We hear a lot about the Pacific Crest Trail (4270km) and the Appalachian Way (3500km), but are there any alternatives to these closer to home? Does Europe have routes that compete in any shape or form with these pinnacles of long distance; I’ll use the Americanism here; hiking? These are some options in no particular order, for some long distance challenges convenient to those in old Blighty.
1 – LEJOG – or Lands End to John O’Groats. 1900+km Depending on route.
This varies from being probably the most dire road walk to the most inspirational backpack. Follow the A roads all the way for a trip that’s only good for getting the distance in, but follow the wilderness route and you’ll cover some of the wildest terrain even this small, over-crowded island can offer. Following the South West Coastal Path for the first section, you can then take the usual Offa’s Dyke Path north. A wilder option, albeit significantly tougher, would be to follow the Cambrian Way from Cardiff to North Wales, giving you the opportunity to cross some of Wales’ wildest and remotest areas; The Elenydd and Rhinogydd.
Across to follow the Pennine Way to Scotland. No route takes you officially now to Glasgow, but there’s an option outlined by Cameron McNeish – the Scottish National Trail. The West Highland Way is a clear option to take you to Fort William, probably the easiest section so far as it is so frequently walked that the logistics and navigation should be straightforward with many of the villages en route geared up for the WHWayers. The final section, arguably the wildest and most spectacular long distance path in the country is along the Cape Wrath Trail before turning right at Cape Wrath to John O’Groats.
It’s a compact 2000km trip, avoiding urban areas as much as possible, and with each section expressing such an unique personality, there’s plenty to keep the long distance walker occupied. Varying from the plunging cliffs of Cornwall and Devon, wilds of Wales, the moors of the Pennines and the remoteness and majesty of Scotland, this is certainly a route any walker would want on their CV. Of course, you could always build this up over a number of years, seeing the impossibility of taking 2 to 3 months off. The record for the trip on foot is 9 days 2 hours (!)
Hamish Brown in his book, Hamish’s Groats End Walk took this one step further by including the highest mountains in Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales on the way. You could also complete the JOGLE by going North – South.
There’s a load of books on the subject with one of the classic walking books being Hillaby’s Journey Through Britain, being an account of the route. Certainly not a guidebook, and judging by how rudimentary his navigation often is, you wouldn’t want it to be. By now this provides the background to the route, a historical account of mid 60s Britain and the author’s love of natural history interspersed with random memories the locations evoke. For a more conventional guide book, you can’t go far wrong with Cicerone’s End to End Trail, although this only covers the sections of route that’s not already a national trail.
++ Covers every type of walking the UK has to throw at you. Logistics are easy for most of the route. Well known achievement.
— Shorter than the PCT/AT. Some sections not too wild. No standard route.
2- Complete the Munros in one go. 2700km mostly on foot and a staggering 137,000 m ascent!
A staggering amount of ascent and distance with exceptional walking guaranteed on a daily basis. For more challenge do them in winter like Martin Moran did in 1984/85 and outlined in his book imaginatively titled The Munros in Winter. Though he completed them as a continuous trip, he did drive between walks which somewhat unfortunately precludes his route from this list. Hamish Brown’s attempt however was totally self propelled either on foot or bicycle, with the exception of ferries used to cross over to Mull and Skye, and was completed in an impressive 112 days. In line with other continuous Munro walks, his book is not surprisingly titled Hamish’s Mountain Walk.
Since then, there have been numerous attempts to repeat the feat and the current record stands at 39 days and 9 hours by Stephen Pyke, including cycling and kayaking between any relevant points. Still not enough? Whack in a round of the Corbetts in while you’re at it and perhaps bag a first in the process?
— Physically demanding
++ at least you’ll never be too far from civilization. You’ll get bragging rights for years to come. “Completed the Munros have you? Yes – that was a nice little walk..”.
3 – British Coastline – from 7,000 – 10,000km++ (depending on route!)
If you want something a little longer than LeJog then walking around the entire UK coastline, with all its bays and headlands provides you with the longest logical walk on this island. Longer than both of the American big two, you’re looking at taking six months or more doing this trip. That means that you’ll need to work it around the seasons, ideally starting in early spring. Logistics is also an issue, you’ll probably wear through a fair few pairs of boots (Merrill wore through three pairs of boots, over thirty pairs of socks, ate 1,511 bars of chocolate and a specific 529 pints of milk on his walk).
How to measure the walk-able coastline is also a problem, as you won’t be able to walk into each and every nook and cranny either as it isn’t practical or there’s no access, so the walker will inevitably cut some corners. Cutting off a short headland, taking 500m off your day’s trip would not be in same league as cutting off some of the peninsulas on the west coast of Scotland. This is at least made easier in some areas such as the South West and Wales that have a designated footpath that you can follow, but for the remainder of the coastline you’ll need to plan your very own route. In some places, especially in Scotland, you’re in real wilderness terrain and you’re either going to have to go off-path or miss out on some areas.
Still not enough of a challenge for you? Add the islands and you get 19,000km or so, though the logistical nightmare of getting to each island, and to what size you bother with would make this rather difficult without making use of a sea kayak or some sort of boat.
++ Longer than the PCT/AT, so you’ll get bragging rights.
— You need to love the coast as that’s all you’ll be walking on! Some sections are hardly wild, and large sections industrialised. No official route for much of the way with even the Wales Coastal Path having a tendency for not being very coastal in places.
Not enough? Part 2 below with some real European beasts at the following link – 5 Things – European Alternatives to the American LDPs