From: Penzance, Cornwall
To: Land’s End, Cornwall
Distance: 15 miles / 24 km
Total distance: 1,105.2 miles / 1,779 km
Date: 28 June 2021
I woke, on this final day of my walk across the length of Britain, to the sound of heavy rain, my B&B room a little musty from the smell of my still-wet-from-yesterday clothes. Everything is a bit falling apart; the soles of my boots are so worn that they need replacing. My sunglasses only have one arm on them – the other had snapped off back in a campsite in Somerset. Yesterday’s downpour made it clear that my waterproofs don’t currently live up to their name. And my poor old swollen ankle needs the chance to rest and return to its normal size. The signs are clear that it’s time to stop walking, but I was gifted with one last, great day of wandering and wondering before calling it a day.
I set off in my rain gear, the sky leaden, and ended, 15 miles later, in glorious sunshine, Sennen Cove beach and the surrounding undulating coastline looking positively Mediterranean. In between I experienced an almost tropically-lush exit from Penzance via a pretty but overgrown footpath beside a babbling brook so insignificant that my trusty OS maps didn’t name it. I passed through settlements with a handful of houses – Tremethick Cross, Sellan, Sancreed, and Brane. I visited the ancient village of Carn Euny, where rags hung in the trees by an old well; despite the lack of explanation anywhere, I knew it was a pagan healing site, because I’d passed a similar place in the first week of my walk, way up in the north of Scotland. I followed a track around Britain’s westernmost hill, Carn Brea, before dropping down onto the A30 for a few unavoidable miles, the road signs counting down my arrival at Land’s End for me.
I arrived at my walk’s final destination via Sustran’s Route 3, a cycling trail I’ve picked up a few times in the past few days. As I headed towards the complex of buildings at Land’s End, a group of people asked me if I was the lady who had walked from John O’Groats. I confirmed that I was, indeed, she, and they directed me towards my friend Charlotte, who had driven all the way from the Portsmouth area to pick me up and drive me back to my mum and stepdad’s place. Not only did she provide the ultimate in taxi services; Charlotte and her mum Jane had clearly spent a lot of time creating the amazing sign that Charlotte greeted me with, having carefully plotted my journey onto a map of the UK – no small feat, considering the relative obscurity of many of the places I’ve stayed at on this trip.
Charlotte and I packed her artistic efforts into the boot of the car and headed towards the famous signpost, where I joined the line of people waiting to have their photo taken, in exchange for a not insignificant amount of money. Suddenly I heard my name being shouted out: Patricia, who I hadn’t even known was following my journey until she messaged me this morning on Twitter, leapt out of her car to take some photos of me at the finishing line – she’d turned up speculatively, in between zoom meetings, to see if she could spot me. I’d met Patricia years before (she’s an inspirational name in planning and has done a great deal to transform the urban environment in London, the city I’ve been proud to call home for 20 years) but we don’t know each other, so I was pretty blown away that she would take the time out from her working day to come and find me.
And that’s at the heart of it all: despite the beautiful countryside and (often) lovely cities, towns and villages I’ve passed through on this 1,105 mile walk of mine, it’s the kindness of people like Patricia and Charlotte that have had the most lasting impression on me. I’ve had strangers drive me 15 miles out of their way to drop me off at a friend’s house, welcome me into their homes for the night, feed me homemade cake, and fill up my water bottle with ice cold water on stinking hot days. I’ve had friends from almost every part of my life, past and present, turn up to meet me, walk with me, feed me, wash my clothes and give me a home for the night. When things have been tough, friends, family and people I’ve never met in person have cheered me on via messages on my blog and social media, and made phone calls that have helped me walk through some long, otherwise solitary days. I’ve had the most wonderful conversations with inspiring people in cafes and on roadsides, at B&Bs and in campsites – simply, I think, because I’ve had the time to stop and chat.
I set off on my walk, two months and one day ago, not knowing what on earth I was getting myself into, or whether I’d be able to finish. I’ve walked through a freezing cold late April, one of the wettest Mays on record, and a sweltering hot first half of June. A badly flooded flat back in London should have put a stop to my adventure, but, again, friends and neighbours have rallied around, and their efforts back in London have allowed me to keep on walking, through 22 Scottish and English counties, to today’s finish line. This long distance hike has been one of the greatest challenges and greatest privileges of my life; I am grateful to each and everyone of you who has played a role in making it happen. Thank you for reading – you have been walking alongside me the whole way.