Ben Cook’s Unusual UK Round Trip

Cook and Darcy walk the South West Coastal Path. Photo: @adventure_cookie

What do you do after you’ve just walked the length of the UK from south to north? If you’re Ben Cook, you cycle back south with a bike, a pair of shorts and a helmet but nothing else — not even a pair of shoes.

Cook, 25, planned to start a two-year, 12,000km walk across Africa when COVID-19 hit. So instead, he put the more exotic project on ice and decided to “reconnect with my homeland the best way I know how, by walking.” On June 21, he set off from Lands End, the most southern point of the UK, with his friend’s dog, Darcy, and started the 2,000km walk to John O’Groats, Scotland.

Cook and Darcy walk the length of the UK. Photo: @adventure_cookie

Cook and Darcy snaked their way up the UK, joining as many established footpaths as possible. “I can’t take credit for the route,” he admits, “as I followed the End to End guide by Cicerone.”

Every day, man and dog walked 30 to 35km. Cook’s favorite section was the West Highlands of Scotland. Several friends joined them for a day or two along the way. Because of the pandemic, places to stay were in short supply, so they mostly camped, only occasionally staying with friends or hospitable strangers. “We slept in a few graveyards and churches,” Cook recalled. “One Sunday morning, a reverend walked in and saw Darcy and I enjoying some shelter, so he invited us to stay for the service that morning –- which we did!”

While on the Offa’s Dyke path in Wales, one man ribbed him a little: “Well, if you think what you’re doing is tough, I’m reading a book about a bloke who started in just a pair of pants.” Cook wanted to make his journey home as interesting as his walk to John O’Groats, and that gave him an idea.

Cook and Darcy reach John O’Groats. Photo: @adventure_cookie

After 11 weeks, on August 30, Cook and Darcy made it to John O’Groats. Here, Darcy’s owners picked her up, and Cook’s “best bud”, Jack Cullen, 25, joined him for the return trip. They set off from John O’Groats on bikes, half-naked, with no camping gear, rain clothes, food, money or even shoes.

Currently, the pair are well on their way back to Lands End. They suspect it will take them around 13 days in all. Friends and people they’ve met along the way have donated food and clothing. As they have no camping equipment, they have been, like so many adventurers before them, dependent on the kindness of strangers for a place to sleep. Reliance on others was part of the idea of leaving John O’Groats with almost nothing.

Ben Cook and Jack Cullen leave John O’Groats on the return trip to Lands End. Photo: @adventure_cookie

Cook was surprised by how much he underestimated the UK. “[Until now] I have been adamant that true adventure lies overseas, in exotic lands. I was very ignorant. The UK has some of the most extraordinary people, spectacular scenery and weird and wonderful cultural nuances that I have ever experienced!” You can follow the last few days of their journey here.

About the Author

Rebecca McPhee

Aspiring sports and travel journalist based in the UK.

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