18 November 2021

Putting one foot in front of the other

Patrick's walk

Result CIC advisor Patrick Davies writes about his mammoth walk from one end of the country to the other, and why each step gets you closer to where you want to be.

“I’m thinking of going for a walk”, I said to my parents after dinner one evening in June, “from one end of the country to the other, to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK”.

“Oh,” came the slightly surprised reply. “This year?” mum asked, no doubt thinking summer was already upon us and wouldn’t last long. “Is there time before the weather turns?”

“Yes”, I replied, probably unconvincingly. “And I’m going to add in the three peaks too – Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis – to make the whole thing a bit more interesting and challenging, and a bit longer”.

“Oh, OK”, mum replied. “Alzheimer’s Research is a great cause”.

A number of very reasonable questions followed. “How long will it take?”, “When will you start?”, “Wouldn’t next year be better?”

I didn’t have answers to these or many other questions. I’ve never been much of a planner. I prefer to just get on and do things. I don’t enjoy being constrained by having everything set out in advance. Spontaneity is much more appealing, if sometimes a little more stressful. I’d only started thinking about a possible walk a few weeks earlier, triggered by an idea from a friend which I’d initially dismissed as a crazy notion.

Part of me telling my parents about the walk was probably to vocalise the whole concept; to make it ‘real’. Once the idea was out in the open, I knew it would naturally gain momentum. If I say I’m going to do something, I usually do it. But if I don’t, ideas are easy to ignore or avoid completely, particularly if they are challenging.

I did have to do some planning, of course. Before I could start walking, I needed to get some new boots and a few other bits of essential hiking and camping equipment. I would need at least an outline of my route across the country too and an idea of how long the walk would take, so I could be confident of finishing before the winter.

So, over the next 3-4 weeks, I set about organising myself. I scoured the internet for tips on long distance walking, recommendations for equipment, and routes others had taken on similar treks. I battled against frustrating Brexit and Covid shortages of everything from camping gas to lightweight hiking gear. With most people planning staycations because of Covid travel restrictions, many things I needed simply weren’t available or took considerable effort to find. At times, I thought my mum might have been right; doing the walk in 2022 would have been a better idea to give me more time to prepare. But I wasn’t going to give up easily. The idea was now firmly fixed in my head.

I was asked more than once why I didn’t just cycle the route. Cycling is much more common way to do the ‘end to end’ challenge, not least because it takes much less time. But that didn’t really appeal. Cycling restricts you to roads and I wanted to see more of the countryside away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, not share the experience with other traffic. I was also looking for a bigger challenge, something that might ignite the imagination, be a little out of the ordinary and therefore raise more money for Alzheimer’s Research. So, a walk it was going to be.

I set off from Lizard Point in Cornwall, the southernmost place in Britain, just 4 weeks later in mid-July, with a goal of reaching Dunnet Head in Scotland, the most northern point on the mainland, 1400 miles away in about 3 months. It felt like an enormous challenge in many ways, but at the same time almost impossible to grasp in its entirety. There’s a reason why we say ignorance is bliss.

Not surprisingly with such limited planning, I wasn’t as well prepared as I could have been. But at some point, in doing anything, you just have to call time and start, and deal with challenges when they arise along the way. I told myself that I was only going for a walk. All I had to do was put one foot in front of the other. How hard could it be? I also tried hard not to think about the end, which could have been overwhelming given how far I had to walk. Instead, I did my best to live in the moment, focusing on no more than the day ahead. I didn’t always succeed, but I was quick to redirect my thoughts if I found myself dwelling on the end, not the immediate challenge ahead.

The first few weeks were pretty tough. The weather was unusually hot, my backpack felt uncomfortably heavy and I developed terrible blisters on both feet. On a few days in Devon, it took all my energy just to try to block out the pain. It felt like I was walking on shards of glass, cutting into my feet at every step. Starting walking again after a rest stop was agonising. I worried that I might be forced to stop. But I hobbled on, determined not to give in. Failure was not an option. I wasn’t going to let anyone down by not finishing the walk once I had started.

The landscape helped. Devon and Cornwall were idyllic in the summer sun. The clifftop views over clear, turquoise waters of the Atlantic were breathtaking. Purple heathers and other wild flowers carpeted the landscape in a shock of colour against a vivid blue sky. It was impossible not to be reinvigorated, and almost overwhelmed emotionally, by the beauty of the scenery. It boosted my morale even at the lowest points, driving me to carry on despite the discomfort.

As time went on, my blisters finally healed and I got used to the weight of my backpack. The annoying aches in my hips and knees faded away too. The challenge became one of endurance; to get up and walk every day, whatever the weather and despite the distance yet to cover. I found myself slipping into a routine of starting out early each day to get the miles done by mid afternoon, which then gave me a few hours to explore my destination or simply rest and recuperate. Eating became a major preoccupation too, just to take in enough calories to keep going when walking 40-50,000 steps a day. I became a walking, eating machine.

Messages of encouragement from family and friends helped keep me going, as did seeing money rolling in for Alzheimer’s Research. So many people I met along the way were incredibly kind too when they learned what I was doing despite being complete strangers. It was a welcome reminder of the fundamental goodness of the vast majority of people after all the division and polarisation of the last few years in Britain. Despite walking largely on my own, I never felt alone. In many ways, I felt more supported than ever before.

I found the simple act of walking to be powerful too. There’s something about being out in the fresh air with nothing to do other than walk to the next destination. Maybe it’s about having a clear goal, free from the interruptions of everyday life. Or maybe it’s about being more in touch with nature and the environment. But I found putting one foot in front of the other to have an incredible meditative quality, helping order the thoughts and resolve issues that might be wearing on the mind. In many ways, the journey itself becomes everything, but also nothing, bringing a huge sense of calm and well-being.

After 74 days and almost 1400 miles, I finally reached Dunnet Head in early October. The weather, perhaps pointedly, turned as I approached the finish line. After a warm and sunny morning, I was greeted by strong winds and rain as I tried to take my last photos to capture the moment on the clifftop looking out to the Orkney Islands. It was wild and remote, with thundery rain showers blasting across the Pentland Firth. It felt like I had reached the end in the nick of time before winter set in.

In less than 3 months, I had travelled across the whole country and raised almost £30,000 for Alzheimer’s Research by simply putting one foot in front of the other. I still find it quite hard to take in. But I ended the walk with a renewed belief after the disruption of the Covid pandemic that anything is possible with persistence and perseverance.

And that’s at the heart of what ResultCIC does; to give those who might least believe in themselves the self-belief and confidence to achieve their dreams, to reach their full potential. That’s why I’m so proud of the work they do and of being able to play a small part in their efforts as one of their advisers.

Read more about Result CIC's Advisors here.

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We are Result CIC, a community interest company. We work with people who feel marginalised or excluded to become more confident about their abilities and to fulfill their potential. We also work with Directors, Managers and CEOs who need support to bring about positive change in terms of diversity and inclusion in their organisations. We each have personal experience of the issues affecting the people we work to support, including disability, immigration, mental health and sexuality. We have also worked in senior positions in industry and government.

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