When people think of Ireland, they might think of Guinness, music or even Leprechauns, but did you know that Ireland has a King?
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A 280-mile solo hike across Ireland.

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Travel Articles
ONE MAN AND HIS BACKPACK - Basingstoke Gazette

Going to painful lengths to prove I'm a real backpacker.
(The inspiration for a 300-mile charity walk)

What is a real backpacker? This question popped into my head while on my very first ever journey around Ireland. The backpack is a brilliant piece of equipment, designed completely around the idea that it slots nicely on your shoulders and thus leaves you free to walk unhindered. This means that you will never be a slave to your luggage and can walk everywhere with it. So why is it then, that we never do that?

I had been backpacking around the world since 1996, and always set off on lengthy trips around countries as diverse and exotic as Mexico, Hawaii, North America and Australia, to name but a few. Yet in all of these countries I had never walked any significant distance with my backpack. Most of the people I'd met on my travels hadn't either. Often the backpacks are so big and cumbersome that they cannot be carried for any prolonged period (women are the worst, I'm afraid to say), so once we get off the bus at our destination we look for a local bus or taxi to take us to our hostel. Yet this completely defeats the whole object of having a backpack.

As I pondered this question, I remembered meeting an American guy in the mountains of Mexico who walked everywhere with his backpack. Donovan was a rock carver, and his pack was full of stones. That was being a real backpacker.

So I decided that to be a real backpacker I would have to walk from one town to another, hostel to hostel, with the full weight of my backpack. This decision became a reality on the Beara Peninsula in West Cork.

The Beara Way is a hiking trail that runs for a total of 197 kilometres around the peninsula. The first section goes from Glengarriff to Adrigole and is exactly sixteen kilometres. Despite facing such obstacles as rough, sodden mountain trails littered with sheep and their discarded faeces, having no raincoat, water or real food to eat, and relying on local people as milestones, I managed to arrive at the hostel without using any form of transport other than my legs. What should have been a five-hour hike though, turned into an eleven hour nightmare due to a wrong turn being taken. By the time I arrived my whole body hurt and I moved like an ape on valium.

Yet I had succeeded in being a real backpacker for a day. This all occurred back in the summer of 1999. Earlier this year I published Hot Footing Around the Emerald Isle, a book about that two-month journey. After publication I set off on a four-month tour around Ireland in a camper van in order to promote this book.

It was during this tour that I was inspired to continue this exploration into real backpacking.

While down in the city of Cork one day, I approached a national newspaper. Naturally I was delighted when they agreed to do a feature on me and the book. I related the tale of the hike across the Beara Peninsula, among other things. The journalist scribbled this and other things down before rushing me off to have my photograph taken.
A few days later I was in Glengarriff when the article came out. Glengarriff is a small village and the only shop selling it had sold out. I leapt into the van and sped off towards the nearby town. Finally, I found a shop with copies left. I bought three, much to the bewilderment of the young girl behind the counter.

'I'm in it today,' I said to her, feeling that an explanation was in order.

'Ah, right,' she replied, with a chuckle.

I turned to the page in question and began reading.

'He's the Englishman who walked the length and breadth of Ireland in boots not made for walking' began the article.

My mouth dropped open. 'No I didn't,' I said out loud.

As I read on it became obvious this man had thought I'd walked the entire journey around Ireland, from Cork to Donegal; a journey that would have covered hundreds of miles, taken a lot more than two months and more than likely resulted in a visit to the hospital for a replacement body. I'd been entirely misquoted.

Once the initial shock wore off I began to ponder the idea of actually doing such a thing. After all, the whole of Ireland had been mislead into believing I did this, so perhaps I should. It would make a great follow up book. Also, I had often looked into the possibility of hiking for charity, but had been too busy trying to launch myself as a travel writer. This could be a perfect way to combine the two.

Since that trip back in 1999 I have been living and working on and off in a great hostel called Kirwan House in Wexford, where I had ended my original trip. The other favourite place of mine in Ireland is Donegal. I had first visited the county after learning about a King living on a tiny island off its north coast. After meeting the King of Tory the ferry returned me to Bunbeg Harbour where I met Andy, the owner of Bunbeg House, a great B&B by the waterside.

Thus I decided to walk from Kirwan House to Bunbeg House with my backpack, and be a real backpacker for charity.

I wanted to choose a charity that was close to my heart. Being an asthmatic, and being that my lungs are quite close to my heart, I decided to do the walk in aid of Asthma research.

My plan is to fund the walk from the profits of my book sales. I currently have two books in publication (the other is about a journey through South America) and will also donate £1 from the sale of each book to charity. I will write a book on the walk and, assuming I get a UK publishing deal for this, will donate all the royalties to charity.

So there it is, a plan where I hope everybody wins: instead of asking people to donate money, they are getting an entertaining and informative book in return. The walk will help raise people's awareness of how potentially dangerous this disease can be, and Asthma research will get much-needed funding; something that will benefit me immensely. By the time I have walked from Wexford to Donegal with a huge weight on my back, I will no doubt be in need of advances in Asthma research.

Details of my two books, along with photos, travel information and travelogues from my summer book tour of Ireland are available at my website:
www.ian-middleton.co.uk
Copies of my books are also available at your local bookstore.

This walk was completed June 2003. Visit the Walk for Asthma link for information.

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