Why things are hotting up for the long distance walker


With hindsight, the hottest day of the year was hardly the best to scale and descend Britain's highest mountain, Ben Nevis. But Barry Bloomfield likes a challenge and Ben Nevis was part of his itinerary for a walk across the UK that has occupied him for the better part of three months.

"I probably could have done without the heat when I was going up," said the 64-year-old from Essex. "But I was just relieved that it had finally stopped raining. Those days when it brightens up and I get a good view are the days I enjoy the most."

Mr Bloomfield's odyssey has been a long time coming. He had wanted to do the trek since 1989 after being inspired by First and Last, a film about a retired man who fulfils his life's ambition to walk from Land's End to John O'Groats.

But when opportunity finally knocked, he decided that the traditional route did not pass muster. He started 40 miles further back, at Lizard Point, Cornwall - the most southern tip of the UK - and plans to finish north of John O'Groats at Dunnet Head in Scotland.

And although his wife, two sons and 94-year-old mother were concerned about how he would fare, they have been supportive.

Because I am exercising so much, I can buy myself nuts and a pint of beer

Mr Bloomfield, owner of a Leytonstone nursery, prepared for two years, gradually increasing distances walked and the weight of the rucksack he carried on his back. He also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

He said the walk had become "easier than expected, partly because the hardest part of the journey was at the beginning. This isn't the fastest route. It's the prettiest, most remote route possible. I am totally staying off-road.

"I thought that over a period of time I would get weary. That hasn't been the case. You get incredibly fit. I am now just walking past everybody."

He covers 20 miles a day on average and although it can get lonely, he can look forward to putting his feet up at night at B&Bs and hotels.

"It's amazing, the people you meet along the way," he said. "But I had never realised how remote some places are. I turn up expecting a town and there is little more than two houses. I always make sure to take a sandwich with me at the beginning of the day because sometimes you go a whole day without finding a place to buy food."

He has camped in the wild a handful of times. On one occasion, he set up tent after losing his compass and finding himself at the edge of a peat bog.

But he says there is not a home comfort he has missed "because I haven't felt deprived. If anything, it has felt like an indulgence. I've lost a huge amount of weight and have been able to treat myself with bars of chocolate.

"Because I am exercising so much, at the end of a day I can happily buy myself a bag of nuts and raisins and a pint of beer." He has turned on his radio only to catch up on Test match scores.

Nearing the end of the trek, Mr Bloomfield is keen to get involved in his business once again. "And I've promised myself I'll be home to see the Olympics."

A special memory of the walk was "going through Wuthering Heights country - very dramatic.

"I appreciated the mist. It was as if I could see Heathcliff coming over the moors. You really feel like you are the only person in the world."

Mr Bloomfield has also been raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support and the NSPCC, with his running (or should that be walking) total at almost £2,000.

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