Kate Barron shares her epic journey of motherhood on the move

Kate Barron shares her epic journey of motherhood on the move

Kate Barron met her partner, Chris Lewis, three years into his epic charity walk around the entire UK coastline. She has been walking with him ever since. As they near the finish line, Kate speaks to Alice Ellerby about living the life she loves...

Kate Barron was a teacher for 10 years in East London before she gave up her job to pursue her passion for adventure travel. A year later, in August 2020, as the constraints of lockdown eased, she bolted up to Scotland “on an impulsive whim” to do her own version of the North Coast 500. On the final day of her trip, she walked to the bottom of the Whaligoe Steps, near Wick, and found Chris, an ex-paratrooper, on a six-year walk around the entire UK coastline in aid of the military charity SSAFA.

“I don’t know what I think about fate,” Kate says, “but he’d been on the go at this point for three years, and I could have so easily missed him. He arrived there about half an hour before I did and was there, pitching his tent. An intricate network of choices get made over a lifetime that lead up to a moment, and that makes it feel serendipitous.”

Shortly after they met, Kate gave everything up to join Chris on the walk, and the couple now have a baby, Magnus, who they carry with them.

It’s a story that gives you goose bumps. I ask Kate when she first knew she would join Chris. “It was a decision that I made very instinctively, very quickly, very impulsively. I just knew it was what I wanted to do. I had met him for less than 24 hours that first time, then we spent four days in a bothy six weeks later, and by the time I left there, we’d fallen in love. I broached the idea with Chris and he said, yes, let’s do it, come on the journey. I never went home. I just carried on walking with him.”

Since leaving her job as a teacher, Kate had been working as a teacher trainer, with schools across the UK and abroad, but she quickly realised her work would not be compatible with her new life. “It was hard because I had commitments and I felt like I was letting people down, but the walk was full time; it was allconsuming. What helped me was knowing that we were doing it for charity. I had always wanted to make a difference – that’s why I went into teaching, a sort of social justice thing – and I knew that by doing this charity endeavour I would be helping people. 

“It was massive for Chris too. He never expected to meet anybody. He’d been with Jet (his dog) for so long in the remote wilderness of Scotland, so to have someone join him was a huge thing, but we very quickly found a rhythm. I came into it in November 2020, heading straight into a Scottish winter on the east coast, where winds and temperatures can be even more brutal than they are elsewhere. I had the perspective that this is your journey, and I am here to learn from you, so Chris still had a sense of ownership over it. And he finally had someone to share all these amazing experiences with. He had someone he could be playful with – someone he could skim stones with. Someone to look at the stars and see amazing sunsets with.”

I ask Kate whether she and Chris have a similar approach to life. “Yes, very much,” she says, “and I think that’s why it works. We take each day as it comes. We don’t plan too much in advance. We don’t sweat the small stuff. We improvise. We’re both very quick to adapt to whatever situation we’re in, and for the walk, that works. And our outlook has moved in the same direction while we’ve been on the walk in terms of what we want our future to look like. A future of travel and exciting adventures and living outdoors in quite an extreme way. We want to feel bonded to the natural world. And just faith that we can pursue a life of doing what we want to do.”

I wonder whether what is important to Kate has changed since the walk. “Before, I lived in London. My life couldn’t be more different now to what it was like then. It was chaotic: work, eat, sleep, repeat. Cafes, bars, restaurants, galleries. Zooming around constantly. Always knackered. There are elements that I enjoyed – the cultural stimulation of a place like London – but I’d never go back to live there. More than I expected, I’ve found myself coming round to a future in which we live more sustainably, more simply, with far less stuff.”

Kate talks about her connection to the natural world. “My connection with nature has amplified a hundred-fold since being on this journey. When you’re living out in it, immersed in it, you’re learning how to harness it every day to meet your survival needs. You move through the seasons and you become very much a part of nature. That connection is paramount. That really came to a head for me when I was thinking about having Magnus. I want him to have this strong bond with the natural world. Children being immersed in nature is important for so many reasons and I want him to feel connected to and really care about the planet he lives on.”

I ask Kate whether her pregnancy brought new challenges to the walk. “There was never any doubt in my mind that I would continue,” she says. “I knew walking and being outside would be great for me physically and mentally.” However, accessing maternity care was a challenge to start with. “When I first found out I was pregnant, I was told that no one would treat me unless I stayed within a 30-mile radius of a specific hospital.” Kate registered at a medical centre in Worcestershire, where her mum lives, and had to travel across the country for appointments, which, without a vehicle, made things very difficult. It wasn’t until a scan at five months that she was told she’d been given bad advice. “Everyone is entitled to maternity care. From then on, I would just ring whatever hospital I would be near in advance and make appointments.”

Kate had made plans for a home birth near Dorchester, staying in a yurt on the coast. “The home birth team told me I had to stop by 37 weeks because they needed to see me and I could have given birth at any time, so that’s when we stopped walking and we moved ahead to Dorset to get set up to have a baby. It was an emergency c-section in the end, after a long, difficult labour, so we had to wait for me to be ready physically before we set off again. We lived in a yurt in a woodland near the coast for the first two months of Magnus’s life, and when he was 3 months old, we went back to where we’d left off, in Kent.

Since becoming a mum, the walk has taken on even greater significance for Kate. “What bigger meaning is there in life than bringing a child into this world and becoming a parent? And to have done that on this walk has meant that it has become a hugely meaningful experience for me. Having walked through my pregnancy, given birth and then carried my son for his first year of life on the walk is just massive. And being able to bond with him in the way that I have in this first year, I’m lucky and grateful that the walk has allowed that. I’m with him all the time, outside, and we get this amazing sense of awe and wonder and discovery and adventure, every single day together.”

Kate’s midwives were really supportive of the walk. “When I told them about what we were doing, they thought it was amazing. What a life for that baby! Newborns just need to be close. Being held by you, being strapped to you, being carried, you can be totally responsive to their needs. And Magnus absolutely thrived from the get-go. He is so absorbed in his surroundings, so observant, curious, happy, relaxed.”

Parents can often feel weighed down by societal pressures concerning parenting, and I wonder whether Kate and Chris ever feel an expectation to conform. “Chris and I are both very strong minded,” Kate says. “We’re not swayed by the expectations of others. A lot of people can never imagine doing it our way, and that’s fine. A lot of people would never want to. But we’ve got no intention of going back to the lives we had before we did this walk. We’ve been surviving off the income from Chris’s book (Finding Hildasay: How One Man Walked the UK’s Coastline and Found Hope and Happiness) and we have to find a way to continue earning enough money to keep doing the kind of thing we’re doing, but we don’t want to go back. We want to carve a different path, and with enough hard work and creative thinking, we believe we can.”

Chris and Kate have raised over £320,000 for SSAFA so far. Kate explains what the charity means to them. “It’s different for both of us. Chris, being an ex-paratrooper, has been there. He’s lost people that are close to him, and he’s seen the aftermath of what people who survive go through. And SSAFA stepped in and helped him when he was struggling as a single parent. He has a very personal connection to the charity and the work that they do. For me, the connection is more the people I’ve met along the walk who have spoken to us about the transformative work SSAFA has done to help them turn their lives around. We get a lot of messages from people who don’t know where to turn, asking us to connect them with SSAFA. We always prioritise that. They’re so thankful, and that is really powerful. That’s when you get the sense that the walk is bigger than us. There are so many people suffering who need support and the walk is making a massive difference.”

Kate says it feels “surreal” to be nearing the end. “When we think about crossing the line, both of us well up. Chris will have been going for six years. For me, it’ll be nearly three. That’s a huge amount of time, and the transformational journey it’s been, it’s hugely emotional. But we’re excited to finish this epic odyssey, and we’re hoping to raise half a million by the time we get there. Hopefully the finish line will give us that push.

I ask Kate about their plans once they’ve finished – whether they will keep walking and living nomadically. “Yes. We don’t have a home to go to! People wonder how we’re going to adjust back to normal life once we’ve finished the walk, and, well, we’re not. A, we can’t, and B, we don’t want to. We want to keep raising money for charity, keep living nomadically, keep doing what we love – living a life full of adventure.” 


You can follow Kate and Chris’s journey on Instagram @kateebarron and @chrisandjetwalkuk and you will find their fundraising page at justgiving.com/fundraising/chriswalks.

Alice Ellerby is sub-editor at JUNO. 


Published in issue 84. Accurate at the time this issue went to print. 

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