Russell Chittenden, who set off almost six months ago to walk the coast of the UK anti-clockwise, arrived in my small village of Kilmuir on the Black Isle, Scottish Highlands, today. Having followed him on Facebook for the past six weeks, it was great to have the chance to meet and chat to the former paratrooper.
Why walk the UK’s coast?
Russ, 40, from Aylesbury, Bucks, is following in the footsteps of Chris Lewis, also a former paratrooper. In 2017, Chris set out from his home on the Gower peninsula in Wales to walk the UK’s coast clockwise. He walked 20,000 miles in total and raised more than £500,000 for the Armed Forces charity, SSAFA.
Russ told me: “It’s Chris that gave me the inspiration for my own walk. I admired his adventure and the money he raised for the SSAFA.
“I was in a situation, where I had no ties; no family, wife or girlfriend. I was working for myself as a brickie but it didn’t have any meaning or direction. I was earning well but I didn’t really need all the money and I was drinking more than I should. I had got myself in a bit of a pickle with drink, to be honest.
“I saw what Chris was doing and a light came on for me. I knew that the only way I was going was downwards. Then, seeing Chris walking on the north coast of Scotland, I decided there and then to stop the drinking spiral.
“I thought, when Chris finishes his walk I’ll carry on the fund-raising and walk round the UK the other way.”
Russ starts at Land’s End
Russ set off from Land’s End on July 1, 2023. He is walking as close to the coast as he can, allowing for the tides. He sleeps wild and has had only 12 nights indoors in a bed.
He is carrying a pack weighing 28kg (I could hardly lift it!) and he walks as far as he wants to each day, or until he tires.
In the summer, Russ walked days of 20 miles between breakfast and an evening meal and then more miles after that. On days of poor weather and in the winter, with much fewer daylight hours, he sometimes covers only a few miles.
Some of the toughest sections have been the flattest parts of England. He says: “The hardest bit so far was the flat of the south coast. England is very built up with lots of urban areas and factories, as well as private land. I had to do a lot of weaving back and forth to keep close to the coast.
“I much prefer the landscape further north and especially in Scotland. Although the terrain and weather is harder in Scotland, it’s much more enjoyable and it’s easier on the mind.”
Basic food and kit – but all the essentials
Russ is self-funding the walk and has had some support from his brother but he is trying to keep costs to a minimum. He carries all his own food, supplies and gear and cooks for himself, or accepts food where it is offered. He says: “People have been so generous and I have been given many meals and food. I do carry quite a lot with me, too. I’ve enough to feed four people in my pack with all the basics, like potatoes, carrots, onion, mushrooms and meatballs.”
Russ is wearing only his second pair of walking boots, simple-looking Hi-tec boots. They do have hard-wearing Michelin soles, he tells me. The first boots lasted from Land’s End to Sunderland.
Russ says: “I am mostly walking on sand, grass and soft terrain so the boots last a long time.”
He also wears basic waterproof shells. He bought a new pair of industrial looking over-trousers for £12 in Inverness and his jacket is no more sophisticated.
He says: “There is no point in spending money on expensive clothing. The outer layers end up torn and wrecked due to the terrain, so I’d quickly have no money if I buy expensive clothing.
“I really just need the outer layers to keep off the wind and rain and you don’t need to spend a lot to have that sort of kit.
“I have a good jacket and a baselayer underneath and that’s all I need. I have spent more money on important items, such as my sleeping bag and warm gloves.”
His favourite bit of kit is his stick, that he holds like a staff. He says: “The stick is great and acts as back up wood for building a fire if I need it.”
The walk continues north
From Kilmuir, Russ walked north towards Munlochy and on to Fortrose. He plans to follow some of the John o’Groats Trail, where it hugs the coast. He hopes to walk the coasts of as many islands as he can and is already making plans for Orkney and Shetland when he reaches them.
He says: “When I started the journey, I had no idea what to expect. Before I set off, I was going into a dark tunnel, especially with the drink. But as I walk on, the light shines brighter and brighter every day.
“Mentally, it has done me so much good and I am much more robust than I ever was. I am calmer. It’s a peaceful robustness that I feel.”
Russ is also delighted by Scotland. He says: “I can’t get over Scotland and the way it changes you inside. Scotland is magnificent. I am loving it and the whole journey has been fantastic so far.”
He adds: “I have no plans to stop and I don’t know when the walk will end. I see it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I’ve got time on my hands, so it won’t end until I’m done. That might be 2025 or 2026.
“I have found that the more I’ve walked, the calmer I feel and the more uplifted, plus I am raising money for an important charity and that matters to me. In less than six months, I’ve raised £21,000 and I feel that is going really well.
“I wanted to take up where Chris left off and the point is, it’s for charity so I will just walk as far as I can each day and keep going.”
Find out more: Russ Walks the UK Anticlockwise.
Keep track of Russ on Facebook: Russ Walks the UK Anticlockwise.
You can donate to his JustGiving fundraiser for SSAFA.