Stephanie Boon hiking on the South West Coast Smiling at the camera.

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Featured image: A pink sunset can just be seen above a rounded sand dune. There's maram grass growing on the dunes and a pair of walking poles are stood upright in the sand. Just to the right the tide is coming in and there's a pinkish reflection on the water

12 Days Of Christmas Challenge: Walk In The New Year!

 

I'm looking out to a greyish-green sea and my long curly hair is blowing in the wind. I'm wearing a woolly hat with a pompom on the top and you can see that I'm wearing a rucksack too. I look like I'm really enjoying some beautiful winter weather!

The final walk of my 12 Days Of Christmas Challenge in 2022

Christmas 2020 was, in a word, shit! (Thanks to severe illness.) But, I devised a random walking challenge that would change everything. In fact, the results of the challenge were so incredible I decided to do it again this year: this is the story of my 12 Days of Christmas Challenge.

Contents

And The 12 Days Of Christmas Challenge Is?

A Self-Styled Challenge To Walk 144 Miles In 12 Days

This photo illustrates The 12 Days of Christmas Challenge to walk 144 miles in 12 days with the words '144 miles' written in a sandy beach with a walking pole laid above and below the words pointing in opposite directions.

Let’s do this!

That’s a beautiful average of 12 miles a day over 12 days, from the 25th of December to the 5th of January.

It’s a simple enough premise, but this time last year it wasn’t a simple challenge…

12 Days Of Christmas Challenge 2020 – 2021

A view from the clifftops looking down at rocky islands and a greenish-coloured, fairly calm sea. You can't see the sun behind low rolling grey clouds but it's lit up some of the headlands in the distance, which makes the scene a even more dramatic.

Views back along North Cliffs (Walk 12, 2022)

2020 was tough for most of us, but on top of coming to terms with the pandemic, I was also in the depths of another depressive episode. By Christmas, it had got so bad that the only option was to change medication. So on the 24th of December 2020, I began the slow withdrawal from the various meds I was on before the slow increase to the new. It’s a shitty experience and if you’ve ever had to go through it…well, if you know you know!

It’s an experience I absolutely dread and last year it took till the end of April before I felt back on top of things

(If you’re new here and you didn’t know about my rollercoaster mental health you might find this article interesting: Do Something That Scares You: I Did And It Was Profound.)

At Christmastime though, I was drowning and desperately flailing around for something to focus on to help me through. I was mentally and physically exhausted, so naturally, when the idea for a 144-mile walking challenge popped into my head, I grabbed it. Just like any sane person would.

A Challenge To Get Through Difficult Times

A challenge isn’t meant to be easy, but this was verging on the deluded. I mean, some days I barely had the energy to get out of bed, let alone walk 12 miles. But as I said, I was desperate. And, frankly, I’d lost the plot. But the madness didn’t stop there: I had no time for planning either.

This is a view along a narrow creek. The water looks cold and choppy and a white canoe is bobbing in the foreground. Above a line of silhouetted trees, the winter sun lights up the clouds. It feels like the light is fading and the temperature's about to drop.

A beautiful creekside walk from home

I’d decided on the challenge literally a couple of days before I had to start. Still, we were in lockdown and couldn’t travel anywhere so the walks would have to be straight from my front door, which meant I didn’t need to plan any routes. I just trudged out to familiar places that I knew like the back of my hand, which suited me well. Autopilot is a wonderful thing when you’re brain is barely functioning!

But, incredibly, I managed to trudge my way to success.

Struggle And Success

144 miles in 12 Days. Done.

It was unbelievably tough, the hardest thing I’d done in years

Day 2 of my 12 days of Christmas Challenge took me on a walk from home to Trelissick, with magnificent views like this one. The photo was taken from a seaweedy beach at the bottom of open parkland. The tide is low and the light makes the still water glisten. There's an old-fashioned sailing boat in the middle distance with a perfect reflection. The image is almost in silhouette, but there's a small patch of blue sky and low silvery clouds.- it@s so serene I could watch it for hours!

It’s become a tradition of mine to walk to this spot at Trelissick for a Boxing Day picnic, and you can see why.

The number of miles I covered each day varied and some days I struggled to walk even 3. Days like that meant there were a lot of miles to make up towards the end, culminating in a 20+ mile walk on the penultimate day of the challenge. It was an amazing finale for someone so ill and out of condition, and I basked in my achievement for weeks – from under a duvet!

This is a sublime winter scene of a view across a creek with a modern house in the centre. The cool blue sky and fluffy grey-pink clouds reflect perfectly in the still waters below

Stunning skies on a 15-mile walk from home

I realised the challenge was the ultimate test of my will and determination

There was no one looking over my shoulder, no one to motivate me, no one to encourage me, so I had to do it for myself. And that’s anathema to me when I’m in a depressive episode. It was like a battle of two wills: one telling me I’m a waste of space and would give up and the other telling me to damn well get on with it. The mental fight was exhausting and I don’t know how I won the battle.

But I did. And the effects were profound.

Start The Year Focused And Motivated

A magnificent, expansive view of the sands of Perranporth beach stretch miles away beneath you as you look down at the beach from the cliffs. It looks wintry, but there's a smidge of blue sky and and feathery white clouds. The sea is a cool blue and there's lots of white waves breaking as they come in to the beach.

Perranporth beach is breathtaking at any time of year, but I love it most in winter. (Walk 11, 2022)

I had no idea that completing a difficult challenge early in January would motivate me throughout the rest of the year. But it gave me something positive to look back on: it showed me I had focus, determination, and motivation, that I could get through total shit when every fibre of my being was telling me to quit.

Imagine the power of that.

I’m sure it was in the back of my mind when I made the difficult decision to invest in my 2021 hikes. And I know I thought about it when I was sick on the South Downs Way Hike and countless other times when things were tough. In fact, I was even calling it to mind when I did the same challenge this year. Because yes,

It had such a positive effect throughout the year I decided to do it again!

And I finished it just 5 days ago.

A view of a stony cliff top track leading to a typical Cornish engine house with its distinctive silhouette, gaping 'windows' and tall chimney. It looks wintry but there's a dramatic sky with sun rays coming from behind the clouds above a frothy white topped sea on the right below the cliffs.

Towanroath Engine House is on one of my favourite local walks in North Cornwall (Walk 11, 2022)

 

12 Days Of Christmas Challenge 2021 – 2022

So how was it the second time around? Honestly?

Most of it was torture: it was so hard that I had to fight my way almost to the very end

And this was not what I was anticipating!

This is Gwithian Beach and it look stunning! The scene is bathed in a silvery-gold winter light, lighting up the incoming tide and a wide stream coming towards us across the sandy beach.

Sundown on the 12th and final day of the challenge in 2022

Physically it wasn’t a challenge at all this year, apart from tiredness at the beginning. The challenge turned out to be a serious lack of motivation which meant the major challenge was totally in my head. When I looked back at how seriously depressed I was this time last year I thought nothing could be harder than getting through that.

I really believed this year would be a breeze. But how wrong I was.

The Bad Times

No 12 Days of Christmas Challenge so come without a challenge to climb cliff steps like these! They go virtually straight up and down a high cliff, but the views are magnificent. Thanks to the bright winter sunshine you can see across so many headlands right to Godrevy lighthouse on a rock in the far distance.

Tough ascents on the 12th Day of Christmas 2022

The lack of motivation was brought about by low mood, the short days of winter and the constant gloom and rain, plus a lack of transport.

I found it hard to get out of the house or to change my routine of writing till about 2 in the afternoon and then walking afterwards. This routine works well for me in the long days of summer but in the winter it means walking in the dark, mostly on Tarmac, which I found stupefyingly boring. On top of this boredom, my lack of motivation was compounded by walking the same or similar routes from home again and again because I don’t have a car.

This is such a dramatic view! We're looking out between jagged pink stained cliffs to a turquoise coloured sea, but on the horizon you can sea heavy rain coming towards us. There's a heavy, dark grey cloud above, but just above that is a bright blue patch of sky.

Getting out for stunning cliff-top walks like this one (walk 11) relies on public transport

Public transport in rural parts of the country is crap at best (and bloody expensive) but in winter a lot of services in Cornwall are cut to a bare minimum. Even cut completely. And this year there was the longer Christmas holiday to contend with as well. A long holiday with lack of transport meant I couldn’t go anywhere fresh, and omg did I lament this. Some days I was in total stasis and had to fight hard to do anything at all, let alone walk.

But, despite this I managed to get to the coast 3 times, and whatever the weather, they were some of the best winter walks I’ve had in a while.

And The Good

Waves breaking over rocks with a greyish sea behind. There's a headland jutting into the sea on the horizon

Falmouth, walk 5, was my first coastal walk and was a gorgeous breath of fresh air despite the gloomy weather

 

I'm looking out to sea from the cliff tops, wrapped up warm in a bobble hat, a thick hand-knitted scarf and a winter walking coat. The sun is close to the horizon and the golden light is lighting up the clouds and the waves. It looks cold and you know it won't be long before I head down out of the wind.

Porthtowan, Walk 11. Watching the sun go down from the cliffs on the 11th day of Christmas was pretty sublime

 

Big slabs of rock jut out into an aqua coloured sea and a small waterfall runs off the cliff in the foreground. The colours and light make it the sort of winter day you long to be on the cliffs

Near Portreath, Walk 12. These clifftop views were to die for on the last day of Christmas 2022

 

12 days of Christmas challenge included wildlife spotting along the coast at places like this rocky beach. Looking down from the cliff tops at a colony of seals bathing below.

Godrevy, walk 12. Wildlife spotting was one of the highlights of my final challenge walk and at Godrevy I watched the seal colony as well as a pair of Cornish choughs

The Final Mileage

A national trail wooden signpost marked 'Hayle 9 miles'. The post also shows a yellow arrow pointing ahead, a red arrow pointing left and the national trail acorn symblol

Hayle was the destination for the final walk

So this is how it all panned out:

  1. 7.5 miles
  2. 14 miles. Creekside from home: Trelissick – National Trust
  3. 13 miles
  4. 11.5 miles
  5. 15.5 miles. Coast: Falmouth
  6. 9 miles
  7. 7.5 miles
  8. 13 miles
  9. 15 miles. Creekside from home: Trelissick (different route)
  10. 10 miles
  11. 13 miles. Coast: Perranporth to Porthtowan and into St Agnes (you might enjoy this story (and GPX file) of another walk in the area)
  12. 17.5 miles. Coast: Porthtowan to Hayle

Final Thoughts

This photo is all about the dramatic sky. The sun is setting and the clouds are lit up in ripples with a pinkish light. In the foreground is a slate marker post carved with the words 'Gwithian Towans' a direction arrow (straight ahead) and the national trail acorn symbol. My walking poles aBehind the marker are sand dunes covered in marram grass and you can just see a sliver of sea on the right in the distance.

Heading through the sand dunes to Hayle

I’m genuinely over the moon I finished the 2021- 2022 challenge considering how torturous it felt most of the time. And what a walk to finish it on – it really was incredible. The weather, the wildlife, the feelings of euphoria…it made the entire challenge worthwhile.

But most of all I’m over the moon because I’ve got proof that I can overcome the negative thoughts I get at a rough time of year, and I can suffer intense boredom in hope of beauty (which was well and truly rewarded). I proved to myself (again) that I’m tenacious in adversity: I finish what I start and I know the tough stuff is all part of the journey. Even so…

I can’t deny I’m glad this particular journey is over! Till next year…

What’s Your Challenge?

A golden beach stretches to the horizon where a strip of deep green sea looks cold under a grey cloudy sky. There's a cliff on the right hand side of the picture, but the most striking thing about the image is my long shadow that falls away right across the beach.

Bathing in the golden light of Porthtowan beach on the final day of my challenge

I hope I’ve inspired you to design a challenge for yourself sometime this year because the rewards are amazing. And if you do fancy giving it a go I’ve written a guide to help you plan it: Walking Challenge? 10 Tips To Plan Your Own – head on over and check it out.

Finally though, if you’re up for a challenge but you’re not ready to design your own yet, why not see if you can find an organised event to inspire you?

Read about an organised walking challenge that got me well and truly out of my comfort zone: The Women’s End2End Relay – I did it!

Organised Long-Distance Hiking And Walking Events 2022

  1. Charity Challenges – organised events for the charity of your choice, dates and places around the UK throughout the year
  2. Jurassic Coast Challenge – 14th May 2022, an acknowledged tough challenge in southern England, various distances
  3. London Moon Walk – 14th May 2022. A night walk through the iconic sights of London with a choice of 2 distances, in aid of breast cancer awareness
  4. Long Distance Walkers Association – challenge walks across the UK throughout the year
  5. National Three Peaks Challenge – climb Ben Nevis, Scafel Pike and Snowdon in 24 hours, dates throughout the year
  6. Ultra Challenge Series – walk or run challenges across the UK, including the London to Brighton Challenge
  7. Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge – climb Pen-y-ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough in 12 hours, dates throughout the year
  8. Walk 1000 miles – Country Walking Magazine’s annual challenge to walk 1000 miles in 2022

Thanks for reading and until next time…

Happy Hiking

Stephie x

Where Next?

Another article on mental health and walking that you might enjoy includes: Is Going For A Walk Good For Depression? Or why not explore some of the routes I took on this challenge in shorter day walks in Cornwall?

 

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