Andy and I are ‘fair-weather walkers’ and the same goes for camping. Whilst we’d love to walk the Pembrokeshire Coast Path or take weeks to trudge the Pennine Way, family commitments and my dislike of being dirty and uncomfortable rather put the mockers on it. It was on one of our 6-mile ‘strolls’ that we started talking about the enormous variety of scenery that can be found in such a small island as Britain and moved on to discuss the relative merits of our coastline.
I love taking photographs and said how interesting it would be to compare pictures of places on the coast. There are rugged cliffs, miles of sandy beaches, mudflats, tacky resorts, estuaries, towns, dockyards, hidden bays, castles, oil refineries, nuclear power stations and the list goes on. We decided it would be fun to see as much of our coastline as we could and make a photographic record of our own; this would give us a purpose when planning a trip away.
An ideal holiday for us is to be away from most of the human race in beautiful scenery, perhaps that it why we found Iceland so enthralling. We have a love of Scotland and try to visit at least twice a year anyway. It is the vast emptiness and peaceful beauty that attracts us. As the idea developed we realised that there is an awful lot of coast – about 6,000 miles I think.
I have read books by brave travellers who have plodded most of it for charity and taken the best part of a year to do it. Our main problem is that we can’t throw off our responsibilities for such a long spell - and we’re too lazy. We decided that the answer was to do it in small chunks as circumstances allow and take ten years instead!
We live in the middle of England, as far from the sea as you can possibly get, which is a bit of a disadvantage when planning a series of coastal trips. The other way to look at it, is that it is a central place to radiate from and that we will never have to travel the full length of the Island.
Now and again we talked about our idea and gradually a bit of a plan emerged. When an opportunity allowed, we would decide on an area, buy the relevant OS maps, drive to a start point and over a short period see how far we could get. We decided that sometimes we’d use a car and find hotels on the way, or travel in a camper van with our bikes and stay on campsites. We hoped that we’d be able to walk on some stretches of coast or use the bikes in the flatter areas.
The rules we decided to set ourselves were to keep to the roads that run close to the coast. We only go down cul-de-sacs when there is something interesting at the end such as a coast path or a headland. The best plan is to travel clockwise and if in doubt, turn left; useful when the photographer is in the passenger seat.
We started in Southampton on a weekend in February 1998 and I began to make scrapbooks of photos and things I had collected along the route. I also took videos and then wrote a diary of what we thought of the places.
We found a massive amount of tourist information in books, on websites and from the information centres but it is often biased because tourism is a marketable commodity these days.
It occurred to me that there may be other people who would be interested in a personal view and would like to see non-professional pictures without a tourist slant. Who knows, it could be useful to anyone planning their own holiday.
Note: As we travelled around the UK, we realised that county boundaries and names have changed over recent years. I have referred to the counties that have existed for hundreds of years and included the traditional county shields.
As of October 2006, we have probably visited two thirds of it. The main
areas still missing are the South East, part of the West Country, much
of Wales and some islands in Scotland.