The cover of I May be Gone for Some Time by Peter Hill shows the author leaning against the gate in front of the Cape Wrath lighthouse, a cheeky grin on his face. I think that sums up this tremendously fun book about one man's 5,000-mile trek around the British coastline.
What makes someone decide to hike the British coast? In Peter Hill's case, he'd been dreaming about the idea for a long time, and it gradually increased from a vague interest to a burning ambition. As he passed his fiftieth birthday he began to make concrete plans, and soon he was actually on the trail itself.
"The narrative is unfailingly positive and light-hearted, with a good sprinkling of humour and plenty of commentary on the landscapes he's walking through"
He did his UK coastal walk for charity, raising money for two organisations – Spinal Injuries Association and MS National Therapy Centres – although he had no luck finding sponsors and funded the entire journey himself. As he walked, he often found that people he bumped into were more than happy to contribute to his charity fund. While backpackers are used to walking unsupported, the sheer scale of this undertaking justified a support team, and he used a camper van ('Snickers') as a base each night, driven to the end point for the day by one of his many helpers. As the author stresses, this walk was very much a team achievement, not a personal one.
But it is an incredible achievement. Peter Hill's coastal walk may not have included any lofty summits, but some of the stages (especially in Cornwall) were gruelling and he endured several physical injuries, including walking on a broken toe. Yet the narrative is unfailingly positive and light-hearted, with a good sprinkling of humour and plenty of commentary on the landscapes he's walking through.
I particularly enjoyed his account of the Cape Wrath stage. I know this walk from my own hike of the Cape Wrath Trail, and it's clear from the writing that Peter was awed by the wild simplicity of the moors – a vast change from the industrial landscapes he'd been walking through only a few weeks before. This enormous variety in the UK's coastline, from quiet estuaries to rugged cliffs, from desolate seaside towns to tourist-packed beaches, is superbly represented in this book. Perhaps to see a real cross-section of the UK you have to walk around its circumference.
Most books about long-distance hiking are published as straightforward narratives, but I May be Gone for Some Time takes a slightly different approach: it's a glossy coffee-table book, lavishly illustrated with dozens of photographs, including some really good double-page shots. For this reason, and because the text itself has been adapted from Peter Hill's hugely popular blog, this is very much a book to dip in and out of as well as read cover to cover.
"The book's origin as a blog is its greatest flaw. I noticed a number of places where good editing would have made a huge difference to the quality of the writing and the flavour of the overall package"
Yet the book's origin as a blog is also, in my opinion, its greatest flaw. A good blog doesn't necessarily make a good book, because the reader is not being drip-fed the content over the ten months it took to hike the trail – they're almost certainly reading it in a far shorter period of time. For this reason, despite its many good qualities, the book does tend to become a little repetitive in places. Let's face it, the day-to-day routine of walking around the coast isn't that engaging to read about even if you're the most committed outdoor enthusiast, especially when every single day is recounted in full. My view is that the book version of this adventure should have been a concentrated version, rewritten specifically for that format and edited for readability, rather than what appears to be a direct conversion from the original source material. I noticed a number of places where good editing would have made a huge difference to the quality of the writing and the flavour of the overall package.
But despite my complaints, this book grew on me and I found myself enthralled by the gradual process of life on the trail supplanting normal life, becoming ordinary in itself, so that the inevitable return home became the next big adventure. All long-distance walkers will be familiar with this to some extent, but a 5,000-mile trail will test anyone. And the author's character really shines through in the low moments when he's just been soaked by a rainstorm, he's ten miles from the nearest pub, and yet he still finds something funny or positive to say about his situation. The book has a cheerful sense of fun and I think it takes itself less seriously than many outdoor tomes. There are also many valuable practical tips and this book will be a worthwhile read for anyone looking to plan their own coastal long-distance hike.
I May Be Gone for Some Time by Peter Hill
Format: Paperback (232pp)
Publication: 07 Mar 2016
In 2014, a self-proclaimed ‘relatively normal 50-year-old, overweight desk-jockey’, took on the monumental task of attempting a 5,000-mile walk around the coast of mainland Britain in the name of two worthy charities.
Developed and adapted from his award-winning blog, this is a journal documenting the highs and lows of his 42-week hike around Britain with only the support of his friends, family, the odd stranger or two and a trusty second-hand motorhome as a roving base camp.
Peter Hill, the man behind the whimsical idea, never viewed the trek as a voyage of personal discovery and instead takes the reader on a truthful blisters-and-all journey with friendly enthusiasm, gentle humour, numerous trials, a few grumbles, the odd rant and many, many ice-creams. With added extracts from a driver’s diary and fully illustrated with a selection of spectacular photographs, this book is only readable with a smile.
For more info see v-publishing.co.uk