A few years ago, Sean Conway sold his business for a pound and vowed never to base his decisions on money ever again. “I want to add life to my days rather than days to my life,” explains the former photographer who cycled the length of Britain in 2008, swam the length of Britain in 2014 and in a new Discovery Channel show attempts to run the length of Britain — despite never having done a marathon before.
Conway swapped his mundane career taking pictures of bankers and schoolkids for adventure. “You don’t need as much money to be happy as you think you do,” he says, adding that he now lives on a Second World War gunboat on the River Severn. It’s a future he never dared to imagine when he was growing up. “I didn’t think I was any good at sport. I’m quite short — I’m only 5ft 8 — I’m quite light, I’m quite small. I didn’t really have much confidence in my ability as a kid.”
Contending with snow, wind, hail and rain, Conway set off running from John o’ Groats to Land’s End. With his long ginger beard and retro shorts it’s no wonder he’s gained the moniker ‘the real Forrest Gump’ – locals even ran some of the way with him at different points, like in the movie. “Forrest Gump just woke up one day and thought ‘I want to go for a run’. I kind of like that philosophy. It’s quite easy to visualise that myself… I want to have fun with it; life’s too short to take yourself too seriously.”
If you’re inspired by Conway’s journey, try one of his five favourite trails…
The Great Glen Way
Passing sea lochs, moors and farmlands, this breathtaking 73-mile route stretches from Fort William at the northern end of the West Highland Way to the City of Inverness along the Great Glen Fault. “It’s cycle-able too,” explains Conway. “Most of it is a road or a wide path that’s been renovated over the past couple of years by Scottish Tourism. You may see a few deer en route – they were sort of my crowd waving me on.”
The West Highland Way
Starting in Milngavie and finishing in Fort William, the 96-mile route passes Loch Lomond, Ben Lomond, Glen Falloch and climbs the Devil’s Staircase. “It’s very rugged and very rocky,” remembers Conway. “Some hardcore mad people do take mountain bikes along it, but it’s mainly a walking route. It can be done over five days, and in Scotland you can legally camp anywhere in the wild, but every 20 miles there’s a hotel. It really is spectacular.”
UK canal and river systems
A staggering 2,000 miles of canal snake through Britain’s countryside and towns. “I managed to go a couple of hundred miles from Manchester to Bristol on the canals,” explains Conway. “It was really amazing following the Severn Way. I love boats and the waterways; there is just such incredible engineering that’s gone into building these waterways. There are longer lengths of canal in Birmingham than there are in Venice. Once you are on the canals you are off the roads and it’s generally safer when running.”
The Haweswater reservoir in the Lake District’s valley of Mardale is the only place walkers can spot a golden eagle in the UK. It’s also surrounded by the region’s distinctive rolling hills and varied hues. Journeying south to Kentmere feels “like you are away from everything,” says Conway. “At Kentmere you go really high up and it’s really windy… it’s so peaceful and dramatic; I love landscapes that are quite difficult.”
South West Coast Path
This whopping great path spans 630 miles from Minehead in Somerset to Poole Harbour in Dorset. “It’s pretty amazing,” says Conway, “I just did the northern bit – past Newquay and through Cornwall. There are loads of old tin mines, which are pretty spectacular. The cliffs are hilly and it’s quite a challenging run, which makes it more rewarding. When you go up, you see the amazing scenery, you’ve got all the elements and it’s a proper adventure.”
Watch Sean Conway attempt to run the length of Britain at 9pm on Thursday 25th June, on Discovery Channel.