(This adventure took place during 5 days in November 2012)
When you are accepted on a 10 week volunteering programme that could potentially change your life in more ways than one, you realise you need to put all of your time and energy into making it happen.
In order to do that, I was given the task of raising £800 to show my commitment and with only 6 weeks to raise that kind of money I had to get my thinking cap on. What would entice sceptic strangers into giving me their money close to the Christmas period? I wasn’t really sure how to answer that, so I went for a 98 mile walk to figure it out…
The Manx call it the Raad ny Foillan, or the Way of the Gull to you and me; a continuous coastal stretch of the Isle of Man which offers some fantastic wild camping and some blissfully empty pathways during the month of November. A good friend of mine, who I followed around part of the South West Coast Path, ended up following me this time round – I like to think it’s because he couldn’t bare the thought of me out there in the wilderness alone, but I realise now he was just bored of the typical 9-5 routine, and I can’t blame him.
So off we went, in the early hours of the morning in the pouring rain. We had given ourselves 5 consecutive days to cover the 98 miles of coastline, carrying all we needed on our backs and had planned to set up camp wherever we could before the sun went down.
The local paper were thankfully interested in my story so upon finding a little newsagents on day 2, I rushed in to find my fame. I’d set up a JustGiving page and hoped that this walk would generate some interest (and money!) in the long-term goal; the newspaper article was the middle ground for this.
Worrying about the weather conditions, we had agreed to share a tent to aid in keeping warm during the night. This proved successful and had us opening the door numerous times because we were too hot. We also learnt that guide books should not always be trusted – when there is warning of a small stream that needs ‘jumping’ across, expect to wander upon a bloody great roaring river that has you stripping up to your knees, splashing through ice-cold water and screaming because you’re convinced your feet are about to fall off. Wild camping was a success; we found somewhere to pitch up every night although some places were far more picturesque than others. Finding a patch of muddy grass (or should that be grassy mud) had to do as we wandered around the dark one night – have you ever attempted getting unpacked, changed and into a tiny tent without bringing half a pig-sty in with you? It isn’t easy. I prayed I wouldn’t need to water the plants that evening.
The island itself is stunning. I’d spent a short time living there so the towns were familiar, but I had never explored this much coastline. One minute we were in a lush glen, wandering next to a waterfall and the next our knees were sore after the many hours of trundling along a flat, pebble beach. The Calf of Man, a small wild island, could be admired from the south and upon reaching the west coast, a view to Peel and our end destination could be seen – an entire days walk away.
It’s sometimes nice to walk a while on your own and it was evident on this walk that we both appreciated time to ourselves. However, I did sometimes get the impression a certain someone enjoyed being at the front. It’s okay though, as he bounded off down the hill the slightly too ambitious spring in his step caused a mighty slide off his feet, into a 360 spin and an impressive fall to the face. Sigh.
It was a success. We endured long soggy days, plenty of mud, a cow which insisted on mooing all through the night and not forgetting surviving each other’s company, which was surely tested after an accidental 2 hour detour towards the end. The newspaper article had strangers handing me money as we wandered through towns and donations were plentiful on the site; I got to re-visit a fantastic little island and remembered why long distance walking was so exciting.
And you know what; none of this would have been half as exciting without the company of my little follower.