Hello Friends of the John o’ Groats Trail,
As the year comes to a close and most of our thoughts turn to the holidays and family and friends, I wanted to take the chance to tell you how the year has gone and lay out plans for the next. It’s been another year of great strides forward, but also a few challenges. As you read, don’t forget to look at the very end of the email to see our trail Christmas card for you.
As you know, this has been another building year for the Trail. We now have approximately 100 stiles in place and we have marked nearly half the length of the trail. We have built a dozen or so bridges this year, some up to 13 ft long. Most of these were by our contractor Far North Fencing, but one was by our intrepid volunteer landowner, Stewart Sutherland at Occumster.
We also have a new web site at www.jogt.org.uk. Earlier in the year, the premier Scottish walking website, walkhighlands.co.uk, published their online guide to the JGT. This helped contribute to a rise in the number of walkers, even though the trail is unfinished. We counted 22 people who walked long distances on the trail, some of whom were walking to or from Land’s End! (The previous year it was 2 people.)
The trail has been invited to make a short presentation at the Scottish Ramblers AGM in Aberdeen in March. This is one of the biggest and most important meetings of walkers in Scotland throughout the year, so it is a great sign of recognition of our progress.
Here are some of the quotes from walkers at our sign-in box and in blogs:
– Jen Le Marinel from Swindon, walking LEJOG: “The coastal scenery continues to be extraordinary. Even more stacks, sea arches, caves, vertigo-inducing geos, calm havens and rocky headlands… The path was much better today, still steep in places but mostly well trodden and grassy.”
– Richard from Hampshire, walking LEJOG: “So much better than walking on the A9. Keep up the good work. Many thanks.”
– Bernat from Barcelona, walking Helmsdale-JOG: “Thanks a lot for the route. You the Scots have a beautiful land over here. Thank you for allowing us to discover it by building this route.”
– Maud from France, walking Inverness to JOG: “Thanks to make this trail accessible. Awesome views. This part is really difficult.”
– Moray and Gill, students in Aberdeen, walking Gretna to JOG: “Trail difficult and overgrown Brora to Helmsdale. Very grateful that people are taking the time to improve the trail. Great new revenue to North of Scotland. Fantastic link to rest of Scotland’s long walks. Would be interested in donating or volunteering.”
David and Heather from Edinburgh, walking Berriedale to Wick: “Hard work thru the undergrowth but amazing views of an impressive coastline.”
As with any large project, we eventually hit some obstacles. Out of approximately 200 landowners, we have a few who simply are not interested in cooperating with the trail. There are literally only 4 or 5 cases where lack of permission means stiles cannot be built, and that is resulting in a total of 2-4 barbed wire fences still needing to be climbed over by rougher methods. (Some fences are in poor condition and can be slipped through.) This is out of 147 miles of trail.
Another obstacle is the shear length of the trail. It is not easy to coordinate volunteers over the length of the trail. But volunteers did continue to come out when needed, and progress continues. Volunteer Coordinator Charlie Bain of Wick has been very active and joined our board of trustees during the year. Kathleen Sinclair has also joined our board and graciously volunteered to be our treasurer.
The best solution to the length of the trail is for local groups to become involved in the building and maintenance of the trail. The Wick Paths Group was founded a few months ago to do just that in the Wick Community Council area, and this group has been led by Allan Tait and John Bogle. Other groups that have been active in working on the trail this year have been the Inverness Ramblers whose efforts were led by Sinclair Dunnett, the Easter Ross Rights of Way Association led by Bert Thomson, and the Sutherland Walkers Group whose efforts for the trail have been led by Jon Jenkins and Jane Hamilton.
Due to the continued rough nature of some sections of the trail, the Board of Trustees has decided not to promote a “Grand Opening” of the trail in 2018. Instead we plan to continue to work steadily on improving the trail, and to continue with our other promotions, including a trail guide, a flyer, and a map. Watch for these in early 2018. Other ideas for promotion, events and otherwise, are welcome.
We continue to make progress. Most of the stiles are in place, many of the bridges, and about half the markers. I hope that by the Spring 2018 walking season we will have most of the markers placed along roads in the southern part of the trail, but that depends on permission from the Council roads department.
Even with the trail fully marked (which it isn’t), it’s a good idea to walk with a map or a guidebook. We hope to have both by sometime next year. By Spring 2018, we will have some form of guidebook available for a suggested donation. We are taking names now for pre-requesting copies of this, so let me know if you want one for use this Spring. It may be a rough pre-publication copy, or it may be our first edition, depending on how things go.
Walkers please be aware that the Spring is the best time to walk. By late June and into September, many parts of the trail are overgrown with bracken. Whatever time you are walking, but especially in summer, I would be grateful if you brought a small tool such as a sickle to cut a few bits of bracken or other vegetation as you walk.
Make the Trail your Own in 2018:
Whether you’re a solo walker or a leader of a group looking for a fulfilling volunteer outdoor experience, 2018 is the year to come experience the JGT. Most infrastructure is in place; the main obstacle is now the weeds, which are very satisfying to bash. We can help you coordinate a trip of a weekend, a fortnight, or whatever to come help keep the JGT open to walkers during the summer months.
What’s in a name?
Though we seem to have settled on the name “John o’ Groats Trail”, there seems to be some question how to shorten it. I have been saying JOGT but some seem to prefer JGT, and I have to admit it’s catchy. Most trails have three-letter nicknames: WHW, GGW, and PCT come to mind. What do you think?
If you would like to donate, please follow this link. All proceeds go directly to trail building and promotion. https://mydonate.bt.com/charities/friendsofthejohnogroatstrail
Thanks for reading and now here’s your Christmas card below….