Running the UK’s National Parks

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Mike Creighton is taking on an epic challenge for 2019 – he will be running every National Park in the UK from boundary to boundary. He will be self-supported, wild camping along the way. The challenge will take him over around 1,000 miles with 134,000ft of total ascent. He will also be raising money for two great charities.

Here is his story in his own words.

Looking for the right challenge

“I have a brilliant idea honey’ – those six little words were how it all started. My long-suffering partner being the first person to learn of my latest madcap idea. It was received with the usual rolling of the eyes approval and the “I’m not picking you up from anywhere’ line.

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I had been searching for over a year for a ‘big’ adventure. Ever since I had solo hiked some of the Coast to Coast route in 2015, I yearned for something else. Something bigger, to challenge my mind and body beyond what I thought I could manage.

I couldn’t afford to jet off somewhere exotic. Work, family and home life restricted both time and money to something UK-based. We are blessed with a plethora of long-distance walking trails across our fair and green lands, but most had been done and done again. There wasn’t anything new for me to try there, other than doing them naked while doing a handstand (I can’t do handstands and don’t look to good naked!).

I wasn’t wanting to set any records or fastest-known times on the old routes. But finding a unique idea, one that hasn’t been done before, is difficult in this day and age. Unless you are blessed with sponsors and money, then options can be limited. I started writing a blog, exploring the many forgotten paths and what I call ‘non patch’ around the Midlands, Shropshire and the Peaks often telling tales and myths as I went, trying to preach the message that adventure can be anything and anywhere and for anyone.

Mike Creighton running across the UK's National Parks

The National Parks

One day I was sat at work, bored, and I signed into OS mapping. I began looking for new routes. Then, as I looked at the wonderful UK map, it struck me that the National Parks were right there.

Had anyone ever ran or walked across every single one in a year or even at all and recorded it? I knew people who had completed a few of the long-distance hikes across some, but never from true border to true border.

I searched; it became an obsession now. Free time and stolen moments were spent looking through various online blogs, adventures sites and Facebook Groups… and not one mention of my plan. I was smug with myself, having found something that no one else had attempted before. I read few posts from a chap walking across each one, but his post were limited and then suddenly stopped before the year was out and all his pages removed.

I began to feverishly plan each route. Some Parks already had long-distance paths that helped with navigation; others didn’t and would be the first time anyone had done such a thing.

Meticulous planning

The next year was spent meticulously planning. I covered every aspect possible and set myself a simple rule to begin and end at the borders of each Park. The start and finish  needed to be easily accessed through public transport.

It became a logistical chess game. Start and end points moved as I searched for points of access. Each Park was scanned for routes straight through. I wanted to wild camp as much as possible to truly become self-supported. Therefore, the other half of my planning revolved around the researching of lightweight gear that I could afford. I was lucky that some parks already had long-distance paths that covered the entire length of the Parks and so this made planning some of them easier.

Camping in the New Forest National Park

I approached two charities: Edwards Trust, who supported children who were bereaved or about to be bereaved; and the Peak District Mountain Rescue Organisation. They offered their time to help others in need no questions asked, and they were keen to get involved with the project.

January 2019 came quickly, my start date. I had struggled with training, with a knee injury and the flu (and a series of household breakages/breakdowns over Christmas). A week before I was due to leave, I set off with some trepidation. Although during Christmas week the weather had been quite mild, I watched as the temperature suddenly dropped. I was met by a -6° camp for the first night. It was a definite baptism into the adventure I had set for myself.

The first Park

Despite the temperature, I was filled with a giggling excitement of what I was now doing – a sense of true achievement. At 6am, I set forth into a fairly unknown and dark morning. I settled into a nice pace; the pack weighing some 9kgs slowed me down, but this was a run for fun and I wasn’t out to break or set any kind of records. This distance flew by quickly as I explored the many twists and turns and paths of the New Forest, the wood enveloping me and welcomed me along the way.

Then it happened: a lady called Sue came out to find me and offered me a cup of hot chocolate, a seat and more over some money for the charities I am supporting. I met a few more lovely people along the way who were more than keen to listen to my story, to take time out, and to stand and talk to a complete stranger in the forest and even give me money for the charities.

I felt overwhelmed at the simple generosity and trusting nature. We are often oversold how bad our society is, but with these simple acts of kindness I knew that this year was going to be the most amazing adventure I was going to have. It wouldn’t be so much about me, but about people I meet along the way, about other people’s stories and people’s acts of kindness to help a stranger.

‘Project Park Run 2019’ has been born and I can’t wait for run number two!

You can follow Mike’s journey over on his Facebook Page

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