Completing the 1400km Wales Coast Path in two months would be a big ask for most, but one woman has added the challenge of an ultra-minimal budget to the experience. Zoe Penfold, a 27-year-old instructor with Outward Bound in Aberdyfi, is walking the coast on just £1 per day. It would be hard to stay adequately fuelled on this little money alone, but relying on the kindness of strangers is essential to the ethos of the trip, one of the aims of which is to highlight the difficulties faced by people living in poverty in the UK.
Zoe, who started walking in Chester in early April, is raising money for Shelter and the RNLI. She is now at Fishguard, where we tracked her down for an interview.
UKH: Why walk the Welsh coast path in particular?
Zoe: I picked the Welsh Coast Path because I wanted a challenge that had some personal attachment for me. Wales is my home and I've lived here for nine years now. I'd wanted to walk Anglesey for some time and when looking for a big challenge this seemed like an obvious step forward. I love the coast here and this seemed like an excellent way to explore it. I threw myself and my rucksack off the train at Chester and went from there...
How have you found it so far as an experience?
I'm fairly sure I've experienced my entire emotional range whilst on this walk. I've had days of sheer bliss soaking up the scenery happy in my own company, I've had hideous trudges in the rain and I've had the weird juxtaposition of being sat in the most beautiful bay (Nant Gwrtheyrn) in the most beautiful weather crying on a rock. None of the experience has been what I'd expected but somehow I'm still going.
How's the weather been treating you?
I hate rain. Everything is more difficult in the rain. Lunch stops. Making shelter. Everything. However when the sun shines the coast path is like nowhere else. It is completely stunning. Touch wood I haven't had too many horrendous days and as the walk progresses the weather seems to get better.
The blisters have been somewhat impressive; I'm now missing quite a substantial portion of both of my little toes and they seem to be suffering the worst. Fortunately when it comes to blisters I have a grin and bear it attitude.
To do all 1400km/870 miles in 60 days you'll be averaging 23km a day. That doesn't sound too bad until you factor in the weather, ascent, and of course the fact that it's back to back for two months. How have you managed with the mileage so far, and are you fairly confident you'll finish on schedule?
Unfortunately I've had some setbacks and been quite poorly a couple of times. Initally I'd struggle with an 18km day - especially when they were on tarmac. The ascent is somewhat disheartening too, especially when in the back of your mind every time you start to walk uphill you are painfully aware of the fact that inevitably you will end up back at sea level. I've managed to scrape in a few rest days so far but with my schedule I'm cutting it super close to having enough time to finish. Hopefully I'll make it to Chepstow but that's a bit of an unknown. If not then I'll go back to finish over some weekends.
How much of the Welsh coast do you already know? Or will most of this be a journey of discovery?
Having lived in North and Mid Wales I'd expected that I'd have known quite a lot of this area. Turns out that I didn't really at all. The coast in these areas is beautiful and it's been amazing to be able to discover it in this way.
Did you do any particular training or preparation in the runup to departure?
Foolishly I assumed that working as an outdoor instructor would probably be enough training for this. I had hoped to do some bivvy practice before going out but I ran out of time. So on the 2nd April I kind of just threw on my pack and got on with it. Hindsight is a beautiful thing and me feet would have definitely thanked me if I had done some training.
Can you give us a rough idea of your kit list, and how much weight you're carrying?
The last time I weighed my pack it was just over 21kg. I've managed to lose some of that weight but every time I restock for food it shoots right back up. The key items I'm carrying are: sleeping bag, mat, lightweight tent (it was initially a bivvy but I struggled to sleep and kept getting wet), one change of clothes, waterproofs, battery pack and cables, solar panel, notebook and pen, a very cut down version of the guide book (each day I throw that day away), Jetboil stove and gas, two cooking pots, spork, Primaloft jacket, hat and gloves, headband and sunglasses, suncream, a very very small washkit, walking poles... I'm sure there's a bit more but that's the jist of it.
You've walked solo most of the time so far – has that been lonely at all?
Being solo has been both empowering and terrifying. I am an extrovert through and through and really crave the company of others. I'd go as far as to say that being alone has been the most difficult bit of this whole experience. Fortunately (for me, not anyone else who happens to be walking the Wales Coast Path) I have a good library of music and some headphones. I'm certain that if I didn't have these then I wouldn't have got this far.
Some women might feel at least a bit apprehensive about walking and sleeping out alone. Would you recognise that as a concern, and if so what advice would you offer other women who might be put off doing something similar by personal safety worries?
I've found largely that the walking alone hasn't been an issue. You're active and doing something and your mind is focused on the path or walking or just generally having a good think. The times I struggle with being by myself has been at night. I've found it incredibly difficult to feel safe at night. This was a big reason I put out a plea for a backpacking tent and made the difficult decision to change to this. Being completely enclosed makes a massive difference but I'm still painfully aware that I'm a small young woman alone on the path. Things that help me with this have been strategic camping near buildings but also fairly remote so I feel there's somewhere I can go to if I have an issue. I only camp in places I have phone signal; my outside line is my connection to the world and where possible I've asked farmers and landowners if I can pitch up on their land.
You seem very open to the kindness of strangers: What sort of help have you had on the walk so far?
The help I've had so far has been incredible. People I've met have fed and me and put me up for the night. And lots of them have contributed to my food fund or my charities as well. From little things such as some ladies buying me tea and cake, to people who've given me their holiday homes to use. There's certainly no way I could have managed all this without those people.
Why are you fundraising for the RNLI and Shelter in particular?
As a keen sailor and someone who lives near enough opposite a lifeboat station the RNLI is an important charity to me. Their work is fearless and quite frankly incredible. I chose in particular to support their Mayday campaign; one of the reasons for this is they will be funding Women's specific kit in particular - something I understand somewhat being a female outdoor instructor. I chose Shelter as in my line of work we frequently work with young people below the poverty line. These young people often miss out on so many opportunities in their lives because of a matter of circumstance through no fault of their own. Shelter estimate that 128,000 children in the UK are homeless or in temporary accommodation.
So why the £1 daily budget, and how on earth have you managed to survive on this little so far?
The £1 a day comes from my choice to raise money for Shelter. I wanted to live well below the poverty line. Many people have very little to live on and I wanted to make a statement about that by living on as little as possible. I wouldn't have survived using so much energy and living on £1 a day. However the generosity of all the people along the path means that actually I've managed to stay within budget so far. People's kindness has kept me fed for a large portion of the trip so I haven't had to endure 20p noodles and instant porridge too many times. Any money left in my budget at the end of my walk will be given to my charities.
- You can follow Zoe's progress on Facebook and her blog mountain-girl.co.uk
- Donations can be made via Justgiving to Shelter or the RNLI