I did all except one of my long-distance walks while already travelling (you can find out more about my travels on my travel writing website). What started off as a fun way to spend the day slowly graduated into a fun way to spend a week, and by the time I got to New Zealand, one of the best destinations on this planet for aspiring long-distance walkers, I was well and truly hooked.
Australia and New Zealand
Although I'd thought about going on a long-distance walk for some time, it wasn't until I met an Australian park ranger, Scott, that I finally broke out into walks that required an overnight stay out in the wilderness. That first bushwalk, which Scott and I did back in , opened my eyes. I've never looked back.
From Australia I travelled to New Zealand, and that's where the walking bug really bit me. New Zealand is a stunning place for walkers, and the network of tramping huts is second to none. Encouraged by the easy accessibility of such a great collection of walks, I did a few shorter walks in Mt Cook in , before setting off on the Kepler Track, which proved an easy introduction to wilderness tramping.
This set me up nicely for the Hollyford Track, a one-way track which I'd originally planned to walk to the sea, before turning round and retracing my steps back to the car. Luckily I met a wonderful Kiwi called Rick, and together we teamed up to tackle the Pyke Route (a 'route' in New Zealand denotes a much harder walk than a 'track'), which took us on a challenging loop walk along the Hollyford-Pyke Route. It was tough, but I loved it, and polished off the nearby Routeburn-Greenstone Track soon afterwards.
My first walk in the North Island of New Zealand was the Taranaki Around the Mountain Circuit, which was wet, challenging and strangely enjoyable. Having climbed one volcano I just had to head over to the Tongariro Northern Circuit in the middle of the North Island, where I found one of the most stunning walks on the planet. I've loved volcanoes ever since.
My travels soon took me back to Australia, where I explored the Queensland coast during . There I walked the Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island, which was the only rat-infested long-distance walk I've had the pleasure to enjoy; and soon after I simply caught a lift to Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world, and spent a week walking round, following my nose.
From Australia my itinerary took me to Indonesia, where the awesome bulk of Gunung Rinjani (Mt Rinjani) proved an incredible place to trek. For the first time I was trekking alone, without a map and without a real grasp of the local language, and the thrill it added was enough to persuade me to go on a hike through Sulawesi's Bada Valley, where ancient megaliths sit in farmers' fields, their origins shrouded in mystery. What an incredible place.
From Indonesia I flew to Singapore and into Malaysia, where I set off on a six-day solo hike into the oldest rainforest in the world, in Taman Negara. I enjoyed it almost as much as the leeches did, though the rainforest isn't for the faint-hearted.
From South-east Asia I fled across to India, from where the lure of the Annapurna Circuit was too strong to resist. This mighty three-week trek, which I walked in , was easily the longest trek I'd tried so far, though with accommodation and food readily available all the way along the track, it wasn't quite as adventurous as some of the tracks I've done. The challenge of Acute Mountain Sickness, though, was quite unlike anything I've ever encountered; some hardcore walkers might dismiss Annapurna as an easy hop, but I'm full of admiration for anyone who's completed it; it's no walk in the park.
Once I returned from the three-year trip that gave birth to all the walks above, I didn't go walking for a while, mainly because it's hard to pack long-distance walking in the same suitcase as a career, a relationship and a city lifestyle. However in I opted out of the rat race once again, and by I'd decided to take on the biggest walking challenge of my life, to walk the long way across Britain.
I trained myself up by walking sections of the London Loop, a long-distance walk that loops right round London, and as such is a perfect way for city-bound people like me to get out into the surprisingly green outer suburbs of London. Land's End to John o'Groats was another story altogether, which is why the story of my walk across Britain has its own website and its very own book.
Clearly unable to sit still for long, I soon polished off the Capital Ring, the London Loop's little brother, and then wondered what it would be like to walk across London rather than round it... which led me to spend the summer of 2008 walking the entire London Underground network, overground, line by line and station to station.
What a great way to see the capital! Sure, August was a bit of a damp squib and some parts of London are best left undisturbed, but June was wall-to-wall sunshine, east London turned out to be a real highlight, and I ended up taking just under 10,000 photographs and writing a little over 150,000 words, all of which you can find on my tubewalking website.
And after all that walking, I'm having a little rest...