Q&A with the team that walked the UK’s Longest Line
In the summer of 2021, Jenny Graham and Calum Maclean set off on a unique challenge in the Scottish Cairngorms. Don’t miss this Q&A to find out about how they got on walking the UK’s longest straight line.
“What’s the longest straight line you can walk in the UK without crossing a road?” This was the question put to the Ordinance Survey that inspired a unique and somewhat ridiculous geographical challenge in the remote Scottish landscapes of the Cairngorms. Intrigued and eager to find out more? Grab yourself a cuppa and keep reading to hear from Jenny and Calum.
Can you summarise what the Longest Line is all about?
Jenny: 4days, 3nights, 2pals and 1straight line through the Cairngorm National Park.
Walking the longest line between two paved roads in the UK.
Calum: It’s the challenge of walking the longest distance you can in a straight line in mainland Britain, without crossing a paved road. From one set of coordinates to another, trying to keep as close to “the line” as possible!
How did you get involved with this project?
Jenny: Calum said - "Hey, wanna come walk in a straight line with me next week?" I said 'sure, sounds fun"... With hindsight more questions should have been asked!
Calum: The Ordnance Survey devised the route, in response to a question on Twitter, and wrote a blog all about it. I’d read it at one time and thought it looked like an interesting concept but never seriously considered doing it myself! That was until my friends Matt and Ellie at Summit Fever Media asked if I fancied trying it…of course I did.
How did you prepare for a challenge like this?
Jenny: I didn't have too much time to prepare for this Challenge, but I have a good base hill fitness and bike endurance which saw me through.
Calum:I didn’t prepare! I’m a very experienced hillwalker so thought this knowledge would keep me right, and I know the Cairngorms area fairly well. I did one short straight line walk, through a field about a week or so before the long walk as a tester, and I have experience of walking or running on a compass bearing - but it doesn’t quite compare to a straight-line mission.
Did you get any advice from GeoWizard, one of the ‘straight line mission’ trailblazers?
Jenny: I didn't know about GeoWizard until after we had set off. If I had, I'd have asked him about the most efficient way to navigate.
Calum: No, but I have watched quite a few of his videos which I find very entertaining and a bit bonkers!
Was the challenge what you expected and did anything surprise you about it?
Jenny: I was surprised at the path a straight line takes. It sounds so simple, but I think we're programmed to look for the path of least resistance, so it took a while to get into the right mindset. It completely changes your perspective on a landscape.
Calum: I didn’t go in with particular expectations as such, I just wanted to enjoy whatever came, since it was such a different way of journeying for me. I didn’t consider how much heather there would be, and how slow it would be moving up even small hills. We ended up looking at the GPS more than I realised, in fact we were glued to it more than I’d like to be on a walk.
How difficult was it to stick to the line?
Jenny: Sticking to the line was a full-time job! One of us had to be on the navigation constantly. We used a GPS unit with OS maps and the route preloaded.
Calum: It was so easy to drift off. It happened usually when we ended up chatting or getting into a good walking rhythm, we’d find ourselves veering away. We started using map & compass and a GPS device but within about an hour, the map was packed away. The GPS device had OS maps loaded onto it, and our line on the screen, so you could see immediately if you had veered off. At times you could pick a landmark to line up and walk towards. We were checking the GPS pretty regularly.
What kept you motivated to carry on in the harder moments?
Jenny: 3 things...
Firstly; seeing how hard the media crew were working carrying all their heavy equipment.
Secondly; There was literally nowhere for us to go. Even if we wanted to bail it would have been a huge walk out.
Thirdly; It was never THAT hard. It was just a bit monotonous at times. Calum and I are both well experienced in the endurance world so are used to dealing with "boring miles". You just need to tap into your mindset so as your own negative thoughts don't drag you down.
Calum: I think having Jenny there was great, she’s got a very positive, upbeat character. But there was no ‘hard moments’ as such - it’s more of a slow grinding, annoyance at ‘the line’ which you start to feel controlled by. Stopping regularly at streams, having a lie down, eating the emergency chocolate, taking in the big views - it was taking the small moments to appreciate where we were that helped keep us going. Even having a good moan to get any complaints out of your head and dealt with can be a useful tactic.
How did you feel when you saw the road at the end of the challenge?
Jenny: Relieved and hungry!
Calum: Quite underwhelmed! It was pitch-black by the time we reached it, and it’s a fairly nondescript piece of road too, without much around in terms of a marker. A pub would’ve been better.
What advice would you give to someone planning to do a longest line challenge?
Jenny: Top 3 tips. Take walking poles! Check out water levels. If you're doing it in a pair, take a GPS unit each ( unless you're doing it by map & compass which would be cool!)
Calum: Practice it beforehand! Take on a line that will last a few hours or a day, to see how you enjoy the process. Travel light - if planning a multi-day one, do a route that you can drop food on or pick up food along the way. Decide beforehand if staying directly on the line, or seeing new places is your priority - you may be forced to choose at some point.
Were there any pieces of kit you felt helped you complete the challenge?
Jenny: My boots were incredible. Your ankles take such a beating on the uneven terrain. These boots gave me amazing support and were super comfortable even on the last day!
Calum: Walking poles were a must, they made some of the awkward hills easier.
Finally, do you have any plans for 2022?
Jenny: Hopefully I'll be racing my bike across Europe next summer in the Transcontinental 22. The really exciting bit is I'm experimenting and going to try it as a female pair. Which will be different, much harder possibly but also more fun!
Calum: Definitely no long straight lines! I love trying new ways of journeys, but would only consider a shorter straight line. There are some more ‘geographical oddity’ kind of journeys I want to do: maybe combining swimming and walking.
Inspired by Jenny and Calum's adventure? Keep your eyes peeled forour podcast coming later this week, for your chance to hear more from them. You can also or watch the Longest Line come to life in our exclusive film screening next week over on Facebook and Youtube.