21-year-old Alex Ellis-Roswell has set himself the challenge of a lifetime, walking 6,500 miles round the coast of Britain for charity.
Alex, from Kent, is nearly three months into a two year journey, raising money for the RNLI – the national lifeboat charity – which has its headquarters in Poole. “It was something I’d always wanted to do at some point in my life,” Alex explains. “Not something I thought I’d do in my 20s!”
Home-schooled since the age of 14, Alex describes his life as always having been “a bit out of the box”. His parents gave him the freedom to follow his own interests, and he spent much of his teenage life in the outdoors working on a farm. After moving to Canterbury, he set up and ran an advertising business for three years, but grew increasingly dissatisfied with the corporate rat-race. The death of his father at Christmas, following a long period of illness, was the trigger to make a much needed change in his life. “When that sort of thing happens, it’s a wake up call. It all happened really quickly after that – within two months I’d handed in notice on my house and found a buyer for my business.”
On 3 August – the day that would have been his dad’s birthday – he set off from Minnis Bay in Kent with an ambition to raise £10,000 for the RNLI. “It’s a charity that I’ve always supported,” he explains. With 236 stations around the coast of the UK and the Republic of Ireland, the RNLI was a natural fit for Alex’s mission.
Currently on the 630-mile long South-West coastal path, which has a total elevation almost four times the height of Mount Everest, Alex hopes to be in St Ives in Cornwall in time for Christmas. He walks an average of ten miles a day, sometimes taking a day or two to rest in more populated areas like Poole, where he stayed at the RNLI college which trains lifeboat volunteers. The charity depends on a network of 31,500 volunteers, who make up 95% of its workforce. Meeting some of these people has been an eye-opening experience for Alex.
“Since meeting the actual volunteers, my level of inspiration for these people has gone through the roof”
“Since meeting the actual volunteers, my level of inspiration from these people has gone through the roof. There are some incredible stories. And they’re just so completely normal. It’s just people who have day-jobs working in offices, things like that. They’ve got a pager stuck to them. If it beeps, in six minutes they have to be down on the boat, any time of day or night.”
28% of the RNLI’s funding comes from donations, with the rest coming from legacies (65%), merchandise and investments. Part of Alex’s motivation to raise money for RNLI stems from the fact that many people don’t realise that it receives no government funding, a misconception which the charity is trying to overcome.
His mission has been inspired both by the nomadic lifestyle of figures like Jack Kerouac and the achievements of other British coastal walkers. He names Christian Nock, who completed his 19-month walk in March this year and raised over £180,000 for Help for Heroes, as a big inspiration.
“It’s almost become a personal and spiritual journey”
What started as a purely physical challenge has become much more than that. “I find walking quite meditative when you’re away from the town and it’s just you. You get into this rhythm, it clears your mind. Plus you’re somewhere beautiful. It’s almost become a personal and spiritual journey, which was not the intention at all. I was always sceptical about things like that. But things are just falling into place and I seem to have met certain characters at the right times according to how I was feeling.”
Alex says he’s been humbled by the kindness of strangers he’s met along the way. “I’m speaking to dozens of people a day. People approach me all the time. It always starts with a conversation with a stranger. I smile at someone, they smile back. People don’t do that enough.”
Just three months in, intrepid Alex is already thinking about his future walking ambitions – and they’re fittingly grand in scale. “I like the idea of following the pilgrim’s path from Winchester down through France to Rome, and then from Rome to Jerusalem. Then I want to go to India.”
At the moment, though, he’s taking each day as it comes.