Long distance walker Jane Batchelor is part-way into a solo mission of at least 2500 miles, a trip she thinks will take around 10 months. The walk, along the timeline of Britain, is conceived as a chronological journey through history. Starting in May (and way back in the stone age) in Shetland and Orkney, she then crossed to mainland Scotland to link up with the Cape Wrath Trail down to Ullapool. Jane is currently walking the Hebridean Way and enjoying the prehistoric sites of the Western Isles. Her ultimate destination will be modern day London.
"The walk will enable me to learn more about our country and see the incredible landscape that is very often only accessible on foot," Jane says.
"The fact that I'm not a historian makes this even more challenging and exciting, as I'll be talking to archaeologists, historians and locals as I go."
"Britain has beautifully preserved ancient settlements and buildings, all of which tell an incredible story. What I'm aiming to do is join the dots and walk the timeline of Britain, making the past become present in 2017, which I'll definitely be doing as I use social media and technology to document it!"
We caught her on a rest day to ask a few questions about her journey:
"My jorney so far? Bog. Roads. Hills. Some trails. More bog. A mouthful of midges..."
UKH: What inspired the idea?
Jane: A pair of hiking boots, a backpack and never having owned a car! I blame my mother for getting me into hiking aged six when I was clad in a fluorescent orange cagoule and overtrousers. It could have gone either way, I suppose, either I'd become a motorway maintenance worker or a long-distance hiker. The lack of a car ruled out the former.
After travelling abroad for ages (the four-month post-grad trip suddenly turned into years), I decided to see my own country. I could tell you the geography of Australasia, South America and SE Asia, but wasn't too sure where Ayrshire was in Scotland.
The idea of Walking the Timeline of Britain fell into place when I was reading about Skara Brae, one of Western Europe's oldest settlements, and I decided that I would become a real life Doctor Who, walk through time and learn more about this fascinating country. It was also the perfect time to put my newly received fountain pen to good use and write a book about the journey.
Has this been long in the planning?
I came up with the idea over 1.5 years ago but kept getting bogged down by work (as opposed to being bogged down by real, Scottish peat bogs) so planning was done in bursts. It changes, though, as I meet archaeologists who have a talent for lengthening my routes! I went from my 42 miles in Shetland to 130 miles there. I might go through a few more pairs of boots at this rate... But seriously, the archaeologists I've spoken to are incredible and have helped me out massively.
You've clearly got a passion for long distance backpacking; did you also have an interest in history before you started?
Yes, or I would have gone insane trying to map this out! I'd have done something far simpler logistically, like walk the coast of Britain.
How set in stone is the shape of the journey, versus how much you're leaving to chance?
Although I'm currently walking through the Stone Age, nothing is 'set in stone' route-wise. That, for me, is what travelling is all about, the unexpected as much as my colorful spreadsheet of destinations. If locals tell me I should go somewhere, and my feet and back aren't protesting, I'll wander off to see it. The route is all my own ceation so I can change and adapt it as much as I like.
When and where did you start?
In Shetland on May 8th. Right in the north of the country some 5500 years ago. As I walk south, I will move forward in time to 2018.
I thought it would take 10 months at first but think that will be revised to a longer time. If I was just walking and not researching (or devouring a tonne of food all afternoon when I reach a town), it'd be far shorter.
Plus, the longer I am, the more fish and chips and scones I can sample. Not together, mind!
Any idea of the distance you've covered so far?
About 300 miles. Maybe a bit more. I need to get my string out and measure it on my maps!
How much are you managing per day?
On the islands I seem to walk slower as I take the historical places in, but in the Highlands I covered 125 miles in 7.5 days. The rain and flash floods made sure I wasn't dillydallying around, I wanted to get through that part as fast as possible. I knew there were river crossings, so if rain was forecast that night, I'd walk 12-hour days to try and beat it!
Can you briefly describe your route thus far?
Bog. Roads. Hills. Some trails. More bog. A mouthful of midges. I use the right to roam on the islands as trails seem to be few and far between. I started my journey in Shetland then went to Orkney, then the mainland where I walked a bit of the Cape Wrath Trail in the Highlands as well as other tracks and roads. I'm now in the Outer Hebrides.
How have you found things so far, as a walking experience - weather, midges, blisters etc?
Britain is incredible. It can be wild. Uninhabited. Boggy. (Very boggy.) Stunning. Scary (the moody mountains). Spectacular. It has so much to offer. The weather, as always, is unpredictible: Shetland was windy (if I had washed my hair more often, I could have had a free daily blow dry), I got sunburnt in Orkney and nearly washed away by flash floods in the Highlands.
I have an insatiable appetite, so I ensure I eat well. I have added protein in my 5-minute pasta meals: kamikaze midges. I devour all the food available in supermarkets and curse myself for needing to eat, and therefore carry, so much food.
However, this is not an endurance test. I'm not a Duracell bunny cramming in 20+ miles a day. I'm enjoying (well, mainly enjoying) my time on this hike, learning as I go.
Walking solo - have you done a lot of it before? How are you getting on with your own company on this walk?
I normally hike solo. No one else can handle me! If I get lonely, I can always shout at the midges and talk to the sheep.
Met many nice people yet?
I've met so many incredible people, from locals who put me up and others who call me in for a coffee as I trudge past dripping wet, to patient and smiling archaeologists. I've met amazing tourists, too, who chat away and look out for me when I'm at campsites. I have found so much kindness on this hike.
Where have you been spending the nights - all camping so far?
Yup, except in Lerwick, the capital of Shetland, where I was in a hostel. I've spent a few nights in locals' houses in Shetland: a 14-year-old > girl gave up her bedroom for me. Most 14-year-olds just give you a sullen look, a curse if you're lucky, so this was pretty special. And I met a lovely kilt maker on the ferry who gave me a roof over my head in Shetland, too. Most of the time it's wild camping. My clothes normally walk themselves into the washing machine by the time I find a campsite!
What have you made of the historic sites you've visited already?
Without speaking to the county archaeologists, I wouldn't know half of what there is to appreciate. All the places tell a story, one which we can only guess at. I loved Shetland as there was no one else around at these incredible 5500-year old sites. I saw Neolithic settlements, a 'temple', burial cairns and watched an archaeological dig high up on a windy hillside. Although more geological, there is Mavis Grind, an isthamus where you are so close to the Atlantic on one side and the North Sea on the other that only 33 metres separates you.
Where have you got to in the timeline of Britain?
I'm still right at the beginning of my timeline, in the Neolithic period. The people back then were highly intelligent, they really understood their environment and utalised it. They farmed using machines similar to horse-drawn ploughs. The Orcadians were far more advanced than the rest of Britain when it came to building structures and stone circles. They were able to work out the sun's precise angle at the winter solstice and build tombs lining it up (some 600 years before Stone Henge). When I look at how the Neolithic people lived and what they accomplished 5500 years ago from using stone, leather and wood, we really haven't come that much further considering the technology at our hands.
Jane Batchelor is sponsored by: Osprey, Cotswold Outdoor and Adapt Outdoors