“What an achievement!” the policeman smiled as he eyed up my tragically battered backpack. Then, as though it was an impossible feat, “Did you really walk 3,500 miles?”
“Yes,” I laughed, “you don’t get boots and a bag looking like this from a walk to the supermarket and back!”
He smiled, said he’d google me (just in case I really was lying) and passed on word via his walkie talkie that the buggy and I were making our way towards Windsor Castle.
I was near the finishing point of my 3,500-mile hike and the sun was beaming down as the town geared up for Prince Harry’s and Megan Markle’s wedding.
It had taken a year and 10 days to reach Windsor from Shetland. My solo hike through British history was 1,000 miles longer than I’d predicted and my end point had altered, too.
I’d gone through every type of weather imaginable and carried on regardless. I’d altered my walking strategy due to my hiking buggy. I’d learnt more than I ever knew about our fabulous country, made friendships with people that will continue well beyond this hike and heard myriad different perspectives on life.
A Teary Time
My own attitude has altered, too. I have become even more independent (if this were even possible), I’ve challenged my own beliefs and realised that I never have to try and fit into society because it’s expected of me. I have become more patient, friendlier, happy-go-lucky and calmer. I appreciate absolutely everything from water to a day of no rain, never mind all the things most people take for granted, like electricity and warmth. I love chatting to people and hearing their tales and experiences. Yet I am also very comfortable with my own company.
As the finish point neared, the weather gods gave me two weeks of blazing sun. But my body and mind knew the end was in sight and suddenly I felt absolutely exhausted. I dreaded pitching and packing the tent even more than normal. Plus my mood altered massively. I felt lost and terrified of ‘what’s next’. Tears flowed down my cheeks as I walked along hiding my face beneath my cap. As though they sensed it, good friends from way back when called and cheered me up until the next burst of tears.
After a few days I managed to shake this despondency off, yet strangely I felt no sense of achievement. It’d simply become my life for a year. It had never been an endurance test, I had never set targets (except now to reach the royal wedding and I suddenly had to do 24-mile days to get there on time). It was a journey to enjoy, just like all my years spent travelling abroad. It really didn’t seem massively different from that perspective, and finishing any huge trip or adventure always makes me anxious.
A Royal Knees Up
As I reached Windsor, I couldn’t have asked for a more upbeat and jovial finish. Everyone was in high spirits, even the genial police who willingly posed for photos. I met up with friends, ate cream tea, sat beneath the sun, and even caught a glimpse of Harry and Meghan. It was the perfect end to a year of hiking solo, living in a tent and seeing how history has shaped this incredible island and its people.
I was filmed by TV crews from as far away as New Zealand, was on national radio here in the UK and bounced around waving my Union flag. I had, after all, been the only person at Windsor to have hiked 3,500 miles to reach the royal wedding, and was still clad in the same kit (although thankfully it had been washed the night before).
Now that I’ve finished, I’m still visiting friends around the country before I choose somewhere I want to base myself. Who knows how long I’ll stay put for, you can place your bets now if you like…
What’s next? Writing a book about the journey. Beyond that, ah well, I’ll just do as I always have and see what happens.
Jane Batchelor finished hiking 3,500 miles through Britain in May 2018, looking at the history of the country in chronological order.
To find out more about her journey, click the posts below.
The Journey Part 1 – Shetland
The Journey Part 2 – Orkney to Ullapool
The Journey Part 3 – The Outer Hebrides
The Journey Part 4 – Oban to Glasgow
The Journey Part 5 – Glasgow to Newcastle
The Journey Part 6 – Newcastle to Darlington County
The Journey Part 7 – Middlesbrough to Scarborough
The Journey Part 8 – Winter
The Journey Part 9 – The End