JOGT Walking Guidelines
Welcome to walking the John o’ Groats Trail!
The trail is under development, so please make careful note of the advice on this page, and on the Stage Status pages. The trail is a walking route, not a path. The best way to imagine it is hillwalking without gaining much elevation. Rough hillwalking in places, at that. Stiles and bridges, as well as trail markers, will aid you in your journey, but some of the way is over rough ground with no prepared path.
The most important reminder for walking the JOGT is that most of the trail is on private land. While the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (see below) allows you to walk on most private land, it does not give us the right to mark a trail or build stiles and bridges. For that we are completely dependent on landowners, and it is vital that we keep good relations with all landowners. With that in mind, please follow the following guidelines:
– Be friendly: a kind word of greeting to a farmer goes a long way. They are usually hard at work, but almost always welcome a hello, and may enjoy a chat about where you are walking to.
– Keep animals under control, as the SOAC requires. In practice, this means keep your dog on a lead at all times. Better yet, think twice before bringing your dog with you, as almost every stage has some fields with sheep or cattle in them. Both can be endangered by dogs, and cows can be truly dangerous when they are with calves.
– Do not enter fields unless you really need to. The trail has stiles everywhere they are needed (except for a few cases where we do not have permission to build them). The braehead (area outside fences) may be overgrown, but walking it will help tramp it down and make the trail by walking.
The trail is open during development, so it’s important to keep in mind that some parts of the trail are along cliffs or steep slopes, and sometimes there is little room to walk. Some walkers may feel the need to cross the cliff top fence in order to walk inside a field away from the edge. There are also places where it’s necessary to ascend, descend, or cross a steep slope.
The Scottish Outdoor Access Code
The Scottish Outdoor Access Code applies along the length of the trail. The Code, found at http://www.outdooraccess-scotland.com, is the law in Scotland, covering not just walking but all outdoor access. The Code gives you the right to walk almost anywhere, while still protecting the rights of landowners and tenants to privacy, safety, and property.
The Code entitles you to walk across any field that isn’t cultivated and any wood, unless there is an ongoing activity such as forestry operations that your presence would be in conflict with. It allows you to climb over any fence, wall, or gate that blocks your way into any such area. The Code does not give you the right to enter private houses, gardens, buildings or farmyards. However, along the trail we generally discourage taking access by climbing fences and walls, as we have worked hard to install stiles for access, and we have also in many instances worked to develop the trail outside the fence. Please follow trail markers.
The trail will have two kinds of markers:
– Octagonal waymarkers that clearly show trail direction north and south. The octagon symbolises the octagon tower of the hotel at John o’ Groats, which is itself based on the legend of the octagonal house originally built there.
– White paint marks that show the way but may not be directional. If a white mark tilts to the right or left, it does imply to keep to that side (of a fence for example) or to turn that way. A horizontal mark means to keep to that side of the object with the mark.
- Walking south from Wick for one or two miles is easy walking, with plenty of room outside fences, with great views and few stiles to use. Turn back at any time.
- Walking north from Sarclet Harbour, you reach an amazing view of the Needle’s Eye sea arch in just 15-20 minutes walk.
- From John o’ Groats Harbour, south along the trail for as far as you like on level terrain, with pleasant views of the sea, and eventually the dramatic sea stacks of Duncansby Head if you decide to walk that far.
- From Inverness you can cross the Kessock Bridge and follow the trail up onto and around Ord Hill, going as far as you like on the Black Isle before turning back.
- The walk from Golspie to Brora is only 6 miles (10 km) and is level with few difficulties.
- There are two access points on the A9 between Helmsdale and Berriedale that can be used to walk a dramatic section of the trail. At the Ousdale Broch there is a large layby, and at the Badbea Clearance Village there is a car park. The walk between them is about 4 miles (6 km) and gives access to these two sites, plus the stunning Ousdale crossing itself, the extended remains of Badbea, and great views of the sea and cliffs. Challenges include 150 steep steps on the Ousdale hillside, potentially muddy tracks, and several steep sections of terrain.
- From Inverness, you can extend your walk across the Black Isle. Buses on the A9 can take you back to Inverness from near Culbokie, allowing you to complete the full first stage as a day walk.
- The walk from Keiss or Auckengill north to John o’ Groats is long and strenuous, but provides some of the most dramatic scenery of the trail, including the Stacks of Duncansby and the Trapped Stack at Wife Geo.
Suggestions for walking all or most of the trail:
The full trail can be walked in 9-14 days. It conveniently divides into 14 stages with accommodation at the end of each one. We recommend not rushing the walk, as there is so much to see and the trail is more strenuous than it’s modest increases in elevation suggest. However, faster walkers can do it in fewer days by camping or finding accommodation at intermediate points. Some very strong walkers may prefer to double up some stages. In that case, here are some possibilities for stages to double up:
1 & 2: Mostly flat walking and a lot of roads the first two days, so you can move faster (22 mi/35 km)
3 & 4: There is a shortcut to miss out Tain and save a couple miles (about 21 mi/35 km)
5 & 6: Both of these stages are flat and mostly easy walking (20.5 mi/32 km).
(8 & 9): This has been tried, but we advise NOT to do this. Stage 8 is the toughest terrain of the whole walk.
9 &10: The accommodation at Berriedale is one mile north of the stage end, which reduces the distance (14.5 mi/22km)
11 & 12: This is not easy walking, and it’s a shame to rush these two beautiful stages, but it can be done (18.5 mi/29 km)
If you don’t have time to walk the full length of the trail, it can be reduced in a couple different ways. The first is to divide it into two halves and walk each at a different time as your schedule allows. Many walkers have done this, doing a week’s walking one year and returning later to complete the trail. The trail divides naturally at Helmsdale, the halfway point, the southern half being mostly low and the northern half being mostly along cliff tops.
The other approach is to walk just the coastal section of the trail, known as the John o’ Groats Coastal Trail. This runs from Dornoch to John o’ Groats and covers approximately 102 mi/163 km. This route misses out the three big road bridges and most of the road walking while keeping all the dramatic coastal scenery. Dornoch is served by buses that run from Inverness.
Map & Guidebook
There are both a Harvey Map and a self-published guidebook available for the trail. The Harvey Map we recommend you purchase from Harvey online directly, or from another online seller.
The draft guidebook costs £15 including UK postage. For shipping outside the UK, there is a £5 additional charge to most locations including Europe, the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. In order to pay, please follow this link: wonderful.org then pay the appropriate amount. Once you have paid, please forward the payment confirmation email to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and please include your postal address. Thank you.
Click on the thumbnails to see a full version of the flyer pages, which can then be downloaded by right clicking on them and selecting “Save Image as…”. Alternatively you can download both images in a .zip file by clicking here.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Are the midges bad?
A: The good news is there is a near-constant wind on the coast that keeps the midges away almost all the time. (Midges can only fly 2-3 miles per hour so are literally blown away by a stiff breeze.) The bad news is, if you find a sheltered spot to camp, there will be midges.
Q: Are cows dangerous?
A: They can be. There are occasional fields with cattle along the trail. Cows, calves, and people are a dangerous combination, as cows have been known to attack to protect their young. Cows, people, and dogs are also a dangerous combination. Cows may attack dogs, and if the dog is on a lead, the dog can’t run away and the cow is liable to attack both dog and owner. Bulls, of course, can be dangerous under any circumstance. If you are inside a fenced field with cattle, keep near the fence and be ready to climb over it.
Q: What about sheep?
A: Sheep and dogs are a very bad combination. Even the smallest dog is capable of, and by instinct will, chase after (worry) sheep. Sheep worrying is a major problem. The dog doesn’t have to catch the sheep to kill it. Modern sheep are not bred to run around fields for long, and they will sometimes die or abort their young if they are chased. PLEASE do not “give your dog a try” to see if it will be ok off lead in a field with sheep. It only takes one time to cause damage. Landowner relations are everything to us, as we rely on the goodwill of the landowners. Keep dogs on leads whenever in fields or if sheep are present.
Q: Should I even bring my dog with me on the JOGT?
A: This is a tough one. Technically you have a right to bring your dog under the SOAC so long as it is under control. But as you can see in the two answers above, a dog can be a big problem on a farm, and you are basically walking in or near farms for stages 6-14 of the walk. We ask you to please, if you can, leave your dog at home, for the sake of you, your dog, our farmers, their animals, and our trail.
Q: Is there a guidebook available?
A: We are developing a guidebook. If you would like a draft copy and would be willing to give us feedback to help us improve it, we will post you one for a small suggested donation to the charity. The authors are Andy Robinson, author of the Cicerone End-to-End Guide to walking from Land’s End to John o’ Groats, and Jay Wilson, chair of the Friends of the John o’ Groats Trail. Contact us through the contact form.
Q: Is there a map available?
A: Yes, Harvey Maps publishes a map of the entire trail at 40,000 scale. It shows individual fences and even which side of the fence to walk on. It’s available online at Harvey Maps, Amazon, etc.