21 February 2022 by Jennifer and Matthew Knights
As Ramblers members Jennifer and Matthew Knights continue their 500-mile hike from the Mull of Galloway to John o’Groats, fitting the walk around work commitments, we asked them to share their top tips for planning a long-distance adventure on foot.
Croy Shore to Alloway, Ayrshire
What motivated you to undertake this walking challenge?
We discovered long-distance walking back in 2011 doing the Rob Roy Way over the course of a wet but wonderful week and have since completed another 12 long-distance routes in both Scotland and England. We were looking for a new challenge and came up with the idea of trying to walk from the most south-westerly to the most north-easterly point of Scotland. We knew this would mean taking in the West Highland Way and Great Glen Way, which have been on the ‘to do’ list for a while, and we were able to map out the full route to include four other recognised trails: the Mull of Galloway Trail, the Ayrshire Coastal Path, the Clyde Coastal Path and the John o’ Groats Trail.
We are both passionate about nature and wildlife and spend a lot of time bird watching and discovering insects and flowers along the way. For us it isn’t simply about doing as many miles as you can in one day.
And you’re completing the walk in stages?
As amazing as it would be to walk the full 494 miles in one go, we have been using annual leave and splitting the route into stages around work commitments and finances. When we did the Fife Coastal Path we actually walked most of that a day at a time at weekends as and when we had chance - we started in 2018 and finished in 2020! The key is in careful planning and staying alert to where you are and any upcoming turnings etc - although if you read our blog for the section from Greenock to Langbank you’ll see we don’t always get this 100% right!
How did you plan each route stage?
We always do a good amount of research in advance to find accommodation and plan the distance for each day based on the type of terrain and any sites of interest we want to visit en route. We also find it is worth thinking about doing fewer miles per day if you are going to be walking for five to seven days in a row. We usually enjoy covering about 10 to 12 miles a day. If you know your own pace you can divide up the route accordingly; it is just about finding the right balance for you.
On our first long distance walk we carried our own backpacks, then we realised there was such a thing as baggage transfer! Now we try to carry just a daypack with maps, sandwiches and first aid kit. Where there are no baggage transfer services, B&Bs can often help for a small charge and we’ve managed to find local taxi companies to take our bags on our behalf, although it is a bit more expensive that way.
Walking in to the wind, Ayrshire
And what are your top kit recommendations?
Number one is blister plasters! Followed by a tick removal card and extra water bottles ‒ I have a belt to attach an extra bottle and keep additional weight off my back and shoulders. Back-up snacks are essential ‒ we take porridge bars, as are caps for summer, warm hats for winter, cash for emergencies and antihistamines if you have a pollen allergy and any other medications you require. We’d also recommend sunscreen (no, honestly!), a walking pole ‒ I use one to help with an old knee injury but good too for moving back brambles etc. Sweets are also good for those ‘walking through endless bog moments’.
Sunset, Ailsa Craig
What have been the highlights and challenges so far?
Highlights have to include the sheer abundance and variety of wildlife we have encountered and those moments of pure tranquillity and calm you can experience. One particularly memorable instance was finding ourselves entirely alone on a sunny bay watching swans gracefully feeding in the sea, with the majestic Ailsa Craig in the distance. Sometimes folk worry that walking holidays are not a ‘proper rest’ but we find the opposite. Yes, it can be physically tiring but the benefits mentally are more than worth it; there is something deeply healing about walking in nature over the course of a number of days.
Putting aside a couple of nasty blisters and a lost beanie hat, the main challenges have been in relation to encounters with breaches of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act, including padlocked gates and electric fences. However, with some input and support from the Ramblers via email and social media we reported all issues to the access officers in the relevant local authorities and have received assurances that the issues we flagged will be addressed.
Titan Crane, approaching Glasgow
Find out more
You can follow Jennie and Matthew Knights’ progress on their blog and pledge a donation to the two charities they are raising fund for at ramblingknights.weebly.com
Read our expert’s guide on key factors to consider when choosing and planning a multi-day walking adventure.
Magazine of the Ramblers