When I think of going for a microadventure, I have some go-to locations. For rugged landscapes and great walks, I think of Wales, the Peak District, and the Lake District. At the end of the summer, I had a hankering to explore, a week off work, and next to no spare money. What better thing to do than throw some gear in a bag and go for a multi-day hike? The problem was, the weather was good. It was too good. I had visions of overflowing car parks, lay-bys and verges, of full bothies and of busy campsites. I wanted to go somewhere new, but I also wanted to not add to the traffic issues in beautiful places. I decided to travel by public transport to Northumberland’s Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (and it really is that).
Here’s my curated guide to my luxury stay on the Northumberland Coast Path.
It had been six years since I’d last done a multi-day hike, and I’d lost my confidence in planning out how to do it. I stared at maps and public transport timetables and I looked for lunch spots and places to spend each night, trying to pin down a detailed itinerary. I started to calculate calories and work out how much food I would need to carry to avoid certain death by starvation. It was tiring and boring, and I made a very un-me decision: I decided I was being ridiculous. This was England we were talking about. The Northumberland Coastal Path crossed roads, bus routes and built up areas with phones and general access to escape routes approximately one billion times*. I would pass roughly ten thousand outlets where I could buy food along the way**. I was seriously over-thinking it. I was thinking about taking bearings of the coastal path so I could make a route card, for goodness’ sake. (Just keep the sea on the same side all the way and you’re probably heading in the right direction.) There was no need for all this faffing: I was putting barriers in my own way.
So it was that, giddy with my own reckless abandon, I spread out the map (OS Explorers 332 and 340, if you’re interested), eyeballed the distance (working on a speed of four kilometres an hour plus generous allowance for cake breaks and exploring), and decided to get the bus to Alnwick and then walk north for a few days.
**See previous footnote.
I carried the MSR Hubba Hubba NX for maximum flexibility. A bivvy bag is lighter but, for a multi-night trip, I like the extra privacy and shelter that a tent provides. Thanks to the glorious warm summer we had, I was perfectly cosy in my Alpkit Pipedream 200 sleeping bag. The teeny sleeping kit saved a lot of weight and the rucksack didn’t end up being too much of a burden. My accommodation was self-catering, in the form of the Alpkit Brukit. That said, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t make use of the local facilities for breakfast at a café…and lunch at a food fair…and dinner at a pub… You simply have to support the local economy, you know.
I’d decided to choose sleeping spots by just walking until I found somewhere good. This worked a treat for finding somewhere flat and pretty to pitch up. However, my spots were necessarily within walking distance of civilisation (because I’d spent the evenings…ahem…in the pub) and not too far from the footpath. This meant – and anyone who’s wild camped before might know where I’m going with this – that I had a very effective alarm call service. Dogs are very curious about tents. Dogs are very loud. And it turns out that people walk their dogs Very Early Indeed. On the plus side, 4:30am wake-ups mean you definitely get to see the sunrise…
On the Northumberland Coast Path, walking is enough. The beaches are golden and miles wide. Dolphins (or they could be porpoises, I don’t know the difference just from looking) play in the water. There are many, many castles. And, when you stop walking, there are some excellent places to get a beer.
Pro Tips for planning your own Multi-Day Hike
Choose somewhere to explore.
National Parks and AONBs are great places to start.
Work out your walking speed.
With a rucksack on, I work on four kilometres an hour on easy terrain, and then round down a bit to allow for breaks. Keep an eye on your speed against the map when you start walking and you’ll soon work out how much distance you’re comfortable to cover.
Plan your kit and budget.
Don’t load your bag up too much or you’ll really feel the burn after a day or two. Work out how much eating out you’re likely to do, and plan other food stops or provisions around that.
Take the physical toll into account.
You’re not going to be as quick after a couple of days with a big bag, especially if you’re not used to carrying the extra weight. Keep an eye on any aches or pains that crop up, and use supports and tape if necessary.
Be okay with winging it.
With no checkout time and no cancellation fees, there’s no need to set too much store by end goals. If you spot something interesting on the map, go and check it out. If you ache more than you thought you would, take an extra coffee stop. Make choices that help you enjoy your time.