New walking trail for Scotland: The John o’ Groats Trail
A walking campaigner is the driving force of a new waymarked long-distance trail in Scotland. Jay Wilson, a member of Ramblers Scotland, is creating the first dedicated walking route between Inverness and John o’ Groats. He has spent the last few years working to build the 147-mile coastal John o’ Groats Trail. I interviewed him for my Sunday Mail outdoors column. Read the pdf or the story below.
The story of the new John o’ Groats Trail
Jay, who hails originally from the US, calls it the “missing link” for people walking the length of Britain, from Land’s End in Cornwall to John o’ Groats in the north-east of Scotland.
Currently, the final 120-mile stage of the south-to-north 1000-mile walk is along the A9 trunk road, at times without even a pavement separating people from 60mph traffic.
Jay said: “When I discovered this section of the route I thought it was an unappealing way it was to finish the Land’s End to John o’ Groats walk.
“I decided I wanted to offer a more attractive option. I thought it should be possible to have a waymarked route along the coastline and away from the road.”
The 14-stage route is a work-in-progress thanks to many volunteer helpers and a small associated charity, Friends of the John o’ Groats Trail.
However, there have been various frustrations. Jay, who now lives in Caithness, said: “Walking in this area of Scotland is rough and difficult – and probably will be for years to come.
“Unlike climbing a mountain, the challenge isn’t fighting gravity, but rather battling long grass, bracken and the occasional barbed wire fence.
“By building stiles and marking the way, we have already made a more enjoyable challenge.
“Before it was a route only for the very adventurous, but now a typically fit hill walker should be able to take it on.”
Volunteers including the newly founded Wick Paths Group, Inverness Ramblers, The Easter Ross Rights of Way Association and Sutherland Walkers’ Group, have been hard at work improving the route over the past year.
Half of the trail has been waymarked so far and there are now around 100 stiles in place.
Volunteers, with the help of contractor Far North Fencing and landowner, Stewart Sutherland at Occumster, have built a dozen bridges.
All but a few of the 200 landowners along the trail have been very cooperative.
However, Jay said: “We still have four or five landowners that have not been so helpful so this means stiles cannot be built.
“That is resulting in a total of two to four barbed wire fences that still need to be climbed over by rougher methods.
“But, really, this is a small number of obstacles across 147 miles of trail.”
The John o’ Groats Trail passes through a wide variety of landscapes and includes many natural highlights such as waterfalls, natural harbours and sand dunes.
One of the largest sea arches in Britain, The Needle, can seen by walkers, as well as geos, where cliffs erode in a rectangular pattern to create distinctive inlets.
Jay said: “One example of a beautiful geo on the route is Clyth Harbour. It’s a magical place.
“It’s one of several old herring fishing harbours on the trail that were carved out of the rock.
“These harbours haven’t been used for 100 years or more, so when you happen upon them, they’re little gems – secret places that hardly anyone sees anymore.”
As well as offering a great new trail for walkers, Jay believes the route will have a positive impact on the area’s economy.
He said: “The far north, as I have discovered since moving here, is a neglected area in many ways.
“I hope the trail will bring more walking tours to the area and benefit the local economy.
“Each stage of the new John o’ Groats Trail ends at a settlement with accommodation and other services so walkers will make good use of these.
“My ambition is that the route will eventually be officially recognised – and then gain government or council sponsorship.
“One day it will become one of Scotland’s Great Trails.”