The long way around

Alex Roswell is walking the entire length of the British coastline to raise money for the RNLI. For our Water issue, Counterpoint spoke to him to find out more about his journey. Illustrations by Bethany Thompson.

The volunteer crews of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute risk their lives every day to rescue people at sea. In 2014, 20 people died in British waters – yet RNLI crews saved 23 people every single day that year, on average.

They’re an essential service who have patrolled the waters of the British Isles for 192 years, but their network relies almost entirely on donations from the public and the volunteers who crew those iconic orange rescue boats.

Alex Roswell is one fundraiser who’s pushing himself a little further than most for the RNLI. He’s walking around the entire British coastline – over 19,000 miles including Ireland, the Isle of Man and the whole of Great Britain itself – in order to raise cash for the RNLI. The journey will take him nearly three years. It was a bit of a distance for me to go and interview him, so we spoke by email, with him writing just as he was traversing the West Coast of Ireland.

I asked him first why he chose the lifeboat service as the focus for his campaign. “Being brought up in Kent where you're never more than a half hour drive from the sea, I've always been aware of the RNLI and the work they do to save lives,” Roswell said. “Over the past 550+ days of doing this walk I've met hundreds of RNLI volunteers from all different backgrounds who give up so much of their time and energy as well as risk so much to save others at sea- they are a huge source of inspiration to me, both for continuing my walk and raising money for this charity.”

In 2014, 20 people died at sea - but that year, the RNLI saved 23 people every single day

“It’s a huge endeavour you’re doing – suspending your life for what, two years? I don’t
think I know anyone who’d be willing to give up their jobs and cities to do something like that. What was the original impetus behind your decision to begin?”

“It's interesting you use the term ‘suspending your life.’ It's a term I hear over and over. I haven't suspended anything, my life isn't on hold – I've just decided to spend my time in a way that helps others, allows me to learn from so many people, landscapes and communities and which I hope will go some way to making our world a better place.” 

“Where I'm originally coming from is a sense of purposelessness and loss, basically. That was the original impetus that drove the journey. There was a tonne of negative energy in my life, the same so many other people have- I wanted to do something to change all that into a positive.”

The journey so far has seen Roswell rely upon the kindness of strangers and supporters around the country for accommodation and supplies, as well as upon his trusty Vango tent for the nights spent in between checkpoints. He told me, “I've had heartwarming support… I'm really lucky to have stayed with a really diverse bunch of people who I either meet along the way or who follow me on Facebook and Twitter – everyone from chimney sweeps to teachers to hippies.”

Roswell reached his fundraising target of £10,000 back in January. I asked him whether he planned to continue with his journey, given he’s already reached his goal. He wrote, “Yes! £10,000 raised for RNLI in just over a year – I never thought I'd raise that much by this time. Now the plan is to carry on walking until the walk is complete and keep talking about this charity and what they do while trying to raise as much money for them as possible.”

You can contribute to Alex's fundraising page here.