Best foot forward

Life events inspired Beth Wickes to raise funds by walking around England’s coastline. Kate Chapman caught up with her as she nears the end of her once in a lifetime solo adventure.
Charity walker Beth Wickes left her home 18 months ago and since then has covered more than 3,000 miles of the English coastline – including Lincolnshire’s eastern stretch – by foot.

Now on the last leg of her epic adventure Beth, who is completing her solo fundraising walk in aid of Lowland Search and Rescue, the RNLI and Mountain Rescue, has raised more than £4,100 for her causes.

She left Tower Lifeboat Station, Victoria Embankment, London, on 3rd October 2018 and has since walked the country clockwise taking in the south coast, Isle of Wight, Wales and Anglesey before cutting across the John Muir Way, a coast to coast route across Scotland, and continuing down the eastern edge of England.

Having recently picked up the coastal trail at the Humber estuary, Beth has walked from Cleethorpes to North Somercotes and then on to Mablethorpe, Ingoldmells, Skegness and Boston.

More recently she passed through Fosdyke and Sutton Bridge before crossing the county border into neighbouring Norfolk and is now preparing for the final stretch of her walk through Suffolk and Essex to complete her journey.

“Lincolnshire wasn’t the easiest county to walk,” admits Beth, “but I had been warned about the cruel east wind coming in from Scandinavia.

“At this time of year, I don’t feel I’ve seen it at its best – Skegness, for example, is a traditional English seaside town and a lot of places were closed because they’re seasonal.

“It’s not always been easy to follow the coastal path either; it’s quite remote, very rural, but I followed the lines of the seabank, although you can’t actually see the sea anywhere, just the salt marshes. It’s still really exposed and started to get very cold – there weren’t many other people about!

“I had a lovely walk through RSPB’s Frampton Marsh Nature Reserve with its abundance of birds, including one of my favourites, the globally threatened Lapwing.

“One thing I did find was that the people in Lincolnshire are very chatty; when I was waiting at the bus stop people would strike up a conversation about what I was doing – I haven’t found that everywhere I’ve been.”

Inspiration and fundraising
Beth was inspired to set out on her journey after a number of life events, including two bereavements and a dyslexia diagnosis while completing a degree as a mature student.

Another story, about a man who was litter picking his way around the coastline, also inspired her to pull on her walking boots and set off for a once in a lifetime adventure.

“The deciding factor for me was wondering whether I might regret not doing the walk when I’m on my deathbed and my answer was ‘yes’,” says Beth. “I love walking and I wanted to explore Britain. I didn’t have a reason why I shouldn’t or couldn’t do it, other than procrastination.

“As well as losing Dad while studying, my beloved dog Kai died too. I’d had him a long time and he was my closest companion. I just needed a complete break.”

Beth prepared herself for the challenge by getting fit, walking up to nine miles a day while carrying a large rucksack and then decided she would use the opportunity to raise funds too.

She is supporting Lowland Search and Rescue because she feels the organisation doesn’t get enough promotion for the work it does, along with the RNLI and Mountain Rescue.

So far, Beth has clocked up more than 3,000 miles, walking between 10 and 12 miles a day, taking a rest day every fourth day, which she spends catching up on admin, finances and route planning.

“It’s been tougher in more ways than I thought it would be,” said Beth, who previously worked as a cartographer and photogrammetric surveyor at Ordnance Survey before completing a human nutrition degree at Worcester University.

“I’m doing this full-time, solo and unsupported. I have no partner or support team in the background helping me with the huge amount of admin work involved in a project like this, or with logistical issues of getting to and from accommodation, although more recently someone from Hampshire Search and Rescue has been helping me to find accommodation, as a few places have been kind enough to offer a free room here and there.

“The only support I’ve had is from the kindness of strangers offering me their spare rooms, food, clothes washing facilities and transport for me and my rucksack.

“People often ask how my feet are, but actually it’s the mental load that is far more taxing than the physical – the walking part is the easy bit.”

Ups and downs
Beth said her adventure has been full of ups and downs – many of the low points caused by prolonged winter flooding and unpassable footpaths which have meant she has had to keep changing her routes.

She also came inland for a while to see other parts of the country she had always wanted to explore, including Lincolnshire’s Viking Way.

“I’m hoping to be finished in a couple of months – in fact I’ve got an end of walk party planned on 31st May, so I’ve got to be done by then!

“I don’t really feel like I’ve missed anything while I’ve been out walking, although I thought I might get fed up wearing the same clothes, as there’s only so much I can carry in my rucksack, but it’s been quite liberating.

“Now the only decision I need to make before setting off is, do I need that extra layer or not?

“I’ve not actually got a home to go to yet, but I am finding that more and more I just want to stay still in my own place, with my own stuff, where I know I’m not going to be woken in the morning by traffic or barking dogs!

“Nevertheless, it’s been a real experience. As well as the lows, there have been some wonderful highs; walking the beautiful Pembrokeshire coastline back in the summer, as well as meeting some truly kind strangers who have become friends.

“I’m very lucky that I’ve been able to fulfil my dream.”

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