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Cape to Cape

Sutcliffe cape If you are a Society Fellow approaching retirement and pondering life’s next challenge, I’d recommend you read Cape to Cape. This beautifully produced book records a 1250-mile, one-man, back-packing walk from Cape Cornwall in south-westernmost England to Cape Wrath in north-westernmost Scotland that took 106 days to complete. However, this was not an Ian Botham-style end-to-end walk. Besides being nearly 500 miles longer, it was meticulously planned to take in many of Britain’s finest and most iconic long-distance footpaths, including the South West Coast Path, Offa’s Dyke Path, Monarch’s Way, Staffordshire Way, Pennine Way, John Muir Way, West Highland Way and, undoubtedly the toughest of the lot, the little-charted Cape Wrath Trail.

The book, written in the form of a daily log showing the number of miles walked and cumulative mileage to date, describes the ever-changing landscapes as seen through the eyes of a well-travelled geologist, but is also laced with personal reminiscences, historical, political and cultural asides, and numerous descriptions of encounters with locals and fellow walkers. Keen interest in historical mining sites along the way reflects the author’s long career in mineral exploration.

The walk is condensed into ten chapters and plotted on five geo-referenced maps, which show the locations of overnight stops, many of them wild camping spots or Highland bothies. The humorous and self-deprecating style reflects the author’s daily moods and their clear dependence on the challenges faced and conditions encountered, not least the vagaries of the British weather (and the state of his feet). Even such mundane and repetitive daily decisions as how best to negotiate the next climb, peat bog or flooded stream, where to pitch the tent and the evening’s menu are engagingly presented. The format may sound a bit ‘dry’ but I devoured the book in just two sittings and enjoyed every page, including the more than 200 colour photographs that were taken daily by the author. The book also provides numerous practical tips for would-be Cape-to-Cape walkers, including key GPS co-ordinates and an exhaustive list of recommended kit, importantly including the weight of each item (total: 20 kilograms).

Cape to Cape is first and foremost a personal odyssey that can be enjoyed as either a travel or guide-book, but it might just inspire some readers to try at least selected sections of this epic route for themselves. But be advised: you’ll need to be a good deal fitter and more tenacious than most retiring geologists.

Reviewed by Richard H. Sillitoe

by John Sutcliffe, 2018. Published by: Crescent House, Sheffield, 288 pp. (pbk.) ISBN: 978-1-909461-55-0 List price: £17. 95 W: