‘I’m surprised I’m still here!’ The Dorset woman’s year-long journey walking Britain’s entire coastline is raising money for the homeless
On a bitterly cold winter day, Claire Allen is striding out across Studland Beach towards Old Harry Rocks. It is one small stage in a massive challenge – to walk the entire length of Britain’s coastline in a year. However, right now there’s only one thought on her mind, especially with the biting cold. Where is she going to sleep tonight?
A mighty undertaking
Claire lives in Bristol now, but her family are from Okeford Fitzpaine in Dorset. She set out from John o’ Groats in Northern Scotland on 8th August 2023 – she has completed about a third of her total distance so far. She’s walking for charity, aiming to raise £25,000 to split equally between two charities; Only A Pavement Away and Shelter.
When Claire started she was just planning a year out from her job, wanting to ‘do something different’. The presence of rough sleepers and having to find somewhere to sleep each night focused her attention on homelessness.
Claire says: ‘I’m lucky. I haven’t experienced anything like homelessness and I have a support network and a family. But after months on the road I can say the hardest part about it is finding somewhere to stay each night. In summer it’s easy because you can simply camp. At this time of year it’s dark at 4pm and right now it’s freezing. It really makes you think about those less fortunate.’
The kindness of strangers
Before 45-year-old Claire set out on her long walk around Britain she worked in the charity sector in Bristol as a communications and fundraising professional. That exposed her to homelessness – but this walk has shown her a different perspective to living without a safe, secure base.
‘Walking down the east coast of Scotland, it was easier to find somewhere to rest because you can camp out anywhere. But when I got to England it was more of a challenge. I’ve had huge support from B&Bs, and even complete strangers who have a room free.
‘I’m more attuned to homelessness now. But what I have really valued is when people say hello. That small social interaction means a lot. So now, as I go on my way and see someone who is alone and looks homeless, I ask if they are OK.
‘Homelessness is a crisis that none of us can ignore. It’s visible in every town and city. Along the way, I’ve met people who are homeless and sleeping rough – and not one of them has chosen that life. Losing your home can be down to something as commonplace as a marriage break up, becoming unemployed or even falling out with your family.’
Life on the road
Claire usually walks 15 miles a day. She didn’t have a formal training programme before she set off, but as someone who does trail running she wasn’t unfit before the challenge.
‘I have found that just through walking each day, I’m getting a lot fitter. Apart from finding somewhere to sleep, the only other challenge has been the weather. There are funny moments too. One memorable night a fox got into my tent! Somehow it managed to find my food and spread things everywhere. I was brushing my teeth at the time and came back to find a real mess.
‘When I’m walking, my rucksack becomes a talking point – sometimes I look like a bit of a freak show. People are taken aback that I’m doing this on my own and usually ask where I’m staying and what I’m doing. It’s lovely to talk to people. Some even give me £20 when they hear I’m raising money for charity.
‘I keep my energy levels up with food. I must be the only person who has walked the length of Britain and put ON weight! I’m always thinking about food and coffee. To maintain my energy levels, it’s important to get a good night’s sleep, to eat enough – and try not to be tempted by too many doughnuts’
Now she has walked down one side of Britain and two-thirds of the way across the ‘bottom’, what has surprised Claire the most?
‘That I’ve stuck at it! I didn’t know how I would manage or have any idea how it would go. I didn’t tell too many people before starting out because I didn’t know whether it would even work. I’m also surprised at how generous people have been with donations.’
Claire is currently on the 630 mile stretch of the South West Coastal Footpath. Her most recent Instagram post – from Weymouth – says:
‘I’m now five months into this great big walk and still want to run screaming to the nearest station and jump on the first train home when I think about how much further I’ve got to go. So for now, it’s just one day at a time.’
- To keep track of Claire’s progress, follow along on Instagram at clairesgreatbritishwalk.
- To donate to either Shelter or Only a Pavement Away, visit Claire’s JustGiving page: Claires-great-british-walk
- As well as support from hotels and guesthouses, Claire has received support from outdoor clothing brand Inov-8, which has provided her with top-of-the-range walking boots (she’s currently on her third pair!) and the Alpkit Foundation which made a grant of £250 towards the cost of equipment.