My Walk of Life with Quintin Lake

Photographer Quintin Lake is walking 10,000km around the edge of Britain, capturing the ‘surprises, beauty and strangeness’ of our coastline.

Interview by Matthew Jones

Quintin Lake 

I am walking and photographing the entirety of the British coastline. The project is called The Perimeter and I envisage it will take five years to complete.

There is nothing as profound as the experience of a landscape on foot. You meet people and discover little things that you wouldn’t notice if you were moving faster. I find walking a very meditative experience, and the subtle changes of the weather and the landscape from one day to the next are very inspiring.

I’m walking from dawn to dusk, carrying all my kit and mostly wild camping. My average distance is around 25 kilometres per day. I enjoy meeting and talking to other walkers, but I have to be quite disciplined with myself, or I’d never complete my daily distance. I’ve met three Ramblers groups in the last month!

I started at St Paul’s Cathedral, because it is iconic and symbolically it felt like the centre of London. I walked along the Thames Path to reach the Kent coast, and continued clockwise from there. I didn’t realise that on the Thames Path you can actually walk until you can’t see London any more after two days, which really puts the city into perspective. When you live there it sometimes feels like the centre of the universe. I’ve now walked nearly 2,000km in total.

I take about 400 photographs per day. I edit that down to about 15 images, and ultimately one or two which I then sell as prints. The editing process takes about as long as the actual walking, so for every day on the trail I need a day to edit the pictures. 

My focus is on lesser-known stretches of coastline rather than well-known landmarks. It’s far easier to see them afresh. I’m very interested in modern infrastructure, like factories and ports. I find these structures fascinating, particularly on the coast where two worlds meet – the land and the sea – which creates a strange juxtaposition. I like that on a day’s walk you can pass a nuclear power station, a little fishing village and then go through an estuary. You get some amazing contrasts.    

The walking is difficult. I’m an ultralight backpacker so my gear is very light, but my camera is very heavy. In total I’m carrying between 14 and 16 kilos including food. I found the Cornish stretch of the South West Coast Path very tough, as there is so much up and down.

The Isle of Grain in north Kent is particularly strange and remote. I enjoyed that stretch very much. The only encounters I had there were with security guards, asking what I was doing! Crossing the River Erme in south Devon was also a special moment. In places it felt like being in the jungle – and at low tide you can just wade through it to cross. I felt like I was hardly in Britain at all.

There’s much more to our coastline than the honeypot stretches. The less commonly visited areas can feel surprisingly isolated and untamed – particularly if the weather is not on your side.

This is a huge commitment, but the public response to date has been amazing. I get wonderful emails and comments daily, and I hope my images inspire people to go out and walk, and see their country a bit differently. It would be a great gift if this project had that effect on people.

It’s both a physical and a creative challenge. I found Cornwall very difficult to photograph – almost every view looks like a beautiful postcard, but creatively I want to say something different to that, to find original compositions. And when I’m knackered that becomes even more difficult!

Our national coastal heritage must be respected and valued. If it’s gone then it’s gone forever, and there is nowhere else like it in the world at all. It is gratifying how many parts of the coast are protected. Various trails, trusts and other national bodies are doing valuable work. But the crucial thing is that people go out and see it for themselves, and realise how much coastal walking enriches their own lives.

It’s not always easy to walk Britain’s coastline. I’ve had run-ins with landowners and barbed wire – it becomes a problem as soon as you leave the trails or the stretches of England Coast Path that have already been opened. Also, because I’m not taking any ferries, I have to take big detours around estuaries, where there is rarely a path network. The most dangerous bit has been walking along tiny high-hedged roads in Devon and Cornwall, where drivers just aren’t expecting pedestrians.

Joining up the England Coast Path will be a great step forward. Spreading room that gives access to clifftops and beaches is hugely important – currently it sometimes feels like you’re walking along a sort of prison corridor, as on parts of the Thames Path. Even in some beautiful areas you find yourself hemmed in on the path, which seems rather mean.   

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