21st November 1871

End of the first recorded walk between John O’Groats and Land’s End

Although John O’Groat’s isn’t the UK’s most northerly point, and Land’s End isn’t its most southerly, no two points on the British mainland are further from one another than those two extremities. This anomaly encourages modern-day explorers to cover the distance, in one direction or another, by foot, cycle and car on a daily basis.

The most commonly taken road route is just over 870 miles long, with signposts at either end stating the distance to the furthest end as 874 miles. As the crow flies, the two points are just over 600 miles apart, but cross-country walkers following trails and paths routinely walk twice this distance on a journey that takes several months to complete.

First recorded walk

The first recorded walk was the 1372-mile hike completed by John and Robert Naylor in 1871, who started in John O’Groats on 18 September and worked their way south, documenting their progress for publication in the book “From John O’Groats to Land’s End by Robert Naylor and John Naylor.”

“It was about half-past ten o’clock when we started on our long walk along a circuitous and unknown route from John O’Groat’s to Land’s End,” they wrote, recording that they were in high spirits as they headed towards Wick, after a morning expedition to the beach to collect shells. “Our road lay through a wild moorland district with a few farms and cottages here and there, mainly occupied by fishermen. There were no fences to the fields or roads, and no bushes or trees, and the cattle were either herded or tied to stakes.”

Whale skeleton

Half way to Wick, they came across a farm, “and here we saw the skeleton of a whale doing duty as a garden fence. The dead whale, seventy feet in length, had been found drifting in the sea, and had been hauled ashore by the fishermen. Mr. Nicolson had an ingenious son, who showed us a working sun-dial in the garden in front of the house which he had constructed out of a portion of the backbone, and in the same bone he had also formed a curious contrivance by which he could tell the day of the month.”

They crossed from Scotland to England by way of Scotch Dyke at 9.50am on 12 October, by which point they were almost a month into their walk.

Disappointment at the border

“We expected to find a range of hills or some substantial monument or noble ruin to mark the boundary between the two countries, and were rather disappointed to find only an ordinary dry dyke and a plantation, while a solitary milestone informed us that it was eighty-one and a half miles to Edinburgh. We were now between the two tollbars, one in Scotland and the other in England, with a space of only about fifty yards between them, and as we crossed the centre we gave three tremendous cheers which brought out the whole population of the two tollhouses to see what was the matter.”

They reached Land’s End on 18 November, and “placed our well-worn sticks, whose work like our own was done, on the rock before us, with the intention of throwing them into the sea, but this we did not carry out.” Instead, they carried the sticks home to Cheshire, where they arrived on 21 November.

“The news of our arrival soon spread through the surrounding country, where we were well known, and for a time we were lionised and visited by a host of friends, and our well-worn sticks, which at one time we thought of leaving in the sea at Land’s End, were begged from us by intimate friends and treasured for many years by their new owners in the parish of Grappenhall.”



Other events that occured in November

FREE Scotland history newsletter

Don't miss our weekly update on Scotland's fascinating history. We promise never to sell your data to anyone else, and there's a super-easy unsubscribe link on the bottom of each email so you can leave whenever you want.