About five years ago, Steve heard a quote that changed the course of his life. "No one ever laid on their death bed wishing they had more money. Instead, they wished they had had more life experiences." And so here began Steve's foray into long distance hiking trails.
For as long as I can remember I have always fancied the idea of taking on the challenge of hiking some long distance trails while carrying all my own kit. So, at the young age of seventy I set out to follow my dream. I arranged with a much younger friend to join me to hike St Cuthbert’s Way from Melrose in Scotland to Holy Island in Northumberland. Our start date was the 26th of July 2019, my 71st birthday.
Little did I know then that this mini adventure would just be the start of what has become a passion to explore more of the UK by walking long distance trails. And carrying all my own gear and camping out as much as possible! So even before we had completed it, I knew I had to do more.
In May the following year my friend and I hiked the Southern Upland Way which is a coast-to-coast trail across Scotland. Over 200 miles long it starts at a small coastal village called Portpatrick on the west coast of Scotland and finishes at Cockburnspath on Scotland’s east coast. The weather was typically Scottish with lots of rain but also long spells of bright sunshine. It also managed to freeze a couple of nights which made putting on frozen boots in the morning challenging. I also experienced my first stay in a Scottish Bothy. A big thank you to all those involved in their upkeep.
I then arranged with my friend to hike the Cape Wrath Trail the following Spring, but I broke my knee and my foot in a skiing accident in January. Determined this wouldn’t prevent me doing more hikes, I undertook an extensive program of physical exercises so we could start the Cape Wrath Trail in September. We got as far as Shiel Bridge but due to some unforeseen issues decided to leave the trail and return the following Spring to complete it. Unfortunately, prior to us re-starting the trail my friend developed some health problems, so we had to cancel. I love the remoteness of Scotland’s north-west Highlands so plan to return there hopefully next year to complete the CWT.
Disappointed not to be returning to complete the CWT and anxious to hit the trail again, I decided to hike the West Highland Way in May, solo. I must admit I had some reservations about this trail as I knew it was the UK’s most walked long distant trail and I expected it to be very busy and less of a challenge. I'm happy to say I loved my experience of walking it and hope to do it again one day.
Wanting to do more this year I decided to hike the Pennine Way in September, now aged 76. The Pennine Way is a trail I had fancied doing for many years having heard so much about it and how it came to be the UK’s first official trail. This was to be my longest trail to date, and I wanted to enjoy it so I didn’t give myself a date to finish. I chose to travel from Edale in the Peak District to Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders. This meant that the final section of the trail would be in the Cheviots which I know well and love, having lived in Northumberland previously for eight years. I will sum up my experience of hiking the Pennine Way in just one word: wonderful.
I reckon that since I took my first few steps along St Cuthbert’s Way on my 71st birthday I’ve clocked up almost 800 miles, 1200 km, carrying all my ow kit and wild camping when it was possible to do so. I’ve experienced all sorts of weather with days so hot they took my breath away. Days and nights of non-stopped heavy rain and winds that tried to blow me off my feet. Mist so heavy I could see only a few feet ahead. The trails varied from monotonous roads to sections that were like walking in a stream after spells of heavy rain and areas that involved bushwhacking and bog hopping.
I discovered that one of the nicest things of walking these trails was the wonderful likeminded people I met along the way. Often there were simple exchanges of encouragement, a few friendly words with a stranger when our paths crossed on the trail or in camp. A few have become real trail friends and I am happy that we are still in contact and hope to meet on the trail again one day.