Following on from the UK Alternatives to the American LDPs detailing the ultra long distance challenges in the UK, here are some real beasts from Europe. They’re all possible, with the first four being official routes. Though we thoroughly admit that the admit that the final one is rather a flight of fancy, yet still firmly within the realms of possibility if only someone has the urge to walk for a few years non stop.
1 – E2 Scotland to the Mediterranean – 4,850km
The UK has its coast to coast, but that’s barely a weekend walk compared to this coast to coast. This one starts in Scotland (though there’s a teeny bit in Northern Ireland) by following the Southern Upland Way before following other well known LDPs on it’s way down through England, including the Pennine Way. After crossing the English Channel, presumably not by walking, the European section continues in the Netherlands, following flat terrain, before climbing over the Alps and then down to the Mediterranean, it’s certainly an eclectic route.
Our old friend – John Hillaby has an account of the European section that he walked in the 70s. Journey Through Europe is well worth a read if you see a copy in a 2nd hand bookshelf. Again, hardly a step by step guide and almost a how not to do it guide, especially as it includes a run in with the local Mafia. He followed, or attempted to follow, the GR5 that’s also a part of the E2.
If you want a route that has more than just natural history, but with the latter in sheer abundance as well, then this could be for you. If you want a remote route, avoiding civilisation as much as possible then this route wouldn’t fit the bill. An option is to just do the more rugged Grand Traverse of the Alps, the latter part of the route from the Alps to the Mediterranean (or vice versa)
++ Suited to those not seeking wilderness. Crosses some of the most spectacular terrain in Europe.
— Not suited to those seeking wilderness.
http://www.grfive.com/ has some useful information on the walk.
2 – European Route E1 – 4,960km
The E1 is another walk from sea to sea, while also crossing one somewhere in the middle. The full route starts, or ends, on the coast of the Barents Sea at Nordkapp in Norway within the Arctic Circle and finishes eventually in Sicily. Currently however, the thru hiker will need to be willing to cross some wild and remote terrain in Northern Norway as the route has only officially been designated from Sweden. Likewise, the path doesn’t’ yet reach Sicily with Scapoli in Italy being the official end point.
++Start at almost the most northernmost point in Europe and experience the midnight sun and wilderness. Walk south from the cold north to hot southern Italy, virtually to Africa.
— Not complete at either end.
These long distance routes cross from the Atlantic to the to the Black sea and is still surprisingly shorter than the entire coastline of the UK. The interesting route would be to follow the wilder looking E4 through the Alps, with the E3 being followed in the final section to the Black Sea.That still leaves us with a a route that crosses the Juras, Austrian Alps, Tatras, Transylvanian Alps, and the Balkan Mountains. It becomes increasingly obvious that the Eastern section is a serious option for someone looking for a European equivalent of the PCT/AT.
The fauna you’ll encounter will include the Brown Bear, so at least you’ll have that excitement in common with the American trails. Walking just the Eastern section as well would bring the trip mileage somewhere in the same ballpark as the PCT/AT, if probably just a tad shorter, though information of the route by country is hard to come by and you lose the satisfaction of walking from the Atlantic Coast to the Black Sea. Though I think the latter is more than made up for by shortening the route into the realistic, and what’s left over stands alone as a traverse of Central Europe’s backbone, much as the Pennine Way does for Northern England, only so much more so.
More information on the European Rambler’s Association site.
++ Beats the PCT/AT on distance. Plenty of scope to cover some wild terrain in Eastern Europe.
— Not yet complete in Eastern Europe (though this also provides a scope to shape your own route). Not particularly wild to the West, and would be much better cherry picking the central section to walk from the Alps to the Black Sea, creating a very attractive proposition of a wild central European route.
4 – Coastline of Europe from the Kola Peninsula south to the Black Sea. 91,000 km, give or take.
Around 66,000km for the EU includes major islands and is as stated in the CIA World Factbook, plus Norway at around 25,000km, Again, it depends how you measure the walk-able coastline, with much of Norway’s coastline being steep Fjord that wouldn’t lend itself well to the walker. It also includes islands, so even if we halve the figure to 45,000km it’s still a challenge. Whether or not you include or exclude major islands is another factor – the UK has a significant coastline over 10,000km long which would in itself take nine months to walk.
Put it simply, assuming a route of 45,000km then walking a steady 30km per day, you’re looking at 1500 days, or just over 4 years steady walking! You’ll wear out around 21 pairs of boots and you’ll very likely have worn out all of your equipment at some point of the journey.
Assuming a generous 2 kilos of food per day, that’s 3 tonnes of supplies you’ll need to keep going, excluding what you can pick up on the way. When you reach the Black Sea (technically all the way to Georgia), you may as well top it off and walk back to your starting point across Russia perhaps. IF it helps, then there are some sections of the coast which are already designated as the E9 and 5,000km in distance, taking you most of the way from Estonia to Southern Portugal.
To put this into context, the longest walk undertaken so far is by George Meeghan starting in Tierra del Fuego, South America in 1977 to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska in 1983 to cover just over 30,000kms in 2,425 days. If you’re going to go for this one then you’ll certainly need, in the words of Roy Castle – “dedication – if you wanna be a record breaker..” However, we think that one of the biggest challenges will be measuring and planning this route.
Best of luck!
*There are claims for longer walks, such as Arthur Blessit who’s walked significantly more than the 30,000km above, but that does not really count as a long distance continuous route, more of a very impressive life mileage total with cumbersome luggage. Searching on-line hasn’t clarified the record, but it may be that he holds the record for the longest pilgrimage. This would then mean that Meeghan’s walk is the longest single walk ever undertaken.
What’s clear is that even in the UK and developed Europe, there’s still scope for some adventure. While these routes above are not going to be the same as the AT/PCT, that’s the whole point, each route will have its own character and plus points. You might prefer the idea of completing a full route than doing a section of a longer one that you stand little chance of finding the time to do until you retire. The Pyreneean Haute Route is yet another ideal option, with their challenging high routes and convenient huts. Or you may prefer the idea of a bit of everything and walking from the North Sea to the Mediterranean. The final suggestion is a little tongue in cheek, but certainly poses a challenge to someone. Personally, I like the idea of a PCT/AT style challenge across Central Europe. It’ll never be the same, Europe is too developed, but there’s no doubt that anyone taking on such a challenge would cherish it just as much as doing the big 2 over the pond. Now I’m just off to find the maps and see if I can clear 6 months in my diary any time soon.