Martin and Maureen Shipley set off on foot from Cape Wrath on Scotland’s northwestern tip in May 2016 and 79 days later reached Dover. 50 maps, many #walk1000miles meet-ups and 1041 miles later Martin told us all about it.
Martin and Maureen Shipley had only been walking a week, when they decided in 2004 they’d try doing the 192-mile Coast to Coast. It was the start of a love affair that saw them set off to complete an extraordinary – and possibly unique – achievement: to walk the length of the kingdom in both the longest directions: north-east to south-west (John O’Groats to Land’s End) and in summer 2016 north-west to south-east (Cape Wrath to Dover). And yet, they insist, they are nothing out of the ordinary – and anyone could, and should, follow in their bootsteps.
There are lessons for us all and our challenge too. As Maureen says: “That thing about a journey of 1000 miles starting with a single step is true, and the way I cope with it isn’t to think of all those miles, just little chunks. The idea of walking for 78 days frightened me. The idea of waIking 13 miles tomorrow, at about 2mph, doesn’t.”
Martin concurs: "Just look at the next day and don’t be overawed by it. It’s a big country, and you only get a real sense of that on foot, but you’re walking it. And unlike other things, like skiing or running, about which people say ‘anyone one can do it’ but really it’s only because they’re good at it, with walking you really can.”
We spoke to him after last summer's epic.
What’s the state of the marital union after so many miles together?
It’s as strong as ever. There were some stressful moments on the way. Maureen is the emotional one, I’m the pragmatic one. So we get through the pressure points and come out smiling afterwards.
How does the experience compare to previous adventures?
The most appropriate comparison is to John O’Groats to Lands End. This walk was tougher on our legs than that though, as we think we did more walking on tarmac. The weather was drier and hotter, especially the last four days when we were walking 16-17 miles in 30°C. Although the walk was 59 miles shorter, it was three days longer and the scenery was just as impressive.
What were the best and worst bits?
North-west Scotland, which has such fantastic and dramatic landscapes, and the South Downs Way, especially the Seven Sisters. We were lucky enough to have great weather as we walked there. It was great to walk or meet up with family friends along the way and also make friends from the #walk1000miles group. The worst bits were the footpaths on the Burnley Way, Shropshire Way and the Rossendale Way! The Pentland Hills were harder than expected, as we were carrying full rucksacks and were tired after walking 17 miles the previous day. We thought that once we had climbed up we were up, but realised there are five steep ups and downs!
Did you develop any cravings?
Not cravings as such, more a desire for something different to eat. We stayed
in 79 B&Bs who each wanted to give us a full English breakfast. We also ate out 79 times in the evenings, mostly in pubs with similar menus. It was difficult to get variety in food. Maureen longed for fresh fruit and veg and ‘plain home cooked food’.
How did your bodies hold up?
I held up okay in the main, but tweaked a hamstring on day 52, which was sore for a few days, but otherwise no other issues. Maureen had several days of back ache, due to osteoporosis, and had a water infection after three weeks on the road. Towards the end, in the hot weather, she had swollen heels and feet bend, not to mention sore bits where you don’t want sore bits!
And your brains?
It was a mental challenge at times, but it’s not the issue it seems to be to others. For 78 days all we had to think about was having breakfast, going for a walk, reaching our B&B, freshening up, going out for dinner and then sleeping! Nothing else to clutter our minds with for nearly three months!
What were the highlights in terms of the places you travelled through?
Scotland, especially the Kyle of Durness. The Langdales in the Lake District, Pendle Hill in Lancashire and the Malvern Hills. Winchcombe to Bourton-on-the-Water was a superb day on the Wardens Way. The South Downs Way exceeded expectations, as we’d never walked in the area before, and the Seven Sisters were magnificent. The finish at Dover Castle was memorable, thanks to Diana Turley from the group and her team at English Heritage.
Where will you definitely return to?
Definitely Scotland in May, which is always a great time of the year to visit and there’s still so much there we’ve yet to walk. As people who generally head for the hills, we were also taken by the rolling countryside of the ‘downs’ and will look to walk in the area again and visit some of the places for longer that we only had time to pass through, such as Winchester, Hastings and Rye.
And the emotional highlights for you?
For me it was day one, starting the walk after three to four years of planning, plus getting to the end of the walk after 78 consecutive days of walking and achieving our goal. We also met some fantastic folk along the way.
For Maureen it was when the phone bleeped to say another donation to our fundraising had been received and the many unexpected kindnesses we received from strangers who went out of their way to help two scruffy walkers.
Tell us what role the #walk1000miles group played in your adventure.
It was a brilliant vehicle for keeping in touch with fellow walkers, whose words of encouragement spurred us on. Even more amazing is that several members met us to move rucksacks on to our next B&B to save us carrying items we didn’t need. Many of them spent time walking with us and it was fantastic to meet them. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude and Country Walking for providing such a wonderful facility.
What have you learned?
I’ve learned to appreciate even more the natural world around us in the UK. Our countryside is unrivalled and we should treasure it. The wildflowers have been colourful, the wildlife varied and the landscape awesome. Maureen feels she is a better person for the experience – more patient and understanding.