When Mark Moxon isn’t working on web development projects for the likes of the BBC and the Victoria and Albert Museum, he puts on his walking boots and sets off on hiking and travelling expeditions. Mark has travelled extensively in West Africa and the Far East, to countries including Senegal, the Gambia, Burkina Faso, French Polynesia and Australia. He has done a number of long distance hikes in far flung parts of the world such as Indonesia, Malaysia and New Zealand. Back in the UK, Mark has walked from Land’s End to John O’Groats (LEJOG) and in 2008 he embarked on a fascinating, 500 mile urban walk following the routes of all the London Underground train lines.Mark is also an amateur travel writer, through which he earns enough money to buy a couple of pints every now and then! Mark’s travel writing website contains
over 490 pages of travel writing and advice from 17 countries and six continents, plus over 1550 photographs and at least one good joke…
Hiking Interview with Mark Moxon
With this varied and interesting mix of experience to draw from, we decided to ask Mark if he would tell us a bit more about his long distance and urban hikes…
Cheaptents.com: What inspired you to get into long distance walking?
Mark Moxon: It’s all down to a national park ranger from Western Australia called Scott, whom I met in the Pinnacles Desert, just north of Perth, in 1996. Unlike most visitors, I decided to explore the park on foot, and when it started raining the ranger drove round and offered me a lift. I declined, saying I enjoyed walking, and when he found out I was planning to head north over the next few weeks, he invited me to join him on a week-long walk into the remote Pilbara region of Western Australia. I jumped at the chance and spent my first long-distance walk learning how to do it from a professional, with the two of us exploring the desert alone and on foot, finding water as we walked and camping out under the stars (or, for the first, surprisingly wet night, under a tarp). I loved it – who wouldn’t? – and have never looked back.
Cheaptents.com: What was your favourite section of the Lands End to John O’Groats walk?
Mark Moxon: The River Severn – I loved it! There’s something delightful and hypnotic about walking along rivers, and with beautiful villages, country pubs and the bluest damselflies I’ve ever seen, it’s English country walking at its best. It broke my heart to see the whole area get flooded out in 2007…
Cheaptents.com: What was the most difficult part of the Lands End to John O’Groats walk?
Mark Moxon: Keeping going through the tough parts, of which there were plenty. You might love walking more than anything else in the world, but it’s never easy getting up early on a cold morning, pulling damp boots over blistered feet and heading out across grey, rainy moors…and it’s even harder when you have to repeat the performance every day for three months. But that’s what makes Lands End to John O’Groats a challenge – if it was easy, everyone would be doing it, and the highs more than make up for the lows. It’s an incredible walk to do and the memories live with you for the rest of your life, despite (or perhaps because of) the difficult parts.
Cheaptents.com: What inspired you to walk the Tube on foot?
Mark Moxon: I did the London Loop and the Capital Ring in stages between 2002 and 2006, and I loved both walks; although walking through a capital city might not be as glamorous as exploring moors or climbing mountains, the city’s charms are unique – even in much-maligned suburbia – and it didn’t take me long to get hooked. The problem was, I devoured the Loop and Ring as quickly as I could, thrilled by the discovery of places I’d seen on the front of Tube trains; Uxbridge came and went, closely followed by High Barnet and Cockfosters, and when I finally came to the last day of the Ring, I was bereft. And then it struck me, lying in bed one night, that maybe I should walk across London instead of around it, perhaps following the general direction of the Northern and Central lines… and from that came my plan to do the mother of all London walks: the entire London Underground, on foot.
Cheaptents.com: Which Tube line was most interesting?
Mark Moxon: It’s hard to choose, as every line has its own charms, but for me it’s a toss-up between the Metropolitan and the Piccadilly. The Metropolitan line is steeped in history, being the original subterranean railway, and it stretches all the way out to Zone 9, further than any other line, so it can’t help being fascinating; and the Piccadilly line has the most beautiful station architecture of all the lines, the country’s biggest airport, and arguably my favourite route through central London. I can’t separate them, to be honest.
Cheaptents.com: What advantages does urban walking have when compared to rural walking?
Mark Moxon: The obvious advantages are practical: it doesn’t tend to get muddy, it’s easier to get to the start (and easier to get home from the end), you don’t have to carry loads of food and water, you can give up early and just hop on the Tube if things get too hard, and there are more pubs than you can shake a CAMRA card at. But for me the biggest advantage is that there’s so much crammed into such a small space that you never get bored; where country walking is all about landscapes and natural beauty, urban walking is all about people, their history, their architecture and the fascinating chaos that makes up our modern world. They might not have the undeniable beauty of a windswept moor or a snow-capped mountain range, but once you learn how to look at them, cities are just as beautiful… just in a different way.
Cheaptents.com: In which other countries have you done long distance walks?
Mark Moxon: Australia (Fraser Island, Pilbara), Indonesia (Bada Valley, Gunung Rinjani), Malaysia (Taman Negara), Nepal (Annapurna Circuit), and New Zealand (Hinchinbrook Island, Hollyford-Pyke Route, Kepler Track, Mt Cook, Routeburn-Greenstone Track, Taranaki Around the Mountain Circuit, Tongariro Northern Circuit). See http://www.longdistancewalks.com/ for all the gory details.
Cheaptents.com: What advice would you give to anyone thinking of doing a long distance walk?
Mark Moxon: Don’t push yourself too hard. Injury is the best way to ruin a long-distance walk, and walking too far, too fast is a great way to end your walk early; I nearly had to abort my Lands End to John O’Groats walk because my pack was just too heavy and I injured my ankle, so I took a few days out of my schedule, sent all my camping gear home and finished the walk using B&Bs and pubs, which was not only far more comfortable than camping, it also made the walking itself much more enjoyable. If you can avoid having to make this sort of decision in the first place, you’ll be able to enjoy yourself from day one.
Cheaptents.com: Do you have any plans for other long distance walks in the near future?
Mark Moxon: My next plan is to walk the London Overground and Docklands Light Railway, though I’m trying to work out how to juggle this with the demands of real life!
Cheaptents.com: What has been your worst injury (if any) whilst walking or travelling?
Mark Moxon: That’ll be food poisoning in Sulawesi, Indonesia, in a small village in the middle of nowhere. I had to lie on the muddy floor of a hut for a couple of days after eating some dodgy prawn rice, but luckily the local doctor prescribed me a little white pill, a big white pill and a big black pill, and they worked. I still have no idea what was in them, but when you’re face down in a mud hut, alone and a long way from home, you don’t tend to argue.
Cheaptents.com: What are your favourite bits of gear, and why?
Mark Moxon: I’m not much of a gear person, to be honest. I love my Macpac Ascent Classic backpack, because it’s nicely moulded to my shape after so many miles, and I always walk with walking poles, because they really take the strain off my not-so-strong knees (though they do make me look like a muppet, which isn’t so great)… but I’ve never found a pair of boots that didn’t give me blisters, I don’t really use GPS for anything other than recording where I’ve walked, I prefer paper maps to digital ones, and even my portable computer is ancient (it’s an old, grey-screen Palm m125 that runs off batteries and doesn’t even know how to spell Wifi, but it’s still the lightest computer for writing that I know). Though if you expand your definition of ‘gear’, Google Maps is an absolute blinder, and I wouldn’t have been able to design the 440 miles of my tubewalk without it.
Cheaptents.com: Any people or sponsors that you would like to thank?
Mark Moxon: My fiance, who’s always been very supportive. Walking across Britain would have been so much harder without her hunting down B&Bs and mailing me batches of Ordnance Survey maps, and without her I would probably have slunk back home after two weeks when I injured my ankle in Okehampton…
Cheaptents.com: Anything else you would like to say?
Mark Moxon: If you’ve got an iPhone, check out my Tubewalker app. It’s free to download and gives you a real flavour of urban walking, and hopefully it will encourage more people to explore the capital on foot. Enjoy!
Thank you, Mark, for taking the time to answer our questions!
Walking is such a varied occupation that different types of walking attract different types of people. For some, mountain walking is the thing, with views that stretch for miles; for others the best walking is through gently undulating fields, with picturesque villages tucked away in pretty valleys; some prefer coastal walking, with the sea crashing against the cliffs and the sound of seagulls on the wind; and there are plenty of people whose favourite walks involve short distances, utterly flat terrain and copious pubs. Mark Moxon
More Interviews with Long Distance Hikers…
If you enjoyed reading this interview then you are bound to enjoy our recent interviews with Andrew Skurka and Samuel H Gardner. In our interview with Andrew Skurka he tells us all about his recently completed 4,700 mile expedition around Alaska and the Yukon. In January 2011 Samuel H Gardner will embark on the All-In Trek comprising of the four main thru hikes in the USA. In the interview Samuel talks about his outdoors background, including six months which he spent living in a snow cave! Our interview with legendary explorer Mikael Strandberg is also a great read. Mikael has explored the Kolyma River in north east Siberia and cycled across the Americas, Africa and Asia.
Share your interesting walks!
Have you walked a themed route like the London Underground? Perhaps you have devised a route connecting related points of interest or taken a path that was once popular but know little known? Maybe you have hiked from your home town to some other part of the country? Click on comments below and let us know where you have been walking…