A cape to cape WALK
A 1250 mile backpacking adventure through Britain ...
Before returning to live in Britain in 2013, after nearly 50 years of working overseas, I had given considerable thought to what I should do to celebrate my approaching 70th birthday and eventual retirement. At one time I had contemplated a long-distance bike ride, inspired by Anne Mustoe’s magnificent adventure (and subsequent book), A Bike Ride, which tells of her 12,000-mile-long solo ride around the world. Sadly, many of the Middle Eastern and Asian countries through which she cycled, in search of Romans and Alexander the Great, have since been ravaged by war or plagued by insurgency, and my plan to follow in her wake was placed on long hold.
The seed for a long distance walk through Britain had, however, actually been sown long before this, by a colleague and good friend, Roger Ellis. Roger and I worked together in the early 1970s, exploring for copper in the beautiful Zagros Mountains of south-eastern Iran. Roger told me about a book he had read whilst on a home leave, about some chap walking the length of Britain, and the long distance walk idea was parked at the back of my mind, for over 40 years, awaiting my return to Britain.
From about 2010 onwards, with retirement just visible on the horizon, I started to pursue the internet from my base in Lima, Peru, and came across two good mapping tools that allowed me online access to Britain’s splendid 1:25,000 scale Ordnance Survey maps. With their help, I devised an end-to-end route across Britain that would incorporate some of Britain’s splendid network of long distance trails. I joined these together with a network of bridleways, minor footpaths, canal towpaths and, where there were none, pathless terrain. This route would cross many wilderness areas and require full backpacking kit. I would call it my Cape to Cape walk.
The route that I eventually settled on started out from Cape Wrath, went along the Cornish cliffs, and then cut inland across Devon and Somerset to Glastonbury and Bath, and on to the Severn Bridge. I would then follow the delightful Welsh Borders to Clun in Shropshire, cross the English Midlands by way of Wenlock Edge and Cannock Chase, and on through the Derbyshire Dales to the start of the Pennine Way. This grandfather of Britain’s long-distance trails would take me along the crest of the Pennines for 250 moorland miles with a final climb up on to the Cheviot Hills and over into the Scottish Borders.
From the end of the Pennine Way, I would then follow St Cuthbert’s Way to the glorious River Tweed and cross the Southern Uplands and the Pentland Hills. After skirting around the former industrial heartland of Scottish Lowlands on canal towpaths, the John Muir Path and the West Highland Way would lead me into the Scottish Highlands and on to Fort William to clock up 1,000 miles.
From here a short ferry crossing would take me across the Loch Linnhe narrows, leaving behind the trappings of civilisation as I headed across the wild, remote and sometimes desolate lands of Ardgour, Knoydart, Torridon and Sutherland. This would make a splendid and unforgettable 250 mile-long grand finale for my 100-day Cape-to-Cape adventure.
I mostly wild-camped, but had no qualms about upgrading to a youth hostel or a B&B for the occasional touch of comfort, Internet access, and a splash of hot water. In the southern counties, I aimed to camp in woodlands, and in the northlands, I would often camp on open moors with curlew and skylark singing from aloft as I ate my porridge. In the North West Highlands of Scotland, the excellent bothy network is a veritable godsend for any backpacker who dares to venture into Highland midge country during the peak midge months of July and August.
I completed the 1250 mile-long walk in 99 walking days, averaging approximately 12.5 miles (20km) per day. According to my mapping software, I ascended a total of 48,000 vertical metres (157,000 feet) during the walk. I camped for 56 nights, and spent 17 nights in bothies, with the balance in hostels and B&Bs. I had no fixed timetable, and the uncertainty added to the adventure as the evening wore on and the shadows closed in around me. This is the essence of wild camping: the freedom to roam off the beaten track, exploring special places and overnighting where, within reason, the fancy takes you.
I carried a full set of mountain-rated camping gear (for details see Equipment List) My pack and basic contents weighed about 17 kilograms, (38 lbs) but in the North West Highlands of Scotland, I took on an additional three to four kilos of extra rations and fuel to carry me over the more remote sections.
Sincere thanks to my family and friends who spurred me along the way; to the many kind people whokept me supplied with drinking water, cups of tea, Superglue, cakes, beds for the night, hens’ eggs, the loan of a pub garden, an agricultural shed, complimentary breakfasts or just a friendly chat. And thanks to my old school mate Bob Peckham who risked joining me at Inchnadamph for the last 54 epic miles to Cape Wrath, by way of Arkle, Foinaven and Sandwood Bay. A special thanks to geologist friend Roger Ellis who planted the idea for an end-to-end walk over a game of Scrabble in a dusty tent in a snake-infested walnut grove somewhere in the Zagros mountains of south-east Iran, some 40-odd years ago!
A special thanks to my daughter Amanda who gave up many hours of her busy life to create the superb pen and ink illustrations for the chapter headings. Amanda and her daughter Fiona made valuable suggestions during the early drafting and editing process. Ali Hull helped enormously, knocking the first manuscript into shape, as well as offering very valuable advice throughout the whole book-writing process. I am sincerely grateful to Louisa Keyworth of Lovell Johns for the six beautiful geo-referenced route maps. Many thanks also to Mick Borroff who helped with the editing of the maps and photographs, and set me up with GPS mapping for the next long walk! A special thanks to Jon Barton and his accomplished team at Vertebrate Publishing, especially the editor Camilla Barnard whom I bombarded with changes right up to the last minute. I would also like to thank Nathan Ryder for the book’s excellent and very professional design. The book’s splendid cover photograph was taken by another Hadrian’s Wall walker, who, like many others I passed along the way, must remain anonymous. Finally, I would like to thank Yorkshire-born Charlotte Fox for designing this splendid website.
Many thanks, then, to everyone who helped me on and off the route – and to the reader for purchasing (or borrowing!) a copy of this book. I hope this small adventure might inspire some of you, who have not yet explored Britain’s wild places, to get some gear together and do so, heading over the horizon to join the rabbits, curlews and rustling creatures of the night.
But a word of caution: if you do, it might just change the way you think about everything …
Starting at Easter 2018, I am planning a long distance Spanish ‘Coast to Coast’ backpacking walk, from the Mediterranean coast near Barcelona to Cape Finisterre on the north-west tip of the Iberian Peninsula. The Romans believed this to be the End of the World, hence the name.
The route I have in mind first follows the GR-1, from the Greek and then Roman maritime trading town of Empuries, along the Pyrenean foothills to the Picos de Europa mountains on Spain’s north coast on the Bay of Biscay. After descending the Cares Gorge, I will cross into Asturias, passing through the provincial capital Oviedo and on to Salas, where I will take a short break back in England for the book launch in July. Following this, I hope to continue the walk along the north coast to join the less wellknown pilgrim route, the Camino del Norte, crossing into Galicia at the pretty coastal town of Ribadeo. From there I have a route mapped out that takes me around the bump to Ferrol where I join another pilgrim route, the little travelled Camino Ingles that goes to Santiago de Compostella. I then will follow the short Camino Finisterre pilgrim route than takes me to Finisterre where the walk ends.
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