Frequently asked questions, or ‘how to put other people’s minds at rest’
I’ve got pretty adept at answering these top 11 questions to the satisfaction of concerned/amused/bemused friends/relations/strangers. Every now and then I get this nagging feeling that I’m so relieved at managing to allay other people’s worries, I’m just smoothing over my own. Ah well, anyway – read on and be comforted. I’ve thought of everything! How hard can it be?
1. Why Wales?
Last May Wales opened up the a path along its full 870-mile coastline. And to top it off, the coastal path meets the Offa’s Dyke path, which runs along the border of England and Wales, and back to the coastal path again, making a 1027-mile round. It’s the only country that you can walk right round, and it happens to be the one I grew up in. I was writing a little news piece about it last June and just couldn’t get it out of my head…
2. Why a donkey?
Well… I’m pretty sociable, so I didn’t want to be alone for 1000 miles. I’m not a dog person – they kept biting me when I was a kid, which soured that relationship. But everyone loves donkeys; I can’t imagine I’ll be the exception. They are companionable, strong, stoic, dependable – all of the traits you need in a good travel buddy. And they have their own characters and foibles too – I reckon it’s a dead cert for an interesting travelogue. And she’s bound to cause us to meet people along the way – in fact I reckon we’ll have to travel incognito sometimes to make any headway at all (how do I disguise a donkey?). She’ll be an ice-breaker.
Oh, and she’ll carry my bags, so I can take some second-tier necessities like a stove and my ukulele, donkey-willing.
3. Are you going to do it all in one go?
Yes. I’ve been meaning to take three weeks off to walk the Pembrokeshire coastal path with my mum for about ten years. Three weeks is a tricky amount of time to leave any job for. Somehow three months seems easier. It’s a real, serious chunk of time. By the end I will have glutes of steel and a massive overdraft.
4. Have you written a book before?
No. But I have been a travel writer and editor for some eight years or so, and before that I wrote diaries constantly. Almost pathologically. I reckon I can do it. I’ll be blogging on this website as I go, so do please feel free to come along for the ride.
And the finer points…
5. Where will you sleep?
I’m hoping to sleep out under the stars a lot. I’d like to stay in campsites for sociability and showers every so often, and on the roadside the rest of the time. I think a weekly hostel or B&B might be in order, for baths and washing machines and sanity. If you live near the coast or on the border and have a little garden with no precious flowers, do invite me to stay. I will say yes.
6. What will the donkey eat?
I’m told that donkeys are desert animals (hence the woolly fur and hatred of rain). As such they are very good at extracting nutrients from their food, so apparently she’ll do pretty well on the lush summer grass by the trail. I’ll take some horse nuts for extra calories, and some treats – carrots, apples, she doesn’t like Polos – to encourage her past whatever geographical features she takes against.
7. Will the donkey carry all your stuff?
Yup. That’s what donkey’s are made for. They can carry 25% of their body weight, and the donkey I’ve got my eye on is particularly hale and hearty, and big and strong. Oh, OK, I’ll take a day-bag with my mobile phone, wallet and some crisps in it, in case she runs off.
8. Are donkeys allowed on the coastal path?
Um… no. This is really where my grand plan falls to its knees. Not only is it not allowed (the only animal allowed on a footpath is the “usual companion of humans” – a dog), but it’s also just plain not possible – a donkey will not manage a stile or a kissing gate. No chance. I’ve considered everything – aluminium ramps, hydraulic lifts, criminal damage – but there’s only one solution: I have a full set of OS maps and I’m going to make it up as I go along.
9. Oh no, where will you walk then?
Cycle tracks, bridleways, farm tracks, B-roads. A-roads sometimes. And maybe I can sneak onto the coastal path now and then, although I have a nightmarish dread of encountering a stile after five long miles on a cliff path and having to turn back. Morale will falter. I will eat the Polos.
10. How many miles are you going to do per day?
This is where it gets really scientific. I think I can do around 15 miles a day, sometimes much more, sometimes much less, depending on terrain, detours and donkey. 1000 miles divided by 15 miles a day works out as 70 days of walking. Out of three months that leaves me with 20 days to rest/argue with the donkey and lose/go to a wedding etc. (More on the adventure-by-numbers here.)
11. Will the donkey run away at night?
I hope not. I think I am going to buy a hobble. A pair of hobbles? Some hobbles? One of them, anyway. Apparently they are not at all cruel and very soft these days. I’ll get a rope and a sort of corkscrew stake and she’ll still be there when I wake up, waiting for her morning horse nuts as we watch the mist clear over the glassy sea. Lovely.