Emma Schroeder’s walk around the coast of Britain has so far taken her a year. From beating blisters to navigating the hazards of kissing gates, She shares the lessons this 3700 mile journey has taught her…
Main image: Emma on the North Devon coast
Hi, my name is Emma. One day I quit my job, bought a tent, and set off on a walk around the coast of Britain. I don’t really know what inspired me to do so, it just seemed possible and, I mean, why not? I started out from Dorset, I’ve walked 3700 miles at the time of writing this, and I’m currently walking the Skye Trail as a cheeky diversion.
People sometimes say life’s too short which is a silly thing to say because our life is the longest period of time we will ever experience; might as well have a mad adventure every now and then. Life’s too long to sit stagnating in front of a laptop watching yet another compilation of cats getting startled by cucumbers.
You need look after your feet
Your feet are carrying the weight of yourself and your heavy backpack all day every day, be nice to them. Treat them to good socks and boots that fit properly. Address hotspots before they become full-on debilitating blisters.
Take your shoes off when you cross a river or small stream. It’s worth the faff because the alternative is saving five minutes but having wet feet for the rest of the day, and the sensation of squelching along in soggy socks is deeply unpleasant. You can fool yourself for a bit and pretend you’re enjoying one of those little foot spa treatments, but that gets old fast.
Air your feet out to stop the early trench-foot symptoms you will be displaying after not taking your shoes off to cross said small stream. This also has the added bonus of keeping people away so you can hog the bench all to yourself and enjoy the view in peace.
Hiking poles are excellent
I highly recommend buying hiking poles. If I accidentally leave them somewhere, I begin to feel like I’ve lost a limb and need to run back in a panic because I genuinely can’t hike without them now.
Benefits include batting stinging nettles out of the way, using it to help you vault over small streams, pawing at muddy paths, taking the pressure off your poor knees, and holding it out towards passing motorists to stop their car passing uncomfortably close to you. Sometimes I pretend I’m an explorer hacking my way through a dense rainforest, sometimes I twirl it round my fingers like I’m a majorette leading a marching band. The possibilities are endless.
The best wild camping spot is just around the corner
I’ve been wild camping the majority of my walk. Initially I was terrified of someone telling me off and would bury myself deep in the trees where nobody could find me. After over a year of walking I’ve realised that I’ve actually felt far safer on my own in my little tent than I have on a lot of nights out, and now my biggest concern is not having a nice view to wake up to. Also the wind. If it’s going to be windy it’s not worth camping on the top of a cliff for the gorgeous views. Your tent will break and you’ll have to get dressed outside on a freezing December morning in full view of the early morning dog walkers.
The best camping spot will appear when you need it most, just keep pushing on. This hasn’t failed me yet.
Your body is built to cover long distances
A lot of people were surprised that the only physical preparation I had before my prolonged walk around the coast was the occasional short jaunt to the shops to buy chocolate and gin, which probably negated any health benefits I would have got from said walk. But to be honest my body and fitness levels adapted pretty quickly.
I noticed that after just a week of hiking I felt better, mentally and physically, than I had in a long time. Hiking just felt right. It wasn’t just the physical exercise, it was everything that came with spending time outdoors. It was the satisfaction of huffing and puffing up a massive hill to be rewarded with a beautiful view and a cooling breeze, it was knowing that even on my slowest days I was making progress.
Pack light (or at least try to, but know you will inevitably end up ditching gear once you start walking)
If you’re preparing for a long distance walk you will quickly realise you don’t really need a hammock, a full metal cutlery set, and a portable shower.
There’s a subsection of hikers who go ultralight by cutting the labels off everything and even cutting the handle of their toothbrush off. That’s taking it a bit far though, isn’t it? Although I would recommend investing in a metal cup because making your morning coffee in your mess-tin infused with last night’s noodles is a bit gopping.
Stop and smell the wild garlic
Just don’t get the wild garlic mixed up with lily of the valley, one is tasty when it’s stirred into your noodles and the other will stop your heart.
There’s something incredibly freeing about not knowing what’s coming up. Sometimes it’s a beautiful secluded bay with dolphins splashing along the horizon; sometimes it’s a raging waterfall with the rotten planks that once used to be the bridge across floating downstream in the churning water.
Hiking forces you to be present and aware of your surroundings and overcome challenges every day. Once I got stuck in one of those kissing gates that were not designed with backpackers in mind, and I think I’m a stronger person mentally for dealing with the embarrassment of a group of schoolchildren openly pointing and laughing at me.
People are amazing, and we have so much to be grateful for
When you read the news every day you can get trapped in the idea that humanity is awful and the environment is going to hell in a hand basket, and not even a nice hand-woven wicker basket, probably some cheap plastic one that will snap after just one use and add to the plastic pollution crisis.
But all the people I’ve met on my walk have been utterly incredible. One day my tent broke and the next day I bumped into someone who gave me their spare tent. People have given me everything from a sofa/bed/patch of floor in their caravan/campervan/home/holiday home, to a cheeky pint/portion of chips/home cooked meal. I genuinely did not expect to meet so many kind and interesting people and I’m still a bit overwhelmed by the generosity of total strangers.
Once you’ve started a long distance walk you appreciate things more. You appreciate the rainbow that appears after a storm like Mother Nature herself is apologising for dumping a load of water on you, and you appreciate the novelty of getting to choose between hot and cold water when you wash your hands in an actual sink.
So in summary: take your time and enjoy the view. Look after your feet. Be grateful for running water and flushing toilets.
Update: since writing this Emma has walked closer to 4000 miles and has just passed Cape Wrath, on the north west tip of Scotland. Follow her progress on Instagram.