Across Wales Walk: The Hard Truth!

Thinking of coming on the Across Wales Walk for the first time as an individual, as a group with your buddies, or as a vehicle for raising money for good causes? Or perhaps the proposition of crossing the wonderful country of your birth is your motive to take part? Then it’s best to be prepared and forewarned as to what you can expect to endure. This is THE HARD TRUTH about The Across Wales Walk!

The purpose of this document is not to dissuade those unfamiliar with the event from entering, but to make the challenges of the event clear. Thus entrants, aware of the true nature of the challenge, can prepare appropriately and will have a much greater chance of success. 

The total length of the AWW is 45 miles to be completed within 18 hours. If you take a normal fast walking pace then you could be on your feet continuously for 15 hours or longer. Having started in the dark you’ll potentially end in the dark too with no significant rest periods in between. In many ways, our event is as much a mental challenge as a physical one: walking continuously for 18 hours through a whole day can and does take quite a toll on those who are unprepared. Bear this in mind: you will not believe how long this day really can be!

Clearly we cannot know the capabilities of individuals or groups considering taking part. However, it is generally accepted that an essential prerequisite of entry into the AWW is the successful and recent completion of at least one similar long distance walking event of at least 30 miles over similar terrain without significant negative effects. We know from experience that if entrants are not used to this type of event over this kind of rough, pathless country, they seldom get beyond CP3 at 25 miles. Or, if they continue thereafter, they risk their own well-being. It is a well known fact that there is just no substitute for getting ‘miles in the legs’ beforehand over similar terrain. So, our first and most important recommendation is that any individuals or groups should take part in a number of similar events leading up to the AWW to informally ‘qualify’ through physical and mental preparation. Try www.ldwa.org.uk this being the main information resource for such events. A large proportion of our entrants are LDWA members and are certainly familiar with the demands of such events.

Our second recommendation is to reconnoitre the route thoroughly beforehand. There are sections that can be particularly tricky and demanding. There is a Tips page on this website where we identify the difficult bits. When you’re tired and fatigued, there’s nothing as dispiriting as either getting lost, or not realising that you’ve got another 3 miles to go until you get to the next CP! Generally, our entrants fan out pretty quickly and so you can’t rely upon following others: they may be lost too of course! Also, on the positive side, knowing where you are gives you both a mental confidence and a much faster and efficient pace, both of which may be the difference between completion and retirement. Bear in mind that in foul weather these benefits are significantly magnified. So get out there and enjoy some really special countryside where, bar one day of the year, few others ever walk! It is also worth reading the reports of previous events on the website to make sure the event is right for you. If you want to know how challenging the AWW can get then the 2006 report is essential reading. Better still, ask someone who took part! Our Facebook group may elicit a response.

Thirdly, if you’re coming on the event as a group, ensure that all members are fully prepared. We have had group entries where, for example, one experienced member comes one year, enjoys it, then brings his friends, workmates or drinking buddies to the next event. The result is often that do not complete the event. Others may join the group at the last minute but are naive to the demands. Some groups have also considered a drinking binge in the White Horse Inn on the previous evening to be ideal preparation but we can assure you this is not the case! We have also seen instances where the desire to raise sponsorship money has taken precedence over entrants’ ability to complete the event without suffering (please see below for additional comments relating to fundraising.) Be assured that we’ve seen many friendships strained as a result!

Fourthly, don’t underestimate CP5 to the Finish. One can think that by CP5 “it’s in the bag”, particularly when you see how few instructions remain on the route description. The last seven miles of road walking can drag: it is not downhill all the way and is potentially dangerous in the dark, hence the recommendation to use high visibility gear along this section.

Finally, bear in mind that frequently the weather for our event can be very challenging. Crossing the Plynlimon massif which is the highest mountain in mid-Wales, is often difficult, sometimes frightening in driving rain, particularly when you’ve already walked a demanding 25 miles beforehand. Every individual member of any team must be fully competent in navigation on open, featureless mountain country in all weathers and at night. This is very important: can you set a compass bearing and then follow it at night and in inclement weather?

If, having digested all the above, you would like to be challenged by some of the best walking country in Britain, over magnificently varied terrain, and with super company, then please give this event a try: it will certainly be a weekend to remember!

Use of the Across Wales Walk for Charity or Fundraising

As you may appreciate we often receive requests for information regarding using the AWW as a vehicle for raising money for good causes. Let us say from the outset that we have no objection to this in principle. However, as you must appreciate, over and above many other longer distance events, the AWW makes cruel demands upon either the unprepared or those unfamiliar with the bizarre leisure activity of Challenge Walking. It is therefore vitally important that any parties are, first and foremost, hardened and fit challenge walkers. We cannot stress this too highly. Regular ramblers, even those considering themselves ‘strong’, are unlikely to complete the course.

Charity group organisers may hold the view that less experienced entrants can always drop out at checkpoints which, of course, is correct. However, please bear the following in mind. We are a small band of volunteer organisers and marshals, logistically-stretched across this uniquely linear event i.e. starting and finishing in different places. Whilst we will always have some retirements – and the last thing we want to do is dissuade exhausted participants from retiring – we struggle to cope with the effect of ‘speculative’ entries dropping out in any appreciable quantity. By ‘speculative’ we mean entering the event with the likelihood of a partial completion. This can put a significant strain upon our logistics over the Cambrian Mountains where access is difficult, mileages by road are disproportionately large and transport of retirees can be a significant issue. Organised sponsored walks, in contrast with Challenge walks, operate in the expectation of significant drop out whereas we budget for a rough percentage of retirees based upon experience. Our friends at Newtown Rotary Club organise their Across Wales Walk primarily as a fundraising event and we would encourage anyone with doubts about their ability to complete the Across Wales Walk to try that event first, details of which may be found here .

It is not our intention to appear unwelcoming, but we have to accept entries on the understanding that entrants are experienced, fit and able to complete the course with a fairly high degree of probability: typically well above 90% of those starting do so. Please note that The Across Wales Walk Association is a not-for-profit organisation hence incurring significant exceptional expenditure to recover high numbers of unprepared walkers raising money for their charities is unsustainable for us.

Thanks for your understanding and cooperation.

Stuart Lamb Organiser, Across Wales Walk on behalf of The Across Wales Walk Association