A 53-Year-Old Retiree Begins a 32,000km Walk Around Britain

Karen Penny at the end of her John o' Groats to Land's End walk: a brief stroll by conparison to her current project.

Karen Penny has always had a passion for walking. In her spare time, she tackled the 285km Offas Dyke Path in Wales and England’s 1,000km South West Coastal Path. Then she graduated to trekking the length of Great Britain, from Land’s End to John o’ Groats: 1,400km from northeast to southwest. Now, she is stepping up the distance by a factor of 20: In mid-January, she started walking Britain’s entire coastline, including Scotland and Ireland. The 32,000km continuous journey should take four years.

Karen Penny. Photo: express.co.uk

Penny, 53, worked in law for three decades before retiring. Through her trek, she hopes to raise funds for Alzheimer’s research. “Both my husband’s parents died from dementia-related illnesses and it had a massive effect on me,” she told the BBC.

Very few have attempted this mega-journey. Penny said that one person has walked the coast of Northern Ireland and is currently covering mainland Britain and the Islands.  Others are doing the route in stages, intermittently, as time allows. Another, Alex Roswell, has done both the Irish and British coastlines. Penny will become the first woman to walk both coastlines continuously.

In training. Photo: Chris Tinsley

To prepare for her expedition, she walked the Gower, a scenic part of the coast by her home in South Wales. Training was crucial, as she suffers from a foot disorder from her habit of walking on her toes. She also steeled herself for the nights ahead by sleeping in her backyard.

She is carrying a 17kg backpack with the basics for life on the road: a four-season tent, sleeping bag and Thermarest, plus electronics: two cell phones, charging packs and so on. Her diet includes nuts, porridge, cheese sandwiches, rice and couscous.

Her journey began near her home. From here, she walks to Fishguard, in North Wales, and catches the ferry to Ireland. She walks clockwise around Ireland, takes a ferry back to Fishguard, then continues around the UK mainland in a clockwise direction, also covering many of the islands en route.

“I plan to walk 15 miles per day and average 2 miles per hour, depending on the terrain,” she says.

The mother of one is funding the journey with her own savings, combined with donations. Every six weeks, her husband will catch up to her in his camper van, replace any failing gear and let her take a break from the tent for a night or two.

About the Author

Kristine De Abreu

Kristine De Abreu

Kristine is an aspiring travel writer from Trinidad and Tobago with a BA in English and History. She is currently with the British College of Journalism.

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