Accompany our long-distance-walker-blogger Will on his journey from Gretna Green to Chester.
June 11 2021: Driving up with my older brother and his mates was fun. We all piled into the car at 8am from the various locations we’d ended up the night before, turning the interior into a sort of hangover sauna. They were heading up to do the North Coast 500 and dropped me in Gretna Green with big hugs and a couple of robust jokes. That’s where it began.
It was nice to start walking off the nerves that had been building up inside me since it felt like the closer we got to Gretna, the more clearly I realised that I was going to be walking 350 miles alone for an entire month.... That day, I met an old woman taking photos of wildlife near the river Esk. She said that I ought to take lots of photos for my blog because that’s what people really engage with. I also got told I was a c*nt by some lads in a BMW and had a chat with a guy who was walking his dog.
Later in the day I crossed the river Eden on foot because I saw some blokes fly-fishing so I knew that the water was shallow enough. I strapped my shoes to my bag and waded over Bear Grylls style. The rocks were extremely slippery and it took a bit of trial-and-error to find the best route but I made it without becoming a human pooh-stick. The fishermen were really friendly and the kind of relaxed that you only get from a long time spent outside.
June 12 2021: I met a couple in a campervan on the banks of the Solway estuary. I decided to sit and have a snack right next to where they were parked and made conversation with the woman, Andrya, until eventually the source of the guitar music stopped playing and poked his head out to join in. Steve was just as attentive and caring as his wife, although more reserved. He worked for the NHS and Andrya ran a charity. They’d come to the Solway for a weekend break and were quietly spotting wildlife out of the side of their old green camper. They were excited to tell me they’d seen a muntjac running across the mud last night.
June 13 2021: Today was a bad day’s walking. I had to find and then stomp and climb my way through overgrown footpaths miles from the coast. When I finally saw the sea, rather than the mud and marshes I’ve been in over the last couple of days, it massively improved my mood.
I’ve been thinking about the local peoples’ relationship with the sea because that’s why I’m here after all. Last night I met some great people at a clubhouse in Anthorn while I was filling up my water bottle. I went in for water and ended up being given free beer, food and a place to pitch my tent! We finished the night dancing to house music in the bar. They told me stories about how they call that area ‘the island’ because the surrounding roads get cut off by the tide so often but to them “that’s just the way it is”. They wouldn’t live anywhere else. Some days it means the kids get off early from school which they love, and once they saw a group of mice running in front of the flooding tide while they were waiting at the bus stop. Apparently, a man in the village lives with a boat strapped on his roof because of the inconvenience of not being able to get anywhere for a couple of hours while the tide is up.
Despite the heavy coastal defences and constant warnings I’ve had about the strong currents and dangerously fast tides, the people I’ve met so far seem to love being a part of it.
June 14 2021: I met a woman called Hazel in Allonby while queuing for fish and chips. She seemed reluctant to talk at first but eventually we sat and ate together on a bench outside the chippy. It was overcast and cold and we talked about how people have lost their connection with nature while she fed the odd chip to the starlings bouncing around on the concrete. We agreed that the apocalypse was coming in some form or another and that that would be the only thing capable of waking people up to the natural world. She seemed sad and concerned for the future of her kids and we went our separate ways. The coast path was bleak and windy today.
Talking to Hazel (and probably the beer I had that afternoon) made me thoughtful in the evening:
Most peoples’ relationships with nature come from simple things like walking the dog or going to the beach. I think enough time immersed in nature, especially like I am now where the furthest I’ve been from outdoors in the last 4 days has been two layers of nylon, reveals a sense of love and a duty of care for nature so deeply ingrained that it’s difficult to detect. I’ve not so much felt it, more than noticed a change in my behaviour. Not long ago, I would’ve killed a fly in my room without question, and feel sweat prickling my skin if I saw a particularly big spider. When you’re camped in wildflowers and meadow grass, these animals feel so much more part of it that they take on some of that beauty. Just now, I found myself playing with a meadow spider as it ran across my hands. It’s easy to forget that spiders, flies and even us humans are part of and contributors to the beauty of the natural world. Earlier this evening I payed £8.50 to look at some depressed fish in an aquarium banging their heads on the glass of their tanks. The dark still closeness and fishy smell of the place made it easy to empathise with the fish. A few blustery miles along the coast path cheered me back up.
June 15-18 2021: My mate Joe joined me in Workington and by some crazy chance we managed to get a lift to Braithwaite in the Lake District from the local Tesco Manager called Darren! We walked up Scafell Pike, Great Gable and Green Gable all in one day and a worthwhile side-effect was that I picked up an achilles injury. We made it back to St Bees via more hitchhiking and a train and decided to rest up there for a day.
June 19 2021: We did a pub crawl this evening to get a feel for the place. As the sun was getting lower in the sky we came to our last pub, The Oddfellows Arms. The village on the way there was quiet and the air was warm and hazy. The entrance was a white plastic double glazed door round the back of the building that made it look like someone’s back garden. An orange glow bathed the benches in the backyard where we were sitting and we had our feet up and pints in our hands when an old bloke came out of the gentle chatter inside the pub to smoke a cigarette. We got talking. He was a lovely fella who’d lived in the house next to the pub for the last 16 years. We squinted into the sun together. The smoke from his cigarette and his soft gravelly West Yorkshire accent made a nice atmosphere as he said, “I’ve wanted to live by the sea all my life”, and pointed out the Isle of Mann to us in the haze. He seemed very content. The three of us shared the moment, admiring the green rolling hills in front of the blue and orange horizon.
June 20 2022: It was sad to see Joe go this afternoon - couldn’t ask for a better mate. I decided to do half a day of walking after he left because my achilles was feeling up to it.
Walking was weird today. I went through what I can only describe as “the badlands”. After the cliffs of St Bees the coast path turned into a two wheeled track through low dune grass adjacent to the beach. The wind blowing past me was hot and dusty and the track and tideline were littered with bits of plastic. There were lots of flies and the sun was beating down. Some lads on monkey bikes and quads came tearing down the track behind me. They’d come out of a caravan park that, thanks to the England flags put up for the Euros, had the appearance of an EDL fortress. They turned off the track before they caught up with me and did wheelies on the beach while shouting and beeping their horns. By this point my ankle was killing me so I necked the last of my painkillers which probably added to the strange tension of the place. As I got closer to Sellafield the atmosphere thickened. You can hear the steady roar of machinery from a way off and it feels oppressive when you’re alongside the huge razor wire fences. Limping past felt like a form of punishment enforced by the security guards who kept eyes on me while they patrolled in their truck. I was glad to get out of there. Earlier that day I’d met an old lady who warned me about Sellafield. She was walking along with an iPad and stopping to hold it up every now and then. I sat to have a drink and eventually she caught up with me. She seemed to want to tell me a lot. She told me that the cliffs were sandstone and the local area had thrived off of mining in the past. The iPad was for taking photos of the coastline to show her husband. He was housebound with a disability and she wanted to show him how much the place had changed over the years. She also told me she’d never seen sand on the beach below before - it’d always been bare rock in the tens of years she’d lived there. Her friend had a theory that the sea brought the sand there, but she didn’t buy it. I didn’t argue.
June 21 2021: There’s some really beautiful coastline around Ravenglass; dunes full of wildlife and, slightly inland, the farmland has a very ancient feel to it. It’s flat land with big old gnarly oak trees caught between a breathtaking mountainscape and the sea. In the early afternoon I arrived at a beach car park in Silecroft as the sky was beginning to clear. A couple of old blokes on a bench looking out to sea said hello as I went past and we got chatting. They were brothers from Bedfordshire, genuine and friendly guys. The older looking one said he’d burnt out at age 45 and moved up here to live a more simple and quiet life. People were nicer around here. The other one looked like a newer version. He was standing up and seemed slightly uncomfortable despite smiling a lot and said he’d come to visit for the day. From what I gathered it was for a serious chat so I left them to it. For them, the beach was the best place to hash it out.
I went over to the cafe to get some curry chips and the lady running it reminded me of something off of Star Wars as she moved around the cluttered space talking. She wasn’t happy that the council weren’t renewing her contract so the place was due to shut down soon. She said she’d fight it for all she was worth. I signed her petition to keep the cafe open and, bless her, she gave me the chips for free.
It was a busy day in the car park. Next up, I met a fisherman. He was waiting in his car for the tide to come in before he started fishing. High tide was at 9pm that evening. It was 3pm. He said he’d rather wait around here than at home since “a bad day’s fishing always beats a good day’s work.” He knew a lot about his sport in this region and I was keen to hear what he had to say about local fish stocks. Apparently, he’s catching more fish now than he ever used to but they’re more often non-commercial species that are hard to eat like smoothhounds and thornback rays. The codlings have all but disappeared and the same can be said for whiting. I asked what he thought the cause of this shift was. “I guess it’s a combination of overfishing and climate change changing the ranges of different fish.” I reckon he’s onto something there. Further down the coast I met an old man as I was setting up for dinner. The sun was giving us a classic west coast show and he ambled over with his dog to have a chat. He was dressed in all army surplus camo gear with a floppy bucket hat and a walking stick. Catching the sun, bright eyes and a mischievous smile were set in a wizened face. He told me some great stories and seemed very content to be out walking his dog. He had a lot of time to give and he laughed a lot. I asked if he’d seen much, gesturing at the binoculars around his neck. He said there were far fewer birds along this beach than there used to be since farmers are cutting their grass more and spraying chemicals. He left with a joke and I said there might be some dinner for him on his way back if he was lucky. I carried on cooking and saw him walking back the way he’d come while I was eating, having already passed me. There was a barbed wire fence 2m behind me and the beach in front was crunchy shingle.
After seeing so many peoples’ relationship with the coast today it got me thinking about our relationship with nature as a species. Along this coastline I’ve mostly heard stories about loss of wildlife, and obviously this is true throughout the world. It’s also nearly always the consequence of some man made cause. Since humans are a product of nature just as much as any other plant or animal it seems strange that our interaction with it is so much more destructive than other organisms. It is not as if we’re aliens dropped off on a foreign planet with the instructions to rape it for all it’s worth yet, for the majority, this is how we behave. Rather than extraterrestrials on a plundering raid, our existence and behaviour is as natural as bees pollinating flowers because we are nature. While we seek to isolate ourselves as separate from the world around us we simply cannot. The natural environment is what we are shaped for and by. Perhaps, instead of some unnatural crime, the latest mass extinction caused by mankind is part of a perfectly natural process. There have been cycles of mass extinction since there has been life and without them we would not exist. Without death there cannot be life.
This is not to excuse thoughtless destructive behaviour or belittle conservation. It’s just an interesting argument I came up with in my tent.
June 22 2021: Haverigg dunes SSSI seems to be a source of pride for the town. The rugby club is “On the Dunes” and everyone I talked to mentioned it. It’s a strange place though. All of the residents were old people and it was really sunny and dry. It was weirdly American with all the camper vans and dusty streets and everyone seemed to be moving slowly.
Later in the day I caught up to an old man, Perry, walking the same route as me. His brown border collie was sprinting around him chasing a ball. We walked the last few miles of my route together at his pace and I was grateful for the company. In his gentle stride and honest expression he told me how he used to do long distance walks when he was younger, and he was pretty hung up on the loss of a lot of the permissive parts of the Cumbria Coastal Way. He was meeting his wife at a pub in Broughton as part of his routine of daily coastal walks. He said they kept him fit and sane, along with his dog. We shared a pint together with his wife when we arrived.
June 23 2021: Huge day of walking. The weather was awful, my achilles was sore and the highlights were having lunch in the rain under a viaduct bridge and walking through Barrow-in-Furness. At the point where I was ready to lay down on a bench and die, I found a pub and stumbled in. It was low lit and warm and I moved through a corridor into the empty bar area to find a man tucked behind the bar. Desperate to stay in the coziness, I bought a pint and sat down.
Later, I realised that I probably looked like a feral animal when I went into that pub, and clearly the bartender saw it too because he approached me gently and plied me with sausage baps. He was called Phil and owned the Castle House Hotel. He told me about the local area; how Piel Island is haunted and the owner of the pub there becomes the King of the Island, how winds regularly reach 70mph on Walney in the winter, how many famous darts players he’s met (this part was accompanied by photo evidence), how the west side of Walney has a great beach and how plenty of people die around Morecambe Bay in the fast moving tides. This last part hit home as he recounted a story about a father and son who got caught out near Aldingham. It was clearly a well-worn story as he told it vividly, and as I sat and listened I felt like there should’ve been a storm outside and lightning flashing at the windows.
The man and his son had gone out for a walk on a clear day. They were wandering along the beach and decided to stray a little out onto the sands of Morecambe Bay. From Aldingham, the sea is miles off at low tide. You can’t even see it. They were probably enjoying each others’ company and the sense of space you get out on the sands when the fog rolled in. If they hadn’t already lost their bearings and knew which direction to head back to the shore, then the rising tide would’ve confused them further. The tide on Morecambe Sands doesn’t come in from the sea like on a normal beach, instead, deep channels fill that snake unseen throughout the bay until the water pours out of them onto the flat sand from all directions. When you don’t know where the rising tide is coming from, you don’t know where to run. Not that that would help much, as apparently the water moves across the sand at running pace. As the sea steadily rose around the man and his child, he lifted the boy onto his shoulders and called his wife. One of the last things she heard from him was, “the water’s up to my neck now.” They both lost their lives.
I staggered out of the pub half-cut and spooked and went to pitch my tent on some low cliffs above a beach... Here’s my next blog entry:
Was just falling asleep and heard a boat engine over the wind and waves. A light started flashing on my tent and I heard someone on the boat shouting “TENT!”. Went out to see what was going on and the coastguard were floating there in a rib just off the beach. They were trying to ask something so I jumped down onto the beach and met one of them wading toward me in full yellow waterproofs. He asked me my name, if I was alone and if I’d seen a guy called Garry. I told him the last guy I saw was walking a black lab back towards the town. That didn’t seem to be what he was looking for. He thanked me and jumped back into the rib. I actually pinched myself when I got back in the tent. After all I’d heard about people getting caught by the tide and then a guy goes missing on Walney the one night I’m camping there. I hope the guy’s alright, it’s not a nice night to get lost - damp grey and windy. At least it’s not too cold. Take it back, it’s just started raining heavily and the wind and waves have picked up. The coastguard are still going back and forth on the west side of the island. They’re probably in a rush to find him before the tide starts going out and takes him with it.
I barely slept that night thanks to the wind on the tent and thoughts of Garry or the coastguard busting in.
June 24 2021: The previous day Phil from the Castle had set me up to get a free ride to Piel Island because he knew the ferryman. I decided that I’d take it easy on the walking that day because my achilles was hurting and I needed to do some laundry. It was set to be a relaxed one.
I got a load of laundry done and met a woman in the laundrette. She was autistic (I didn’t ask) and she said she was travelling around in her car. She used to be a fell-runner in the Lake District and was telling me how nature is art and fell-running is like dancing because of the way you place your feet jumping from rock to rock. She was pretty chubby, looked like she’d had kids, and with her thick London accent what she was saying took me by surprise. She also told me that there was no God and instead it was all just nature and that Jesus was a traveller too like us. I left the laundrette a bit confused.
I caught the ferry to Piel Island later that day and it turned out the ferryman, Paul, was driving the RNLI rib I saw last night! He said it was a suicide scare but thankfully the guy didn’t go through with it. Apparently it happens all the time, people threatening to jump off Walney bridge. Paul was friendly, straightforward and seemed tired. He said he also ran seal tours in his ferryboat to the colony on South Walney which was doing really well at the time.
There were a couple tents on Piel when I stepped off the ferry but it was too rainy for socialising. Also, there was no king because the pub was shut. He moved in next week, so until then I guess Piel Island was an anarchy.
June 25 2021: I woke up, somehow it was still raining, and as soon as I rolled out of the tent a lady popped out of one of the houses and called me over. Her name was Jackie, she made me breakfast and a cup of tea and filled up my water bottle. I felt properly loved in her house and it made me wonder if she’d had sons before. Jackie owned one of the few houses on Piel and worked remotely there on her laptop because she preferred it to being at home on Walney. Peeking over her desk and out the window, she said she sometimes saw ravens tricking blackbirds into leaving their nests and then stealing their eggs.
Then a guy called Alex joined us for a cuppa in her living room. He worked for the merchant navy and was camping on the island in a bell tent with a flag that said, “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere!” They were both born and bred and he told me about his fishing escapades and how there's plenty of birdlife round here. We agreed it was a shame about the weather last night, otherwise I’d’ve been able to meet them all properly. It seemed like a family sort of community on the Island. We finished up our tea, Alex gave me a thermos flask he’d found and one of his mates gave me a lift back to the mainland.
I walked to a gravel beach where Alex’s mate was waiting with the boat and said my goodbyes to Jackie. I told him I didn’t really want to get my boots any wetter so the guy actually lifted me, while I was wearing my bag, into the boat. Fair play. The ferry wasn’t running because it was wind against tide in the channel so it was proper choppy. That didn’t stop us. He said, “The faster we go, the less we’ll get wet!”, and jammed it into full throttle. The little dinghy got up onto a plane and started jumping from chop to chop. I was sitting up near the front so my spine was getting hammered through my head and my legs were sprawling about on the slippery deck. It was great fun though and I gave him a cheesy grin that made him speed up a bit. I felt like a dog sticking its head out the car window.
27 June 2021: I was pretty tired yesterday but went to the pub in Flookburgh in the evening for a couple of pints. I sat down on a table in the beer garden next to this scary looking local bloke. The first time I tried making contact, he frowned at me and carried on smoking, staring alternately at his Guinness and the locals crowding the benches in the sun. Eventually I cracked him open. It turns out he worked in weapons manufacturing, specifically nuclear submarines, which is big business on the northwest coast. He’d lived in Flookburgh for 16 years and had only ever been out on Morecambe Sands once, and even then it was in a caterpillar track tractor. He said you’d be stupid to go out there any other way and reminded me of the Chinese cockle pickers. Apparently cockling had stopped on the bay now, not for safety reasons, but because Brexit meant we had lost our main export market. He told me how there had been plans to build a tidal barge across the Bay from Morecambe to Barrow but ‘some rare mollusc’ had stopped the plans from going ahead. The scheme would have produced enough power for the entire northwest. I got the impression he wasn’t a big mollusc fanatic.
Another local, Kate, joined in our conversation when I asked about crossing the sands from Grange. Both of them knew plenty of people that would have the knowledge to take me across safely. They didn’t offer up any contacts, though. Kate was bright, interesting and switched-on to the point of seeming a bit mad. She made illustrated maps of Cumbria - a job that she invented herself. Apparently the county sees 22 million visitors per year and nobody provides any sort of historical information about it. Kate had done a load of research and started putting it onto maps which clearly sold well. It also meant that she was full of great facts. She told me that there used to be a still just south of the Lake District that sold illegal hooch. It was operational in 1848 and was so well hidden that it wasn’t rediscovered until the 1990s. The hooch used to be transported to pubs in the Lakes in pigskin bladders and that’s where the phrase ‘getting bladdered’ comes from! There was also a lot of piracy and smuggling along this coast and a lucrative trade was in wad. Wad is graphite that’s used to line the inside of cannons to make them more accurate - very useful if you’re a pirate. Back in the day it was worth more than its weight in gold. The phrase ‘black market’ comes from the black stains it left on smugglers’ fingers.
Kate also sorted me out with a bed for the night. She told me about a family that lived on the edge of Grange that would put me up and even called ahead for me. She was an inspirational woman and gave me a lot of encouragement. That evening I was looked after by a girl called Lily who was great company. It was nice to be with someone my own age for once and we played cards and talked a lot.
I met the rest of the family this morning. They’d been at a friend’s house last night and were a bit hungover but still really supportive of my cause. Viv (the mum) started emptying her cupboards into my bag - I got a box of strawberries and a mini bottle of prosecco! Noel (the dad) showed me how their house had a smuggler’s window which was the only one on the building that faced the sea. Apparently a candle used to be lit when the coast was clear - which I guess is where that phrase comes from too! The plot they were on also used to be an island at high tide until the 1700s when sea walls were built to make the land farmable. Looking around, the area the tide must’ve covered back then would’ve been vast. Apparently the tide comes in faster than a galloping horse up the estuary and there’s an alarm that sounds when it’s on the way. It’s pretty eerie sounding.
28 June 2021: I sat on a bench at Jenny Brown point for a rest today. It was a beautiful view over the sands, set in amongst some trees. An old man was sitting on the bench next to me eating a sandwich and I made a comment about the view. He agreed and went on to tell me he’d had the benches put here in memorial to his wife who’d died of pancreatic cancer. He was a bit deaf but we chatted for a while and he told me he’d moved here during retirement with his wife for the proximity to the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and the sea. He was part of a charity of his own, set up to help people with pancreatic cancer. He was extremely kind and said goodbye as I walked off. I hoped he wasn’t too lonely.
On the walk to the campsite tonight I could see the whole north side of Morecambe Bay. Knowing I’ve walked it is satisfying beyond words.
29 June 2021: I get in pretty bad moods when I’m tired so yesterday was actually quite tough. I start thinking about everything I don’t have or goals that I won’t achieve and it gets me down. The point is that you need to put your goals and achievements to one side and enjoy what you’re doing simply for what it is. To me, this seems so much easier to do in a natural outdoor space with wildlife. Along this coast, the majority of the people who I have met - whether tourists or locals - are doing just that: enjoying being by the sea.
I’m spending the night in Glasson. When I arrived in the village, I walked past a dilapidated pub and the streets were empty in the evening light. It was still. Set around a small dock, industrial buildings were on the sea-side and houses gathered around the water and a small park. There was a lady feeding the ducks in the canal. I heard some voices and laughter tucked into one of the shop fronts and went over to have a look.
When I turned up I was welcomed by a couple of local blokes sitting on the cafe porch. They were proper good blokes and actually hilarious. I sat drinking with them in front of the cafe and now I’ve pretty much met the whole village with everyone walking by. They told me that the port authority was reclaiming a load of land around the docks because Glasson wasn’t making enough money. Obviously, this had the locals up in arms, but they found ways to joke about it. The fellas gave me food and beers and kept me laughing enough to make my cheeks hurt. When we were done they said I could pitch my tent anywhere I wanted and nobody would move me on. One of them promised to buy me breakfast in the morning.
30 June 2021: The guys in Glasson sent me off well, honestly, they were some of the funniest blokes I’ve ever met. Cheers, Tony ‘Tiger’ Young, Gail and Ken.
I arrived in Fleetwood later that day and found a memorial to the fishermen that read, “The real price of fish is the lives of men.” After walking through Fleetwood, I ended up staying the night in the Norbreck Castle Hotel. It’s such a hole, but at least I had a bed and a shower. I met a lady in the elevator who’d been in the hotel for 4 nights. She was going to watch the sunset on her own with a can of lager in a carrier bag and seemed genuinely happy about it. It made me wonder what effect the efforts of middle class conservationists like me could ever have on people like her. She’s the reality of how a lot of people interact with nature.
I realised that night how I’d come to hate being inside after having been outdoors for so long. It was too still and quiet and the sounds coming from outside were disconnected with what you’re experiencing. It’s easy to get lost in thought and very hard to stay present because there’s nothing to rest your attention on. When you’re outside you can watch the wind blowing in a tree, or waves on a beach, or animals doing their thing, without really realising that you’re paying attention. The constant change acts as an anchor for your mind in the now. You can drift off but there’s always something to come back to. You don’t get that indoors.
1 July 2021: Everything in Blackpool looks like it’s desperately trying to get you to spend money. Then you look the other way, out to sea, and you’re confronted with a 20m drop to the sand. It looks like a fortress for aged holidaymakers when you sit on the beach, and it wouldn’t seem out of place if an army of hoodies and undertakers charged out of the sea hell-bent on stealing their false teeth. The beach seems utterly void of life other than evil-looking seagulls and waddling tourists.
I met a guy selling fudge who’d lived in Blackpool all his life. He said he liked it there. Each to their own and all that.
Once I’d made it to the river I tried to wangle a lift across from a woman on a yacht so that I didn’t have to walk all the way to Preston and back out. She wasn’t having it. She said her boat was too big and that maybe I should go and ask at McDonalds. Like I’ll be able to float across the river on a sesame bun? Cheers for the tip.
2 July 2021: I sat and watched a bird catching fish in the River Ribble for a while because it was blowing my mind. I could see the silvery flash through my binoculars every time it pulled another fish out. The Ribble Way is a great footpath and actually kind of busy which is good to see. Apparently the Ribble used to be a major access route for shipping but that stopped because it had to be dredged too much. It looked like the wildlife had taken back over.
3 July 2021: I had a couple of pints at the end of the Ribble Way yesterday and then came across a couple of fields full of bullocks which I had to cross. Up until now I’d had one very scary experience with bullocks so they’d become something of a nemesis of mine.
The first one was easy to cross because they were on the other side of the field. The two pints inside me decided it would be a great idea to stand next to the exit-stile, wave my arms and shout until they started charging at me before I hopped over. Countryside thrills.
The second field presented a bit more of a challenge. It was basically 2 fields that had been fenced together so that there was a narrow passage where they were joined. That’s where the stiles were. It’s also where all the bullocks were. These ones seemed a bit livelier than the others, probably because they’d heard my antics in the last field. I knew I had to come up with a plan to get across the gap involving my superior human intellect. I walked up to the fence where the biggest clot of bullocks was and looked what I assumed to be their leader dead in the eyes. Then I mooed. I started walking slowly along the fence away from the stiles, mooing the whole time. At first, the bullocks just stared at me vacantly. It wasn’t until I added a high-pitched note to the end of my moo that they took an interest. First 2 or 3 of them followed, then 4, then 5, all lowing responses to my challenge. It wasn’t long until I was standing with the whole herd in a semicircle at the fence around me. I stopped mooing. As a final display of cow mastery, I got my piece out and had a pee into the field. This brought them even closer. The mooing had died down, the fizzling atmosphere was starting to calm. At this point, I knew I had to take my chances. I gently backed away from the herd and speed walked along the fence like a middle-aged woman in lycra. I dared not look back for fear of drawing attention to my escape. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw at least 5 cows following behind me and one of them had horns. I quickened the pace. As I stepped on the first stile the blood was pounding in my ears and suddenly the gap seemed much wider than before. I broke into as much of a run as my heavy pack would allow and jumped, catching the other stile with one arm and one leg. I hauled myself over frantically, anticipating a bull in the backside at any moment.
It never came. I’d made it. I stumbled away from the fence whooping and laughing and reminding the cows how I’d outsmarted them. Then I walked off, feeling pretty pleased with myself.
The next thing I wrote was:
“It’s raining, it’s pouring,
I’m stuck in the tent and it’s boring.
I just checked the weather and
There’s a MET Office thunderstorm warning.”
4 July 2021: The land north of Southport is all reclaimed marsh that’s been turned into agriculture. It doesn’t make for great walking because all the footpaths are in a grid with drainage ditches and a big bank around the outside. The drainage ditches are either well hidden or I’m thick because I fell into one. I couldn’t see out of it as well, they’re pretty deep!
I met a couple this morning who were picking samphire on the marsh to have with their dinner. They were really friendly and we had a good old chat. There’s a lovely coast path running along the outside of Southport which a lot of people were using to cycle or run on and it goes through an area of sand dunes which is beautiful.
I got onto the beach after the dunes and it started chucking it down. The rain was so heavy it felt like being underwater. I gave up on trying to stay dry and just enjoyed it. There was an old couple sheltering under a tarpaulin at the top of the beach and they beckoned me over when they saw me. They told me a load about the area which was great; apparently that beach is the largest stretch of sand in Europe at 22 miles and the dunes above are Britain’s fastest eroding bit of coast. Brian showed me a camping spot that he’d actually dug out and removed branches from so that he could come there and enjoy the forest. When we got there some people had left it in a mess with rubbish everywhere and fairy lights wrapped around the trees. I helped him and Janet clean up since he clearly loved the spot. He said I wouldn’t get moved on by the forest rangers. He seemed like a better ranger than the rangers anyway. I could see why he loved it there. It felt very hidden and private. I remembered Janet had said that deer migrate along the west coast and they were making a comeback. She said that in lockdown 1 you could see them on the streets of Southport.
I started to get melancholy at that point:
I miss my friends and family now, I think it’s because I know I’ll be seeing them soon. I’m not sure how I feel about finishing but I guess I’ll know when I get on the train. This has been one of the best experiences of my life because of what it’s taught me about people and about living.
5 July 2021: It turns out ⅕ of the UK population of natterjack toads, red squirrels and a whole host of other rare species slept in that forest with me last night.
I had to put on wet boots and socks and I stank so bad at that point of the trip. I made a joke about smelling bad to some old people I was walking past and they said, “Yeah, you do.” without even a hint of sarcasm.
There was a nice path on the South side of Formby that led through some open dunes to the Anthony Gormley statues. There were lots of people jogging, cycling and walking, enjoying the weather. I’m not sure about the sculptures - it seemed like Anthony just wanted people to look at him naked. However, I saw Wales for the first time on my walk as a row of mountains across the sea. Satisfying because now I’d laid eyes on all three countries of mainland Great Britain.
I spent the night with some friends called James and Lucy and their boys Will and Ollie which was lovely. I didn’t want to leave. Lucy’s mum, Carmel, took me to Port Sunlight park to start the day and we walked together for a few miles. She told me that both of her grandfathers were shipbuilders that moved to Camell Laird to work and that there’s plenty of shipbuilding history on the Wirral. Port Sunlight park used to be a rubbish dump but it had been left to nature and was now a beautiful wildflower meadow and a pond full of birdlife.
7 July 2021: I saw a sea swimmer in a channel swimming hard but staying absolutely stationary on the North Wirral. On Deeside I met a woman who said loads of people swim here. There’s cockling here too and I could see their rake marks in the dark mud. The woman said a fair few people get stuck in the mud every year because of how deep it is.
Just before I met her I was passed by a bunch of school children picking litter in high-vis jackets with a Surfers Against Sewage rep. They seemed to be having a lot of fun and I heard a few people walking by telling them what a good thing they were doing. That was all from my blog and I finished the next day and caught the train to my nana’s house. I didn’t feel any different once I’d got on the train. If I could get one message out to people who have decided to read this blog it would be: do something like this where you throw yourself at the mercy of strangers and the environment. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done and I’ll keep doing it until I can’t. Thanks so much to Scott and all of Plover Rovers for giving me this opportunity.