1100 miles, 5000 photos and the wrong trousers

After 11 weeks and 5 days away from home, I’ve successfully completed my solo circumnavigation of Wales. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s a small country!

On the way I’ve seen some fantastic places, met some lovely people, and gained loads of great memories. A stack of clichés, I know, but all true. It really was an amazing experience.

From the very first day walking, I have been absolutely overwhelmed by the kindness and support that’s been shown to me. Not only by my family and friends, but also by a large cast of (at least initially!) complete strangers – many of whom I’m now very glad to count as new friends. Thank you all very, very much indeed – you’ve given me a real appreciation for the generosity and warmth of the human spirit. Without your help, I simply would not have made it round in one piece.

Over the next few weeks this website will see some further updates including a long and heartfelt list of specific thank-yous (there are already lots on the Thanks page, but they’ll be added to!). There’ll be some more info about the gear I used and how it stood up to 1100 miles of hard usage, a few more blog posts to fill in the gaps in the ‘walk story’… and I’ve also got about 5000 photos to sort through, one or two of which are pretty decent!

Of course, one of the major reasons for setting out to Walk Wales in the first place was to raise money for Cancer Research Wales. So far my total fundraising amounts to around £6,500 including Gift Aid – some way from my original target of £20,000 but a respectable figure nonetheless. There’s still a lot of sponsorship to come in so hopefully that number will grow substantially over the next few weeks – and I’ll be looking for ways to boost the total with follow-on activities too. If you’ve yet to make your donation, please do so via the Donate page.

In the four days since I finished walking, I’ve mostly been:

  • avoiding walking anywhere… particularly in walking boots!
  • catching up on emails, post and sleep, and
  • sorting out the fact that none of my trousers fit any more.

Today was the first day back in work and, to be honest, it was harder than I expected. I kept getting up from my desk and walking in circles around the room… and this evening I Went For A Run. Anyone who knows me even half-well will recognise the significance of that statement – something weird has happened to me. Hopefully it’s for the best.

I’ll close this little blog with the two most important thankyous of all.

Firstly, to my beautiful and very, very patient wife Tasha – she’s been at my side, physically or mentally, every step of the way. In my first blog post I mentioned some of the roles she’d be landed with – she fulfilled all of those and more, and without a word of complaint. It turns out I am very lucky indeed.

Secondly, to my Dad. His work helped to give Wales the world’s first walking trail around the shape of a nation; his loss gave me the will to go and discover it.

I think he’d be surprised that I made it all the way round – but I hope he’d be pretty chuffed.

Mountains, seagulls & upside-down waterfalls

Location: Holyhead, Anglesey
Days since departure: 56
Days walked: 50
Mileage: 748.5
Counties visited: 11
Blisters: 5 dead ones

OK, I give up – the blog isn’t going to catch up with me!

So instead, here’s a random snapshot of a couple of days from this week. You’ll have to check back once I’ve finished walking for some posts to fill in the gaps!

Bizarrely (anyone who knows me fairly well will agree) – I am actually on schedule with the walk. This means that, as planned, I started this week with a ‘discretionary’ stroll to the summit of the highest mountain in Wales, Snowdon. Not very coastal, I admit – someone I met in a cafe this week was relieved to hear that you don’t have to climb it as part of the Wales Coast Path – but it was a target inspired by my Dad. When out on a walk, if there was anything pointy within sight it was obligatory to climb it, so he wouldn’t have approved of me walking within 15 miles of Snowdon and passing it by.

Those who’ve been paying close attention to my itinerary & tracker may have spotted that I’ve started swapping my rest days from Friday to Saturday over the past few weeks. This means that I get to spend my rest day with Tasha, who comes up on Friday evenings to join me, rather than on my own.

On that basis, instead of resting in Caernarfon on Friday, I walked up to Pen-Y-Pass in the rain – about 13 miles, all on roads and mostly with no footway. A couple of miles outside Llanberis I bumped into a couple of very wet, knackered-looking law students from Bristol Uni (where I studied Aeronautical Engineering a few years ago). They were hoping to walk from Bangor to Abergavenny in about a week, including climbing Snowdon on the way. Both were carrying massive rucksacks that must have weighed about 80 lbs each – “It’s just the bare essentials, we took out everything we couldn’t manage without.”

I dispensed a little bit of advice (“please God no – you’ll end up needing Mountain Rescue”) when it transpired that they were planning to tackle Snowdon via the Horseshoe route (the hardest way, including the knife-edge of Crib Goch which has a boot-width path on uneven rock and sheer drops on both sides) – and that the only map they had between them was an A-Z.

I was really chuffed that my good friend, beard culturist and lime-green leotard owner Richard Nelmes made the long trip from the fine city of Stoke to join me for the Snowdon climb. We met up in Llanberis on Friday, and walked together to Pen-Y-Pass, where Tasha picked us up. The weather was, frankly, horrendous – it was chucking it down with rain and so windy that we actually had trouble standing up in places. Towards the top of the Llanberis pass it was pretty surreal to watch waterfalls where the water never reached the ground – as soon as it went off the edge, the wind threw it vertically back up the hill again! We warmed up a bit afterwards with a hot chocolate in the famous Pen-y-Gwryd hotel.

As planned, I then had my rest day (comprised mostly of laundry, lunch and trying to get my new phone working) on Saturday while Rich went out with his video camera to capture some footage of the Glyders, which he’s planning to use in his audiovisual compositions. We met up for some dinner in the evening at The Heights in Llanberis.

On Sunday, Tasha drove us both to Pen-Y-Pass and we took the Miners’ track to the summit of Snowdon. The weather was still rubbish – fortunately not so windy, but above about 600 metres there was zero visibility. We took things at a moderate pace and I was really surprised to find myself not feeling particularly tired at the summit – first time that’s ever happened to me on a mountain! Those 650 miles of walking beforehand must have done me some good 🙂

We walked back down the Snowdon Ranger route (on the opposite side of the mountain) – luckily the cloud was starting to lift so we had a fairly good view for most of the way down. Rich and I parted ways at the Snowdon Ranger youth hostel and then I walked all the way back to Caernarfon on the road, ending up at Bron Menai guest house – thanks to Mrs Ashcroft for her kind welcome.

On Monday I crossed the Menai suspension bridge to Anglesey – it’s bigger than it looks on the map (Anglesey, not the bridge). Now I’m about half-way round, at Holyhead. The weather has been mixed but I had a little boost on Thursday when Arry Beresford-Webb joined me for a stretch between Wylfa and that pointy bit before you head south towards Church Bay. When we met up she was lost as usual – we had a surreal phone conversation that went something along the lines of:

Arry: “How far have you got?”

Me: “I’m at Cestyll.”

Arry: “Oh cool, I’m really close to there”

Me: “Hang on, are you wearing black, I think I can see you?”

Arry: “Yep, I can’t see you though”

Me: “I’m wearing blue, waving my walking poles”

Arry: “Still can’t see you”

Me: “To the left of the three seagulls! The ones that are flying!”


Big thanks to Arry for not only keeping me company across the dreaded pebble causeway at Club Bar Bay / Squashed Baguette Bay / Arry Bay (other geographical terms may apply), but also for bringing another emergency supply pack including Penguins and a couple of Go Bars (for Offa’s Dyke). Arry and her massive feat of endurance have given me a huge impetus to complete my own challenge, and I’m honoured to have her as a friend.

Another update! (Don’t get too excited – it’s still a month out of date!)

Location: Newport, Pembrokeshire
Days since departure: 29
Days walked: 25
Mileage (planned): 363
Mileage (actual): at least 391
Counties visited: 7
Blisters: 5 – but they’re not hurting any more… fingers crossed!

OK, so (remarkably) it turns out I can walk faster than I can write. This blog is essentially a month out of date – sorry! Still having major trouble with phone signal, it’s pretty much non-existent for much of the route I’ve covered so far. So I’ll do my best to recount things in some sort of chronological order, but you might have to wait until December for me to catch up with July!

Having brought the pack weight down to a manageable level, the first few days’ walk went well. The weather was kind over the rest of the weekend, and Tasha walked with me through Day 2, which took us as far as St Donats in the Vale of Glamorgan. On the way we met up with the Ramblers again – this time on their way around Barry Island in the opposite direction to us – and with Steve Webb (DragonWalk2012 – he’ll be following my route later this year but starting in North Wales) and his other half Liz. Steve knew where to meet me thanks to my tracker which has mostly worked very well – more on that later. We stopped for a photo outside that cafe off of Gavin & Stacey, cue (actually quite convincing) Nessa impressions by Tasha.

By this time I’d already had my first navigational mishap – I wandered a long way down Dock Road instead of staying up on the clifftop on the eastern end of Barry Island, and ended up having to backtrack from a dead end (up a steep hill). It did mean I got to tick off an extra lifeboat station though – I seem to be collecting them, along with lighthouses.

Next stop was Porthkerry Country Park, which has a great viaduct and an excuse for an icecream – first one of the walk!

Ice cream no. 1

Ice cream #1 - Porthkerry Country Park

Whilst I was eating this we got chatting to a family on the next table, who seemed really enthusiastic and donated £15! Set off feeling pretty positive about things after that!

We stopped next for lunch at Rhoose Point – the southernmost point of Wales and the first ‘-most point’ in the bag! Just west of here there’s some gravel pits where someone has made lots of swirly patterns in the gravel – you can see them on Google Earth.

A bit further west again is the power station at East Aberthaw. It’s a massive site and really dominates the skyline for a mile or so; it also has a pretty substantial sea wall and quite a lot of what I guess must be World War II remnants nearby – tank traps and pillboxes on the pebble beach. Probably one of the best defended power stations in the UK – if Dorset decides to invade I suggest an amphibious landing at Barry Island instead…

Unfortunately we encountered an even more effective obstacle at Gileston Farm, just inland from Aberthaw. The marked (and published) Wales Coast Path route passes through the farm and along a track through fields to the west – this saves a long walk over the enormous pebbles on the shoreline, which are pretty hard going. When we got into the farm yard we were nabbed by a farmer in a tractor who insisted that the correct route was back down the road and along the beach.

“Where do you think you’re going?”

“Along the Wales Coast Path, hopefully. We followed the waymarker over there.”

“Nah, it’s not that way, and anyway, you won’t get through cos it’s knee deep in s#*t.”

After the tractor disappeared, another younger and more helpful farm bloke turned up and admitted that, yes, the path does go that way, but “we’ve got a problem with it and it’s, er, a bit mucky”. He gave us some pointers about following the hedge through the field rather than on the track, and headed off too.

Out of the farm yard and into… slurry. Literally a foot deep, black and stinking, and running in a deep tide across the entire track and out through the hedges into the field for about 100 yards. Even with some carefully thought-out detouring, we couldn’t avoid all of it and had to wade through for a few yards – fortunately it didn’t quite come over the tops of our boots, but they were completely covered afterwards.

I won’t speculate as to how it got onto the track, except to say that we saw no sign of a slurry tank (leaky or otherwise) anywhere near the route…

The rest of the day was less eventful and at the end of it we were generously accommodated in a flatlet at UWC Atlantic College, who had also allowed us to park Tasha’s car there for a couple of days so that she could get home afterwards! The college, which teaches the International Baccalaureate to students from around the world, is based in a fantastic 12th-century castle and places a strong emphasis on community service – including having its own RNLI inshore rescue boat station which is manned by the students. The College and its founding headmaster Rear Admiral Dennis Hoare played a major role in the development of the Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB) which is the most widely used type of inshore rescue craft.

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve been sat in Frankie & Benny’s in Carmarthen, taking advantage of the free wifi. Sadly time’s up as Tasha and I need to get back to north Pembs and zip up the tent before tonight’s forecast storms :-S

What am I doing in Carmarthen? Well, after a month of walking my first pair of boots has already given up on me, splitting at the toe flex point and letting in lots and lots of water – after a rainy day on Thursday my feet looked like I’d been in the bath all day! So we’ve popped back to Carmarthen on my rest day to pick up a replacement pair from the Cotswold store. Fingers crossed this pair will be a bit tougher! All credit to Scott at the Talbot Green store and to Tom at Carmarthen for making the swap completely hassle free  even though my receipt is back at home in Caerphilly – thanks chaps.

Next update as soon as I can manage it – thanks for your patience everyone!

Finally an update (part 2)

So now to an update on the walk itself.

The first day of the walk started early with a trip to the BBC studios in Llandaff (just across the road from my old high school, Bishop of Llandaff) for a live interview on Good Morning Wales at 7.45 am. It was the first time I’d ever been in a radio studio – there seemed to be a lot of people about! One of them was Arry B-W, looking amazingly fresh after her marathon of marathons, with 1046 miles behind her and only one left ahead – the victory run into Cardiff Bay! We had a lovely chat while we waited to go on air and Arry shared a few last-minute blister management tips.

The interview went fine and I headed back to Caerphilly to pack the last of my things and pick up the collection buckets and t-shirts for the launch event. Mum gave us a lift into the Bay and we met Wendy Collie from Cancer Research Wales, who had brought a couple of helpers and a banner.

At this stage everything got very busy and to be honest, I have very little idea which things happened in which order. Here are some of them:

  • Sara & Ben, Adam, Nick & Kate, Richard & Angela, Sarah & Sam all turned up to help with the bucket collection – assisted by Nugget the labrador in a t-shirt!
  • I chatted to Steve Webb, Elliw Iwan, Zoe Wathen and lots of other walking types
  • I got interviewed by HTV Wales and the Outdoors Station
  • I chatted to Rhodri and Julie Morgan, John Griffiths, Frances Donovan and Benedict Southworth
  • I realised my pack was quite heavy
  • People took lots of photos of me
  • People took even more photos of Nugget in a t-shirt
  • Arry arrived, completing her run around Wales
  • John Griffiths opened the Wales Coast Path
  • I ended up on stage in front of a lot of people, wearing a strange assortment of hats and bags and tubes and sticks
  • Mum cried
  • £389.91 ended up in the buckets
  • I went on stage, got a hug and a goody bag from Arry along with the official Wales Coast Path baton, and had more photos taken
  • I set off with Tasha

Having walked all of about 10 yards I was then caught up with by my entire family and spent another 10 minutes having photos taken… then I really was off.

We made good progress around the Bay via the barrage, but when it came to climbing the steep hill out into Penarth, the pack started to feel as though it was trying to kill me – bear in mind that by this point I had been wearing it non-stop for about 4 hours during the whole morning of the launch event. I made it as far as the end of the Promenade before deciding that a rethink was needed!

Cue a serious unpacking exercise in a bus shelter, during which I removed about 8 kilos of stuff from the pack including spare clothes and the majority of my camping gear (on the basis that I wasn’t planning to camp at all during the first 2 weeks of the walk). This made the pack manageable for the first stretch whilst I got used to the weight.

Mum very kindly came to collect my excess gear and we made the rest of the day’s walk successfully, although we did arrive at Barry Island pretty late in the day. Along the way we encountered (twice – don’t ask) a big group of Ramblers enjoying the Big Welsh Walk – and I discovered that some kissing gates are not made for people wearing big packs!

Thanks to the generous folk at Sutton Mawr Farm just outside Barry, I spent a comfortable first night in their bed & breakfast, and had a great breakfast with delicious fresh rye bread. The B&B is very smart indeed and they even have a helipad, which unfortunately I didn’t get to use 🙁

Finally an update! (Part 1)

Location: Laugharne, Carmarthenshire
Days since departure: 14
Days walked: 12
Mileage (planned): 181
Mileage (actual): more than 181!
Counties visited: 6
Blisters: 5

Hello Blogosphere!

First to quash a few scurrilous rumours. Reports of my demise (swallowed by a basking shark / engulfed by a huge blister / buried by the Giant Bunny of Oxwich Burrows) are slightly exaggerated – much like O2’s coverage map which suggests there is a signal to be had between Swansea and Carmarthen.

So I am still Alice. Or even possibly ‘alive’ – for anyone who’s been following my Twitter updates and needs a translation. I’ve managed to send some corking garbled Tweets and texts thanks to bright sunlight, the slightly dodgy response of my phone’s touchscreen when inside its waterproof case, and a seriously over zealous autocorrect. Hope you’ve enjoyed them 🙂

Quite a bit has happened since I last updated this blog (in March!) – so I’ve set aside a couple of hours of my rest day in Laugharne to commit some of it to (electronic) paper before I run out of memory. This might turn out to be a long blog so please bear with me!

I’d hoped to write at least one more blog before setting out on my walk, but didn’t manage this due to circumstances of work (3 of my last 6 nights before leaving were spent in Preston!), a minor conflagration involving charity collection licences, and the fact that I have never achieved anything worthwhile without a last minute midnight panic.

In my pre-departure blog I wanted to thank a few people and organisations without whom this challenge would have been impossible. So here goes:

    • Cotswold Outdoor: and particularly Nick Megginson, Jon Heather and the rest of the team at the Talbot Green store have been simply awesome. Jon has managed to secure some excellent, top quality kit for my walk (for full details, see the Gear page). I spent hours in the store getting fitted up for boots, clothing and pack and I’m hugely grateful to everyone there for their patience and great advice.
      Sue Rice and the rest of the team at the Countryside Council for Wales, who knew Dad through work, have been really supportive of my challenge and have very kindly promoted the walk through their official communications – they even included me in the Wales Coast Path launch event at Cardiff Bay, and made sure I was prepared to face the cameras by squeezing me onto a media training course. Without the CCW team and all the other groups who have contributed to the creation of the path, I wouldn’t be 2 weeks into a life-changing adventure around our beautiful nation.
      My fellow ‘circumcymrists’ Arry Beresford-Webb and Steve Webb (no relation that I’m aware of!) have been great too. Arry finished her epic run around Wales (via pretty much the same route I’m following, but as 40 marathons in 42 days!) with an official baton handover at the Wales Coast Path launch on 5th May. You can read all about Arry’s adventure at her website – along the way she’s kept some vital tips and pace notes to help me on my journey, and she even brought along a goody bag of blister patches and Penguin bars to hand over along with the baton! Arry is a massive inspiration to me – there’s no way I can fail to complete my challenge after what she’s achieved. I’m looking forward to catching up with her en route, when she can enjoy a stretch of the path at a slightly more comfortable pace!
      Steve starts his own giant circular walk around Wales in July, and will be walking with Zoe Wathen who he met whilst tackling the South West Coast Path last year. Steve’s done a great job of promoting both mine and Arry’s challenges along with his own and has put me in touch with some really helpful contacts including the guys at Viewranger, Social Hiking and the Outdoors Station. You can check out Steve’s website here.
      Finally, another mention for my wonderful wife Tasha, who has worked so hard to make life a bit easier for me both before and during the walk, and also to my Mum who has picked up lots of loose ends, odd (but essential) jobs, quite a lot of equipment and, on numerous occasions, either me or Tasha or both!
  • I have a lot more thank yous to make over the next couple of months, to all the very generous and warm-spirited people who have helped out along the way. I’ve been bowled over by the kindness of both friends and strangers – more on that shortly.

    Here endeth Part 1 of this blog post – Part 2 coming very soon after I’ve given my neck a rest (typing on an iPad!)… Stay tuned!

    Sun, sand & sporty pants

    This weather is alarming. We’ve had a whole week of warm sunshine in March, which probably means summer is nearly over and I will be walking around Wales in sideways hail, tornadoes and freezing fog. And it might also rain.

    Fortunately, it looks as though a very kind outdoors company is sorting me out with some quality kit to suit any conceivable weather conditions (with the possible exception of frogs). More details soon.

    Last weekend was eventful. On Saturday morning, Tasha and I hit Cardiff Bay to cheer off the awesome Arry Beresford-Webb as she started her in[credible/sane] DragonRun1027 ultramarathon – the same route I’m taking, but running a marathon every day so she’ll cover the distance in half the time. She’s due to finish on 5th May and she’ll officially hand over the Wales Coast Path / Offa’s Dyke relay baton to me at the launch event.

    Arry is an absolute inspiration. She’s raising £25,000 for two charities really close to her heart – Velindre Cancer Care and the Gozo CCU, and she’s taken on a massive, massive challenge. 6 days in as I write this, she’s suffering with a gippy knee and horrendous blisters, but she still has every bit of her bubbly enthusiasm and good humour. I’ve never met anyone like her.

    Stop reading now and don’t come back until you’ve clicked here and sponsored Arry. If you’ve sponsored her already, cancel your Friday night curry (or whatever) and sponsor her again. No, seriously.

    So, back to Saturday. In amongst all Arry’s last minute preparations / hugs / photo opps I somehow found myself with a clip mic up my t-shirt, getting interviewed on camera by Iolo ap Dafydd. This will not become my 3 minutes of fame. I don’t think I strung together anything that could be edited into coherent sentences, and I have discovered that TV cameras cause me to jig up and down involuntarily. Need more practice.

    With Arry on her way, Tasha and I drove down to the Vale, parked up at St Donats and walked the 16-ish miles back to Barry Island in gorgeous sunshine. We bumped into Arry again on the sea wall at Aberthaw – after she’d run 18 miles and we’d walked 8, guess who looked fresher. Yup.

    During Saturday I learnt some things (in no particular order):

    1. Midges are not a foodstuff.

    2. Rounded pebbles the size of my head are not a path.

    3. I am not meant to be on TV.

    4. Aberthaw power station is remarkably well defended against amphibious landings.

    On Sunday I set out from Porthcawl and again walked ‘anti-clockwise’ (i.e. in the ‘wrong’ direction) along what will be my Day 3 route, heading for St Donats. It was hot. Not far into the walk, I learnt another thing or two:

    5. Sand dunes are Not Nice At All.

    6. Newton Burrows / Merthyr Mawr could do with a few more Wales Coast Path wayposts.

    At some point as I stumbled about and got lost in the sand, Arry passed me in the opposite direction. I didn’t see her, and she thought I was a hallucination, so we didn’t stop for a chat. A short time later I learnt 3 more things:

    7. Estuaries are the Destroyer of Souls.

    8. The River Ogmore is deeper than it looks.

    9. “Just keep the sea on the [left / right]” is not a sufficient substitute for a map.

    Long story short – I found my way to the Ogmore Castle stepping stones via a short stretch ‘otherwise than on a public footpath’, with 5 similarly lost teenagers in tow. Then I sat barefoot on a bench in the sunshine at The Pelican in her Piety, drinking The Most Welcome Glass Of Coke In The Known Universe.

    Boots back on (still the old ones – they’re engaged in a war of attrition with my toes), I walked on through Ogmore and along what must be one of Wales’ most distinctive and beautiful stretches of clifftop coastline towards St Donats, enjoying a really spectacular sunset.

    Since it was getting dark, I detoured inland towards Wick and then followed the road to Monknash for a drink in the Plough and Harrow, whilst I waited for Tasha to pick me up in the car. Great pub, friendly people, monks in the loo.

    Total distance walked over the weekend was around 33 miles – the first time I’ve done longish back-to-back training walks on the coast. It’s highlighted one final, and very important lesson:

    10. Long walks in warm weather introduce new and painful opportunities for chafing.

    I think it’s time I invested in some Sporty Pants.

    Division of Labour

    So, now I have a blog. Thanks for reading it.

    In case you were wondering why there are two people in the banner photo:

    – on the right… that’s me. Between May and July this year, I’ll mostly be:

    • Walker
    • Photographer
    • Blogger, and hopefully
    • Raiser of Funds

    – on the left… that’s Tasha, my wife. She’ll mostly be:

    • Breadwinner (working as an Assistive Technology Trainer – teaching students with disabilities to use specialised software and hardware to help with their studies. In an average week she has 8-10 training sessions and drives 300-500 miles)
    • Domestic Goddess (abandoned in a half-renovated house)
    • Administrator
    • Head of Logistics
    • Delivery Driver
    • Cheerleader
    • Shepherdess of Supporters
    • Weekend Co-Walker
    • Site Foreman
    • Motivator
    • Best Friend
    • Helpline Agent
    • Paramedic

    I will be very lucky if she still loves me by August.