Welcome to my blog about my walk around the British mainland (and perhaps some of the islands too). I am planning to walk the whole coast of mainland Britain, but doing it in stages over a number of years. Not for any particular reason other than sheer enjoyment. I am writing this blog in hindsight having covered a significant portion of the coast already. So far I have walked continually from Bristol around the England coast to Dersingham on the Nortfolk Coast via Lands End. That should give me plenty to write about as I continue my walk, so I will start this blog from Bristol and head west. For this reason you might find some of the details a bit hazy, as I’m writing some of this from memory of events often a good few years ago. I hope if you are planning a similar walk the details of the paths I took and photos of the walk will prove useful, as those of others that have done this have been useful to me. I hope you enjoy it nevertheless and if you’re planning something similar, I hope I can provide some useful information to you.
Walking the coast line of the UK is of course not a small undertaking and wasn’t originally something I planned on doing. I have always enjoyed spending time at the coast. The fresh air, the sound of the sea, the uninterupted views out to sea, wonderful scenery and the feeling of freedom are all factors that have drawn me to the coast and drawn me back again and again.
As a child family holidays were always taken at or close to the coast and I always wanted to spend as much time as possible on the beach. My parents used to like to do a small coastal walk. As a youngster I enjoyed the views but didn’t usually enjoy the walk there, I never understood why we didn’t just drive there, take a few photos and get back to the beach! Of in hindsigh, I realise many of the places we walked to we did so because there wasn’t access by car.
As I’ve got older however I’ve enjoyed coastal walking more and more, the wonderful scenery, the thrill of seeing what is round the next headland, finding that undiscovered and secluded bay, away from the crowds. As well as at times experiencing the varieties of weather too! Having lived for a while in the South West I began to walk parts of the South West Coast Path from near my home in Exeter. Returning to the South East of I made some long day trips down to the Dorset coast and walked east to Poole. When I got to Poole I decided why not continue, there seems to be a path and so I started walking the rest of the coast and the project begun from there.
Why have rules? Isn’t the idea of this to get away from rules? Well kind of, but once you start an undertaking like this you soon realise you need to work out what it means to complete a walk around the coast. Do you walk around every estuary without a ferry or bridge over? What about industrial areas or places with no footpath? Is it cheating to catch a bus or train in places? What about islands?
So here are my rules. I’ll walk as close to the coast as I can, which means where there is a coast path I’ll use it. Where there isn’t but there are footpaths, I’ll use those. In some cases where there are neither I’ll walk along the beach if possible. In other cases walking on roads might be neccessary. So the rule I’ve made here is I’ll walk as close to the coast as possible, unless it is too dangerous in which case I’ll stick as close to the coast as I can safely.
In terms of rivers or estuaries, if there is a ferry (and it’s running) or a bridge then I’ll use it. If there is not, I won’t cheat, I’ll walk around the river or estuary until the lowest (safe and legal) crossing point. The Ordnance Survey actually define an area as coastal if it is tidal. Being practical this would commit me to walk a huge distance around many large rivers (for example, the Thames is tidal as far as Teddington), so I’ll cross at the first safe crossing point, rather than follow all rivers to their tidal limit.
Taking a bus or trains is cheating in my view, so I’ll walk all parts of the coast, even those not very pretty or industrial or where you have to walk on busy main roads some distance from the coast.
What about islands? A tricky one. My rule here is I don’t have to walk round islands, but I’d like to and I’ll try to if practical. So far I’ve done quite well with this rule, having walked around all of the Bristol Channel Islands, The Isles of Scilly, The Channel Islands and the Isle of Wight. Whether I’ll continue this when I get to Scotland, with it’s many islands, remains to be seen. However I’ve found that my walks around islands have been some of the most enjoyable. Most islands have a wonderful community spirit and beautiful scenery, so I’ll try to get to them where possible (but costs might make this impossible).
Where there isn’t a path but there is access land or public access seems to be permitted then I’ll continue. I won’t (knowingly) trespass on private land.
Do you think you’ll do it?
I hope so, but I can’t say for sure at the moment. I certainly think completing the coast of England and Wales is something I will achieve. Scotland is more difficult, living down south, it is a long way to travel and this gets expensive, especially considering the huge lengths of the coast (walking around all the lochs on the west coast for example). But it is also extordinarily beautiful, wild and rugged and also has the benefit of fantastic access laws (a right to roam and wild camping), which might make things easier. Watch this space, as they say!
Where can you walk?
This might sound an odd question, but I think it’s worth clarifying. In England and Wales you have a legal right to walk on any:-
1. Public roads and pavements except where explicitly prohibited, with the exception of Motorways. Some other common exceptions are some major trunk roads, tunnels and bridges, so I’ll not use routes that would be illegal.
2. Public footpaths (marked on Ordnance Survey maps)
3. Public bridleways
4. Public byways, and restricted byways.
5. Open access land (marked with a yellow tint on the 1:25000 OS maps).
6. Beaches, below the mean high water mark (often above too, but this is not a legal right)
7. Tidal river estuaries below the mean high tide mark.
In addition land owners might grant other rights (such as permissive paths) and there is usually a right of access to public parks and so on.
In Scotland the rules are rather different and you can essentially walk where you want with the exception of private gardens, military sights and a few other exceptions. I’ll fill in more detail here when I get to Scotland!
It is also worth noting that the coastal landscape in particular is in a constant state of change. A path marked on the map might no longer exist if the cliff has eroded. You will also often come across path closures due to cliff falls and the like.
Wales now has the benefit of a coast path and such a path is now under development in England, which is a welcome development and will hopefully provider better routes than I have taken in many places. It also ensures that the path “rolls back” to match the current coast, which is very welcome as erosion is a constant battle in places.
Why aren’t you doing this for charity?
My walks around the coast are generally limited to weekends and time off work. I don’t have the finances to quit my job and do the walk in one go, so I’m doing the walk whilst remaining in full time employment. It also means I can go at my own pace and pick and choose the parts of the coast I visit. Walking for charity puts a time limit on it and requires a far bigger commitment, which I don’t want to make. I also want to enjoy the walk and not feel I should pester people to make a donation. Sorry.
How do you organise and plan yor walks
Anyone planning such a walk will soon realise there is quite a bit of planning involved. Although it is said that almost everyone in the UK live within 2 hours of the coast you seen reach a limit of what can be done for a day trip. This means you either walk out and back, to start and finish in the same place (and so double the mileage) or walk from one place to another. Others who have walked the coast have had the benefit of partners to ferry them back and forth, but I don’t have this luxury, so typically try to plan a linear walk around public transport – which proves easy in some places, hard in others, and impossible in a few places.
Walking from B&B, Hotel or campsite to another each night also means carrying luggage with you, or finding someone to do it for you, although luggage transfer services exist in places, which can pick you luggage up from your hotel and take it the hotel you are staying at the next night.
There is typically a trade off between cost and convenience. For example staying at a hotel in each town or village you reach each night and using a bag carrying service is probably the most convenient but also the most expensive. It is also not always possible – on the more remote parts of the coast you may have to travel along way to find a hotel. Whilst staying at a campsite each night and carrying all your equipment probably the cheapest, campsites are not always plentiful and often out of towns and villages. In Scotland wild camping is permitted which may also be an option.