From John O’Groats to Land’s End

John O'Groats -Lands End 1916

Robert Naylor was a Warrington timber merchant whose home when this book was published in 1916, was Beeston Towers in Cheshire. It is now a hotel. The 1372 miles covering the sights between John O’Groats and Land’s End was not his first long walk. In the Foreword he describes sailing in 1862 from Liverpool to London to go to sea and in 1870, walking back to Lancashire with his brother for 306 miles, averaging 25 miles per day. Their route is described as ‘circuitous’.

A year later they decided to walk from John O’Groats to Land’s End. They placed various restrictions upon themselves: they were not to take a ferry or accept a ride in any conveyance, they did not walk on Sundays and abstained from intoxicating drink. They elected not to carry maps but to rely on their own judgement and local advice. Interestingly they began their walk on September 6th 1871 and took nine weeks to complete it. I usually plan my walks for late spring or summer as the days are long, hopefully drier and in Scotland, the midges are not at their peak.

The Naylor brothers took a somewhat circuitous route to John O’Groats: on a ship from Aberdeen to Shetland, from there to Orkney and back to the mainland. In the late 18th century the Clearances were still underway. They met some men from one of the islands. Their ancestors had lived there for ‘as long as time immemorial’ but all the inhabitants had been expelled by the factor so that the whole island could be turned into a sheep farm.

The book is generously supplied with photographs. Naylor does not mention taking any photographs, so I assume they come from other sources.  Although the walk was undertaken in 1871, the book was not published until 1916. My copy was ‘published for presentation only’ and was presented to one Ezra Barnet by the author. In a brief afterword entitled ‘In Memoriam’ John Naylor attributes the idea of the adventure to his brother who had since died. He states that he wrote the book from diaries they kept during their travels and it does appear to be the first recorded journey of this route.

Many people have emulated them since, walking the length of the country or around the coast, running, cycling or swimming and numerous books have been published. If you don’t want to buy this book and support a bookseller, it is available on the Project Gutenberg website.

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Books about lighthouses

‘The Lighthouse Stevensons’ by Bella Bathurst has sat on my bookshelf for a while but had to be read during my most recent trip. We were staying in the last Northern Lighthouse built by the family; Eshaness in Northmavine, Shetland. It was finished in 1929 and unusually, was built with concrete because the local stone was deemed unsuitable. Most people know about Robert Louis Stevenson, the writer and numerous publications have been written about his life and works, but less was known about the rest of the family. I have heard some express surprise that the offspring of so many engineers could become a writer but reading the book reveals that several of Robert Louis’s forebears expressed the desire to go to university, one wrote poems, wanted to write fiction and one carried out experiments and published scientific papers. In her preface, Bathurst states that she did not intend the book to be a definitive biography of all four generations and therefore concentrated on the time between 1786 and 1890 when the first four Stevensons were working and the four lights most closely associated with them. It inevitably touches on the history of shipwrecks but also press gangs which interfered with the workforce for lighthouse building. In addition to being engineers, they also had to advertise for and appoint the keepers who were required until the last light was automated in 1998. There are several black & white illustrations of lights and some of the Stevensons.









The information sent to us by the Shetland Amenity Trust said that the keeper’s cottage had been owned by an American writer from 1999 and that she had written a book about her experience. I managed to find an ex-library copy of the paperback for only £2.60 and it arrived just before I left on my current trip so I read it on the plane.

The Last Lighthouse covers the eight years it took Sharma Krauskopf to search for and buy it and the early days of her and her husband’s ownership. It is laid out as a series of e-mails from her to friends, her husband and a growing list of people who wanted to keep updated about the project. She talks about the benefits of the lack of the sounds of civilisation, the landscape, the ocean and wildlife. One thing she said resonated with me after my very brief stay. Right next to the lighthouse is a car park and when we were there, people were wandering around, peering in the windows and asking to use the toilet. Nothing had changed since her experience in 1999.

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The Borders

I first travelled through the border country between Scotland and England when I was only six weeks old with my parents on their motorbike and sidecar. Since then countless trips have been made for both work and pleasure, crossing the border on the various roads that traverse it. The most recent journey was yesterday. I picked up Alistair Moffat’s ‘The Borders: a history of the borders from earliest times’ in the bookshop in Moffat a few weeks ago even though it was first published in 2002. I have read some of his other books but had not spotted this one previously. Born and bred in the borders he had a television career and was Director of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. He now runs the Borders Book Festival which sadly I cannot get to this year. Alistair begins the book in prehistory with continental shifts and ice-ages, imagining what life would be like based on what we know from geology and archaeology. He then traces the various peoples who have lived in, fought over, worshipped in and moved through the area as well as the myths, traditions, writing, art and music inspired by it. He continues this up to the end of the 20th century and also provides a bibliography. There is a small selection of photographs in the centre. This book certainly reminded me of some things I had forgotten and added greatly to my understanding of the area I will be travelling through for many more years.

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31 Vintage Posters That Demand You Pick Up a Book | Literary Hub

We can all agree that propaganda is bad. Right? But wait, let me ask you: what about literary propaganda? That is, what if you encounter a poster, and it slyly, via trickery, encourages you to read…

Source: 31 Vintage Posters That Demand You Pick Up a Book | Literary Hub

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The Edge of Extinction


Jules Pretty is Professor of Environment and Society at the University of Essex and has written several books. This, sub-titled ‘Travels with enduring people in vanishing lands’ is the first I have read and was published in 2014. Many peoples are and have been endangered because of colonisation, industrialisation and more recently, climate change. I was particularly interested to read the chapters on New Zealand, Australia and Death Valley, California as we have trips planned there in the next two years. We also passed through Ohio and the Amish communities while driving the Lincoln Highway last summer. Other chapters cover communities in China, Russia, Finland, Canada, Louisiana and Botswana. People in England, tend to think of communities at risk as being overseas. Scotland of course is very aware of the Clearances which continued until the 19th century. However, two chapters of the book are devoted to UK peoples. Marsh Farm in East Anglia and the Antrim Glens in Northern Ireland which we are very familiar with as my husband hails from North Antrim. The different people Pretty meets on his travels are all finding ways of adapting to a new world. There are extensive notes and lists of other sources, some already familiar, others not. I suspect will be reading and re-reading this book for some time.

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Temples for the Literary Pilgrim – The New York Times

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Icelandic Folk and Fairy Tales

With a planned visit to Iceland early in the diary for early next year, I could not resist picking up this book when I found it. The very next day, someone tweeted ‘Eight things to know about Iceland before you visit’, the first of which was that some people still believe in elves. I am very interested in mythology and its persistence in and adaption to modern life. The other night I caught the end of a programme about Ireland where someone was proudly announcing that a new road had been diverted round a fairy tree so as not to upset them.


The book was first published in Iceland in 1987 and the English translation in 2000. It was derived from a collection by a 19th century folklorist who had recorded many stories preserved in oral tradition. In addition to elves, there are chapters on Ghosts and Sorcerers, Saints and Sinners and a miscellaneous section with tales about serpents, giants, an ogress and others. It is illustrated with black and white drawings by Kjartan Gudjónsson.  I will be interested to see how many are still detectable on my visit.

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