I recently had the pleasure of catching up with Adam Short, who in June 2015 became the first person to complete walking the UK coastline at the waters edge. In this interview with Adam Short we discuss what motivates him, what training he had and what dangers he faced.
I caught up with Adam while he is on route to his next adventure, which is paddle boarding the Nile – the longest and most dangerous river in the world. It would be another world first, and just getting to the source of the Nile in Rwanda is an adventure itself.
Unlike many famous adventurers, Adam does not have a TV crew following him or even a support team. He has not been in the military or had formal survival training. He completed walking the UK coastline at the waters edge on his own, and on a shoestring budget.
The same applies to his Nile paddle boarding adventure, during which he’ll raise awareness of charities such as Malaria No More and Crocodiles Of The World. If you would like to support Adam in his adventure you can find out more at www.adamdshort.com, or you can donate money via PayPal.
Interview with Adam Short
What really struck me about Adam is he is a normal guy, who by walking the UK coastline at the waters edge has done something extraordinary, all without the fanfare behind many other adventurers. I hope you enjoy this interview with Adam Short.
Walking the UK coastline at the waters edge, makes a tough task even harder. What motivated you to do it?
Back in 2007 I decided I wanted to see the world so I went backpacking. I was a self employed web developer and took my laptop with me so I could still work whilst on the move. The challenge there was to find wifi wherever I went and I tended to go a little off the beaten track.
A few years later I saw the film “The Way” which centered around an ancient pilgrimage route which starts in St Jean Pied du Port in France, and goes across the northern provinces of Spain ending up in Santiago de Compostela. A total of 800km (500 miles) knows as The Way of St James.
I enjoyed the film so decided to have a go myself. It took me 5 weeks from start to finish and completely changed my life. I urge everyone to have a crack at it.
Arriving back in the UK I began to wonder if it was possible to walk all the way around mainland Britain. Thinking it was around 3,000 miles or so I plotted the route staying as close to the waters edge as possible and discovered it was closer to 6,600 miles (if you included every peninsula). The challenge was on I now needed to prove it could be done.
Did you follow the closest footpath to the shore, or were you literally at the waters edge walking along beaches near the breaking waves?
I was quite literally walking the furthest distance around Britain. The water lapping just to the right of my boots. This often meant getting the tide timing right and walking down in front of the cliffs, something I wouldn’t recommend anyone did!
Where it was impossible to walk in front of the cliffs I walked over the cliffs and found deer and sheep trails would get me the closest I could to the cliffs edge. It wasn’t always safe but meant i could go places most people wouldn’t even know about.
Did you ever get caught out by the tides/have any life threatening situations?
Lol yes a couple of times. When i misjudged distance I did get somewhat caught out. On those occasions I simply went to higher ground. This often meant climbing the biggest boulder I could find above the tidal marks. I then sat down, got my stove out and had a coffee and a bite to eat while I waited for the tide to go out far enough to continue.
I also come down with hypothermia at the Scottish town of Plockton. Did you know they have palm trees growing there? And actor Gérard Butler owns a house there.
There were other instances where I found myself in difficulty such as falling from a couple of small cliffs. The first time I injured my left shoulder quite badly and went to a local hospital. They looked at the injury, gave me some paracetamol and told me to man up. Typical NHS. The next two times it happened I just took the paracetamol. I’ve got to admit I got better at falling of cliffs the more practice I got.
Another time I had decided to follow some deer trails near Ullapool in Scotland as getting down to the waters edge was impossible. Usually the trails were good but on this occasion it narrowed substantially and at one point had collapsed.
I was faced with the decision to turn back and climb a small mountain or keep going using my knowledge as a climber to traverse the gap. Going back would have been difficult and I didn’t feel confident so I decided to traverse.
Half way across and about 150ft above a sheer drop into the rocks below I panicked. My backpack had been slowly falling apart for months and I’d had to repair the shoulder straps with some particularly dodgy stitching (I’m not a seamstress).
Clinging on to the rock face I needed to calm myself down and started calmly talking to myself saying something like “you got yourself into this mess you can get yourself out of it. Now breath and move your hands in unison, be one with the rock”.
Needless to say the little pep talk worked and I made it down safely. At the bottom of the cliff i found a small stream so I boiled some water and had what i called “a custard moment”. I always made sure I had two packets of Mountain House freeze dried custard desserts with me for when things got really tough.
What did you do when you came to rivers and other obstacles?
Ah now this was the cunning part. During the planning stages of the trip I happened upon an article in a newspaper about an adventurer called Jason Lewis who had set off from the UK with his friend Stevie Smith in an attempt to circumnavigate the globe using only manpower.
They had planned it to take 3 years but after two Stevie quit and went home, but Jason continued on and finished 13 years later. I was lucky enough to bump into Stevie during the final section of my adventure in Cornwall, but their journey had given me an idea.
Instead of catching ferries or hiking inland to find a bridge I set about looking for a lightweight kayak I could easily carry with me. They don’t exist in fact the lightest one i could find was 15kg. Not put off I broadened my search and came across Alpacka Rafts, manufacturers of lightweight packrafts.
They’re only a couple of kilos in weight and pack down to the size of a normal two man tent. I then found a four piece kayak paddle and I was set. I was able to simply unpack Hooley (I named my new companion) and simply paddled across.
The largest body of water I crossed was near Glasgow and stretched about two miles, but it saved about three weeks hiking. Because of this I decided to set a few rules for the challenge and decided that the coastline, which was what i was following, would travel across water such as estuaries and Scottish lochs at the narrowest point. Thus the land which ran around a sea loch for instance was not designated coastal but as tidal lakes.
How long did it take? and roughly how many nights did you sleep wild and how many in a bed?
I’d planned the whole trip to take about 9 months, 17 months after leaving Southampton, I finished.
For the first 9 months I completely camped in the wild. Sleeping either in my tent, which I called “the canvas coffin” or in any makeshift shelter I could find such as caves, bunkers, pill boxes, even bird hides.
But arriving in Plockton a holiday maker, coincidentally called Adam, saw I was hypothermic and booked me a room at his hotel. I was talking gibberish and he’d got concerned for my well being. It wasn’t until I’d warmed up in a hot shower that I’d realised what had happened and was eternally grateful for his kind gesture.
It had been raining for days, everything was wet, my tent, clothes, sleeping bag, you name it and I’d been unable to get a fire going to dry any of it. After that i was often given refuge at the numerous RNLI and independent lifeboat stations along the coast.
They would let me sleep on the floor of their crew rooms and on occasion organise a room at a local hotel. A couple of crew members also had me stay at their homes for the night. I suppose I stayed in maybe a dozen beds during the whole challenge.
What is your favourite part of the British coast and why?
Hmm I get asked this quite a bit. The majority of the east coast is flat and to be honest extremely boring. There are a few places like the Yorkshire and Norfolk coastlines which are stunning. On the other hand pretty much the whole of the west coast is amazing, except for the bit near Bristol as it’s too industrial.
The Scottish west coast was absolutely outstanding as was the Welsh coast and the coastal paths of Devon and Cornwall.
What was the hardest thing about the challenge?
The south west coastal path was the final leg, and was by far the hardest section of the entire journey. I’ve been told it’s the equivalent of climbing up and down Mount Everest not once but four times.
I was about 200 miles from the end when i felt like quitting. It was brutal. Naturally I didn’t, turning back at that point would have been ridiculous! Instead I sang loudly and shouted at the steep climbs ahead.
What kind of training do you have to do to complete this kind of adventure?
In this case I went on a handful of picnics with a few sandwiches and 10kg of unnecessary weight (my pack on the trek actually weighed nearer 30kg). I filmed them and you can see them on youtube.
I also watched Ray Mears documentaries and all the survival shows I could find. Such as Man v Wild with Bear Grylls, Survivor Man with Les Stroud, and Dual Survival with the hippy legend Cody Lundin and Dave Canterbury.
Tell us about your next challenge to be the first to paddle board the Nile!
Whilst hiking up the east coast of England, and still with a very long way to go, I was asked what I would be doing next. I hadn’t thought that far ahead. So i began pondering. Having been to Egypt and Africa during my backpacking adventure I’d often thought about going back, especially to check out the Nile.
Seeing a couple of girls on paddleboards in the sea below me as I hiked one of the cliffs made me wonder if it was at all possible to make paddleboard the Nile from its source to the sea. At this stage I didn’t even know where the source of the Nile was. For that matter i didn’t even know how to paddleboard.
I was a keen kayaker and had learnt to snowboard quite quickly. So I figured it couldn’t be much different than combining the two.
As I continued walking the UK coastline at the waters edge I did some further research and contacted FatStick SUP based in my home town of Bournemouth and asked for their advice. A few months later and after several Facebook messages they contacted me by phone and said that if I was serious about the challenge, they would supply the board.
If you found this interview with Adam Short about walking the UK coastline at the waters edge interesting, then good news we have part 2 coming up next week about paddle boarding the Nile. You can find out more at www.adamdshort.com or you can help fund his latest adventure by donating money through PayPal.