This part of the site describes my largely solo walks across the nations of Great Britain, which I undertook between 2006 and 2016. The principle was the same for each: to find my own line across each nation, wherever I can visiting peaks or places that had long been on my ‘to-do’ list.
Alas, I didn’t have the weeks on end that permit a non-stop walk. Instead I spent a few days a year, usually in the spring or autumn, starting at the place I had left off and ending 60 miles or so further on. Almost always, I used public transport to and sometimes within these breaks.
They were mostly rural routes but not slavishly so. The Scotland route took in Edinburgh, and the England route ran through Birmingham. As a Londoner, I’m a regular city walker, so in a way it would be strange to force wide diversions around conurbations that have good through routes. But where I can, I look to the wild: not always the glamour heights, for I’m a keen moorland walker, where the crowds don’t often go, and even today you can have a pathless conundrum to solve.
The walk across Wales took me from 2002 to 2006. It ran from Newport on the south coast to Llanfairfechan on the north, taking in the Beacons and Carneddau with drove roads and Plynlymon in between.
I started the England walk a few weeks before I finished the Welsh, in 2006. I began at Land’s End, heading to the border north of Berwick-on-Tweed. I went along the north Cornwall coast, then over Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor, and along the Cotswold Way. After crossing the Midlands, Peak District, Yorkshire Dales and Pennines, finally I took to the Cheviot hills before the coast took me to the border in 2016.
The walk across Scotland ran from 2007 to 2014, from the same border as I was to reach on the England walk. As in England, a coastal start. I then crossed the Lammermuirs before returning to the coast and tracking through Edinburgh. Canals took me through the central belt before turning right for the Trossachs.
I hit the Highlands proper in 2010, taking in a number of Corbetts and Munros on a route through Glen Lyon and north to Corrour, and the following year, I crossed the Great Glen and finished at the famous Cluanie Inn. From there I took a Cape Wrath Trail variant through Achnashellach to Oykel Bridge, which I reached in June 2013. The following year I completed the final stretch through Sutherland to Cape Wrath.
Race against time
Increasing age was just one aspect of the ‘race against time’ element.
Another was the continuing loss of village services, which made some aspects of logistics difficult. Indeed some bus routes that I relied on have already disappeared. Moreover, the pub trade is in a dreadful state at the moment, and so the wonderful Tomdoun Hotel is now but a memory, for example. Perhaps overall England and Wales are more at risk of further depletions than Scotland, if only because the loss has already happened in Scotland, at the time of the clearances 200 years ago. Then as now, the threat was profit – someone else’s, usually.
There’s a longer term factor, climate change. It barely affected my own walk, and I was lucky to have avoided some of the recent storm and flood periods that could have rendered walking difficult if not downright dangerous. But in the mid-2050s? If, say, one of my sons should seek to recreate my exploits? None can be so certain of what they should find – for there’s every prospect that the great commercial interests of oil, power and money, encouraging superstition and ignorance in their wake, will do their best to stymie what faint and uncertain moves to a safer global future might be ventured by our weak, careless and sometimes downright evil leaders.
But let’s not despair. I’ll keep putting one foot in front of the other as long as I am able.
So what next?
With the three nation walks complete, I thought of new targets. Before reaching Cape Wrath, my plan was to complete the 2000-foot hills of England and Wales, the Hewitts. But I probably won’t; my great love is ‘through walking’, journeying – at root, travelling. So the remaining National Trails beckon; I walked the Southern Upland Way in 2015 and 2016, and have since picked up bits of part-complete trails like Glyndwr’s Way and the Ridgeway to bring my total up to 11. And I’ve started a self-planned west-to-east walk across the Highlands too.