The Women’s End2End Relay – I Did It!
The Women’s End2End Relay was a long-distance hiking relay organised by Bex Band of Love Her Wild. It was a way for women from the Love Her Wild women’s adventure community to come together from across the UK to carry the baton from Land’s End to John O’Groats – 74 days of glorious hiking. And on top of that, it’s raised over £13,000 for the Woodland Trust – so far.
(At the time of writing the relay is still making in Scotland making steading making its way to John O’Groats.)
That’s 3 of my favourite things all wrapped up in one event: hiking, supporting women, and conservation!
To my utter amazement, way back when the relay was originally planned someone recommended me as a leader for what turned out to be 180 miles from Land’s End to Barnstaple!
And I had absolutely no idea who it was, but no one in their right mind would pass up such an amazing opportunity: I was in. Then Covid hit and the event was cancelled. Twice.
My Fears Before The Women’s End2End Relay
Earlier this year it got real again and all the anxieties I’d accumulated over the last 2 years really kicked in!
In No Particular Order!
- I have no idea what I’m doing
- Someone will soon realise I have no idea what I’m doing
- Bex will wonder why the hell she put her trust in me
- Someone will have an accident
- Someone will have a cardiac arrest and I’ll have to give CPR – and I won’t remember how
- I’ll lose the baton
- I’ll lose a person
- I’ll get lost
- I’ll fall over spectacularly and embarrass myself (again)
- I’ll be the oldest woman by miles
- Women in their 20s and 30s will be so much fitter than me and I won’t keep up
- People will wonder why the hell someone as ancient as me is leading a challenge-hike
- I’ll be carrying all my camping gear and everyone will think I’m slow and not fit for the job
- I’ll get so many blisters I can’t walk
- I won’t wake up in the morning
- I’m ALWAYS late…
This list is not exhaustive and I suspect a psychologist or counsellor would call it ‘a fixed mindset with imposter syndrome’!
I tried to counteract all these (irrational) fears by writing down any evidence to the contrary – but this strategy doesn’t work unless you actually believe it.
You have to get over it, get out of your comfort zone and into your ‘growth mindset’
I guarantee it’s the only way forward…
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So, there I was at the Land’s End signpost at 8 am on the 16th of June 2022, a complete bag of nerves – and desperately trying to hide it!
Section A: Land’s End To Wadebridge, Cornwall
5 days, 92 miles, 1,943m of ascent
NB all distances shown below are the official Women’s End2End Relay distances mapped on Komoot. However… we invariably hiked at least a mile further (often significantly more) because the routes were mapped with straight lines and the paths we walked were more than a bit wiggly! How awesome are these women now?!
Day 1, Land’s End To Zennor
This was it, the day the Women’s End2End Relay baton began its 2,028 km journey north (that’s 1,260 miles)
And I was so nervous I didn’t get a single photo – was I even there?!
It was the first time I met Bex, her husband Gil and adorable toddler Rivi (she agreed she was adorable!), and their friend Ella who’d be assisting us that day. Their energy and excitement were palpable – and I was full of awe for this super inspiring team. It did nothing to help my feelings of inadequacy haha!
It soon dawns on you though that inspiring people get where they are because they’re supportive of others. The support I received in my role to support (and hopefully inspire) the amazing women gathered at the start of this hike was phenomenal. Every step of the way, above and beyond.
Then there were the women themselves. They’d come from around the country and were there to take on a big challenge – big miles, tough terrain, their first multi-day backpacking trip, celebrating significant birthdays and life events… bucketloads of inspiration. And, of course, it was a unique opportunity to meet like-minded women.
There were so many smiles and so much laughter, and it’s a cliche to say, but it’s a day I’ll never forget.
What. a. day!
Day 2, Zennor to Gwithian
In a heatwave with temperatures around 24 degrees
I absolutely love hiking in this kind of weather, and with a smaller group on a section of trail I know well, I was firmly in my comfort zone. (Groups up to about 12 people = my comfort zone!)
Smaller groups give you the opportunity to get to know people, their goals, and the challenges they face – and the comforting knowledge that I’m not the only one motivated by ice cream!
Day 3, Gwithian To Perranporth
Fog, 40 mph winds, and sideways rain!
The weather was the main concern on day 3, especially around St Agnes Head where I decided we needed to take a short detour inland – St Agnes Head is no place to be in gale-force winds unless you want to be smashed to bits at the bottom of a high cliff.
This fantastic group was totally up for the kind of challenge the stormy weather presented: “I love an adventure like this!” Aimee declared – with nods and grins all round.
Day 4, Perranporth To Mawgan Porth
This hike was on easier terrain than the past few days but the distance meant it was no less of a challenge. And we were back to a large group, which definitely presented a challenge for me!
One of the things I loved about the last few days was that several hikers booked up for more than one day: Aimee, Sharon, and Jacqui. The continuity makes the shared experience even stronger but today was the last day that would happen for a while and I was really sad to say goodbye to Sharon (Sharon’s in the centre just behind the baton). There’s no time for sentimentality though! And who knows who’d be in the group tomorrow?
Day 5, Mawgan Porth To Wadebridge
Two pairs of friends. One joined the team for the first section of the hike, the other took on the challenge of hiking further than before.
Stunning views, hilarious banter – and yet more ice cream!
Day 5 ended with a 5-mile hike on part of the Camel Trail – a tarmac cycle route from Padstow to Bodmin. At least one of us was happy with the ground beneath our tired feet – Priteni could join us all the way! The baton was handed over to the next Women’s End2End Relay team in the centre of Wadebridge – a team of 1, me!
Getting to Wadebridge was a landmark hike: the end of section A. I was fortunate to experience not just an amazing hike all the way from Land’s End (with no incidents!) but the utmost kindness and generosity too, from strangers to the team at Love Her Wild.
Bex and Gil put Priteni and me up in their B&Bs, Ella lent me her battery bank, they gave me a gear shakedown that made my load a bit lighter – and shared their meals and showers too! (As in shower rooms, not the actual getting wet part, ha!)
And…finally, Bex revealed the mystery woman that recommended me as a group leader: Seanna Fallon, a remarkable adventurer that I’d got to know a little on Instagram. I couldn’t have been more grateful.
Section B: Wadebridge to Barnstaplbae – Cornwall and Devon
5 days, 88 miles, 2,858m ascent
Day 6, Wadebridge To Boscastle
20 miles (I hiked around 24 including a minor detour and a long walk to the campsite)
It’s always the way: you book things and then life gets in the way and plans have to change. And so it was on day 6 of the Women’s End2 End Relay: the hikers who’d booked had had to drop out. It meant several things: enjoying a solo hike at my own pace (generally faster once out of the blistering heat of the middle of the day), taking a longer lunch break (erm, much longer as it turned out!), basking in the heat and sunshine, minor adjustments to the route – oh and the responsibility of getting the baton to Boscastle without losing it!
I enjoyed a change of scene through the countryside early in the day, but it soon deteriorated. Chapel Amble had the worst-kept paths of the entire hike; shoulder-high nettles, hemlock and brambles are not my idea of fun!
At the end of the hike, there was only one word I had: yessssss! And the baton was safe!
Day 7, Boscastle To Bude
17 miles (well over 20 for me including walking to and from campsites!)
Day 7 was the day we met the indomitable Donata. She’d chosen a tough day’s hike, the longest she’d ever walked, and was doing it on a significantly calorie-deficient diet (part of another challenge); we worried she wouldn’t make it.
She did and proved that focus and determination would win the day. A reminder that we’re all capable of extraordinary things with the right mindset. Respect.
Day 8, Bude To Heartland Quay
16 miles (although far more – on possibly the toughest terrain of the whole 180 miles!)
This was the day we hiked into Devon, the second county on the baton’s journey north
It’s a tough hike marked by steep flights of uneven steps through 7 combes (one flight of 185-steps is enough when you’re carrying your camping gear!) one after the other. Remote. Rugged. Quiet. A fantastic day with a really lively group – I loved every minute!
What a brilliant day! If you’re planning to hike the South West Coast Path make sure you give yourself plenty of time to take in the views on this section and prepare yourself for some brutal hiking – take plenty of water and loads of fuel!
This was also the day that Priteni and I met Tash who was joining us for a few days backpacking and assisting me with a larger group on day 9.
Day 9, Heartland Quay To Clovelly
Day 9 was a shorter day, yes, but with plenty of gruelling climbs at the start. The hard work was balanced with gorgeous wildflowers, peaceful woodland and impressive rock formations – not forgetting an inspiring group of yet more determined, supportive women!
Day 10, Clovelly To Barnstaple
Stormy weather: 30+mph winds and torrential rain showers
The group: 13 or 14 women – 2 turned up. I guess most people weren’t up for the experience of hiking in the storm that was due to roll in later in the day. A smaller group though means a faster pace, so I decided we’d out-hike it and (hopefully!) make it to Westward Ho! before it hit. We made perfect time; the gale picked up and the heavens opened just as we got there – pub time!
We trundled into Barnstaple to a flurry of unexpected cheers, smiling for cameras that appeared out of nowhere, on tired legs (me on bruised and battered feet with an excruciatingly painful knee) high on endorphins. However, when Maddy handed over the baton and my heart sank: it was the end of the line for me. Tash and I would be catching a train back to the far southwest in the morning while the baton continued its journey north.
That night though, we accepted Alison’s kindness and generosity and stayed with her and her two daughters in their caravan just outside Barnstaple. The celebratory prosecco flowed and enough pizza was eaten to sink a battleship. I hoped Alison would meet the same kindness at the end of her section.
Priteni carried on, following the baton and lighting up other hikers’ days just as she’d done for me. All the way to John O’groats. And I was sick with envy!
Finishing The Women’s End2End Relay On A High
One last thing. Reflection. Never pass up the opportunity to sit down and mull over what went right and what could be improved.
It’s a positive thing to do whether you’re in a professional role or out there to achieve a personal goal or challenge. It doesn’t even matter if you didn’t meet the goal you set yourself – it’s so easy to batter ourselves with the perceived failure and forget the triumphs along the way.
Here then, are my rebuffs to the fears I had before I began my challenge to lead 2 sections of the Women’s End2End Relay. If it’s in black and white it’s something I can come back to next time I need a good kick up the arse!
- Most of the time I knew what I was doing (I can’t believe I just said that)
- Women support each other, especially when you think you have no idea what you’re doing
- Bex gave me invaluable support and reassurance on ‘big-group days’ when I had no experience of working alongside an assistant leader
- No one had an accident, just blisters
- No one had a heart attack (tf!!!!)
- I didn’t lose the baton. I’ll repeat that: I didn’t lose the baton!
- I didn’t lose anyone along the way
- I didn’t get lost and lead us on a wild goose chase for an extra 15 miles
- I didn’t fall over. Except over a stupid log hidden in a sea of nettles – but no one saw (or heard the swearing), so all ok!
- I was often the oldest woman, but not always. Older women than me do actually exist, and guess what? They hike!
- Meh, I’m still way fitter than most women in their 20’s and 30’s, but I already knew that
- Age is not the challenge when you’re leading a challenge-hike
- Have a lift of my rucksack and see how far you think you’ll get haha! (Happy to swap btw)
- My toes were eye-wateringly sore on the last day and my knee was painful after all the steps on the previous days – but I still hiked 24 miles. With my camping gear (here’s an article with 23 tips on how to look after your hiking feet haha!)
- I slept through my alarm a couple of times. Ahem. (Thank you for the rise and shine call Priteni!)
- To my absolute shame, I was late a couple of times, and one day was particularly stressful. I hate this, but no matter how hard I try things always seem to go wrong in the mornings – even when I get ready the night before. I don’t know how to overcome this – any suggestions welcome… (NB dynamite might be overkill but it could possibly work)
Thanks for reading!
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