Did you know that in the UK you are never more than 70 miles from the coast?
As a Londoner, I found that hard to get my head around. The sea feels a million miles away amidst this concrete wilderness and yet I know that the capital is by no means the furthest point from the ocean. That, for those interested, is in Derbyshire.
In other words, simply reading that salt water was always within 113 kilometres had little impact on me. I needed to see it for myself. So, last Saturday I decided to test the theory, in a terribly unscientific way, with a pair of running shoes. I put them on, stepped out the front door of my North London flat, and pointed my compass east.
Fifty miles. I had never covered that much ground in a single day before. This was the kind of event that might warrant some physical conditioning to ensure success in comfort but having only come up with the idea six days before departure, the only viable preparation was rest.
I took some water and a banana, found a cycling map on the shelf that covered the first ten miles then wrote down some road names for the rest of it.
I got lost. I floundered on dual carriageways. I ached all over. After six hours of running, imagining I must be close, I came across a sign that cheerily suggested I had another twenty miles to go. I hobbled onwards, my legs continually threatening cramp in whatever gait I chose.
I must have been the first person to take a beaming photo of themselves by the sign that says ‘Welcome to Southend-on-Sea’. I turned the corner and saw glistening blue at the end of a long steep street and found the strength to shuffle the last mile to the beach.
Amusingly, it was low tide and the waves I’d been dreaming of for the last eleven hours were nowhere to be seen. But, I at least found a small pool to cool my throbbing muscles before ordering some fish and chips for the train ride home.
How far are you from the sea? Could you walk, run, cycle or drive there this weekend or even tonight?
If you’re reading this smug in the knowledge that it’s only a stone’s throw away then tell me, where is your nearest mountain and how long would it take you to reach it’s summit? Can you find your closest body of fresh water and dive into before the sun goes down?
The UK is a compact little country. You’re never far from an environment that feels different from the one you’re used to. Get a map out. Make a plan.