My name is Jonathan Dutton. I am 58 years old and live with my wife, Olivia, and our two dogs, Puzzle and Islay, in the small village of Winterbourne Stoke in Wiltshire, 4 miles from Stonehenge.
For most of my life, I’ve enjoyed travelling and walking. I had a peripatetic childhood growing up in Canada, Sri Lanka, and Sweden before being packed off to boarding school in the UK. After a gap year in Australia, after leaving university I lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for 20 years, including 15 years in South Korea, a couple of years in Hong Kong and a year in Tokyo.
What really inspired me to venture out and explore the countryside on my own were two books I read in my early teens. The first was Laurie Lee’s ‘As I walked out one midsummer morning’ an account of his travels in Spain with a guitar during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. The second book that got me hooked on walking was John Hilaby’s ‘Through Britain’, an account of a walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats in 1970.
My first long distance walk was along the Offa’s Dyke Path when I was 15. I made a number of elementary schoolboy errors on the walk including failing to break in a pair of rather basic leather boots that I purchased from Milletts in Winchester. The Vango tent I brought with me, weighed a ton, even more when waterlogged and my fluorescent orange rucksack was totally porous. I compounded those errors by carrying a large number of Fray Bentos tins of steak and kidney pudding, which also weighed a ton and would probably have tasted delicious, had I remembered to also pack a tin opener! I do remember the weather being atrocious, struggling over the Black Mountains in a howling gale, soaked to the bone and wondering whether I had bitten off more than I could chew! I did make it half way to Prestatyn before my severely blistered feet forced me to abandon the walk and return home by train with my tail between my legs having failed to complete the walk!
Undaunted by my tribulations on the Offa’s Dyke Path in 1980, the following year I set off with a couple of school friends to walk the GR3 in France through the Loire valley visiting some of the most famous chateaux in the region including Chambord and Chenonceux. The trip got off to an inauspicious start when we were evicted from sleeping on a bench in the Tuileries Garden in Paris by an over officious Gendarme. The trip went further down hill when we ran into an intense heatwave in the Loire valley – it was early August and the mercury was well into the 30s! It got so hot at one point that we were forced to plunge into the River Loire near the chateau of Azay-Le -Rideau. I don’t think we managed to walk more than 30 miles, we quickly decided to abandon the walk and decamped to a campsite with a large swimming pool and spent the rest of the holiday drinking beer, devouring croque monsieurs and pursuing French girls who were holidaying in the region! We never did to get to visit any of the chateaux in the Loire valley!
Subsequent long distance walks have been somewhat more successful than those first inauspicious efforts. Over the last 30 years I have walked most of the long distance paths in the UK, the Sentier de St Jacques in France from Le Puy to St Jean Pied de Port, the Camino Frances in Spain from St Jean Pied de Port to Compostella de Santiago and also the Lycian Way in Turkey. I’ve also done a fair bit of trekking in New Zealand ( the Wangapeka trail/the Abel Tasman coastal trail), North Africa (The Atlas mountains in Morocco, Latin America (including an attempted ascent of Aconcagua in the Andes), the US (The Rockies in Colorado) , Iceland (The Laugavegur Trail) and Asia including the McLehose Trail in Hong Kong, Everest Base camp and the Jomsom trek in Nepaland a remote region of Outer Mongolia near the Russian border!
However, none of these walks have lasted more than 3 weeks or been longer than 400 miles which puts my 1,500 mile walk to Rome into perspective and makes it rather a daunting prospect.
The inspiration for my current walk to Rome was Harry Bucknall, a former Coldstream Guards officer who walked from Childe Okeford in Dorset to Rome in 2012. He subsequently published a highly entertaining account of his journey entitled ‘Like a Tramp, like a Pilgrim, On foot across Europe to Rome’.
Harry kindly came down to Winterbourne Stoke in July and gave a talk about his walk along the Via Francigena to a packed audience gathered in St Peter’s church. He subsequently sent me a good luck gift for my trip – a crucifix blessed by the monks of Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland. Let’s hope it keeps me safe on my journey to Rome.
So now it is just a question of packing my rucksack, taking the dogs out for a final walk and setting off from St Peter’s Winterbourne Stoke on the long journey to St Peter’s Rome. As an old Korean proverb goes, the journey of a thousand leagues begins with a single step!