An early, unrecorded walk from John o’ Groats to Lands End

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Our Collections Team recently received a visit from two Tillicoultry residents, offering RSGS the gift of some Ordnance Survey 1” to 1 Mile maps of Scotland dating from the late 1920s-early 1930s. Neatly folded in their original red-beige covers, when laid out in geographical sequence, they cover a long diagonal swathe of Scotland from Caithness south to the National Border near Langholm.

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We thought there might be duplication with maps we already hold, and do not normally accept or keep duplicates, but the maps were accompanied by an unusual story. The maps had belonged to the great-uncle of one of our visitors.  He was born in 1888 in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, a town well-known in the past for its carpet factories – though these maps were destined for no such soft-carpeted walking use.  Instead, they accompanied their owner on his solo, long-distance walk (just over 600 miles as the crow flies but considerably further in reality due to the tricky nature of the terrain to be traversed) from John o’ Groats in the late 1920s, ending successfully at Lands End in the early 1930s. This walk was done in segments over 4 years because it could only be undertaken in the walker’s annual monthly holiday allocation.  Although no journal of his walk appears to have been written, our visitors told us it had involved him having fresh clothing posted to pre-planned places en route. The story has a further interesting twist, for family lore has it he walked across the Forth Rail Bridge as part of his trek. Walking was clearly in his blood for his father had written a book on local walks around Kidderminster in 1926, though his youngest child was more ambitious and long-ranging!  But he did not appear to have advertised his feat beyond his immediate family.

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The first recorded walk from John o’ Groats to Lands End seems to have been made in 1871, though until 1960, when Dr Barbara Moore – amid much newspaper and media attention – undertook this walk (some Members will remember this), followed by Billy Butlin of holiday camp fame setting up a mass road-walking race between these two points, there’s little record of those who may have undertaken this walk between 1871 and 1960.

RSGS welcomes further donations to our collections, with the proviso that if we already hold such or they do not fit our collection parameters, we may dispose of any duplicate items for the financial benefit of the Society. 

Thank you to our Collections Team for putting together this feature for us.