If you’ve ever wanted to watch an hour plus of a gangly middle-aged man traipse through the UK, this might be of interest.
I took my first English walking tour in 2015 after nearly two decades of daydreaming of such a walk. At the time, I thought it was a once in a lifetime trip. As the summer of 2016 approached, however, I began fantasizing about going back. I thought my wife would not be keen on the idea but to my surprise, she was all for it.
I was back a mere week from my 2016 Dales Way walk when a friend approached me about a group walk in the summer of 2017. Within the course of a week, a group of 5 friends committed to a walk. My enthusiasm for English walking tours was apparently contagious.
As excited as I was for a group walk, I felt like I would be forfeiting my cherished alone time. Another outlandish idea began to form. How about a group AND and solo walk? It was in my 40th birthday that I found the dubious justification that I needed to take two walks in one summer. Initially apprehensive, my wife quickly supported my scheming.
So in the summer of 2017, I took two walks, totally just over 300 miles. I was hardly back from the Cleveland Way when I began to think about this summer’s adventure. It was about this time that I began to reflect and realized that I was happier than I had been in years, maybe decades. I found something about which I am truly passionate. Something I can look forward to every year. I could hardly have a conversation without annoyingly steering it back to my walks. At the same time, I found myself frequently fielding unsolicited questions from friends and acquaintances about my walks. My identity, personally and outwardly, became entangled with my new found passion.
I immersed myself in walking history and literature. My skeletal ideas about walking grew flesh and became more focused and nuanced. I feel like I’ve tapped into something that has been largely forgotten.
As my thoughts turned to summer 2018, I identified a few long-distance trails that were interesting. But another idea began to form: I wanted to ramble. Ramble in the truest sense of the word. No itineraries. No reservations (RIP Chef). Go where the wind blows.
It wasn’t long before my daydreaming took on an absurd scope. Could I walk from the most two most extreme points in Britain? As I tried to figure out where those extreme points were, I stumbled onto “LEJOG.” LEJOG is an acronym for Land’s End to John o’ Groats. While not technically the most extreme points, Land’s End, on the southwestern tip of England, and John o Groats, on the most northeastern tip of Scotland, are the two most extreme inhabited spots on the island.
LEJOG is not a path, it’s more of a challenge. The challenge is simply to get from one point to the other. It’s a very popular cycling challenge but it’s also frequently taken up by walkers. Because there is no set path, the walker is free to set their own course. The shortest route, which is all road, is 838 miles. The inspired walker employs footpaths, avoiding roads at all costs, resulting in a typical distance of 1,200 miles. While it’s possible to cover the 1,200 miles in two months, if you want to explore and not tax yourself, three months is recommended.
Three months. That is a hard sell. At first, it was a fantasy. The fantasy began to annex more and more mental real estate. I started to talk about it with my wife in sincere abstract. To my utter astonishment, my wife began to encourage me to do it. Not mere acquiescence but advocation.
Every time I think about writing this post I feel the need to defend myself. There’s a part of me that feels like I am doing something wrong. By disappearing for three months, I am asking a lot from my wife, kids, mom and all the people who help with keeping the household together – a chore which is amplified by the demanding needs of my disabled son.
It’s a very hard sell. But ultimately it’s a choice that’s up to my wife and I. Most spouses would not even consider taking on so much for their spouse’s midlife fantasies. I don’t know why my wife is such a supporter but she is. And I love her for it.
I’ve reached a place in my life where I am done accepting excuses to forgo the things that make me happy. As long as I have Anna’s support and my absence doesn’t put undue stress on my other obligations, I choose to say yes. In fact, I feel an obligation to say yes.
I have serious reservations about such an ambitious trip. Besides the domestic issues, I don’t know if I can pull it off, physically or emotionally. I’m terrified that I will become bored or injured. I love being alone, but I’ve never been alone for so long. Can I endure it? Will it be fun? Whatever the risks, I choose to say yes. If I fail, at least I tried.
I plan to have friends meet me for discrete portions of the walk, hopefully with enough frequency that I won’t go for more than a month without seeing a familiar face. My wife will join me towards the end to walk a trail that ends in the Scottish town where she was born.
Late June to late September, summer solstice to the autumn equinox. Roughly 1,200 miles, perhaps significantly more. As little road as possible and avoiding cities. I’ve cobbled together a network of footpaths that will take me from the most south-westerly tip of England to the most north-easterly tip of Scotland. More accurately, I’ve cobbled together a number of potential paths I could take, picking and choosing as I go. A true ramble.
In a bid to keep costs low and my itinerary open, I’ll be backpacking and camping. Britain is full of campsites and it’s legal to camp anywhere in Scotland. My biggest challenge will be finding reliable sources of food. While most villages have a pub, they tend to be hit or miss whether they serve food, often choosing not to if it’s busy or they just don’t like your looks. In the rural areas, reliable grocery/convenience stores can be hard to find or open for only a few hours a day.
I’ve outlined a route from which I will detour and rejoin as the mood strikes. This route takes me inland through Cornwall and Devon, mostly along either the Mary Michael Pilgrim Trail and the Lands End Trail. A quick cut over to Cheddar and up to Bath to connect to the Cross Cotswolds Path, Heart of England Way (with a detour through Burton Upon Trent), Limestone Way, Pennine Way, east to Glasgow through Melrose, West Highland Way, Great Glen Way and as much of the John o’ Groats Trail as is traversable in September.
I’m not taking a computer so regular blog posts may not be feasible. I plan on making weekly vlogs with my phone. Otherwise, I’ll try to post to Instagram and Facebook regularly. See the sidebar for links to my social media accounts.
I’ve put in about 500 backpacking miles since January, 300 of those miles in the last month and a half. It’s been difficult. The heat and daily obligations meant that I was up at 4 am many mornings, sometimes earlier. I am about as conditioned as I am likely to get. I hope it’s enough.
While I’m certainly not soliciting monetary support, in the past I’ve had people try to buy me beers on the trail as a gesture of emotional support. Therefore, I’ve added a button to the sidebar where you can buy me a pint or 12 and send a little note. One of my goals is to drink enough beer to equal the volume of a UK beer barrel, 288 imperial pints. If you feel compelled to encourage me in this worthy endeavor, I’m all mouth.
You are hereby cordially invited to virtually join me as I embark on my next once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Here’s a short video of my walk on the Cleveland Way.
I took quite a bit of video on the Coast to Coast walk. This is the result:
What a fantastic trip. The weather was phenomenal and the people were even better. The trail was varied and interesting. The pubs were superb. All around a great success.
Like I summarized for the Cotswolds Way, here are some stats:
- Days Walked: 6
- Miles Traversed: 100 on the dot, start to finish
- Days with Rain: about 30 minutes on the first day
- Pubs visited: 23
- Pints of real ale consumed: 42
- Varieties of real ale consumed: 41
- Pint of real ale returned: 3 (all exchanged free of charge)
- Cigars smoked: 1
- Ounces of medicinally applied whiskey: 1
- Friends made: 3
- Foot Issues: Not a single blister
I found myself wondering whether I preferred the Dales Way to the Cotswolds Way. The trails were definitely different. And there’s no doubt that the Dales Way was less physically demanding (that’s not to say it was a cake walk). In terms of overall experience, on the Dales Way I talked to a lot more people, which is a huge bonus. The north has a rawness that the pampered Cotswolds can’t match. People live in the Dales where it seemed that wealthy people vacationed in the Cotswolds. I did find myself missing forest trails on the Dales but between walking through a forest for 5 hours and no forest, I would choose no forest.
I’ve decided I don’t need to choose a favorite. I loved them both.
A strange coincidence occurred as I was bus hopping through some Lake District villages today. It seemed a very sweet and apropos way to finish this trip. When I first posted about my Dales Way trip, I linked to a poem by William Wordsworth entitled “Daffodils.” It’s a bit sappy, but Wordsworth keenly expressed the intimate connection I feel with these walks.
Wordsworth was an English poet who was among the first to popularize the walking tour, and, this poem was perhaps his most popular on the subject. It begins:
I wandered lonely as a cloudThat floats on high o’er vales and hills,When all at once I saw a crowd,A host, of golden daffodils;Beside the lake, beneath the trees,Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
For oft, when on my couch I lieIn vacant or in pensive mood,They flash upon that inward eyeWhich is the bliss of solitude;And then my heart with pleasure fills,And dances with the daffodils.
And there it is. This is the true value of why I walk out here. It’s soul medicine and its effects are long lasting. Years from now, I will be gray and grumpy and a memory of a place or experience from the Dales Way will pop into my head, and I will be happy for a moment. Speeding on a ridiculous bicycle down to Dent or being mesmerized by a riverside village. I’ll relive the feeling of magic. These memories are with me for the rest of me. They are mine in my solitude. And they are good.
Not gonna lie, I teared up a little. I don’t know why. But I do know it was a very poetic end to a wonderful trip.
Until next time…
I wore a GoPro during my walk and set it to take a picture every minute. The following video is the result. Be warned, it’s slightly vertigo-inducing! Hold on for a 100 miles in 5 minutes.
My buddy Trevor and I have been talking about hosting a real ale party for a while. We finally decided to pull the trigger and enlisted a couple other home brewers. The result was a four pin (each pin contains 5.4 gallons of beer) party with 40-50 guests.
Traditionally, cask beer is all about drinkability. With that in mind, we decided to brew relatively low abv beers. Up first, Trevor brewed a poundable raspberry wheat clocking in at 5.8%. He was shooting for under 5% but he added so much raspberry that he gained an entire percent. Next, I brewed a 3.7% pale ale inspired by the en vogue New England style IPAs. Christian brewed a traditional 5% British Strong Bitter (or ESB). And finally, Justin brewed a fabulous 5% horchata stout.
One of the great aspects of real ale is its freshness. Because the beer is low alcohol, you can push grain to glass pretty quickly with very little “greenness” you’d pick up from bigger beers. The result is wholesome and fresh tasting beer that is a delight to drink. None of these beers were a month old. The nose on the raspberry wheat exploded with raspberry and the pale ale showcased ample dry hopping. Another week of age on either of these beers would have produced an inferior beer.
Real ale only has a shelf life of a few days after the cask is opened for service. Whatever we didn’t drink, we would have to dump at the end of the night. We were fully ready to dump a few gallons. We didn’t think we could get through 21+ gallons of beer during a 4-hour party. 40 people and 21+ gallons, you do the math. The first pin kicked just over 2 hours in and all 4 were kicked before 4 hours was up. All the beer was gone. Victory.
As usual, the local home brewers and craft fans, showed up with mountains of quality food. So much great food.
One of the fun debates in the real ale world revolves around the use of a sparkler (I’ll post a summary of the debate in the next week or so). We encouraged everyone to try each beer with and without a sparkler and see if they formed a preference. The consensus was that the sparkler did indeed to change the beer. Two of the beers, the raspberry wheat and the bitter were generally agreed to be better without a sparkler and the pale and stout were better with the sparkler on. What struck me was that the preferences were almost unanimous.
Another great home brew party. We will definitely throw another one of these before the year is out. Thank you to everyone who brewed, cooked, drank, and help in other ways. We have a great community here in Arizona. Cheers!