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I have just finished walking a route across the UK from east to west— specifically from Margate in Kent to the north-west tip of Wales. At around 620 miles (1000 km) it is half the length of the more famous walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats and I completed it in a somewhat random fashion: my original plan had been to walk the Offa’s Dyke Path along the border between England and Wales (see figure 1), but once I finished this I could not resist adding other walks including the Thames Path until I completed the whole route. Anyone with a passion for walking will understand. It has still given me a special sense of pride to be able to point to a map of my country and to say I have travelled every step across it on foot.
Long-distance walks fundamentally alter your relationship with your native geography. Every kilometre brings an unexpected discovery: who would ever guess that the river Thames, for instance, flows underneath somebody’s house in Wiltshire? (see figure 2). The gradations of landscape, vegetation, history and architecture—all of which whizz by indistinguishably when passing in a car or train—become intimately familiar. Walking also tests your ingenuity, especially with regard to circumnavigating fields full of frisky bullocks, or farms guarded by overzealous dogs, not to mention finding transport back to a railway station when rural bus services in some places …
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