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“A fitting send-off to the walk of a lifetime” by David Felton
Just made my donation to Rob’s fund – great to see it pass the £5k point. Congrats on your ongoing efforts.
I walked large parts of the emerging John o’Groats Trail in the summer of 2017 during the final days of a Land’s End to John o’Groats walk.
i was 74 days into that 1,269 mile journey when I reached Inverness.
By that stage I had been considering my final-week options.
Most LeJoGgers were still walking the A9/A99 combination, which felt like a disappointing way to end the adventure.
As I’d made my way north I’d read a number of blog posts from LeJoGgers who’d undertaken all – or parts of – the still very new John o’Groats Trail.
A couple of thoughts came to mind as I read these accounts. First it was clearly not the kind of established path I’d been used to. And secondly, parts of it were still a tough proposition. But I was in good fitness and was up for the challenge. Most of all, after so many weeks of fabulous walking I had no intention of finishing my journey treading tarmac.
So it was that I made my acquaintance with the John o’Groats Trail. Tentatively at first – a scratched arrow off the A9 beckoning me into woodlands after the Dornoch Firth. It felt like joining a secret way trod by rarefied pilgrims; the West Highland Way this was not!
And from that first eastward swing onto the coast there were rewards aplenty. Golden sands on which I walked alone; fairytale castles; ancient settlements; enchanting fishing villages; seabirds, seals, deer and – as the going got tougher – the increasingly remarkable cliffs, geos and sea-stacks.
This was not the long-laid-down route of the South West Coast Path, that I had trod months before, where every fork was signposted and every fence stiled. This was, instead, a walk on the wild side, where a path was a luxury, where stiles were few and far between; where adders recoiled in their sandy burrows, where wildlife thrived on the heathery clifftops.
Sometimes the Trail defeated me. Above Berriedale I conceded defeat to the bracken – running rampant on the headland. But more often the challenge was all part of the adventure. Picking a path across seaweed-draped rockpools; negotiating a perilous burn crossing above an 80-foot cliff; looking ahead for a whitewashed boulder that indicated someone (please!) had wandered this way before.
I was blessed with sunshine day after day, and a rarefied blue in both ocean and sky that gave the final miles a hue of magic.
I had expected the last days of my long walk north not to match the highlights that had gone before. In the end, they offered me some of the finest days’ walking of my LeJog. And a fitting send-off to my walk of a lifetime.
David Felton, Aug 2017
You can read his full journey at https://www.daveslejog.co.uk