World News

This man found love and welcomed a baby during six-year, 8,700-mile hike

Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

After struggling with anxiety and depression for years, Christian Lewis, a former paratrooper from Wales, had hit an incredibly low point and realized he needed to make some drastic changes in his life.

On the verge of becoming homeless for the second time, the single father made a “split-second decision” to leave everything behind.

A few days later, with the equivalent of just $12 in his pocket, Lewis bid farewell to his daughter Caitlin, who had recently left home, and set off from Llangennith beach in Swansea, Wales, in August 2017 with the aim of walking the entire UK coastline.

He launched a fundraising page for armed forces charity Ssafa, which he’d sought help from when he left the army in 2004, shortly before he set off.

Nearly six years later, Lewis, now 42, is just a few months shy of completing the 14,000-kilometer (around 8,700-mile) hike and has raised over £320,000 (around $400,000). But he’s no longer walking solo. In fact, he now has three companions.

Over the course of the journey, Lewis met and fell in love with former teacher Kate Barron, 36, who has joined him, and dog Jet, who he’d picked up in Northern Ireland about nine months in. The couple have since had a son, Magnus.

Life-changing journey

As he approaches the final section of the walk with Barron, Magnus and Jet beside him, Lewis, who has been documenting his journey via his Facebook page, Chris Walks The UK, can’t help but reflect on what has been a truly life-changing adventure with absolute wonder.

And to say there have been many twists and turns throughout his journey is something of an understatement.

After making his way up the west coast towards Scotland from Swansea, Lewis took a brief detour to Northern Ireland, where he returned a message in a bottle thrown into the Irish Sea more than two decades ago that he’d found washed up along the Scottish coast.

He then decided to walk the coast of Northern Ireland, before returning to Scotland to walk the Shetland Islands, located around 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of the mainland.

Lewis was close to completing the Shetland archipelago, which has 300 islands and skerries, of which only 16 are inhabited, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and the UK went into lockdown in March 2020.

He quickly found himself stranded on the remote island Hildasay, located off the coast of the Shetland Islands, which measures less than half a square mile.

“I was far more than halfway through my journey,” he says. “At the time, I estimated that I had about a year left, but obviously, things changed.”

After spending three months on Hildasay, Covid-19 restrictions were relaxed and Lewis was able to continue on, spending around three and a half weeks walking the rest of the Shetland Islands. He then got a boat back to the mainland, and started heading south.

While he mainly foraged and fished to survive, Lewis also relied on donations of food, water and equipment from well wishers.

Lewis was camping near the Whaligoe Steps, a stairway of 365 steps that descend down a cliffside to a natural harbor, when he met Barron, who had been wild camping around North Coast 50, an 830-kilometer (516-mile) route along Scotland’s northern coast, after leaving her job as a teacher at a London school.

“I was hiking and wild camping and just happened to go down to the bottom of a cliff on my last day of the trip,” Barron says. “And then I met Chris.”

Barron found herself instantly intrigued by Lewis, who was fixing his tent while chatting to a group of well wishers, and decided to approach him.

Cliff encounter

“So this lady just kind of wanders down all bubbly and chirpy,” he recalls. “And we had a very, very brief encounter.”

Lewis was stunned when Barron returned alone about 40 minutes later with some fish and chips and two cans of Tennent’s Lager.

“She said, ‘I’ve been looking for somewhere to camp. Do you mind if I come and camp next to you?’ he says. “And that was it. The rest was history.”

The pair spent around four days in the wilderness together foraging for food, making fires, distilling seawater and talking until the early hours of the morning, and quickly realized that there was a strong connection between them.

“We spent these magical four days together in the wilderness,” says Barron. “We just had so much in common.”

Barron then left to take a trip to Afghanistan, but the pair kept in touch constantly while she was away.

When she returned to the UK about six weeks later, Barron rejoined Lewis, having wrapped up her work commitments, and asked if she could “enjoy the rest of the adventure” with him.

“As soon as I got back to the airport in London, I just took a flight straight up to Inverness [a city in the Scottish Highlands],” Barron says. “And that was it. I never went home.”

The couple, along with Jet, continued on, walking down the east coast of Scotland together, and then into England.

“It was quite surreal to have somebody with me,” admits Lewis. “But Kate loves doing all the things that I love. It just seems to knit so perfectly together.”

Around nine months later, while bedding down in horse stables in Yorkshire, northern England, they learned that they were expecting a child together.

With many miles of the journey still left ahead of them, the pair say they never once discussed the prospect of returning home and simply kept on going.

“We wild camped the whole way through the pregnancy,” says Barron. “I walked every day, up until I was 37 weeks [pregnant].

“I was lucky in the sense that in the first trimester, I had no morning sickness. I just felt tired. Sometimes I would take a nap under a tree as we were walking.”

Although Barron found camping more tricky during her third trimester she managed to carry on regardless.

“It was uncomfortable, but I did it,” she adds.

When one of Lewis’ supporters offered up a yurt in Dorset, a county in southwest England, as a potential location for the birth, they quickly accepted, with Barron making arrangements with local midwives en route. They welcomed their son Magnus in May 2022.

New arrival

The couple then took a break from the walk, and spent time with friends and family, who traveled over to Dorset to visit them.

“We had a couple of months basically to let Kate recover, and then we decided to just carry on,” says Lewis.

“We had to make a few changes to adapt, obviously, for safety reasons for Magnus.”

With a newborn now along with them for the duration, the pair found themselves with a slightly heavier load of essentials to carry, and decided to get a van as a “contingency back up.”

They’ve since had to adapt their routine even further, as Jet has been finding the constant walking more difficult.

“Jet’s getting older,” says Lewis. “She’s done a lot of miles. And I can really start to see her slowing down.

“So I just make every single effort to make sure that she lays off as much of the walk as she can.”

Although they are still completing the route on foot, Lewis and Barron walk separately at times so that one of them can stay with Jet.

According to Barron, Lewis tends to walk ahead on these occasions. She’ll then go to pick him up in the van further along the route, drive to where he started, and walk the same route with Magnus, while Lewis stays behind with Jet, before driving back to rejoin them.

“We sort of pepper pot down the coast like that,” she explains.

Their son Magnus, who has spent much of his young life outdoors, is “absolutely thriving,”

“He lives outside. So he actually gets to visually see everything and he’s so happy,” says Lewis. “You can tell he’s going to be a little adventurer already.”

They say they tend to walk somewhere between eight to 12 kilometers (or five to eight miles) a day.

Unsurprisingly, walking and camping with a baby has been a totally different experience for both of them.

Lewis explains that they’ve particularly struggled since entering England, where there are stricter rules around wild camping.

“In Scotland, you have what’s called the ‘right to roam,’ which means basically, you’re legally allowed to camp anywhere you want,” he says. “Those rules don’t apply in England.

“So the hardest part for us has been being able to find places where we can camp, where we’re not going to get kicked off, which has happened to us many times.

“Making fires is illegal and we need fire during winter.”

Challenging times

He admits that the combination of the typical concerns of new parents and the added worry of having to keep warm outdoors was incredibly difficult during some of the colder winter nights.

“Magnus slept better than any of us,” he says. “He was always wrapped up nice and warm.”

The couple say that it’s been much harder to forage on this section of the trip, so they tend to carry food with them and use camping stoves to cook outdoors.

Lewis released a book, “Finding Hildasay,” about the first few years of his walk, earlier this year, and they’ve been living off the advance payment, along with donations of food, equipment and clothing received from companies and members of the public.

The father of two is about to begin a follow up book, which will cover the significant developments in his life since he left the island and met Barron.

Despite their challenges, the family are happily persevering and very much looking forward to reaching Llangennith beach, on the western edge of the Gower Peninsula, the final point of their journey, and the same spot that Lewis set off from.

“I think it’s probably going to be a bit overwhelming,” he admits, recalling how he stood at the beach before he began his walk and wondered what life would be like when he finally “crossed that line.”

“To see that spot again, I think there’s gonna be a lot of tears and a lot of pride,” he adds.

Lewis is hoping some of the many well wishers who’ve followed him over the years will be there to greet them, and says he’s looking forward to enjoying “a few beers and a few whiskies.”

As for Barron, she’s incredibly thankful that she took a “leap of faith” and chose to join him just a few weeks after they met in Scotland.

“I had to give everything up,” she says. “But I knew that it was what I wanted to do. I just felt that it was worth it. This adventure. This undertaking. This endeavor.”

She describes the experience as “real blood, sweat and tears,” but incredibly rewarding in many different ways.

“Becoming a mother on this journey. That’s just an incredibly powerful thing,” she adds.

Adventurer family

Once they’ve covered the North Devon coast, they will start heading back up towards Swansea, where their journey ends. They estimate that it will take them another three months to complete this final section.

“Magnus will be one by the time we finish,” adds Barron. “So his first year on this Earth will have been spent on this journey.”

Lewis has kept in touch with his daughter Caitlin throughout and says she’s extremely proud of how far he’s come.

“She was the catalyst for me really with starting this [walk],” he says. “I don’t think you can give a child a greater life lesson than to go out and think big.

“Dream big and go out and pursue it rather than just plodding on through life.”

He’s incredibly thrilled to have been able to raise money for the charity Ssafa, which helped him get back on his feet when he was living on the streets after leaving the British Army’s Parachute Regiment and experiencing tough times while “returning to civilian life.”

He and Barron are often asked whether they plan to “go home and settle down” once they’ve completed the hike, but they say they have no intention of doing so anytime soon.

“Why fix what’s not broken?” says Lewis. “Kate and I love what we’re doing. We love the fact that we’re able to help other people, and that’s what we want to continue [doing].

“We’re going to be an adventure family and bring Magnus up in a way where he gets to experience different countries and different cultures.”

So what will their next big family adventure be? According to Lewis, things are very much up in the air at the moment.

“It’s a really strange position to be in,” he says. “Kate and I don’t have any money or anything like that. But we know that we can make things work if we put our mind to it.

“So whatever it is that we dream up for the next adventure, it could be absolutely anything we feel like. Because we don’t have houses and we don’t have commitments. We’re not tied to anything.”

“We almost have a blank sheet of paper. So not having anything is actually the greatest gift for us.”

When he thinks back to the person he was when he left Llangennith beach, Lewis says the difference is quite staggering.

“I’ve got a serious purpose [now],” he says. “I realized doing this walk that it’s not the material things in life that make me happy.

“And there are people out there, like Kate, for example, that feel the same way.

“To have that sort of connection, where we both have exactly the same dreams and exactly the same goals, is a very rare thing.

“I don’t need to have big houses or expensive cars. I just need these cool little people around me, and we can go wherever we want.

“As long as I’ve got that, I’m a happy man.”

This post appeared first on