I set off from the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral on 17 April 2015, strolling east in the direction of Kent earlier than heading west alongside the south coast. My mission was to stroll the perimeter of Britain with a purpose to get beneath the pores and skin of our island nation – and discover photographic inspiration. I’d beforehand solely discovered fascinating photograph alternatives overseas however that every one modified in 2012, after I walked from the supply of the Thames to the ocean with my tent and a digital camera. On that journey, I slowed down sufficient to see Britain with contemporary eyes, particularly the place the estuary met the ocean. I used to be hooked and wished to decide to the coast for a chronic interval.
My stroll round mainland Britain totalled 6,835 miles and took 454 days over 5 years. I might stroll in sections of two to 9 weeks, earlier than returning residence to edit the images, earn cash from promoting the prints, and put together for the subsequent part.
I walked a mean of 15 miles a day, through which I allowed for 3 hours of pictures. I sustained this rhythm for 5 years by all seasons, which made the pictures extra various. I largely slept in a tent to save cash but in addition as a result of I felt that sleeping on the soil linked me to the panorama and meant I might be best-positioned for daybreak and nightfall pictures. I carried a pack of as much as 20kg on my again and was self-sufficient when it comes to meals, gasoline and energy for 5 days at a time. On the fifth day, I might keep in a B&B or somebody would put me up: I had despatched forward ration packs of dehydrated meals.
As I walked away from London, the city was sloughed off in a single day, and it was only some days extra earlier than I reached the enigmatic “desert” panorama of Dungeness in Kent, part of the coast that’s progressively rising as the present builds up extra shingle across the headland. Quickly after, I reached the chalk cliffs of the Seven Sisters in East Sussex, the place strolling alongside the rolling grass felt like flying above the ocean. By the point I acquired to the coast in Devon, dramatic cliffs had develop into the norm; and in Cornwall the coast path is so vertiginous it typically includes a whole lot of metres of each day ascent.
Clockwise from prime left: Tenting tools, digital camera and rations for 4 days of self-sufficiency; Quintin drying out at camp close to Level Knap, Kintyre; drinks get together on the seaside at Ferring in Sussex
The exhilaration of strolling throughout the Severn Bridge was palpable, because it marked one-quarter of the journey finished and likewise my entry into Wales. My weight-reduction plan was now supplemented by bara brith (fruit loaf) and Welsh truffles fairly than Cornish pasties. The Welsh coast path was constantly fascinating – plumes of steam rising from the Port Talbot steelworks had been as jaw-dropping because the gorgeous Worm’s Head on the Gower. I liked stopping in cafes and listening to the musicality of the Welsh language earlier than heading out alongside one other unknown clifftop path. At Barmouth, the rail bridge runs like a zipper throughout the panorama, with Cadair Idris and the encircling mountains behind – the pure and artifical in good concord.
Clockwise from prime left: Port Talbot steelworks from Kenfig Sands, Glamorgan; Ynys Lochtyn from the coast path, Ceredigion; Venus above camp at Penbwchdy, Pembrokeshire with the glow of Eire throughout the ocean; Dylan Thomas boathouse, Laugharne
By the point I might see the Liver Constructing in Liverpool, I used to be limping closely, my typical treatment of meals, sleep and painkillers not serving to. It transpired I had cut up a tendon in my foot, a repetitive pressure damage which meant I wanted to put on an immobilising boot for seven weeks whereas it healed. After this hiatus, it was solely by the point I reached Cumbria that I used to be trail-fit once more and capable of relish the views of the fells from the ocean. Once I pitched my tent close to a milecastle on Hadrian’s Wall, I realised simply how shut I used to be to Scotland.
Clockwise from above: Robin Rigg windfarm and the Cumbrian fells from Balcary Level, Dumfries and Galloway; farmer Hughes within the Rhins; Clachan bridge, Argyll; greylag geese with Garbh Bheinn, Loch Sunart, as a backdrop; prehistoric cup-and-ring marks on Ormaig East Rock, Argyll
The primary individual I met in Scotland, as I used to be following the Solway away from Gretna Inexperienced, was a farmer who, fairly than inform me to get off his land, confirmed me the best method to cross and requested me if I had sufficient provisions. This was a heartwarming encounter, and one which confirmed that the appropriate to roam is alive on the bottom. I left him with a grateful wave as he returned to fixing his fences, which, like many I’d seen that day, had been flattened by heavy flooding.
Nearly half my journey – 200 days – was in Scotland, and this was a totally distinct expertise, as the appropriate to wild camp and stroll anyplace gave me a way of belonging that I by no means felt in England. Bodily, the strolling in Scotland was far tougher: the dearth of paths meant crossing the mountainous panorama required extra initiative.
The Knoydart peninsula was essentially the most stunning and hardest part of the stroll. Because the mountains fall steeply to the ocean, the best route on this pathless terrain is through mountain ridges and passes, which after I was there was difficult by the moist winter and gale-force winds. With so little daylight right now of 12 months, 4 hours of daily concerned evening mountaineering with a head torch. Every night I poured water out of my boots and peeled off moist garments earlier than curling up in a sleeping bag within the sanctuary of my tent.
I felt a larger sense of loss on leaving Scotland than I did on ending the entire journey, however I used to be cheered by simply how stunning Northumberland is, with its pristine seashores and terribly evocative locations similar to Bamburgh Fort and Lindisfarne, which I walked to on the pilgrim’s path over moist sand at evening, guided by a full moon.
My most terrifying second got here in Holderness in East Yorkshire, the place the cliffside is being eroded by 5 metres yearly. Over time, roads crumble into the ocean and entire villages have been misplaced to the waves. I didn’t know any of this, nonetheless, and was strolling on the seaside beneath the cliffs, assuming that when evening fell and the tide got here in, I’d be capable to discover a pathway as much as the clifftop. However because the tide approached, I might see no method off the seaside. When the water lapped over my boots, I panicked and thought I’d need to scramble up the cliff face, goodness is aware of how. I started to jog alongside the seaside, then broke right into a fearful run, my torch bouncing round as I attempted to beat the tide. Finally, and possibly simply in time, I succeeded in hauling myself up some steep floor, collapsing on the prime and panting with adrenalin.
I bade farewell to the final excessive cliffs of the journey and entered the flatlands and expansive skies of East Anglia, a panorama which impressed me to change my pictures to seize its refined and summary magnificence. Simply as I began to consider reaching the ending line, the coronavirus pandemic struck, and when lockdown was introduced I needed to go away my tent on the Norfolk dunes and return residence for 4 months. By the point I acquired again on the path in August, I used to be decided to complete the stroll in a single push.
Even a number of days from the end in London, there was nonetheless yet another main impediment: the Broomway. This infamous six-mile tidal route on the Essex foreshore connects the mainland to Foulness Island, and has been known as “essentially the most perilous byway in England”. It has in all probability claimed greater than 100 lives through the years, because the tide is available in sooner than an individual can run. Moreover, the trail (which is invisible on the bottom) should be adopted very exactly as on one aspect there’s sinking mud and on the opposite unexploded ordnance. Once I walked it, alone, the clouds had been mirrored within the moist mud like a mirror, so it felt like strolling on water.
My final evening within the tent was spent by London Gateway port, on the north financial institution of the Thames in Thurrock, the place I listened to the clanking of containers being unloaded. Then, for 3 extra days, I adopted the funnel of the Thames to the centre of London, the place I used to be reunited with my household on the steps of Saint Paul’s.
Britain is a small island however has an unlimited shoreline. The massive number of geology and historical past means the change in landforms, vegetation, structure and accents is noticeable even at strolling tempo. Walking the British coast felt like a fantastically orchestrated piece of music – one or two weeks had a selected temper, after which that temper would evolve because the topography modified.
• See extra of Quintin Lake’s images and purchase prints at theperimeter.uk