When I decided I was going to complete a long walk in Wales, the Wales Coast Path was an obvious route to include. It so perfectly fits together with the Offa’s Dyke Path to create a circle around the edge of the country, a line between the land and water.
I wanted to complete a fundraising challenge following my ovarian cancer diagnosis and decided that walking to hospital would be the way to do it. I could walk to my appointments and then around Wales in between them. I’m a bit of a person for grand ideas, so I kept adding interesting paths and other parts of Wales I wanted to visit. In the end I came up with a 3700 mile route! It’s the Coast Path that formed the backbone of my Welsh walk, the way to link up and walk between all the interesting inland routes I wanted to include.
I set off with much optimism, walking a few hundred miles without problems, covering the Severn Way and the Offa’s Dyke Path, reaching the north section of the Coast Path at Prestatyn, where the silver pillars of the Offa’s Dyke monument welcomed me to the coastline.
It was an easy walk along the north coast, mostly flat pathway, promenades alongside seaside towns, the wind turbines out to sea providing an interesting grid patterning out in the water. I took the loop out from Llandudno to the tip of the Great Orme, shaggy goats scrambling up the steep slope away from the route.
Walking was a wonderful tonic, a life changing experience."
It was when I reached Conwy that things started to get really tough; I was suffering with a lot of intense foot pain, which turned out to be plantar fasciitis. Any long distance walker will tell you that the state of your feet is a constant preoccupation, they take a lot of looking after, especially to guard against blisters and sore spots. But this was much worse than usual. I'd lie awake at night with pain thrumming through my heels. I had a really tough day of walking in the Conwy estuary, hobbling really, which felt like a real crisis point. I really didn't feel able to carry on.
Quitting just felt like something I couldn't do; at times I felt very low at the thought of so many miles in front of me. But I decided to keep going and just do what I could, try to relax away from the pressure to do high mileages every day. It helped to rest regularly and put my feet in cold water, which was great being next to the sea!
Walking gently each day without pushing too hard meant that I could continue with this huge challenge I'd set myself. My feet didn't heal, but the pain became manageable. On New Year's Eve I camped out and heard the faraway fireworks of Bangor. Then I faced Anglesey and the Llŷn Peninsula in the wild storms of January, blowing and blustering on the sea cliffs that face Ireland, down into the more gentle seas of Cardigan Bay.
Whilst you need to be properly kitted out for it, don’t be put off by windy winter walking; the blasts of wind will fill you with vim and vigour. You'll feel a wild whooping energy as you fight your way along the cliffs to a rest and reward, maybe some hot salty chips, paper-wrapped, that taste all the better for the effort made to get there. I stopped in at plenty of pubs with sand in their doorways and steamy windows inside, great places for rest breaks, regular coffees and hot chocolates, sometimes with a shot of rum for extra warmth.
There was always another gorgeous beach around the next headland."
Bit by bit I made my way around the coast of Wales experiencing long flat promenades and rocky cliffs, from tiny lapping inlets, big enough for a couple of bobbing boats, to miles of wide open sandy beaches. I walked it all, day by day, through all seasons of the year.
It was summer once I reached the Pembrokeshire coast - dripping ice creams and happy families playing on beaches. The difficulty of some of the steepest cliff sections of the path was balanced out by the beautiful turquoise water and the chance to see seals wallowing in the bays far below.
Each new section of the walk became a mini adventure in a year of adventures, a new way to see a different face of Wales. It was hard not to keep stopping to dabble my feet in the sea; there was always another gorgeous beach around the next headland, another chance to dump my rucksack in the sand and cool down in the rippling water. My feet were much better by now, I was managing a powerful 18 miles a day.
Down on the Gower stretch of the path I picked wild samphire to put in my cheese sandwiches and rubbed the tousled manes of the semi-wild horses that roam the marsh edges.
From the perfectly placed white chapel at Mwnt, the lighthouse at South Stack, the timid red squirrels of Newborough nature reserve and the waves crashing up the side of Worm’s Head at Rhossili, the coastal path was full of wonderful views and unforgettable moments as well as plenty of wild haired selfies as the wind blew energetically. I watched the sun set into the sea in a hundred different explosions of colour, from a hundred different views.
The walk made me realise how strong I was, and equally how important it was to accept help. I had people waving, saying hello, stopping to put money in my donation tin and even offering me places to stay.
The walk made me realise how strong I was, and equally how important it was to accept help."
I walked for 18 months altogether and covered more than 3700 miles in Wales. The coastal path was a wonderful 870 miles of that. I met four other walkers doing the whole of it - walking the circle of the whole 1000 mile boundary of the country, all motivated to raise money for different charities.
Walking was a wonderful tonic that not only made me feel better after cancer but created a life changing experience in the amount I realised I could push myself.
- Best moments
The incredible sunsets - the full spectrum of colours when the sun sets into the sea.
- Essential things to take
Take half the amount of clothes you think you'll need, but add an extra pair of socks.
- Who’s it ideal for?
Anyone fit and healthy can walk the whole path, but you need to be properly kitted out and have plenty of time and determination. Be sure to plan ahead.
- Best time to do it
I really enjoyed walking in winter. Just wrap up warm. It’s utterly energising!
- Top tips
Make sure you have the right clothes for the weather conditions. And look after your feet. It’s essential to keep them clean and dry. And deal with blisters straight away.