On account of the fact the world went to shit and no one really knew if or when international travel will return to some manner of normal, we scrapped all plans to lounge on a beach somewhere beautiful and hot whilst being brought cocktails in favour of hiking the length of Great Britain. Yeah, because that’s a much better plan. In fairness there are many trails that we’ve been banging on about completing for ages now but we’ve always been limited to what we can do in a week’s annual leave, and as we were intending to quit our jobs to travel anyway we thought sod it, let’s jack it all in and walk from Lands End to John O Groats. That’ll be fun. As we started looking at the route we decided to use the north section of the South West Coast Path to make a start, and eventually figured it’d be rude not to start in Poole and do the whole thing. That somehow morphed into “might as well tag the South Downs Way onto the start of that” and I have no idea why but I’m guessing wine might have played a role in that decision.
There are pros and cons to travelling through our home country. On one hand we don’t have to worry about flights because we’re already here, or insurance because we have full use of the wonderful NHS should something go horribly tits up. We speak the language, we like the beer, and we’re familiar with the currency. We won’t have to do battle with shit exchange rates (thanks, Brexit) and foreign transaction charges because all of our money is already in the Great British Pound. It’s also a pretty good starter hike I think, aside from the Highlands of Scotland there isn’t really any genuine wilderness left in Britain and whilst you could also file that firmly under “cons”, it does mean you’re never too far from a town with a shop and a means of communication. You don’t really have to plan your resupplies more than a couple of days ahead, and I can’t see us having to carry more than three days worth of food.
On the flip side we’re going to have to do battle with the country’s overpriced, convoluted and often unreliable public transport system once we get all the way to John O Groats then realise we have to now get back to the south of England. Seriously, you’ll need to start considering hocking organs on the black market if you want to get a train, y’know, anywhere. You can largely forget Sundays if you want to catch a bus somewhere even vaguely rural, or you’ll have to count on them for rail replacements when the trains aren’t running. It’s quite the kick in the minge when you’re sat in traffic on a bloody coach whilst clutching your train ticket which probably cost you two limbs; one from the upper body and one from the lower.
I wouldn’t be British if I didn’t mention the weather. The fucking weather. It will rain. A lot. It will not be the nice, Tropical rain we experienced on our day walks in Borneo, where we just dumped our electronics into a dry bag and let ourselves get drenched. It won’t be the welcome reprieve from sweating that was in the rainforest. It will be cold, it will sometimes be sideways, it will occasionally be hail, it will be utterly miserable, and it will not stop. We’re going to be camping for most of this, often wild camping, but we will definitely need a contingency budget for when it’s not stopped pissing down for three fucking days and we just want two nights in a hostel or a B&B to get whatever passes as dry in the Motherland.
So, hopefully in April, plague permitting, we’re kicking off with the South Downs Way, our local trail. We live in Brighton and we’ve hiked the shit out of pretty much everything east of Chanctonbury Ring. It’ll be nice to kick off a 2000 mile or thereabouts journey with the familiar rolling hills of the Downs. Okay so they’re not as dramatic as your fancy northern hills but they’ve got their own charm and I’m very fond of them. I will likely get very little sleep on wild camping nights though, I know how busy the Downs can get with humans and cows. I do not like cows. Or humans for that matter.
The South West Coast Path is the longest national trail in the United Kingdom at 630 miles / 1014 kilometres, or at least it will be until the England Coast Path is completed. I’m very much looking forward to this trail. Over 600 miles of gawping at the sea? Yes please! I’ll probably live off cream teas throughout this section. I think it’s law that cream teas should be consumed at every available opportunity when visiting a Devon or Cornish seaside town or village and I wouldn’t want to fall foul of the Old Bill now would I? This trail will also take us through Land’s End and the utter fucking eyesore someone saw fit to build there, where we will officially begin the main event after the 500 mile warm up; Land’s End to John O Groats.
Offa’s Dyke Path is a trail Tarrant has had her little heart set on for a long time. It more or less follows the border of England and Wales along a sod off great big ditch that a chap called Offa built to keep the Welsh out of the Kingdom of Mercia. I say “chap”, the dude was a legit king. Of Mercia. “Yeah but where is Mercia though?” I hear you cry. So it turns out that Mercia was, in a nutshell, a large section of present day England before the Kingdom of Wessex beat up all their neighbours and united them all into the Kingdom of England. I had no idea this was a thing that existed ever. Did I learn it at school and just forget? Did I just remember all about crop rotation in the 17th century whilst this fascinating piece of information was replaced by all of the lyrics to “Turtle Power!” by Partners In Kryme? No idea. I look forward to learning more about this on the trail.
The Pennine Way, the oldest National Trail in the country, will take us all the way from Edale in the Peak District and over the border of England into Scotland. I believe paving stones have been laid across the boggier areas so we shouldn’t, in theory, end up waist deep in peat questioning all of our life choices. I feel like this will be the wildest of the English trails, plus the North isn’t renowned for it’s gloriously sunny weather, and I envision myself completely over-using the word “bleak” throughout this blog. I think I’m looking forward to this trail the most. I will revaluate this statement when we’re three days in and it’s not stopped raining.
The West Highland Way is apparently Scotland’s most popular hiking trail. We do not expect to be alone. We also don’t expect to finish this trail with the full complement of blood that we started with on account of the fact the Scottish midge resides here, and they are a dark army of tiny evil ninjas who will replace all of your blood with itching in seconds. Seconds I tell you! I fully intend to douse myself in DEET strong enough to melt children for the whole of Scotland. This trail also finishes in Fort William, the jump off for Ben Nevis, which we want to climb despite the fact we’ll have just walked literally hundreds of miles.
The Great Glen Way starts in Fort William where the West Highland Way finishes, and follows the Great Glen. Obviously. I’m not going to lie, I had to Google what a glen is and turns out it’s a valley. There are two options at one point I believe; a high route and a low route. We’re hoping to take the high route but I guess this’ll depend on the weather when we get there. No point in taking the higher option if it’s blowing a gale and you can’t see three metres in front of you and, it’s quite likely this will be the case given our luck with weather. If we’ve not been devoured by midges by then, this trail will take us into Inverness.
The John O Groats Trail is a relatively new endeavour and is still a work in progress. When I first started researching this trail, the online guide casually mentioned jumping over barbed wire fences. Oh. Good. Fences. Barbed wire ones. The spiky kind. Cool. They were in the process of putting stiles over them so we’ll see what happens when we get there, and whether we finish the walk with our clothing intact. I read somewhere that it’s meant to fill in the gap north of Inverness for people walking between the extremes as it used to involve some very dull road walking. Speaking of which, people who walk or cycle the distance between Lands End and John O Groats get to call themselves End To Enders which kind of sounds like some manner of lesbian sex toy.
Of course we’ll have to fill in the gaps between the trails which will be nice because we’ll get to make up our own paths. We’re not in a mad rush to complete this either, it’ll very much be a meander, not a march, though it’d be nice not to arrive in Scotland and freeze to death because it’s December. We’re thinking an easy five months should do it with plenty of rest days. Once we’re End To Enders, I guess we’ll just sit, and chill, and drink our body weight in Prosecco, and wonder what to do with the rest of our lives.