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.
Please also note that like much of rural Scotland, ticks may be an issue in areas of long vegetation. We strim the Trail constantly to mitigate their presence!
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. If you go two miles from the centre of Wick to the Tail o’ Brough (two stiles in quick succession), you are only one field width away from a public road that will take you out to the A99, and there’s a pavement along the A99 all the way back into Wick. This makes a loop of 4-5 miles.
- Walking north from Sarclet Harbour, you reach an amazing view of the Needle’s Eye sea arch in just 20-30 minutes walk.
- The walk from Golspie to Brora is only 6 miles (10 km) and is level with few difficulties. You can take the train or bus back to your starting point.
- 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): We advise you not to combine these. Stage 8 is the toughest terrain of the whole walk. However, until accommodation is available at Berriedale, it may be necessary for some walkers.
9 &10: The accommodation at Berriedale [currently not available], 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
NEW GUIDEBOOK LAUNCHED!
We’re delighted to announce that we have a BRAND NEW GUIDEBOOK available for the Trail!
Published by international publishers Cicerone, renowned for their detailed and glossy guides for trails and walks across the world, our official John o’ Groats Guidebook is the perfect way to plan out and prepare for your big JOGT adventure – or even just serve as inspiration to compel you northwards!
Written by Andy Robinson and Jay Wilson, this attractive, fit-in-your-pocket book is the perfect gift for the long distance trail lover in your life – it’s full of important information you need to know ahead of your walk, as well as fascinating facts and beautiful photos of the iconic Highland trail.
To order, just click on this link: Order your guidebook now!
John o’ Groats Trail Map
Our John o’ Groats Trail Map is available online from Harvey Maps – a colourful but concise guide to our Trail. Foldable and waterproof, this is a great way to ensure your JOGT walk is safe and swift. Purchased together with our Guidebook, you’re guaranteed the best Trail experience!
GPX Files and App
Get gpx files from Hiiker website.
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: Midges are small insects that can make your walking and camping in Scotland an unpleasant experience. The good news is there is a 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: A guidebook is available from Cicerone, a major UK-based guidebook publisher. If you order from them at the following link, the proceeds will go towards the JOGT: Order your guidebook now!
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.
Q: Where are the best places to wild camp?
A: There are many good places to camp along the trail, where you can wake up in the morning overlooking the sea. However, please be considerate. Don’t camp within sight of houses or the road, bury or pack out your waste (all types of waste), and please don’t post online the location of your camp. We don’t want any farmer to become the unwilling host of an online “hot spot”. In consideration of our landowners, we can’t recommend particular places to camp.
Q: Are their ticks on the Trail?
A: Like much of rural Scotland, there are ticks present on the Trail. We are busy throughout the year strimming the Trail and cutting back vegetation, and this helps to keep the tick numbers down. To avoid any tick bites, we recommend you read Forestry Land Scotland’s guidelines here.
Certificate of Achievement
Have you completed the John o’ Groats Trail?
Celebrate this fantastic achievement with a beautifully-designed, high-quality certificate of completion – a perfect present for an ambling aficionado – for only £10 (for UK customers. Price includes P+P. See link below for pricing structure outside UK)
Signed by the Trail Manager and Trail Founder Jay Wilson, this is a great way to celebrate a wonderful achievement, and help support the John o’ Groats Trail.
Click here to purchase your certificate!