The Walking Story of a Loyal Customer

31/07/14
When bookings make their way into the Contours Walking Holidays office, it is with quick-fire efficiency that we set about processing and organising each holiday. Robin Acock’s booking was different. It made us pause.
We remember our customers. We like to share in their experiences, hearing how their holiday went and seeing the photographs that they have taken. Yet, we rarely get to hear their ‘backstory’.
Since 2007, Mr Acock has completed more long distance trails in the UK than many could hope or dream. His experience reaches far beyond being a ‘seasoned’ walker, so in order that he could share his experience with our newsletter readers, we decided to approach Mr Acock for an interview.
What we did not anticipate was that Mr Acock’s hiking story would be so humbling that to interrupt it with our questions would be an injustice. We are therefore happy to present the story as it was told. We think that it is a wonderful testament to the power of long-distance walking.

Hiking

I am 65, not far short of 66. When I was young (mid to late teens), I did some day walking with my father - we did Snowden and Ben Nevis, but after I married the walking mostly stopped.  My wife was blind and she found long distance walks too boring - you can describe scenery for a bit, but two hours was probably the limit. She was fitter than me - if she wanted to go somewhere she used the guide dog and walked rather than using a metal box (i.e. driving there).

I remained an armchair walker - I had done the Ridgeway when I was about 40 and the Essex Way when I was 50. I took early retirement, but sadly, soon after in 2005, Sheila died of cancer. I needed something to do and walking seemed a good option, so I started doing day walks to keep fit (get fit really). These were mostly local walks in southern Essex and northern Kent (I only do walks I can reach by public transport).

Back in the days of being an armchair walker, I came across a book on the Pacific Crest Trail in Southend library. I have no idea what it was doing there. It was the usual detailed trail description – turn left at the dirt road, right at the third cactus. For some reason, I thought it sounded wonderful, so I filed it away for future use without any real expectation of ever doing it.

When I was young I had done a bit of drag racing and in about 2000, I decided to go to Frank Hawley's drag racing school which is in Pomona on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Realising the trail must pass somewhere near, I did a few day hikes and it was wonderful. After 12 miles I was exhausted - little did I know what would come.

Some months after Sheila had gone, I was in a dreadful state - suicidal really. Fortunately, I realised in time that I needed something major, urgently and decided to do some more day hikes on the PCT. I walked straight down to the travel agent and booked it. It probably saved my life.

The Story of a Seasoned Walker

By 2007, I was back in England and had progressed to looking at some of our National Trails. I had always fancied the Peddars Way and Norfolk Coast Path and was looking for an accommodation list on the National trail website when I came across Contours. I discovered that they would book everything for me and move the luggage! There was now no excuse for putting it off.  It became the first of my self-guided walking holidays and I have worked my way through quite a few over the years since.

In the meantime, I realised I was not getting any younger and so in 2011 after a lot of dithering I went back to California and did a month along the Pacific Crest Trail. I went again in 2012 and walked 652 miles in a month from the Mexican border. Afterwards, I toured some of the national parks and did another ambition - the Grand Canyon rim to rim to rim (48 miles and 11,000 feet ascent in a day, 19 hours). A lot of preparation and planning went into that - you don't want to be one of the 250 people a year they have to rescue from the Grand Canyon! I also went up White Mountain, which at 14,246 feet, was the highest I have ever been!

This year, I considered doing a full hike of the PCT, but this has been delayed for personal reasons. I still have Sheila's last guide dog - she is nearly 18 now, which is ridiculously old for a Labrador and I won't go away for an extended period. Instead, I will be taking a break from organising my walks on the PCT and enlist the help of Contours again to walk the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, Ceredigion Coast Path and Two Moors Way.

While the Pacific Crest Trail is important to me and has to be my number one, choosing a favourite UK trail is hard. The Cleveland Way was excellent (as was the weather), but if I had to choose, it would be the White Peak Way or West Highland Way and Great Glen Way (I did the two Scottish trails together). These are two of the first areas I went with Sheila (our honeymoon was in Inverness), so they are very special.





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