Those Who Have Come Before


After a few people asked me how many people, if any, had done this walk before, thought I would do a short blog to describe some of the walkers and the history of their walks. This was learning for me as well as my idea did not come from another person's walk, but from my own head, and I had no idea how many people if any had done this and it was fascinating to read about some of the individuals who had done it before and for what reasons.

The first person to do this walk was John Merrill who set off on the 3rd January 1978, from St Paul's Cathedral before quickly crossing at Tower Bridge and walking the coast continuously. This was prior to the advent of the internet, paths were less marked and kit was heavier so in some respects harder than today. This was before my time but it appears during the walk he became a bit of a minor celebrity with many radio & paper appearances. Though from reading his book it appears he didn’t court the publicity and if it wasn’t for the charity fundraising he would probably have preferred walk without so many interruptions. It took him 310 days and he recorded a distance of 6824 miles.

My walk will start almost 40 years to the day (2nd as opposed to 3rd January) and only from a short distance away (Tower Bridge as opposed to St Paul's.) In those 40 years there have been a fair few people attempt the walk. I believe the walks can be broken into 3 categories, continuous unsupported, continuous supported and sectional. Continuous unsupported (CU) is someone who does the walk non-stop (with some rest days but no protracted time off) and has no direct support in the form of a driver or similar following each day, obviously there will still be support in the form of people offering accommodation, food, donations etc. Continuous supported (CS) is as before but the person will have a driver or similar who will carry tents, cooking gear, get food etc. each day to the end point of that day. Sectional is where people walk little (sometimes not that little) sections of the walk over a few weeks or a month each year until they have completed the whole walk. All 3 types are amazing and neither is better or worse than the other as each is doing the walk for their own enjoyment/challenge.  For the purpose of this blog I will not include sectional walkers, but I think in some ways the dedication is almost more, with one gentlemen taking 20 years to complete his walk using gaps in work to do this.

I believe in the 40 years since the walk was first completed there are about 40 people (CU & CS) who have completed the walk and maybe as many as double that have tried. I will mention a few of the walkers here and put a PDF link with as concise a list as I can at the bottom of the blog. It should be noted that there is no official route, so the mileage does differ significantly between walkers.

  • Vera Andrews was the first woman to complete the walk and actually got a mention in the Guinness Book of Records for the longest continuous walk by a woman. She set of in March 1984, taking 223 days, and achieved a distance of 3524 miles.
  • Robert Steel must be the oldest to complete this walk doing so at the age of 75, he raised funds for the National Trust, and though I do not know how long it took him, he set off in March 1995 apparently recording a distance of 4444 miles. He appears to have done many incredible walks for charity many in excess of 1000 miles.
  •  Tom Isaacs walk is truly inspirational, he was diagnosed with Parkinson Disease at the age of 27 in 1996, then decided to do the walk to raise money for research into the disease. He set off in April 2002, took 366 days, totalled 4500 miles, and raised £350,000. His account of the walk is funny/sad and even the title of his book lets you know his character ‘Shake well before use: A walk around Britain’s Coastline’. Tom unfortunately died earlier this year, having completed many further fundraising challenges as well as setting up a charity to try and find a cure for Parkinson’s.
  • David Cotton has the most complete site containing maps and descriptions of every single day of his walk. His walk set of in October 2002, took 362 days, and totalled 6266 miles, he was supported by his girlfriend Sam who drove a camper-van ‘Mervan’ around the route essentially like a roving base-camp. I should thank him as it was him who started to try and compile a list of all the people who had done the walk which has helped inform this blog.
  • Seb Greens walk I have included as it amuses me. He stole a rigid inflatable boat aged 15 from a harbour rowed it out to sea, got grounded in a lagoon, and on jumping out of the boat got stuck in the mud. A passer-by heard their screams and the ensuing rescue included helicopters, lifeboats, and the coastguard costing £20,000. Seb did the walk to make amends for his actions by raising back the money it had cost the emergency services to rescue him. His walk set of in February 2008 took 318 days, and totalled 3500 miles. I believe at 18 he is probably the youngest to have done the walk. Though having googled him, it appears there may have been further exploits in subsequent years for which he is doing new challenges to make amends.
  • Nat Severs walked the coastline starting in January 2010, he took 300 days and totalled an impressive 7000 miles. His blog is very well written and was useful to me as a check when I was plotting routes around the islands (especially Skye and Anglesey), as most others do not include these. Though his blog during his time on Skye scared me a bit as he seemed to have a terrible time being attacked by midges constantly!
  • Dr Geebers is an interesting one, he was a homeless person from Brighton who creates rock sculptures on the beach. It appears he never intended to go all the way round but after walking along the coast to make a sculpture just carried on. He funded the walk by getting donations for the sculptures and aimed to raise awareness of homeless people and the incorrect public perception of them. His walk started in May 2009, took 915 days and the distance is estimated at 6800 miles.
  • Peter Hill probably equals David Cotton for the most complete site. His walk set of in February 2014, took 291 days and totalled 5050 miles. He was supported by family and friends who followed him around with his campervan. I should also thank him for extending on the list of walkers that David Cotton had begun, which helps inform this blog.
  • Natalia Spencer did an incredible walk in remembrance of her 5 year old daughter Elizabeth, she was and is still raising funds for Bristol Children’s Hospital and has so far raised almost £200,000. She set off on the walk in February 2016, took 360 days and totalled 6000 miles.

As can be seen quite a variety of people have walked the GB coast, some via shorter routes some including islands, some specifically visiting certain things, but all for their own reasons. I’m sure each of them had an incredible experience. The one thing I noticed when researching this is actually how many people walking the walk suffered from a mental health issue before or were raising money for a mental health issue. This comes as no surprise to me.

So the answer to how many people have done the walk I am going to do is not completely straightforward. I would say there are about 40 people who have walked the coast continuously in one format or another. Though I would say only about 10 of those have done what I am attempting to do, in terms of doing a continuous, unsupported walk that sticks fairly rigidly to the coast thereby yielding a distance in excess of 6000 miles.

So my walk has a small amount of precedent, but as with those before me my exact route, weather, challenges and the people I meet will be completely unique to my walk. The one thing completely novel to my walk is the fact that as well as a blog to follow the walk, I am also going to be doing (or at least trying) a weekly blog highlighting issues and interesting points surrounding mental health issues.   


charles compton