Am I Britain’s Longest Running Walks Writer?
It was in 1999 that I first knocked on the door of the Western Morning News suggesting that a daily newspaper covering a remarkably beautiful region really ought to have a regular walks column.
After having spent years working for newspapers I had ventured into the crazy and highly competitive world of television production, and being a hopeless businessman that hadn’t quite worked out – so I was looking for a way back in to what I knew best, which was basically putting pen to paper and being paid for it.
The thought occurred to me that I might as well begin by aiming for the very best scenario possible – to persuade someone to pay me for what I liked doing best in my leisure time, which was (and is) going for long country walks.
Fortunately for me, my colleague Philip Bowern (now head of content at the WMN) liked the idea of a walks page, and so began a long and fruitful relationship which before long saw my freelance status as writer of Hesp’s Hikes converted into a full time career as senior staff writer for the paper and now editor-at-large.
Fitting in walks with the deadlines and the other demands of working for a busy daily newspaper hasn’t always been easy, I’ll admit. But here’s where I’ve been lucky… simply in the fact that the region is amazingly rich in good, walk-able, areas and you don’t have to go far, anywhere in the peninsula, to find excellent hiking routes great or small.
Consequently, many of my walks have been grabbed last-minute after I’ve filed words on some other story of import from a laptop sitting in some obscure Westcountry lay-by.
Others have been much longer grander marches, enjoyed with companions who have asked if they could join me for a long day out. Indeed, I am often asked if I take people along on my hikes and the simple answer is: yes. Quickly followed by the more complex explanation that times and dates have to be elastic – tying a busy journalist like me down to any appointment is like grasping an eel (ask my dentist).
But perhaps we can do a little more in the way of inviting WMN readers out walking in the future – because walking for pleasure isn’t something that is dwindling as the economic situation remains uncertain and we’re all belting about with no time to spare – it is burgeoning and is by far the most popular outdoor leisure pursuit in the UK.
Here are a few scrambled statistics – because that’s what journalists like to do: in the 13 years, I have written over 670 walks articles which, at 1000 words each, means I’ve penned nearly three quarters of a million words. I have taken more than 10,000 photographs and – if you vaguely rounded off each walk to average five miles (it’s probably more), then I have trudged a total of more than 3350 miles.
Another walks writer recently pointed out on Twitter that no other walks column has lasted so long, or appeared so regularly, in any daily newspaper in the country. I am proud of that – and proud too, of the excellent newspaper that allows me to continue…