to come out to vote for us.  You must be there from start to finish of event in order to vote.  Details here:
The details of the Your Cash Your Caithness event to decide on your application for funding.


·         Venue Pulteney Centre Huddart Street Wick, KW1 5BA (Telephone 01955 608530)
·         Date Saturday 19th November 2016
·         Time 9:30 am registration for a 10:15 am start
·         Visitors will be required to sign in.
·         Photographs/Video It is our intention to video and photograph the event, visitors will be required to give their permission during signing in, those not wishing to be filmed or photographed need to inform us during the signing in process.
·         Announcement of results approx. 12:45 pm.
·         Childcare is available but needs to be booked at the centre by the 17th November at the contact address above.


Each applicant will be allocated a five minute slot to put their case for funding, this will consist of a 3 minute talk, followed by a 2 minute question and answer session. An MC will control the event with the aid of a timekeeper. 
On completion of the final presentation voting papers will be available for all those attending including any members of the public or guests of the applicants. Please note that voting will be open to anyone aged 14 or over on 19th November 2016.
You may take support along with you, all will be admitted subject to the fire capacity of the venue.
We now have a bank account for our charity.  If you would like to donate, please let me know and I will send you our bank details.  (I’m a little leery of giving out details in a widespread email.)  In a few weeks we will have an online giving account and this will be easier.  But early donations will certainly be very much appreciated, and all will go to practical needs like building materials for stiles.
We had a successful walk of Stage 10, Dunbeath to Lybster, on Sunday 30 October.  We had an amazing 43 people turn up, and great weather on the day!  We were overwhelmed by the number of people, in every sense of the word.
All always, thank you for your support!

Newsletter vol. 2 no. 7 — Autumn Update

Hello Friends of the John o’ Groats Trail,
Two important pieces of news: a planned walk on 30 October, and a search for a symbol for our trail.
Stage Opening Walk: The JOGT consists of 14 stages, each about 10 miles long and meant to be walkable in a day by most walkers.  Our volunteers have been working hard on several of these stages over the summer and have mostly finished work on Stage 10: Dunbeath-Lybster.  We will celebrate this opening on Saturday 30 October with an organised walk at 10am from Dunbeath Harbour.  This was covered in Friday’s John o’ Groat Journal.
Park at Dunbeath Harbour and we will drive people back to their cars afterwards.  
This stage is 8 miles long.  Please beware there are still 3 barbed wire fences without stiles that need to be crossed on this walk.  We will try to bring along a couple boxes to use as steps, but I can’t guarantee it will be easy to cross these fences.  There are also 10-15 fences that do have stiles.
If you have any questions, feel free to email or ring me on 07526 281088.
Search for a symbol:  The JOGT is currently marked by white paint marks on fence posts and other objects, but most established trails have a unique symbol.  This symbol would adorn way markers so that the trail would be instantly recognisable to walkers.  Two suggestions have been made so far:
– A coin or coins that would represent the “Groat”, the ancient coin used in the UK.
– An octagon that would represent the original house at John o’ Groats, which by legend was eight-sided.  The current hotel there has an octagonal tower that reflects this legend.
If you have other suggestions for simple symbols that could be used as icons for the trail, please send me your ideas.
Call for Volunteers:  We need volunteers to help with: the web site, newsletters, grant applications, press releases, and of course building the trail and lots of other things!  If you’d like to get involved, please email me or ring me on 07526 281088.
See you soon!

Organised Walk: Dunbeath to Lybster

John o’ Groats Trail Volunteers Celebrate Dunbeath-Lybster Trail Opening with Walk
Volunteers from the Friends of the John o’ Groats Trail have been busy over the summer working on the trail, which runs from Inverness to John o’ Groats.  Work has been completed as much as possible on Stage 10, which goes along cliffs from Dunbeath to Lybster with beautiful views.  The volunteers invite the public to celebrate with them on a walk on 30 October, 2016, starting at 10 am.  Park along the north side of Dunbeath Harbour and meet at the picnic tables at the far end.  Bring a packed lunch to enjoy along the way.  Drivers will be returned to their cars after the walk.
Please be aware that the walk does involve crossing several fences.  Most of these have stiles installed, but three fences and one stone wall do not have stiles due to continuing discussions with landowners.
Those wanting more information about the walk, the trail, or the charity, see below and please contact Jay Wilson on 07526 281088 or  If you can arrive early to help organise the car ferry, please contact Jay.
Attached photo: Fishing station ruins at Achastle
Where: Dunbeath Harbour
When 30 Oct 2016, 10am
Walk Length: 8 miles
Approximate duration: 5 hours including lunch, at a leisurely pace

Newsletter Vol. 2 No. 6 — What a Summer!

Hello Friends of the John o’ Groats Trail,

My apologies for the delay in producing another newsletter.  We’ve been so busy working there hasn’t been a pause to reflect.  Now that I can catch my breath, I can report that in just the few short months since we had our launch in May, we’ve built over 25 miles of trail!  We’ve done this with a dedicated and resourceful team of volunteers, including volunteer landowners.

The stages Brora-Helmsdale and Dunbeath-Lybster are mostly completed and can be walked!  See details below in “Walkers Update.”


We had a total of 10 pre-planned volunteer days this spring/summer, including 2 days where we were joined by the Caithness Countryside Volunteers, organised by the Highland Countryside Rangers.  Thanks to all our volunteers, we have made and continue to make incredible progress.

Recently our volunteers have begun to act on their own, working in small groups to complete projects such as building stiles, marking, and reconnoitring.  Our Wick group, led by Charlie Bain with Derek Bremner and Donna Simpson and nicknamed the Boiler-Suit Gang, has built several stiles and marked nearly 2 miles of trail in September.

We also need volunteers who can improve our web site and Facebook page, apply for grants, help with the newsletter, and do other “indoor” tasks.  We would also like to start developing leaflets for the individual stages, and people with local knowledge of historic and natural heritage sites could be very helpful.

If you would like to join in with any of our volunteer efforts, or know anyone who would, please send me an email at or ring me at 07526 281088.


In exciting news, Andy Robinson, author of the Cicerone guidebook The End to End Trail, has contacted me and we are working on a guidebook for the John o’ Groats Trail.  We’re not sure when it will be finished, and will be a work in progress as the trail itself keeps changing and improving, but this will be a big step in the life of the JOGT.

We have also been contacted by a walks blogger, and Harvey Maps is interested in adding the JOGT to their Trail Maps series.  We’ve had articles run in/on BBC Scotland Radio, Inverness Courier, JOG Journal, The Times (Scotland), and the Financial Times (forthcoming).


We’ve also been granted Scottish charity status (Charity # SC046737) and have applied for a bank account.  Each charity must have a board of trustees, and we are very lucky to have four dedicated and talented people on our board (plus me!).  These are (with apologies in advance for misspellings and other mistakes):

  • Secretary: Catherine MacLeod.  Based in Thrumster.  She runs Thrumster House B&B and cottages with her mother Islay MacLeod and she is on the board of Venture North a tourism initiative.
  • Treasurer: Sinclair Dunnett.  Based in Inverness.  He runs Puffin Express tour operator, is active in HOSTGA (Highlands of Scotland Tour Guide Association), and is a member of the Inverness Ramblers walking group.  
  • Trustee: Neil Manson.  Based in Wick.  He is a member of the Caithness Waybaggers and Hillwalkers Anonymous walking groups, and is a current member of the charity Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland.  
  • Trustee: David Hannah.  Based in Ardgay.  He is treasurer of the Sutherland Walkers Group, Ardgay Scottish Country Dance Club, Scottish Esperanto Association and Creich & Kincardine Branch of Legion Scotland.  He is also a trustee of East & Central Sutherland Community Care Forum, Gearrchoille Community Wood Ardgay, and Ardgay Public Hall.  David is an experienced walks leader, and has already walked a large part of the Trail, with SWG and independently.  
  • Chair:  Jay Wilson.  Based in Hertfordshire and Berriedale.  He is Area Walks Editor of his local Ramblers Area and occasional walk leader and walk description writer.  He has walked most of the trail twice and some of it multiple times.

If you are interested in being an active member of the board if trustees, please get in touch and let’s talk.  There’s so much to do, your initiative would make a huge difference.


Walker’s update:

The following stages are nearly complete and can now be walked with minimal inconvenience: 7: Brora-Helmsdale and 10: Dunbeath-Lybster.  Stage 7 you will need a map or description from our web site for the last couple miles to Helmsdale.  Stage 10 you will still need to cross three barbed wire fences.

We are actively working on stages 12: Whaligoe-Wick, and 13: Wick-Reiss.  When these are nearly completed, we will begin to work on other stages.  Our goal is to have all of the JOGT in an “improved state” by Spring 2017 so that more people may begin to enjoy the trail.  In Spring 2018 we hope to hold a grand opening of a 99% completed trail.  Keep checking the web site for updates.


Our success so far is due in large part to the trust we have developed with landowners and tenant farmers and the very helpful responses we have got from almost all the people we have contacted.  If you know landowners or tenants who hold land along the coast, please help me get in touch with them.  We are particularly interested in making contacts along the following stages now: Berriedale-Dunbeath, Lybster-Whaligoe and Keiss-JOG.  

If you have any suggestions or questions, please get in touch.

All the best,


Newsletter vol. 2 no. 5

Hello Friends of the John o’ Groats Trail!
The summer solstice sun shone brightly on the JOGT a few days ago!  This is just a brief newsletter to send a few happy updates:
  • Gail Ross MSP lodged a motion in Parliament today “commending the trail and welcoming the benefits that it will bring to the area.”
  • The Times of Scotland also ran a small article on us today.
  • We signed a constitution in June and applied for charity status.  Once approved, we will be able to accept charitable donations and apply for grants.
  • In May and June combined, we marked or cleared 12 miles of trail, which represents 11% of the off-road parts of the trail.  This was purely due to volunteer efforts.  Many thanks to everyone who helped!  More events in August and September.
  • If you would like to volunteer, please contact me to be placed on our volunteer mailing list.
Notes for walkers:
  • Walkers may be interested to know we have added a stage status page to our web site.  This will enable walkers to check how difficult and how near to completion each stage of the walk is.  
Happy trails!

Newsletter vol. 2 no. 4

Hi all Friends of the John o’ Groats Trail,

The JOGT has been launched and inaugurated!  With the help of Lord Thurso on Saturday 22 May, the JOGT celebrated the beginning of works to create a trail from Inverness to John o’ Groats.  There was a stunning slideshow by naturalist photographer Ken Crossan.  In addition, there were excellent speeches by Islay MacLeod of Thrumster House, Marina Swanson of the Highland Rangers, Sinclair Dunnett of Puffin Express tours, and Mr S.W.M. Threipland of Dunbeath Estate.  It was truly one of the best days of my life and I was touched by the energy and sincerity of the speakers and the great enthusiastic turnout.
The next day, Sunday 22 May, we had a volunteer event with members of the Caithness Countryside Volunteers helping to build the trail around Noss Head and Castle Sinclair-Girnigoe.  We successfully marked about 1.5 miles of the trail.  We also had a Ramblers walk/work trip on 15 May near Helmsdale.  This was joined by several members of the Sutherland Walkers Group, for a total of 15 people out on the hillside.
Combined with some marking I did myself, we marked or built approximately 5 miles of trail in just two weeks time!
Many people have asked me “What’s next?” now that the launch has happened.  Here are some answers:
  • We will have regular volunteer days up and down the coast.  Please let me know if you would like to be added to our volunteer list.  This list will be exclusively for volunteer activities, and only go to those interested in volunteering.  The first volunteer days are planned for 18 and 19 June.  Please let me know if you want more details.
  • We now have a draft of our constitution and we will be fine-tuning that in order to constitute ourselves and apply to be a registered charity.  This is a necessary step in order to apply for funds to pay for trail-building supplies, a better web site, and other important things.
  • If you are walking the coast, please let me know how your walk goes.  You can be my eyes and ears along the trail to see what needs to be done.
  • I will be in the Highlands again for a short visit 13-22 June.  I hope to see you then!  My next longer visit will probably be in August.
Thank you for your continued interest and support.  Together we are building a trail!
All the best,

Newsletter vol. 2 no. 3/Launch Announcement

We would like to announce the launch event for the John o’ Groats Trail (JOGT) on 21 May (this Saturday), with special guest John Thurso, chair of VisitScotland and member of the House of Lords.  Please join us as we celebrate the beginning of building a 145-mile trail route from Inverness to John o’ Groats, benefitting local walkers and developing the local tourist economy by linking to the national network of long-distance trails.  Below you will find all the details.
Mr John Thurso, newly appointed chair of VisitScotland, will speak at the event, which will also include a slideshow of coastal photographs by renowned Caithness nature photographer Ken Crosson.  Light refreshments will be served.  This will be an inspiring early evening event presenting a new community project.  Come and find out what’s happening!
The event is open to the public, so please pass this along to anyone you might think interested.  RSVPs are appreciated but not necessary.
Date: Saturday 21 May
Time: 4:30-7:00pm (Please arrive 4:30 for a 5:00 start of the programme)
Location: Thrumster House, just south of Wick, KW1 5TX  (Directions: see below)
RSVP: Appreciated but not necessary.  
Attire: Casual/come as you are 
Contact: Jay Wilson 
07526 281088 (mobile) 
The Friends of the John o’ Groats Trail is a coalition of walking groups and local tourism bodies developing a 145-mile long-distance walking route from Invernesss to John o’Groats.  The Trail goes along cliff tops and shorelines for much of the route, giving walkers access to the beautiful coastline and also connecting the far north of Scotland into the trail networks of Scotland and the UK.  It also encourages tourism to the coastal towns and attractions.  Our website and Facebook page (listed above) feature photos and much more detail about the route and our organisation.  
The JOGT will allow walkers to complete the Land’s End to John o’Groats journey with a spectacular cliff-top walk with stunning scenery, instead of the current dangerous walk along the A9.  This trail is a community effort: the local community and the walking community.  Besides walking groups and local organisations, the Highland Council Countryside Rangers Service has also been instrumental in helping to advise us and spread the word about the trail.
Directions to Thrumster House:
From the south: Take the A9 to the A99 north toward Wick.  Several miles after passing Lybster (and before Wick), you will see warning signs for 50 mph speed restriction for the village of Thrumster, which is about five miles before Wick.  Just before the 50 speed limit takes effect, you will see a sign on the left for Thrumster House.  Turn left there and this driveway will lead to the house.
From Wick and the north:  Take the A99 south out of Wick.  Pass through Thrumster which has a 50 mph speed restriction.  Just after the speed restriction ends, turn right on a gravel track.  The sign for Thrumster House is on the right side of the driveway at an angle, so is difficult to see. This driveway will lead to the house.

Newsletter vol.2 no.2

Save the date:  LAUNCH EVENT Saturday 21 May — 5-7pm speakers, slideshow, light snacks — 2-5pm coastal walk — Thrumster House, Wick  [Please RSVP to me]  Please spread the word, we want a good turnout.  More details to follow.
We hope to hold one or two other launch events nearer to the middle and southern parts of the route.  (Hosts needed.)  But that’s no reason not to come to this event if you can!
Recent news highlights below.  For more info, see our Facebook page at or our web site at
  • Work has begun on the Dunbeath Estate on a section of the Trail!  This is the first official work project of the John o’ Groats Trail.
  • The JOGT was featured in a full-page article in the John O’Groat Journal on Friday 26 February.  It featured numerous photos of the Trail.
  • I have been in talks with several landowners (large and not-so-large) along the coast, encompassing approximately 16 miles of the Trail.  They are all positive about the trail and we are in detailed discussions about exact route, improvements, etc.  More specifics will follow.
  • The Long Distance Walkers Association has entered us in their UK database of trails.  See
  • I was in the Highlands for almost three weeks in February, taking part in three walks and meeting with numerous people about the Trail.   A very good trip in so many ways.
Walks planned this summer so far (Contact me if interested, all are welcome):
  • 15 May — Helmsdale circular walk, taking in part of the coast and doing a bit of path clearance along the way (no requirement to work in order to attend!), led by me as a Ramblers walk 
  • 27 June — Duncansby Head to Skirza, an easy but spectacular 4 miles, led by Highland Countryside Rangers
  • 2 July — Hempriggs to Whaligoe linear walk, a hidden beauty of a walk, led by Sinclair Dunnet as a Ramblers walk
Thanks to everyone for your continued support!

Newsletter vol. 2 no. 1

Happy New Year to all Friends of the John o’Groats Trail!

I hope the holidays were good for all of you.
Just a short newsletter to update you on a few things and announce two volunteer workdays in February.  Group secretaries/contacts please forward this call for volunteers to your members.  (If this email is forwarded to you, email me directly to be placed on our mailing list.)
  • We now have 11 supporting groups and businesses listed on our web site.
  • Additionally, we have a Facebook page at  Please “like” us.
  • Thanks to a kind anonymous landowner, we will soon have a notebook box along the route for walkers to record their coastal journeys!
  • There will be group day walks along the coast near Berriedale 7 & 21 February, email me or see web site at for more details.
  • If any of you have connections with any local and/or Highland councillors your help in setting up contact would be great, so we can start building support.
I will be in the Highlands 5-23 February.  While I’m there, I plan to have two volunteer events:
  • 11 or 12 Feb in the Dornoch/Golspie area.
  • 19 or 20 Feb in the Wick area.
Please let me know which dates you could make and I will let you know a final programme accordingly.  (You don’t have to commit at this point.)  The activities on these dates may be cutting vegetation, building stiles, or waymarking the footpath.  There will be something for all ages and abilities.  Times will be flexible and arranged closer the day.  It will be a long drive for some of you but I will try to help arrange car share.  I also plan to rent a car this trip, so may be able to offer you a ride myself.  If you can bring any appropriate tools please let me know, as I am limited to what I can bring in my luggage.
Additionally, while I’m there, I will be trying to limit my expenses.  If you are able to host me for a night, it would be much appreciated.  Thank you to those who have previously hosted me and those who have already offered for this trip.  
Your thoughts and suggestions are always welcome.  I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible in February!