Eight months in to my 3,500-mile* hike through British history, I answer your questions from ‘the scariest moment’ to washing issues.
*I initially calculated it to be 2,500 miles but it turned out to be 3,500. Not that I knew it at the time of writing this post!
1. What do you miss most? What do you wish you had with you?
I miss vegetables. And I wish I had a weightless pop-up hotel with me.
2. How have you worked your route out and how much research went into your epic trip?
It took bloomin’ ages to work out (about 1.5 years) and that was a skeleton route which can easily change as I go. Just last night I totally altered my direction. I never physically plot the route on my map until a few days before I’m due to head that way. You never know what you might learn or hear about and in that case, I’ll change my mind and direction.
3. What about showers and washing/drying your long hair? How do you do it?
Erm, I don’t. Well not very often! In summer it was easier. Campsites were open or sometimes (though not too often) I’d get washed in a stream. In winter I just have to hand pegs out for people’s noses as I don’t get washed unless someone takes me in or I magically find a public shower on my route. I wear a buff over my ears for dual purpose – to keep me warm and to hide unwashed hair roots! I do wonder if my mud-ingrained hands will ever be clean again. But as I’m hiking through history, folk back in the Tudor times (where I’m up to on my timeline at the mo) wouldn’t have got washed too often, so it’s very authentic!
4. Have you ever been truly scared during your hike? If yes, what was the cause?
Yes. I’ve had flash floods nearly get me. I’ve camped unwittingly in fields of cows. I’ve camped where I could hear teenagers wandering around. Every time a twig snaps I freeze in my tent. Unfortunately, being scared goes with the territory of stealth camping. It’s totally different to wild camping; you’re trying to hide and not be seen.
5. Can you name a single top experience so far?
No, probably not! I’ll be blown over by one view and then another will supersede it. I’ll learn something incredible and then learn even more. I’ll receive amazing kindness from one person and then more from others. One place I did love though, was Berneray Island in the Outer Hebrides. White sand, (freezing) turquoise sea, views across neighbouring islands, machair (wild flowers on the coast) and amazingly, sun. It was all incredible. But so many other places have been, too.
6. What will you do when the hike ends?
I’d like to write a book about the journey, hopefully one that people other than just my parents will read! Other than that, I couldn’t say. I’ve always lived for the moment so I’ll just see what happens.
7. Summer or winter camping?
I was definitely going to write summer. But then I surprised myself and thought of some winter advantages, too. Such as it’s easier to stealth camp as it gets darker earlier; there are fewer people out on the trails. OK, I’ve exhausted the winter camping advantages now! So it is going to be summer. Hands down summer. My kit was way lighter, mud didn’t exist, I was never cold, I didn’t stress about -12 C temperatures. And I was much cleaner!
8. Best veiw?
Erm, just one? Gulp. The view in the Scottish Highlands looking out at the mountains beyond Loch Glendhu was pretty spectacular. But there have been a million views I’ve loved; coastal cliffs in Shetland; gazing out from St Kilda in the Outer Hebs; the East Yorkshire coast; the moors above Lancashire; Douglas prom in the Isle of Man; a church with brilliant blue skies behind it. But one that tops it off is probably finding an unexpected packet of chocolate in the tent! That view always makes me smile.
9. Best moment so far?
I can’t narrow it down to one. Although I remember feeling ecstatic when I reached Glasgow as it meant the hardest part was behind me. (And I was given a free box of 12 donuts which lasted about 4 hours.) Also when I got the buggy in Edinburgh. I was really chuffed as it took the weight off my knees. I couldn’t have walked any more carrying my bag, my knees were about to pack in.
10. Worst moment so far?
When I was told by a nurse I had plantar fasciitis after I’d only hiked 300 miles. I was freaking out. It’s a problem with the tendon in your foot that doesn’t go away. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to continue. Thankfully, it has not returned but my heels do sometimes twinge and I get nervous.
11. Would you do it again?
If you mean knowing now what I do, would I start this hike? Ab-so-bloody-lutely! If you mean would I repeat it? No, I like seeing new places so it’d have to be a new route.
12. Being a committed pedestrian; do you have the same pair of boots you started with? If so, point me in the direction of the supplier.
I’m on pair number two of my Scarpa Delta Goretex lined boots (review here). They’re really comfy (no blisters) and solid. The waterproofing isn’t 100 percent beyond 100 miles, even when proofed. Both pairs have leaked round the front where the sole meets the upper. So I remedy it with Sealskinz ‘waterproof’ socks which keep my feet 80-90 percent dry. But now I’m well aware that absolutely no apparel is 100 percent waterproof so I’d still recommend the Scarpa Deltas.
13. Are you going to write a book?
Hopefully, yes! It’ll take a good while to do extra research, but that’s the aim.
14. How will you cope with the ‘Post Hike Blues’?
I’d like to live in the countryside somewhere. That way I can roll round in the mud and pretend I’m still on the hike.
15. What have been your lowest moments on your trip so far and your highest?
I like this question, I can give several answers! I thankfully haven’t really had many low moments (see answer number 10 about the foot). Camping is pretty rubbish in winter but it’s like anything, you just get used to it. Highest moments, well they happen pretty much each day or at least several times a week. A view, a hot drink when it’s cold, kind words from strangers, being invited in to people’s houses. Many things make me happy, even doing this in winter.
16. What is your luxury item? Something you don’t necessarily need but insist on carrying!!
Now I have the buggy, I have loads of these! The first luxury item I bought was a hairbrush. Didn’t bother with one before Edinburgh, now my hair gets brushed a few times a week. Woohoo! I have a book which gets replaced when finished. My real indulgence is probably my tablet and GoPro – I wouldn’t part with them.
17. One thing you dont miss
Living in London. I’m sooo glad I’ve escaped!
18. The nights must be long , how do you occupy your time, with all the walking you probably sleep well but it must be a bit difficult to fill the time.
It’ll take an hour to put the tent up and organise everything inside. Then I’ll eat, write, maybe read. I can also go online if I have 4G reception. I’m tired and ready for bed by 7.30pm in winter!
19. What do you eat?
Anything if it stays still long enough. Aldi is my go-to shop. It’s cheap and it has some great healthy snacks. I’ve just discovered their Spirulina mix which has loads of green veggies in it, so I add it to my water and pretend I’ve eaten my five-a-day. For brekkie I have a malt loaf because porridge does not fill me up at all (and you have to faff with cooking and cleaning early on). Through the day I’ll eat a million energy bars, sometimes I’ll have brie and chorizo or pate sandwiches, plus chocolate if I can save it once I’ve bought it, and cous cous or savoury rice and a hot chocolate at night, water dependent.
20. At the start of your epic journey you walked on some incredibly beautiful Scottish islands. Which was your favourite or which one would you recommend to someone who wants to go hiking up there?
Alrighty, I loved Shetland but there are no marked footpaths on the maps. You have to make your own route using the Scottish right to roam. That means being confident enough if you want to go up on the ridges (they’re not very high); the ability to jump over fences (sometimes I’d leap up to 10 a day); and being OK with going through bog and avoiding the super deep stuff. Read more here.
An easier option is the Hebridean Way. It was brand new when I went in June/July 2017 but the signposting was dreadful. It’s not yet marked on the OS maps, so you have to get the Cicerone guide ‘Hiking the Hebridean Way’ 1:50,000 scale which doesn’t always match up with the on-the-ground signs! Read more here.
21. Would love to know more about the buggy – how was it put together? I saw your post saying that it was cobbled together by using your walking poles and a child’s buggy, but how? I’d love to try a buggy like yours, others on the market seem too big and cumbersome, yours is just the right size! In the meanwhile, happy walking!
I found a shop in Edinburgh that sold second-hand buggy parts. I have the DIY skills of a flea so I gave Graham there my real sob story about not being able to continue my hike without wheels. I also gave him some walking poles and told him what I was after. He cobbled it together. It’s a case of finding someone handy, finding the right parts that will fit your bag and learning from trial and error. I’m really surprised it’s lasted so long. The handles broke the other day so I found more magicians who put new metal poles on it (not walking poles). If I designed this buggy from scratch and could get all the parts, it’d be totally different to what I have now. But it does the job!
22. How much does the spirit of the places you visit affect you?
If I were asked this a year ago, after spending years travelling abroad, I would have scoffed at the question. I was never some way-out-there traveller who returned a ‘changed person’. But I have to say the hike has massively mellowed me out. I don’t get annoyed (a frequent occurrence in London when living with a tyrant flatmate and working for a control freak boss), and I appreciate everything from potable water sources (bane of the hike) to flat, safe camping spots. On top of that, the winter silhouette trees, still reflections, blue skies, chirping birds, strings of mist, deserted footpaths, a hidden energy bar; everything pretty much, makes me realise how damn fortunate I am to be able to do this. It’s not an endurance test and therefore not difficult. It’s a journey to discover my own country in my own time.
23. How are you funding this? I am in awe.
I worked my butt off for 1.5 years, doing seven-day weeks. Plus, I don’t drink, I don’t own a car or property, so I can save. Friends, family and generous people I’ve met along the way have been great in donating towards my costs. I was fortunate that Cotswold Outdoor donated my amazing Rab sleeping bag and a jacket, Osprey gave me my fab backpack, stuff stack and dry bags and Adapt Outdoors donated my snuggly Mammut jacket. The rest is all down to saving as no other brands were willing to step on board because I wasn’t big enough on social media.
24. How did you come up with the idea to do this? What inspired you to do it and how did you prepare for a long journey like this?
I wanted to do something different, I don’t like travelling in other people’s footsteps, so to speak, and I’d spent so long abroad that I wanted to see my own country. So I thought, why not learn about it as I go? Creating the country’s longest history trail in chronological order seemed logical to me when you look at the major places in Britain and what they are synonymous with: Skara Brae in Orkney is the oldest Neolithic settlement; Hadrian’s Wall is Roman; York was the centre of the Viking world and so on.
As for preparation, I began training two years in advance. I walked 7.5 miles to work up to four times a week, and sometimes in summer, the return leg, too. I hiked across England on the Coast to Coast route and did the Cape Wrath trail the summer before I started this major hike. Training was far worse than the real thing as I gave myself shinsplints twice and the bunion on my foot got worse. That’s what continual street walking in trainers does to you!
Jane Batchelor hiked 3,500 miles through Britain, looking at the history of the country in chronological order. For more photos, follow her Facebook and Instagram pages. To find out more about her journey, click here.