to painful lengths to prove I'm a real backpacker.
(The inspiration for a 300-mile charity walk)
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
was during this tour that I was inspired to continue
this exploration into real backpacking.
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.
in it today,' I said to her, feeling that an explanation
was in order.
right,' she replied, with a chuckle.
turned to the page in question and began reading.
the Englishman who walked the length and breadth of
Ireland in boots not made for walking' began the
mouth dropped open. 'No I didn't,' I said out loud.
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.
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.
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.
I decided to walk from Kirwan House to Bunbeg House
with my backpack, and be a real backpacker for charity.
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
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.
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.
of my two books, along with photos, travel information
and travelogues from my summer book tour of Ireland
are available at my website:
Copies of my books are also available at your local
walk was completed June 2003. Visit the Walk
for Asthma link for information.