York graduate Jack Ibbetson has just set out on an epic 1,200-mile sponsored walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats to raise money for a York charity. He spoke by mobile phone to STEPHEN LEWIS.
THE entry in Jack Ibbetson’s diary for August 9, 2014, is brief and to the point. “Very hard start to the journey,” he wrote. “Only made easier by the people I met at Cape Cornwall and the family who stood either side of the footpath and saluted me as I went past. Too tired to write more. Night.”
Bed that night – as it will be most nights for the next couple of months or so – was a sleeping bag in his one-man tent. He was at a campsite in St Ives, Cornwall. And the reason he was so tired? He’d just walked there from Land’s End: about 20 miles by road, a similar distance on foot.
That 20 miles was just the beginning of an epic walk of about 1,200 miles that will, by some time in November he hopes, see him reaching John O’ Groats, at the northern tip of Scotland.
The University of York graduate – he studied history, and received his degree this month – is doing the walk partly for the adventure, and as a way of saying goodbye to university. “It is something to do before going back into real life,” he says.
But he’s also doing it to raise money for charity, specifically the York Racial Equality Network.
“I spent three years at university in York, and felt that it might be nice to give something back,” he says, speaking by mobile phone from Croyde in Devon, a week into his walk.
“I’ve always been passionate about anti-discrimination, anti-racism work – maybe because I studied history, and the history of racism.
“I am acutely aware that not everyone has had the same opportunities in life that I have and one factor that often unfairly limits opportunities is race.”
He’s hoping to raise at least £1,200 for the charity – that would be £1 for each mile walked, he reckons – and he’s made a good start. He had covered 100 miles or so when The Press caught up with him by phone. “But we’ve already raised over £800.”
The 22-year-old, who was brought up in Chippenham, Wiltshire, is doing the walk solo. It’s just himself, his tent, a sleeping bag, and a small gas stove for cooking.
He planned the route in advance, linking up as many long-distance footpaths along the way as he could: parts of the South West Coast Path; the Cotswold Way through Gloucestershire; the Staffordshire Way; the Pennine Way (of course); the West Highland Way through Scotland. He’ll also be following local footpaths and, where necessary, taking to roads. He has a hand-held GPS to guide him. “It has OS maps on.”
His dad drove him to Land’s End for the start of the walk. And did he feel nervous at the daunting prospect ahead?
“I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I might be,” he says. “I was happy, with a big smile on my face: slightly nervous, but really keen to get going.”
And how does he feel, a week in? “The feet aren’t brilliant, to be honest, but they’ve started to harden up a bit.
“The first week has been a bit of a shock to the system, but after an hour or so of walking each day you start to get into a rhythm.”
He’s determined to enjoy his 1200 mile walk, he says - which is why it will probably take a bit longer than the 10 weeks he originally planned. “It will be ten weeks of actual walking, but interspersed with some rest days. I definitely needed that after the first week!”
Extracts from Jack’s diary
Day 1 (Land’s End to St Ives): Very hard start to the journey only made easier by the people I met at Cape Cornwall and the family who stood either side of the footpath and saluted me as I went past. Too tired to write more. Night.
Day 3 (Cambrose to Crantock): Shortest day mileage wise so far but still 8.5 hours from start to finish. Tough start but made good time into St Agnes and then on to Peranporth. Very tough on the coastal path from thereon as the weather closed in and the path deteriorated.
Day 4: (Crantock to St Minver): Long day made longer by tides and mistakes. Hip playing up all day. Limping becoming the norm. Staying away from the footpaths for the foreseeable future - too hard and often tough to follow. Roads are boring but functional.
Day 6: (St Minver to St Gerryn): Hardest day emotionally so far. Had to ring the parents to find the motivation to keep going. No idea just how wretched I’d feel now if I had stopped. As it is I now feel more positive than at any other point so far.
York Racial Quality Network
York Racial Quality Network works with black and other ethnic minority people in York to help them integrate and become accepted within the city. It provides support and advice for those who suffer discrimination or harassment, forges links with local groups and organisations, and stages events that celebrate the backgrounds and cultures of ethnic minority groups in York.
Rita Sanderson, the charity’s administrator, says funds raised by Jack will go towards specialist equality advice sessions for people from ethnic minorities in the city aimed at helping them access services and feel they belong, and towards support for those who have experienced discrimination or harassment.
“York Racial Equality Network (YREN) is extremely grateful to Jack and indeed to all the supporters of Jack’s solo walk from Land’s End to John O’ Groats,” she said. “He is a truly inspirational young man and we are very proud of the fact that Jack has chosen YREN to donate the funds raised to.”
• You can follow Jack’s progress at facebook.com/jiblejog
• To make a donation to his appeal, send a cheque to York Racial Equality Network, 20, Falsgrave Crescent, York YO30 7AZ, call YREN on 01904 642600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
When I walked out one morning
THIRTY years ago this summer I did my own 1,100 mile walk from John O’Groats to Land’s End, writes Stephen Lewis.
I was 24. I’d had cancer a couple of years before, which had knocked me for six. The walk seemed like a good way of clearing my head and putting it behind me.
I resigned from my civil service job in London, bought a tent and a rucksack, and caught an overnight train to Inverness. From there it was another train to Thurso, a local bus to John O’Groats – and then I started walking.
The first two days were easy eleven-milers. Then I took a deep breath and speared deep into the heart of Caithness – a seemingly endless expanse of high heather moorland that felt like the roof of the world. Morven, the stump of an ancient volcano that reared up out of the heather, was the only landmark to break the flat expanse.
I walked 26 miles that day, camping at Braemore, then 17 the next. After four days, my feet were ruined, covered in blisters. I burst them with a needle, smeared them with antiseptic cream, covered them in plasters – and kept walking.
My route took me down the coast to Dornoch, over the high moors to Inverness, then along the banks of Loch Ness to Fort William. I followed the West Highland Way for 94 miles, past Ben Nevis, through Glen Coe and along the banks of Loch Lomond to Glasgow, then cut eastwards across the Scottish borders to link up with the Pennine Way. This I followed all the way to Manchester along the backbone of England, and through some of the most glorious countryside imaginable: the Yorkshire Dales.
From Manchester I headed over to Shropshire and Herefordshire, took the Cotswold Way through Gloucestershire to Bath, then struck out for Land’s End through Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.
It took me ten weeks in all. I camped mostly, and stayed in youth hostels when I wanted a bit of luxury. I navigated with a compass and OS maps – avoiding roads, and following footpaths, old drovers trails, abandoned railway routes, and canal towpaths.
Sometimes, especially in Scotland, I saw no one for days at a time. As I reached the southern half of Britain the land became tamer, more crowded, the fields smaller and fenced or hedged in.
Often it was tough – physically exhausting, and lonely. But there are many wonderful memories, too: camping on a Scottish fell and waking to find a shepherd driving his sheep down the mountain: we shared breakfast, he asked where I’d come from, and his face shone when I told him. I was dive-bombed by a buzzard when I got too near its young; chased by a bull in a Shropshire field; and in a field in Devon where I had camped a horse ate the inner soles of my shoes, which I’d left out to air. It didn’t matter: by then my feet were rock hard.
Best of all, as Britain unrolled beneath my feet from day to day, I got a sense of how big, and beautiful, and varied our small island is.
The world can seem very small in today’s age of cheap international flights, the internet and 24-hour news. Walking the length of Britain in the summer of 1984 reminded me that it isn’t. It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten.