Learning as you go
I started my cross-Wales walk as very much a B&B-walker – every night, somewhere cosy to tuck my head, preferably with a pub round the corner and a host-cooked full breakfast in the morning. Now, that’s not a bad way to go, but I found in Wales that it didn’t always work. There, Arenig bothy showed me the delights of a lonely place. Now, across England – and across Scotland too – the tent came into its own. So I learned to wild camp, age 62. That remains one of the proudest achievements of my life.
Against that, occasionally it was possible to use a base with public transport for travel to start/end of walks: Camelford, Stratford-upon-Avon, Uttoxeter and Hebden Bridge. This had the advantage of only needing a lighter sack for at least some of the days!
Very straightforward start, the most south-westerly point of Land’s End. I had thought about the most southerly point, the Lizard; I don’t really regret my choice, but crossing the Cornish peninsula would have been an interesting alternative. So off I went on the South West Coast Path, keeping the sea on the left until I turned right at Tintagel. From there I crossed Bodmin Moor at its highest point, Brown Willy, and picked up the Two Castles Trail from Launceston before crossing Dartmoor at its highest point, High Willhays. After that came the Blackdown Hills, the Somerset Levels and the Mendips, followed by the Cotswold Way.
Many cross-nation walkers use the Cotswold Way; and many of these then take the Heart of England Way northwards, so as to avoid the conurbations of the West Midlands. I did not, save for the first nine miles. I knew Birmingham well from work, and in particular knew that its canal network provided a good walking route that penetrated to the heart of the city. From there, I found a trail that led to the excellent Cannock Chase.
The short 2013 stage took me into the Peak District, before heading across it to and past my sister’s house in Yorkshire in 2014. The following year I crossed the Yorkshire Dales and North Pennines, then continued past Hadrian’s Wall into Northumberland – almost entirely avoiding the Pennine Way. I finally joined it just south of Bellingham, but branched off from The Cheviot to head direct to Wooler, not least to avoid a dog-leg into Scotland. St Cuthbert’s Way took me to the Holy Island causeway, from where I headed up the coast to Berwick and the border, reacquainting myself with the border fence where I had started my cross-Scotland walk in 2007.
Walking the trails
I walked the full length of four trails: the Cotswold Way, the Beacon Way, the White Peak Trail and the Stanza Stones Walk. As you will see below, the Cotswold Way has its own page. The Beacon Way is covered on the Midlands page and the White Peak Trail starts on that page but is mostly covered on the Peak District page. The Stanza Stones Walk starts the Yorkshire page.
Many other trails featured partially.
In Cornwall, the South West Coast Path was my starter, and I picked up part of the Inny Valleys Walk too; the Two Castles Trail took me into Devon. Once there, I had some time on each of the Tarka Trail, Two Moors Way and Exe Valley Way. In Somerset, the East Deane Way took me in to Taunton, and I had a whole day on the Limestone Link through the county’s old coalfields.
The Staffordshire Way was useful in the Midlands. The Pennine Way took me across the Peak District, and later saw me through Northumberland, while a good portion of the Dales Way took me through the Yorkshire Dales. The South Tyne Trail took me out of the High Pennines, while soon after entering Northumberland I joined Isaac’s Tea Trail, perhaps the cutest-named trail of them all.
Section by section
I’ve divided the walk into nine sections. Each of these has full route information and a downloadable map. Click the green button to find out more. If it’s grey, the page is not ready yet, but come back soon!