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 the occasional bridge, as well as some trail markers, will aid you in your journey, but much of the way is over open ground and thick grass with no 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. By Spring 2018 the trail will have 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.
– From late June through September, carry a sickle or some other tool with you to help yourself and other walkers by cutting back some of the vegetation along the trail.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: When is the best time of year to walk the trail?
A: April, May, and June are the best times to walk, with generally good weather. In July-September many sections of the trail are overgrown during the short but concentrated northern growth season. The worst vegetation is on Stage 7 from north of the golf course to Portgower, Stage 8 from Navidale Farm to the Ord of Caithness, most of Stages 9 & 10, and occasional parts of Stages 11, 13, & 14. By October the vegetation has died back considerably. The weather is quite changeable by that time, but good walking can still be had in the autumn and indeed even in the winter, though the days are quite short in the northern winter.
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 an advance copy and would be willing to give us feedback to help us improve it, we can arrange for you to pick one up as you start walking the trail.