... and 56: Coastal characters
Take inspiration this month from Peter Mears, 35, from Harrogate, who since April 2017 has been walking every inch of Britain and Ireland’s 14,000-mile coast – house, hob and hopes on his back.
You started at mainland Britain’s most northerly point, Dunnet Head; where are you right now?
I’m on the edge of a cliff halfway between Land’s End and St Ives. It’s been an absolutely beautiful day and thanks to the kindness of strangers yesterday I have an extra tub of homecooked food and a warm heart from their generosity.
What ‘previous’ have you got in walking?
Most holidays I’ve ever taken have been a mix of wild camping and walking. I’ve also never driven a car so I think that’s hardened my feet a little!
How did you find the time and opportunity to do this?
As a younger man I’d spent a lot of time homeless and I came up with the idea that maybe, just maybe I could use those experiences to make the world a better place. The idea of trekking the entire coast had been a dream since I can remember and as a single man working in retail there really wasn’t much holding me back. So I set to organising and with a few extra hours behind the till I managed to just about save enough. I’m aiming to raise £15,000 for three charities – the RSPB, the National Trust and Renewable World along the way.
How far do you walk a day?
When I first began I was walking nine or ten hours a day on average but it’s settled at around five or six the last few months – with occasional big pushes, kind of mini challenges I set myself. The variables are so huge, terrain dictates progress more than miles, coupled with weather and frame of mind. I will rest a day if my body tells me to and I’m somewhere suitable but the challenge never really stops as half the battle is sleeping outdoors for the entire duration. I’m now a year and a month into the challenge – a little under half way. I don’t know how many miles exactly, and I’m not sure I’d want to sometimes!
What have been the most memorable experiences so far?
I’ve seen breathtaking beauty, but it’s the people that have made the best memories, like strangers going out of their way to bring me a flask of tea on my 100th night anniversary. I suppose when you’re doing something good it stands to reason that you’re more likely to attract good and positive people. And I can’t wait to meet another mad but well-intentioned individual when this challenge finishes and pay it forward, as they say!
Tell us about some lows...
I can go days without out seeing people in some of the more remote stretches. Couple that with bad weather and dwindling rations and you get the picture! One very stormy night in Northumbria I was drenched and trying to sleep in my tent but with no battery left on the phone for light or the radio, just staring into darkness. I decided to sit up and make myself a peanut butter sandwich, so I flicked my lighter and searched the porch for the
knife only to discover it being used by two copulating snails! I completely flipped and screamed at the skies that if I can’t even have a peanut butter sandwich then I’m done. I laughed about it in the morning though!
Do you follow any kind of map or just your nose?
I use a GPS to keep track of progress but I tend to only need a map when I reach a city. That’s when I get truly lost! And apart from when I have to navigate a river or inlet the sea is always on my left! I generally stay as close to it as possible but the views from the cliff edges are often too tempting to resist, so I tend to flit between them and the beaches. You can’t beat a cliff edge camping spot for an instant cheery morning though.
Favourite stretch so far?
Culbin Sands in Moray in the Highlands – 13km of the whitest of sands and dunes backed by forest, a low tide that reveals an endless plain and ethereal dancing sand grains. Followed closely by the South West Coast Path in many areas. But there are gems sprinkled here, there and everywhere. I’m looking forward to the west coast of Scotland...
How much kit do you carry?
At times my pack reaches over 35kg which is never fun! But the closer the distance between possible supplies of food and water the less the weight.
What do people misunderstand about a challenge like yours?
Some people think I’m living the dream. I’m not! But I’m achieving one. I’d encourage anyone to better themselves by exploring the beauty of this world. But it will test your body and bend your mind. If I was only doing this for myself I can think of a few occasions when I would have given up but the ultimate goal of what I hope to achieve fuels me. It’s helped me greatly having a sense of purpose. And oh but when it’s good… it’s amazing!
Will life ever be the same again?
Living next to the sea and almost continually moving is a unique experience. After this challenge is over I will simply have to settle near the sea, close enough to hear the waves... my heart belongs there now. People generally seem to have a more laidback nature near the sea too, maybe it’s the beauty, maybe it’s the cleaner air or maybe it’s the constant reminder of the impermanence of things... Whatever the reason, I like it.
There are challenges living this way, looking for shelters or places to set up the tent in winter was tough season and the next one, further north and in harder terrain will be even more testing. But in my opinion the coast is aesthetically the best place for any weather. A mountain when a storm comes will likely be too dangerous, but a lightning storm on a beach? Yes please! Those melancholy skies and ever-changing colour schemes of the sea are as beautiful to me as those sunbathing days. But it will be nice to wander back indoors and shut a door again for tea after a winter’s stroll on whichever section I choose to settle on after the challenge ends.
Is there anything you fantasise about as you walk mile after lonely mile?
When I first began I often found beautiful places made me a little sad as I had no one to share them with. But then I realised that one day if I’m lucky I’ll be able to take someone special to those special places... So I guess I fantasise a lot about long walks with a girlfriend on the beach! Pretty normal I suppose!
But also food, especially ice cream in winter, bizarrely. If I was back in my flat I’d happily eat a tub of the stuff no matter the season but I couldn’t risk lowering my core temperature out here, so it’s been an entire winter with no ice cream!
Honestly, the sacrifices I’ve made! Follow Peter’s journey www.bit.ly/peterschallenge Donate to Peter’s charities: www.bit.ly/petermears
Pitched on the edge of the world on the Berwickshire coast.
Western Cove, just west of Portreath – reached not long after CW spoke to Peter.