“I first started long distance walking after my wife Sarah died in a car crash. We’d been together since we were at school, nearly twenty years. I didn’t want to know anyone or anything after that. I stopped working and was living in my tent. Walking helped me deal with the pain. I used to walk for miles before realising how far I’d gone and then I’d have to get a bus back again. I would walk from one hill to another and just keeping going to see what was next. I found it so therapeutic.
After a while I started doing sponsored walks for charity too. From the Outer Hebrides to Penzance, I don't think there's a part of the UK I haven't walked to now. I’ve done walks for the RNLI, St John’s Ambulance and Guide Dogs for the Blind, but the NSPCC was the biggest one I’d done until recently. That was 1200 miles from Dusseldorf back to the UK, but I always felt like I could go further.
By 2016 both my parents and my brother had died within quick succession. I’d nursed my mum through cancer and when she died it hit me really hard. I’d always had somewhere to call home before that, but after she went I realised I had nowhere to go back to. I was working as a builder and travelling from building site to building site, sometimes staying on site and sometimes in my tent, but that year I found myself living in a tiny room in the West Midlands and I just couldn’t find any work. I’ve never claimed benefits before and I didn’t want to start, but I was getting depressed just sitting around, so I thought I’d go on another walk about.
I got in touch with the Air Ambulance and said I’d like to do a sponsored walk for them this time. They thought I said 27 miles at first, I said no, 2700 miles. I told them I was planning to go from Plymouth all the way round the coast to Felixstowe, then up to Newcastle, across Hadrian’s Wall, down the west coast of Wales, and then back into Devon. They thought I was crazy but they said ok.
People were really kind all the way round, helping me out with supplies and support and I started to get quite a following on social media. I met so many nice people and had all sorts of adventures. I remember when I was in Lancaster the police station was on fire as I walked past, and when the officer saw me in my hi-vis jacket he asked if I could help keep the passing cars away and so I spent four hours directing traffic for them.
The only problem I ever had was in Prestatyn. I went to get some food one day and when I came back I found someone had burnt my tent down with all my belongings in it. I’d already had to replace it once before when it got ruined in the wind and I didn’t have enough money left to buy another. I had no equipment and no money. I was sure I would have to give up, but then just as I was getting ready to leave the local newspaper wrote about what happened, and after they printed the story the reporter rang to say a member of the public wanted to meet me. A few hours later a man called and asked to meet him in a local hotel. ‘I’ve opened a bar tab for you,’ he said, ‘just wait there for me.’
When he arrived he’d bought me a brand new tent, sleeping bag, rucksack, cooking stove, clothes and shoes. He just gave them to me and said: ‘Right, there you go. You can carry on with your walk now.’ It turns out he was a builder like me. He’d read about my story in the paper and bought me all this equipment. The amazing thing is I never found out who he was. I’ve tried to find out since but he never told me his name and he won’t reply to my thanks on Facebook. He was a complete stranger. It was incredible.
After that my story started to spread on the internet and I began to get donations from all over the country. Two people sponsored me at £1 per mile and I think I raised nearly £1600 just because of that. When I finally got back to Plymouth I couldn’t believe I’d done it. It took me seven months in total, but I broke the record by 30 days and raised about £6600. I still get people getting in contact with me on Facebook asking me what the next thing I’m going to do is. I did think about walking the Great Wall of China which is 5500 miles, but my bones are starting to ache and I’m not as fit as I used to be so that might be a bit too far.
After the walk I decided to stay in Plymouth and I love it there. Plymouth is the first place I’ve felt at home in for a long time. I’ve met so many nice people. I’m finding work regularly and have applied for a changing lives grant to start my own business. I’m hoping to enjoy Christmas this year. I never cared about it before, it was just another day to me, but my landlady runs a café overlooking the sea and this year she’s opening it especially for people on their own, so I think I’ll go there. Maybe it’s time to think about settling down.”
Alan, Plymouth. (Photographed on walkabout in London)
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