Imagine having walked 10,000km, being close to finishing your lap of the whole of the UK, and having just walked a marathon across the Isle of Wight – only to reach the port and see that you’ve just missed the ferry home?
I had, by that point, done over 10million steps, worn out 18 pairs of shoes, and climbed the height of more than 10 Everest summits – but I’ll never forget seeing that ferry leave. It was deflating, to say the least.
But, as I’d come to learn on my adventure walking around the UK, everything happens for a reason.
My journey began in July 2020 with a simple message from a friend.
I’d spent 10 months feeling very, very down, to the point where I hated my life and myself.
The self-talk was so bad that I almost considered ending my life three times. A lot of that emotion and depression stemmed from receiving a weeks’ notice to leave Asia – the country I was living and loving.
Having been based in Thailand for seven years, my visa had expired, which meant that I had to quit the job that I was succeeding at and leave behind this wonderful life I had built.
Then, a friend, aware of what I was going through, messaged: ‘I can see you walking around Great Britain, then writing a book on it.’
Three weeks later, I did just that. As soon as that message came to me, I lit up instantly. I didn’t even know walking the UK was a thing. I didn’t know that routes like the South West coastal path, Welsh coastal path, or the NC500 even existed.
I lost so much sleep as my mind was constantly buzzing with thoughts. A friend of mine also suggested that I set up an Instagram account to document my journey, which I did, and so I set off with just a sleeping bag as I couldn’t afford a tent.
When I took those first steps, from Poole in Dorset, I knew this journey would change my life, but not in the way it did. All of a sudden, I started to feel better, clearer and happier when out in nature, walking.
I remember the first days like it was yesterday. Walking the southwest coastal path for 635 miles, its rough terrain and beautiful scenery were in equal measure, and it challenged me every day. The furthest I walked in one day was 63kms.
To put things into perspective, I would start walking from 5am to 10pm during the summer months. Winter, I’d try and at least walk 6-9 hours.
Very soon, I realised that the UK isn’t as small as it looks on the weather maps on the news. It’s actually pretty big.
I left Poole a lone wolf but the kind-hearted people of the UK that I met in person, and through my Instagram, quickly took it upon themselves to shelter me and feed me.
They shared meals with me, while I shared my life with them, and what had brought me to trekking around the UK. Opening up to people changed me.
I met so many people who became friends very quickly. In 19 months walking the UK, I only slept outside for a total of three weeks. That’s because humans are kind, and they want to help.
Mentally, I felt stronger at this point. Of course, with the enormous amount of miles walked and the challenging weather conditions that I faced, I had the occasional wobble. But when this did happen, I’d just remind myself of what I’ve achieved and the overwhelming support that I’ve had to get me through.
Often I was walking alone, but I never felt lonely. I had a friend on my wrist in my Garmin Instinct, which kept me constantly informed of my stats.
It would buzz with updates and milestones, keeping me up to date with the chunks of distance I was covering. It reasserted my faith that I could actually make walking the UK a reality.
One of the greatest privileges of my walk was seeing so much of the beautiful scenery the UK has to offer. From the Isle of Skye to Newcastle, from Aberaeron to Skegness. I never planned rest days – I just listened to my body and called time when I felt I needed to.
Rest is key to recovery. It’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt.
Another was the people I met – priests, doctors, architects. People I knew. Strangers who became friends.
When I suffered a knee injury, I took time out. That rest then meant I was able to walk from Dundee to Dorset via the Coast in just 10 weeks.
A large part of this journey saw me sleeping on the floor in some random field – whether that be a graveyard or farm. Towards the end, I did have a tent that I pitched up occasionally so I’d often wash in the sea.
The last 10 weeks of the walk were the toughest. I’d decided it was time to say I’d walked the UK and not that I was walking it, so I got my head down and pushed on harder than I realised I could.
I took very few rest days, solidly clocking between 22 and 37 miles each day, as I made my way from Dundee to Poole and I broke my personal best for longest days three times during that time.
I was so focused on reaching the finish line that by the time I reached my penultimate day, I’d walked for 17 long and hard days straight.
That penultimate day was the day I missed that ferry from the Isle of Wight back to mainland at Lymington. I’d just walked 26 miles across the island and was so excited yet absolutely desperate to get home.
Having waited an hour for the next ferry, I was met by three men who had driven from Portsmouth, Southampton and Dorset respectively, having read how gutted I’d been to miss the earlier boat on Instagram. It was a powerful moment.
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Platform is the home of Metro.co.uk’s first-person and opinion pieces, devoted to giving a platform to underheard and underrepresented voices in the media.
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First seeing them standing, waiting for me, then having them join me for my final stretch and tell me that they’d shown up because what I’d done had inspired them in their own lives – well, it felt like magic.
They walked and talked with me for the next four hours, spurring me on to Christchurch, where I was staying for the night. My feet were in agony, my skin was blistered and I was shaking with cold. I couldn’t fall asleep until 2.30am and woke up after just four hours.
And that’s how I started my last day.
Over my journey, I talked a lot about an invisible finish line, which is what I had in Poole. For so long I’d been chasing it down and when I finally crossed it, in April 2023, I celebrated for 20 minutes.
I felt elated, I felt proud, I never imagined in my wildest dreams I could do it.
But quickly after, I realised I had more in me.
The idea for The Victory Lap had come to me in the last 10 week stretch. The walk had changed my life so much that I wanted to pay it forward and help people like the version of me that left in July 2020.
So I decided to do it again – this time in 12 months, and for 12 charities. And that’s what I’m doing now.
Paul is currently walking through Norfolk, to Lincolnshire and will be reaching Edinburgh for the start of August. His Victory Lap is raising money for the charity MIND. To donate, please visit: https://thewarriorwalker.co.uk/donations/
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