So. I’m home. Mission accomplished. I’m adjusting back to normal life. I just re-read the blog post I wrote last year when I explained that I was going to do a long walk, and why. I’m so happy that I did the walk. Looking back now, it was actually so much better than I had expected. One thing that strikes me is just how happy, contented, I was, most of the time. I felt alive and stretched in a good way.
Although I had a big goal to aim for – walking the length of Britain – beyond that I didn’t pin it down too much. I didn’t have a deadline to aim for, which was really helpful. I don’t think I’d have been any quicker if I’d had a fixed date to finish by. It was good to be able to be flexible, change my route as needed, go faster at times and slower at others. Sometimes I felt bad when other long distance walkers overtook me, but that’s just about me being silly and overly competitive. I had to remind myself that this was my walk, a walk to be enjoyed; not a race. I took off my watch after a week and never wore it again. I still haven’t put it back on now that I’m home. I tried really hard to focus on each day, rather than think about the walk as a whole. Until right near the end, the size of the walk was quite intimidating to me. I remember getting to Crieff, and thinking about the overall walk, and suddenly feeling overwhelmed ‘Help! it’s just too big!’ Which was totally illogical because I’d walked 900 miles by then. So my tactic was to simply think about the forthcoming day, and do my best to enjoy it. Occasionally I’d meet a dour soul running a B&B, who’d say “don’t you get up in the morning and think ‘oh no, another day of walking’?” I can honestly say I always looked forward to my walk every day. Some bits were more interesting than others, but that helped to teach me to be patient. When I sometimes had to walk along a duller section, maybe a long bit of road or an unchanging moorland, I learnt to relax and listen to birds, look at flowers, and just think my thoughts. I’d remind myself how lucky I was to be outdoors, walking.
Getting fit was a benefit I had looked forward to. It was strange, during the first four to six weeks or so. I felt really tired every evening, and went to bed as soon as I could. My lower back, hips, and quads often felt quite achy. Nothing serious, just a bit achy. Then quite suddenly, I think it was somewhere on the Pennine Way, I started to feel full of energy. Whilst I still had days in which I felt weary, my body (feet excepted) never felt any tiredness or aches again. I felt strong. I still do. Ian says now that I’m home I am like a caged animal, and so I’m going out on my bike, running, and swimming, in order to burn off some energy. I’m thrilled too to be able to fit into clothes that I’ve not worn for 5 years or so.
Early on in my walk I wrote a blog post about foot cream. At the time I’d only had one blister and the foot cream was working it’s magic. It continued to do so – after that point I think I just had one other small blister, and that was caused by doing some running when I was in Scotland. So as far as I’m concerned, Gewohl foot cream is incredible. However, I did have foot problems. After I had walked through Somerset, where I encountered quite a lot of tarmac, my soles of my feet started to be quite painful. For a while it felt as if I was standing on bare bones, with no muscle or fat to protect the bones from the ground. It was a horrible feeling. I swapped from trail running shoes to boots when I got to Shropshire, and gradually my feet started to feel better. They remained quite stiff most mornings, and more so if I walked on roads. In fact, now that I am home they are still recovering, and complain if I walk about the house in bare feet. I’m relaxed about it – I visited a foot doctor half way through my walk and he said that my feet are really healthy; its natural to have some foot fatigue and aches when doing a far greater amount of walking than normal. So I’m confident that they’ll sort themselves out.
The beauty of our country was a big draw for me in doing a long walk in the UK as opposed to abroad. The landscapes I saw actually surpassed my expectations. Having lived and worked all over the UK, I thought I knew these isles pretty well. But I discovered all kinds of places I’d not been to before. And of course, taken at walking pace, everything looks quite different. It’s like savouring a fabulous 5 course meal, as opposed to gobbling up a sandwich on the hoof. I took inspiration from the Olympics last year, and the opening ceremony’s label of ‘Isles of Wonder’. Wonder is such a special, child like emotion. As adults our everyday life is such that we rarely feel it. I felt so lucky that there were many occasions on my walk when my jaw dropped, when I felt I could burst with joy. It is hard to pull out a single highlight. I very much enjoyed getting to know unfamiliar areas such as Cornwall, Derbyshire, the Scottish Southern Uplands, the Flow Country. My first day was memorable – after feeling nervous for the week before I set off, everything suddenly felt right, and I knew this was what I wanted to do. My last day on the mainland was very special. It felt like Christmas. The long, 34 mile day through the Cairngorms was stunning and physically an amazing feeling. Standing on Pen Y Ghent in Yorkshire, on a clear day, with views of the Lake District, was wonderful. But equally I remember a hot day near to Edinburgh, when I followed a tiny canal feeder channel, through banks of spring flowers. I remember seeing a tiny red deer fawn very early in the morning near Blair Atholl. The first day it was warm enough to wear a T shirt, on the Quantocks in Somerset. The couple in Staffordshire I chatted to in a pub who gave me £5 for my fundraising. The joy of the lady I met in northern Scotland who had just climbed her first 3000 foot mountain – it turned out later in the conversation that she’d been diagnosed with MS a couple of years ago. Meeting up with Ian a month after I’d set out – the first time he’d been well enough after his back operation to travel out to see me. I could go on and on and on.
One thing I hadn’t realised beforehand was that a benefit to doing a long walk in the UK was that it meant something to all of you reading this blog. If I’d gone off and done the Appalachian Trail or the Camino trail in Spain, I don’t think it would have been such fun to share my experiences. The distance of walking the length of the British mainland means something to all of us who live here.
And this blog itself has been a great source of pleasure to me. It has been so encouraging to hear from friends, family, colleagues old and new, and new friends – whether via comments on the blog, texts, or emails, or LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter. I certainly didn’t feel alone. I loved having the time and inclination to chat to people that I passed on the trail, in towns, in hostels and B&Bs. Plus I was lucky enough to stay with a number of very kind friends who gave me a bed for the night. And then there were the intrepid souls who came out to walk with me. I also met a number of other walkers, which was great. Bill, Grant, Ian, Scott & Aiden were the other Lands End to John O’Groats walkers who I met. So not many! I asked the photographer at John O’Groats how many walkers he sees complete the distance each year. He estimated about 20 to 40 people. It’s not many compared to the 6,000 souls who complete the Camino (Way of St James) in Spain each year.
Having completed the walk, more or less 1,200 miles, it seems surprisingly achievable in retrospect. I have had many comments from people saying that I’m brave to do such a walk as a woman on my own. I don’t really see why I’m brave, or feel brave at all, but I do hope that any other females thinking of doing a solo challenge may feel encouraged to do it. I’ve always thought that it would be far worse to miss out on some incredible experiences in life just because of some ill defined fear.
I’m really thrilled about how the fundraising for Mending Broken Hearts (British Heart Foundation) has gone. People have been, and continue to be, so generous. Thank you ever so much. The total amount now is £3,248 including Gift Aid, which is awesome. The donation page is still open for another week or so – if you’ve not already sponsored me then please feel free to leave a small donation.
Please don’t ask me what’s next. I just want to look back and enjoy the memories I’ve racked up. I want to keep fit. I need to find a job. I want to keep making the most of each day as it comes.
Thank you for reading.