The south west of England is its wildest peninsula, stretching furthest west and south and reaching further into its Celtic past. Here a Celtic language survived far longer than in the rest of the country, only dying out in the west of Cornwall in the late 19th century, and its words remain preserved in local place-names and its culture in the many prehistoric sites scattered across the region. With travel by sea easier than by land, the south west was for a long time more closely linked with south Wales, Ireland and Brittany than it was with the rest of England, and that probably suited it very nicely.
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The England Coast Path began with the Marine and Coastal Act 2009, which created a statutory duty for Natural England to establish a long distance trail around the whole coast of England and designate a coastal margin for open access to all beaches, cliffs and shoreline. These two parts have been worked on in tandem, meaning it is a far more complicated proposition than the Wales Coast Path, the 870-mile route around Wales that opened in 2012.
I have been back in Powys recently, conducting a survey of the Public Rights of Way network that has had me reminiscing about doing this particular job over the years. Since 2004, I have walked 5% of the paths in the county of Powys on half a dozen occasions. It has taken me to all corners of this extraordinarily elongated county; from Ystradgynlais, Pontcysyllte and the edge of the South Wales coalfields, to Lake Vyrnwy Llanrhaedr-ym-Mochnant and the Berwyns on the fringe of Snowdonia. It takes in most of the English-Welsh border country of the Marches, plenty of the Cambrian Mountains and even a tiny stretch of the Welsh coast around its former capital at Machynlleth. It is based on the ancient Kingdom of Powys and its name is derives from the Latin word pagus, meaning countryside. This is very appropriate as the county is a vast sprawl of hilly farmland, the archetypal vision of Wales’ lush green valleys. Its largest settlement is Newtown with just 13,000 people and most of it is grass, sheep and mud.
Walking or running off the roads in Greece (or indeed anywhere in the Mediterranean) is a bit of an adventure, but having seen a noticeboard with a map of guided routes around the northern end of Kefalonia, I ventured out on the 10km Battery Trail with a photo of the route on my phone. I set off for a run before 8am, but it was already hot on the road out of the picturesque port of Fiskardo.
The Sunday is the day we’ve all been waiting for – a clear sunny day in the Highlands – and I awaken early at the prospect. Before breakfast I take a walk along the loch shore until I reach the sun. I sit on the rocks and gaze into clear waters where there had only been a muddy estuary yesterday and am tempted to swim until I try the water temperature. Ladhar Bheinn and Beinn Sgritheall stand as imposing sentinels either side of the loch and I gaze up at all the rocky features I had been unable to take in on yesterday’s walk.
Knoydart, or the greater Rough Bounds (or Na Garbh Chriochan), is often referred to as 'Scotland's last true wilderness’ and has long been somewhere I have wanted to make the pilgrimage. So finally I find myself waiting on the quay at Mallaig with an old friend, Dave, to catch the traditional wooden ferry along Loch Nevis to the remote peninsula on the west coast of Scotland. Sadly we are not alone – my vision of the two of us joining a few locals on the crossing is scotched by dozens of backpack-bearing hikers queuing along the pontoon. Many are waiting to start the TGO Challenge, a 200-mile trek across Scotland with several possible starting points and no set route.