Tuesday, 8 June 2010

So you want to walk the coast... Introduction

In September 2003 I finished a year-long, 6200-mile stroll around the coastline of Britain (*). I wrote up fairly detailed descriptions of each day of the walk and put them on my website.

Since then I have received a steady stream of correspondence from people wanting to walk all of, or part of, Britain's coastline. Many of these questions are identical, so I thought that I would write a blog post that detailed some of the answers. It grew alarmingly in length, so it seemed best to split it up into sections. These are:
  1. Introduction
  2. Routes, maps, support, companionship and expense
  3. Rights of way
  4. Camping, food, supplies and ablutions
  5. Kit
  6. Safety
  7. Charity
  8. Highlights and lowlights
  9. Further reading
I hope that this will be of use to people.

Introduction: So why walk the coast?
So why spend the best part of a year walking day after endless day? Why force yourself to be outside in sun and rain until your skin resembles particularly aged leather? Why put your body through the rigours of walking thousands of miles? Why risk your career by putting your life on hold for the best part of a year?

These are questions that you will have to answer for yourself - your motivations may be to raise money for a favourite charity; to challenge yourself or just to get away from it all. Everyone will have a different reason for walking the coast. Yet it is important to have a reason to act as a little kernel of encouragement when the going gets tough. And, believe me, it will get tough.

For it should be made clear that it is not easy. There will be times when you are tired, cold and bedraggled, and you absolutely have to walk five miles in an hour to reach your destination. Yet there will also be magical moments: a beautiful sunset, a glimpse of a pod of dolphins or simply a great view. You will receive acts of kindness that you will never be able to repay, yet are willingly given. These moments of joy will remain in your memory for far longer than the bad times. The feeling when you reach the end may well be the supreme moment of your life. After all, more people have been to the top of Everest than have walked the coast of Britain.

So why did I do it? Looking back, there were a number of reasons. Firstly, I was recovering from a number of painful operations on my left ankle, and walking was a way of reasserting myself.

Secondly, I loved walking. This may seem like a strange reason, but it was fantastically important: I can find as much pleasure in walking along a canal through the centre of London as I can from climbing a mountain. The joy of walking propelled me onwards.

Thirdly, I wanted a challenge. I had spent a good proportion of my life being told by people I could not do things: ski, rollerskate, run; at one time a doctor told me that I would not be able to walk properly again. I had the last of several operations on my ankle in May 1998; in August 1999 I walked the Pennine Way. Instead of feeling satisfied at the end, I wanted more. The coastwalk went some way to satiate that feeling.

Fourthly, and perhaps most importantly, my life was at the right place. I was bored with my job, and my girlfriend was keen to drive a motorhome to support me. I had enough disposable income to pay for the walk, and no dependants to look after. I will probably never be in that situation again, so I am glad that I took the opportunity when it showed itself.

Other people will have different reasons, many better and more worthy than my own. Graham Harboard walked to raise funds for a charity he had set up in memory of his late wife; Tom Isaacs walked to raise money for the Parkinsons Disease Society. Do it for charity or do it for joy: it is your choice.

(*) Technically I walked the mainland of Britain, as I did not do Ireland. People who complain about this are pedants who should go out and do the walk themselves as penance.

No comments: