Within the late summer season of 2017 I grew to become captivated by the sculpture A Line Made By Strolling. It was created in 1967 by Bristol artist Richard Lengthy, who walked rigorously backwards and forwards by way of a grassy area, drawing a footpath together with his ft. This fleeting observe of trampled grass was the other of a footpath. It led nowhere and was created by one man.But, it was a file of a journey, with infinite prospects of discovery inside an ephemeral line. Pinning this photograph to the wall, I started to plan a journey of my very own that may path a path by way of Britain’s landscapes. Many long-distance routes traverse the land, operating from coast to coast and ending on the sea. Digging an previous map of Britain out of the attic, I drew a distinct line, one with out a vacation spot, linking totally different footpaths till they fashioned a loop of virtually 5,000 miles across the edges of the island. Six weeks later I rounded a nook and collapsed on to a muddy verge. It was a frosty October afternoon: day one. Months lay forward of me.I take pleasure in informal jogs and had a few marathons underneath my belt, however with legs drained and ft sore, I puzzled if my physique would ever cease aching. Nothing had ready me for the load of my tent and backpack. Had I taken on an excessive amount of?In Aesop’s Fable, I’m the tortoise. I run slowly, with my residence on my again, giving me time to understand the landscapeFour years and a pair of,800 miles later, I’m nonetheless operating. My job as a tour chief for Energetic England has allowed me day without work out of season, although operating over winter brings its personal challenges. There have been many moments of panic and ache, fatigue and frustration. There have been days after I couldn’t see my fingers by way of the fog. Days of rain and stomping by way of snow.There have been days after I ran from cows, climbed hills and slid down the opposite aspect. I paused for a 12 months after which, out of lockdown, resumed my wanderings. In Aesop’s fable, I’m the tortoise. I run slowly, with my residence on my again, which provides me time to soak up the landscapes I transfer by way of, hearken to the birdsong, recognize the liberty of being outside – and cease at each fortress, cafe and pub.Stage 1: 2017-18, 1,300 miles alongside the south coast – three monthsA light-weight tent made a comfortable refugeIn October 2017 I ventured out from Bristol harbour alongside the River Avon and hugged the shore till I met the South West Coast Path at Minehead. This 630-mile path loops round Devon and Cornwall’s headlands and crags, previous Land’s Finish and Lizard Level and finishes on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast.With no official path to comply with from there, I pushed on, jogging by way of the New Forest and hopping on to the South Downs, which rolled again to the coast at Brighton. Using the chalky cliffs of Kent, I traced the perimeters of this county, alongside the Thames, previous suburbs and sewage vegetation, dipping a toe into London’s japanese commuter belt at Gravesend, earlier than retreating to Suffolk’s swollen riverbanks and shingle seashores. My ultimate few weeks took me by way of the twisting salt marshes and mudflats of the Norfolk Broads till I reached King’s Lynn in early February 2018.Day by day was peppered with small and surprising encounters … that go away me smiling even nowAveraging about 18 miles a day, I took a time off each week, staying in a hostel or Airbnb to scrub, stretch, write and browse. After two months of operating and tenting I booked a practice ticket to take pleasure in a Christmas of residence comforts, household and buddies. It was a shock to find that my journey residence would take lower than two hours.In 2017 Covid was not a phrase in widespread use by non-scientists. I might shake fingers with strangers, and wander in direction of distant hills, by way of counties and international locations. One significantly chilly and breezy night in early December I jogged alongside the Jurassic coast simply because the solar was setting, heading in direction of a sheltered tenting spot I had picked out on my map.Drained and stopping to catch my breath because the solar was setting, I started chatting to a lady strolling her canines. Maybe seeing my exhaustion and failure to beat the approaching darkish, she invited me to remain and throughout the hour I used to be showered, sitting subsequent to a roaring hearth, cuddling two canines, sipping a gin and tonic and chatting as if we have been previous buddies. Day by day was peppered with small and surprising encounters like this that go away me smiling even now.Making a pal because the ‘beast from the east’ blasts NorfolkBy late February I had reached Norfolk and the “beast from the east” was sweeping an icy gale throughout England. I used to be pressured to pause. Invited indoors by a few strolling fanatics, I stayed put for 2 days earlier than setting off on a 30-mile day, my head torch shining a cone of yellow by way of the snow. The solar step by step rose to mild up snow on sand, with tufts of icy dune grass sticking up. Simply after daybreak a silent determine curved in direction of me, folding white wings towards the cream sky. The barn owl that flew alongside me grew to become my quiet companion earlier than retreating into the gap minutes later. I’ve nonetheless not skilled a extra magnificent second.Stage 2: 2018, 900 miles alongside Welsh Coast – 2½ monthsA stony shelter in a rainstorm in Borrowdale, CumbriaThe following November, I returned to Bristol, crossed the River Severn and ran north alongside the Wales Coast Path – all the best way to Liverpool. I had entered a distinct land, wilder and extra distant than the south, with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. The built-up industrial coast that surrounds Cardiff, Swansea, and the metal mills of Port Talbot stayed with me for a couple of days till I left behind the towers of smoke and stepped on to the Gower peninsula, with Rhossili Bay at its head. Climbing to the highest of a hill that overlooks its sweeping golden sands, and battered by the wind, I might see darkish clouds gathering inland and charging towards me. Wild ponies walked alongside slim paths, and I adopted their regular ploddingup steep twisting paths. Days handed with me seeing solely canine walkers within the distance and I might camp with ease, tucked into the nook of a area. Wild tenting is a contentious challenge and I at all times ensure that I pitch away from fashionable paths, arriving near darkish, departing early within the morning, and leaving no hint. Sometimes I judged it flawed.Your world resets and the times fly by so rapidly you’ll be able to hardly consider you’ve been transferring for months at a timeOne late-December afternoon I completed sooner than regular and pitched my tent within the nook of a grassy area barely inland from the Pembrokeshire coast. Because the solar started to set, I used to be comfortable inside my sleeping bag after I heard thunder approaching. Peeking out from my tent I regarded first to the sky earlier than a motion caught my eye and I watched a herd of cows cost into the identical area, my area, hooves thumping as they gained floor. Panic-struck, I scrambled out of my tent, zipping it shut and ripping out its pegs. With all the pieces nonetheless inside I threw the tent over a close-by gate and hurled myself headfirst after it. After a number of minutes of staring on the contented cows by way of the metallic gate, I retreated to a far nook of my new area, to start my night once more – muddy, bruised and relieved. I had realized my lesson and would by no means once more arrange camp too early within the day.In a world of fixed interruptions, media and noise, there’s a freedom to multi-week journeys. Your world resets and the times fly by so rapidly you’ll be able to hardly consider you’ve been transferring for months. That’s till it rains. When it rains in Wales, it pours, and all the pieces slows down. It drowns the land, turning paths into rivers, seeping first into your sneakers, then underneath your hood and at last into your soul. Ultimately, the solar emerges to wash the land, and as tears blended with rain started to dry on my cheeks, I didn’t wish to be anyplace else.Stage 3: 2020, 600 miles throughout the north of England – 5 weeksTaking within the view from the Outdated Man of Coniston within the Lake DistrictWith Covid-related journey restrictions briefly lifted final September, it was time to dig out my path sneakers, mud off my tent and head north to finish my English loop. Starting the place I’d left off in Liverpool, I bumped into the Lake District earlier than slicing throughout on Alfred Wainwrights’ coast-to-coast path from St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay and journeying south to complete once more in King’s Lynn. The Lakes have been an odd combination of crowds and isolation and I crisscrossed fashionable intersections as I attempted to search out less-worn paths. One brilliant morning in late September, I set out from the village of Boot, jogging up a abandoned valley with the goal of climbing Scafell from a less-well-known angle. I adopted the acquainted inexperienced dashed line on my map, although no path was seen within the land and at factors I waded as much as my knees by way of marshy river grasses. It led me to scramble on fingers and ft up beside a waterfall the place I finished for a snack, perched on a rock and on high of the world.Wanting over three valleys I couldn’t see a single particular person. I considered nature author Robert Macfarlane’s phrases, that “paths are the habits of a panorama … paths want strolling”. With out common use they’ll fade and disappear, to be misplaced and rediscovered once more. As I climbed greater and right into a thick band of fog, the temperature dropped alongside my confidence within the inexperienced line. Was I on observe, creating a brand new path or following one which was historic, however little used? There was nothing to do however proceed and belief my map. I used to be maybe 200-300 metres from the summit of Scafell earlier than I lastly noticed individuals. Barely dazed to have come throughout so many after a solitary morning, I joined a practice of 60 or 70 walkers for the final of the ascent, having fun with the murmurings of close by conversations, earlier than slipping away down one other quiet and barely seen observe, vanishing with it down a steep stony slope and retreating once more into my ideas.Classes from a Nice British expeditionI hope to return to the paths quickly: I’ve 2,000-odd miles nonetheless to go round Scotland, on probably the most remoted and difficult terrain. When the storms broke my tent by snapping its poles, as occurred throughout Storm Fionn in January 2018, I used to be fairly irritated. Not irritated sufficient for it to get in the best way of sleep, although. Positive that nothing too essential had blown throughout the sphere, I stubbornly wrapped my crumpled tent round me and drifted off. It will take every week to get my tent repaired and within the meantime a couple of buddies of buddies reached out and provided me a tent to borrow, a sofa to sleep on and an opportunity to remain in a community-owned brilliant blue transformed bus that was parked within the chalk hills of the South Down nationwide park. Earlier than the day was out, I used to be sitting spherical a campfire chatting to new buddies, one thing I might have missed had my tent been in a single piece. What to pack for a running-and-camping expeditionThe creator’s trusty path shoe – and an unused one – after months of runningSomehow, each morning I match all my package right into a 32L OMM Backpack (Traditional) with some light-weight drybags inside. Numerous my package was designed to be light-weight, together with my sleeping bag – which made for a couple of chilly nights and improvised hot-water bottles. I by no means weighed my backpack, judging it as an alternative by how a lot I felt I might comfortably carry. It was in all probability round 10kg-12kg at its heaviest, with full water pouches and meals for the day.The gadgets I wouldn’t be with out:Tea: I’m a nicer human as soon as I’ve had a sizzling, milky cup of tea, so first on my checklist was a Pocket Rocket range, together with teabags and powdered milk. A number of water pouches are additionally essential to hold hydrated: I took ones that might fold up when not in use.
Grippy path sneakers: I really like my Saucony Peregrine trainers.
Light-weight all the pieces for tenting: tent, roll mat, sleeping bag, tent pegs.
Headtorch: important for pitching a tent at night time and operating on roads at daybreak or nightfall – the extra highly effective the higher.
Telephone: for protecting in contact, calling forward to campsites, enjoying podcasts and audiobooks, retaining sanity – and taking photographs! Requires a water-proof/damage-proof case. Don’t neglect a battery pack, leads and a plug.
Jar of peanut butter, to be eaten with a spoon – the world’s best on-the-go snack.
iPad Air: a light-weight luxurious for studying books and watching movies. Nice for pretending the tent that’s swaying wildly and by some means moist on the within, is definitely a comfortable little non-public cinema.
Small notepads, tiny watercolour set, pens and pencils. I take pleasure in writing and doodling, sticking collectively random scraps of leaflets with little scissors, glue stick and a few crayons.
A small wash package with journey wash that doubles up as shampoo and garments wash, toothbrush and paste, small deodorant, tiny folding brush/mirror, suncream, earplugs.
A small first support package.
Relating to clothes, layers are key: base layers, down/artificial pack-down padded jackets, a raincoat, gloves, hat and as many layers as you’ll be able to put on at night time.
The one merchandise I didn’t use was my penknife, although it’s attainable I’ve been doing tenting flawed all this time!
Comply with Frances on Instagram @frances.mills