Will we live long enough?
We started the walk in April 2003.
In late 2004, Anne had surgery for breast cancer. This didn't stop our Christmas trip to Gran Canaria. Anne went mountain walking to re-gain fitness after the surgery. Neil did longer walks, joining Anne later in the fortnight. Margaret basked in the sun and came with us on the less strenuous outings and boat trips. The survival rate for breast cancer is not too bad so Anne still hoped she would complete the walk.
Margaret was already getting ancient and knew that she would not complete the walk. From the start she only did the shorter and flatter legs and she had recovery days in between. In October 2008 Margaret was recovering from a stroke. We had to cancel our planned trip. After that, although in quite good shape, she couldn't get travel insurance and she felt unsafe so she stopped accompanying us. By Christmas she was well enough for Anne and Neil to travel to Spain for the next leg. Ian, our brother, looked after Margaret while we were away.
In May 2009, it became obvious that Anne was having new problems. Although fit, she was off her food and getting twinges of stomach pain. By July this has been diagnosed as cancer of the pancreas which might have been new or a continuation of the breast cancer. The 50% survival rate was about six months so things looked bad. She had a course of chemotherapy which seemed to be working. At Christmas she was fit enough to go to Spain for some exercise to help with the recovery. This was only partly successful because there was freak bad weather. There were four years of rain in the fortnight we were there. Even so, she went for walks of increasing length and difficulty.
After returning to England, instead of continuing to improve, things just got worse and worse. She had spells in hospital where they tinkered with the pain control, only with partial success. By Easter 2010, she was in a bad way and was readmited to hospital for the last time. She could no longer eat and even had difficulty taking water. During this time, Margaret had some heart trouble which had been brewing for many years. She finished up in the same hospital as Anne. Past episodes of her heart trouble had been sorted out by adjusting her drug therapy. This time she was too frail and after a few days, apparently stable or improving, she died quite suddenly. Anne managed to get to Margaret's funeral but she was in a wheel chair and we had to carry her in the chair over the rough floor of the woodland cemetery. She didn't weigh much! That was in late April. Two months later, Anne died too having lasted twice as long as the statistical average.
That leaves Neil examining actuarial tables and wondering if he will last. The original plan was to walk down Italy and back up the other side. That would add four or five years to the walk. Perhaps that's not such a good idea so the latest plan is to head straight for Venice, leaving out Rome, Naples, Vesuvius and southern Italy. Even the trek round the coasts of Albania and Greece might end up being too far. A cross country route might be more achieveable.
Another problem is the soaring cost of travel. In 2003, the pound was strong, the euro weak and it cost about one euro each way per day's walking to get from our base to the walk. This has gone up by about three times and is still rising.
Are we camping?
Not yet. We stay in a house, villa or hotel and use trains and buses and, less often taxies or hire cars to get to the start of each stage and home again afterwards. Some parts of the route are likely to be more isolated and camping out might be necessary.
How closely do we follow the coast?
We are more interested in an achievable route that is interesting and most of all pleasant. So far that has followed the coast fairly closely. Transport links at each end of each leg are important. We avoid main roads whenever possible as these are both unpleasant and unsafe.
We try to find quiet tracks and paths, off the main routes. These are usually away from the coast. To avoid main roads, our route is often indirect. For much of the walk we have been within a days walk of the coast but this rule is not set in stone. We originally planned to walk round the entire coast of Italy. This is now looking unlikely based on the life expectancy of the walkers.
Do we walk every inch of the route?
Yes but not to the point of being neurotic, trespassing, intentionally breaking the law or taking stupid risks. We are not trying to break any records. For example if we used a bus to get to the start of the walk, we would not bother to cross the road to get to the exact point where we got onto the bus at the end of the previous day's walk. The few metres lost are made up a hundred times over by taking wrong turnings and going up dead end paths. When there is no obvious alternative we are happy to use ferries. Near Cádiz, we used alternative walking routes to avoid motorway river crossings closed to pedestrians. If we get to a an unavoidable crossing, closed to pedestrians, we will use public transport. Once a shepherd gave us a 500 metre car ride past some cattle he regarded as too dangerous to walk amongst. That was on March 29th 2008. We had taken a longer route to avoid the tramac road and met the cattle. As a reward, we met the shepherd and found some Digitalis Obscura, a rare and unusual form of Foxglove.
Are we doing all the stages in sequence?
Yes. We have already walked along small parts of the route but we will do these stages again walking "west to east". There might be a few exceptions. For example, we got permission to walk the length of the Matalascañas Nature Reserve (along the beach). To fit in with the park operations we walked this stage in the "wrong" direction.
Are there any special problems with this walk?
No. Nothing serious but you get sun tanned on one side only. Golf courses, gated communities, military bases, industrial zones, ports, estuaries and closed nature reserves often block the direct route. There is always a longer way round. Beach walking, always west to east, makes you get one leg longer than the other. As we go further north, the winter weather is getting colder and wetter so we take hats, gloves and cagoules.
How difficult is the terrain?
Most of the route is on quiet unclassified roads and un-surfaced farm or forest tracks with many unavoidable sections of busier road. Occasionally we take a short-cut across more difficult terrain such as a field or hillside but these stretches could be avoided. In Portugal there are many small lanes with little traffic. Many of the busiest roads in south western Spain (Huelva and Cádiz provinces) had wonderful pedestrian/cycle alternatives nearby. We have waded across streams and shallow coastal inlets, the deepest of which required trouser removal! We love mountain and forest paths, even if they are steep. Farm tracks are nice too. Country lanes are OK. Busy roads with pavements or cycle tracks are bearable. Narrow busy roads without pavements we'd avoid whenever possible. Service roads that run parallel with motorways or railways are often surprisingly pleasant and safe. Much studying of maps and Google Earth helps. Sometimes it all goes wrong and we a get stuck on an unpleasant route. Sometimes there is only one route with sea and mountains making anything else impossible.
How long will the walk take?
As teachers we can only go walking during the school holidays. Once we are past Gibraltar, the climate is warmer and drier and we plan to use the winter months as well as the Easter break. Eventually when we have all reached retirement age, we can go for months at a time. This should bring the time estimate down from thirty years to nearer ten.
Would we do anything differently?
Yes. We started at the wrong end. Had we started in Istanbul and headed west, there would have been two advantages. Walking on the safer left side of the road, you'd get more nice views and more shade from trees and buildings. Time and again on the busier roads we'd have preferred to be walking on the other side but didn't for the sake of safety.