In terms of the biographical facts: my name is Tony Chan and I was 31 years old at the start of this project. I’ve done a few things in my life – having been born in Hong Kong and having lived most of my life in Sydney, Australia – but since arriving in the UK in 2007, I taught English and Latin at Stowe before moving to The King’s School in Canterbury.
In January 2015, I decided to ‘press stop’ on my teaching career and to try something different: I suppose there was some valid ridicule at my mid-life ‘gap year’. Still, there were multifarious possibilities ahead and more options presented themselves each day, each gleaming with its own attractions.
Taking on this trek was a way to consider the calling that lay ahead, and to fill some time before I moved on to the next job. But that’s a simplication of things: this was an experience of life and of faith, and importantly, it was a creative project. I had realised that much of what I had enjoyed over the past few years had drawn on my creative instincts. Even though I thought of myself as a mediocre poet, more likely to offend than to delight, I was very much looking forward to the creative challenge of composing a sonnet on each day of the walk.
Some years prior, I had developed an attraction for adventuring: I took a highly-organised and very-Westernised trek to the summit of Kilimanjaro. Despite the fact that the risk was low and there were (metaphorical) safety nets everywhere, I managed to see the snow cap before it disappears and it felt like an adventure for the novice explorer that was me. I followed this by walking El Camino de Santiago, and that was both memorable and significant. In fact, the idea for this project came from another pilgrimage: I had wished to walk the Via Francigena from Canterbury to Rome, but the alpine passes make a walk before April very difficult indeed. This trek between the extreme points of mainland Britain seemed to be a good alternative.
Whatever came out of this trek – this project – at the least, it was an adventure.