My own mistakes: For JoGLE I had used the same sort of map / guidebook setup like on my hike through Germany a couple of months earlier. I had the whole route as a track on my GPS. The GPS had only basic maps, in this case Open Street Maps. I carried guidebooks with strip maps for the marked official trails and print outs for the stretches between them. On top of all that I carried an overall guidebook for the whole route by Cicerone - something that was not available for my German hike. This set up had worked extremely well for my hike in Germany, but was absolutely insufficient for JoGLE. Why is that? Well, in Germany there was not much need to find alternate routes due to bad weather. Also German trails are very well marked. Even if you do not have great maps, you will get there by just following the trail markers. The situation in the UK is very different: Gale force winds and driving rain very often made me want to change to a lower or less exposed route - but unfortunately alternative routes were not covered by my strip maps or print outs and my basic GPS maps were too unreliable and not detailed enough for creating alternates. Following established trails was not an option either: There are far less waymarked trails in the UK than in Germany and even if there was an established trail the waymarking is usually so bad that you will get lost without a detailed map.
UK is not a good country for long-distance hiking: Keep in mind that I am writing this paragraph just with respect to long-distance hiking, e.g. month long camping treks. What is tolerable for shorter trips becomes a big problem if you have to deal with day after day after day! And some problems do not arise if you are not camping but using hostels and or B&B. What made me arrive at my "not suitable" verdict?
- No forest: As I have pointed out in earlier posts, only 5% of the UK is forested as opposed to 30% of Germany. And this leads to a serious problem for long-distance hikers: There is no shelter from the inclement weather. You are almost always directly exposed to the wind and rain. This can make hiking miserable and camping almost impossible. If you are able to find a rare patch of forest it will be fenced in and most probably completely overgrown.
- Bad waymarking: There are not many fully waymarked long-distance trails. Of course there are thousands of public footpaths, but finding your way on them can be challenging. Because there are no trees, blazes on trees that are used in Germany will not be found in the UK. Instead you will see signpost showing you the general direction - and then you are on your own finding your way across huge pastures full of aggressive cattle or mud pools. If you are lucky you will find foot paths signs on stiles and gates, but again they will only show the general direction. Even with a good map and/or a GPS navigation is difficult and time consuming.
- Difficult terrain: The combination of cattle, a lot of rain and no forest turns a huge part of British trails into one huge mud pool. Especially notorious are cattle gates: Because there is a lot of animal movement the area around them is generally one big dirt pool. But of course the gates are usually locked and you can only open it by stepping right into the deepest part of the dirt pool - yuk! Although you would assume that there aren't many steep climbs and descents because the UK does not have any high mountains. Wrong! Whenever there is a hill the trail climbs straight up the steepest slope only to drop straight down again immediately. It seemed to me that they tried to make the hills as difficult as possible in order to disguise the fact that there are no mountains. Also: Switchbacks do neither exist in British vocabulary nor on trails....
|Can you spot the stile?|
- Stiles and gates: It is not a great problem to climb a stile once in a while, but if you have to climb one every 10 minutes it starts to get annoying. I encountered the highest density of stiles on Offa's Dyke with up to 80 stiles in 20 km!!!! And of course most of them are not exactly easy: I encountered loads of half or completely broken stiles, slippery rock stiles and stiles completely overgrown with stinging nettles and/or thorny blackberry bushes.
All those factors lead to a dramatic drop of my daily mileage. I usually hike around 36 km per day, whereas I was happy to cover 30 km on my JoGLE hike. The only stretches were I could actually just hike without spending hours on navigation, climbing stiles and mastering mud pools were on canal tow paths or rail trails.
To sum it up: I think there is much better and easier long-distance hiking in other countries than the UK. If you do not want to specifically hike in the UK for whatever reason, I would just recommend hiking somewhere else. If you insist on hiking in the UK be prepared for a low daily mileage and lots of rest days due to bad weather. Carry good rain gear and bring detailed maps for the whole trail. If I was to hike in the UK again I would chose a route along towpaths and rail trails - or cycle John O'Groats to Land's End instead of hiking it. But if you are just looking for a 1 or 2 week hiking holiday the UK offers some really unique and beautiful trails like the Pennine Way, Offa's Dyke Path or the South West Coast Path.