It all began when I was just a boy. As far back as I remember, it was always considered healthy in my family to “go for a nice walk and get some fresh air”. It didn’t matter that the air in my hometown of Kidderminster (renowned at the time for carpet production) was not particularly “fresh” in the sixties. Every day, rain or shine, walking was part of our lives as outings by car were reserved for special occasions – holidays, summer picnics, etc. – and public transport was never a valid option. In high school and university, I walked between 2 and 3 km to classes every morning. During my time at Swansea University, I was a member of the Rambling Club for a couple of years and so discovered some of the most beautiful spots in South Wales – the Brecon Beacons, the Black Mountains, the Gower Peninsula and the extraordinarily beautiful Ystradfellte Valley.
With my post-grad move to France to flee Thatcher’s Britain, I remained a regular walker, despite becoming city-based. During my time in Brest and Lille, I crisscrossed both cities on foot (often stepping over the drunks sprawled across the pavements on Saturday evenings in Brest).
In the summer of 1984, I embarked upon my first long-distance walk. Four weeks, from Nice to Lake Geneva, on the French GR5 long-distance path, going against the flow as most people descend from north to south. I was not really prepared for it, lugging 20 kilos in a backpack dating from the early 80s, with a tent, sleeping bag, foam mattress, food, stove, water and a few spare clothes (such as jeans and woollen sweaters!). The gear has become much lighter since. Luckily, the weather was excellent for the whole month and I camped “wild” in some incredible spots, as well as a couple of regular campgrounds for a shower now and then. I’d love to go back and walk that path again one day, maybe forty years after.
On moving to the Paris area in September 1984, I discovered the Fontainebleau Forest on regular Sunday hikes and, with friends, explored Corsica on foot (the GR20 for two days until giving up because it was too tough and, once again, I had too much gear, before the magnificent Tra Mare e Monti trail from Calenzana to Cargese on a later trip
In 1988, as preparation for a three-week trek in Nepal, I hiked the Hintere Gasse in the Bernese Oberland from Meiringen to Gstaad, the most spectacular trail that I have so far walked in Europe. In the course of a week, this path has 8000 metres of ascents and 8000 of descents. Great training for Nepal where the crossing of the Thorong-la pass took us up to 5400 metres.
There was also a pretty memorable three-day trek in Indonesia, on the island of Sulawesi, from Mamasa into Toraja country during which I suffered from a terrific allergy to the horse used by the guide to carry our packs.
And a nightmare journey into the wilds of Tasmania where my stubbornness (which hasn’t decreased over the years) earned me blood poisoning and the worst blisters I have ever experienced.
I’ll relate those different hikes in more detail in other postings in this blog.
In my mid-thirties, I moved to the country where a car became a necessity and so I acquired my first vehicle. From that point on, walking as an activity suffered a little since most everyday trips began to be made by car, partly out of time constraints, partly out of a lack of decent footpaths or pavements at the side of dangerous roads. I discovered swimming and sea-kayaking around that time and my walking took a back seat to those activities, apart from a few trips to the Bernese Oberland, notably for a week-long, intense hike in 2012 with my youngest daughter who has since sworn never to hike again!
Since 2012, I haven’t done any long-distance hikes, simply day ones, having devoted most of my holiday time until 2017 to sea-kayaking, canoeing and open water swimming.
But then, in 2017, during a trip to Canada, while exploring the magnificent national parks of Quebec (the Parc du Bic and Forillon National Park), the urge to walk long distances again returned…