Mountain Air


Mountain Air is a podcast about outdoor people. In this series, produced especially for UKHillwalking, Dan Aspel talks with a range of fascinating interviewees, from unlikely adventurers and high achieving enthusiasts, to dedicated professionals in the outdoor industry. Each episode focuses on a different individual with a unique tale to tell. They all have one thing in common: a love of places high, wild, and free.

16. Patrick Davies: The Diplomat Who Walked the Length of Britain

In the latest episode of Mountain Air, Dan Aspel catches up with Patrick Davies, a writer, long-distance walker and charity fundraiser whose latest book "Where Skylarks Sing" recounts a 2250km walk across the UK mainland in the summer of 2021, from Cornwall to Caithness, via some major hills not quite en route.

In the Black Mountains  © Patrick Davies
In the Black Mountains
© Patrick Davies

Long distance walking feels like meditation - you just slow down

Skylarks, which touches on Patrick's experiences caring for his father as he succumbed to Alzheimer's disease, issues of identity and belonging, and the healing power of walking, explores the "hope of finding escape and answers".

As you might expect, Patrick's epic walks aren't limited to 73 days spent walking between Lizard Point and Dunnet Head, and over the last three years he's not only traversed 1280km across the Pyrenees (carrying on afterwards to reach Barcelona on foot), but also made a 1120km trek from Strasbourg to the Mediterranean coastline too. What's perhaps less expected, and makes these achievements all the more unusual, is that Patrick hadn't done any serious walking until 2021.

He detoured to climb the highest hills in each nation - as here on Scafell Pike  © Patrick Davies
He detoured to climb the highest hills in each nation - as here on Scafell Pike
© Patrick Davies

Following the West Highland Way northwards towards Ben Nevis...  © Patrick Davies
Following the West Highland Way northwards towards Ben Nevis...
© Patrick Davies

Working with the Trump administration was... a bit of a rollercoaster

Prior to the pandemic, you see, the focus of Patrick's life was as a civil servant in the foreign office - through which he served from 2013-2018 as the UK's Deputy Ambassador to the United States of America. His experiences working with the Obama and later Trump administrations led him to write his first book, "The Great American Delusion". A speaker and commentator on American politics, there can be few people who have had more of a front-row seat over a uniquely turbulent decade for the world's most powerful (if rather shaky-looking) democracy. No wonder he felt the need to go and walk it all off!

Hear about all of this and why, when it comes to long-distance walks of your own, you should "do it, without question" in Mountain Air 16: 

00:00 - Introduction. 

02:40 - Welcome. Introducing "Where Skylarks Sing", recounting 1400-mile walk from Lizard Point in Cornwall to Dunnet Head in Caithness. Reasons for eschewing LEJOG. Personal motivations for the walk and the book.

08:40 - "... about three or four weeks later I found myself in Lizard Point with a very heavy backpack". Discussing experiences of caring for a close relative with Alzheimer's disease, fundraising in response.

12:25 - Choosing a more mountainous line: "it seemed a little unfair to miss out the whole of Wales if you're trying to walk across the country… and it got me into the Lake District as well". Paring back 2-3kg after three days of walking.

16:40 - "Everything doesn't have to be perfect at the beginning".

18:00 - The mentality of a long walk: "It's a slow pace, it's a slow rhythm, and it's repeated… to me it feels a bit like meditation. You just calm down, and slow down". A revelation to notice things, to see things, where previously the mind would be too busy, "once you slow down you see it all".

22:40 - Highlights, including: the South West Coast Path, the quiet, open spaces of Mid Wales, the Lake District and (of course) Scotland. 

31:30 - Advice to those considering similar walks: "Do it, without question. Once you start it's addictive". 

34:30 - Previous career as the UK's Deputy Ambassador to the United States, from 2013 to 2018. Writing "The Great American Delusion". Working amongst American politics, trying to explain Brexit, witnessing the polarisation of views across the country.

42:00 - "I hanker back to a time when politics was really boring… civil service is about delivering things for the general public".

46:15 - Recalling two great treks following walking the length of Britain: Biarritz to Barcelona via the Pyrenees (partly following the GR10, partly the haute route between it and the GR11), and from "Strasbourg to the Sea" (involving the GR5). 

53:20 - Witnessing the result of serious drought in the Alps.

56:00 - Greatest Mountain Memory: Climbing Morocco's Mt Toubkal in the High Atlas mountains, without much opportunity for acclimatisation (with predictable results) "my greatest mountain memory is that I don't really remember much about being on the top, other than swaying a lot".

56:15 - All the time, money, freedom… where would you go and what would you do? Latin America, to the Andes, and particular Chile's Torres del Paine National Park.

Interview recorded 24/01/24

Mountain Air

Mountain Air podcast is made, recorded, hosted, edited, released and occasionally sworn at by Dan Aspel (he didn't, however, do the theme tune). This is the third series Dan has produced, and the second to be made in partnership with UKHillwalking. We'll be publishing regular episodes over the next few months.


Instagram: @mountainairpodcast

Twitter: @MtnAirPod
Loading Notifications...
Facebook Twitter Copy Email