Why I swapped President Trump’s tantrums for a tent: The former ambassador who walked across the UK

The diplomat who walked the length of his homeland – and raised tens of thousands for Alzheimer’s research.

As the UK’s number two at the British Embassy in Washington, Patrick Davies had a high-flying life dealing with US presidents and British prime ministers.

But when he encountered the perfect storm of Brexit, the Trump administration and his father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, he walked away from his career in diplomacy and embarked on a new adventure – trekking from Land’s End to John O’Groats.

During his walk, Davies rediscovered a country that he’d represented for a quarter of a century but barely knew any more – and he’s now raised almost £40,000 for Alzheimer’s Research UK.

A walker in front of a rocky bay in the UKCredit: Patrick Davies
Davies rediscovered the British landscape on his charity trek

“I felt totally disconnected,” admits Davies. “While I was working in Washington, I was watching our country tear itself apart over Brexit. I came back and walked the length of the UK, not just to raise money for Alzheimer’s, but to rediscover the land I had been born in and represented for so long – but a land I didn’t feel I knew any more.”

Davies worked in the diplomatic service for 25 years, serving in Morocco, Poland and Iran. He was private secretary to two foreign secretaries, and led the UK’s response to the Arab Spring. He went on to become deputy ambassador at the British Embassy in Washington, where he dealt with Barack Obama’s administration and then President Donald Trump.

“After the professionalism of the Obama years, the Trump administration was chaotic and unpredictable,” Davies admits. “My last year in Washington was quite a roller coaster.”

President Joe Biden with Davies a British diplomatCredit: Patrick Davies
Davies with President Joe Biden during his time in Washington

That turbulence coincided with the UK leaving the European Union after the Brexit referendum. Even though Davies is reserved about it, as you’d expect from a former high-level diplomat, you can tell he’s still upset about what happened.

“I felt quite personally affected by it,” is the most Davies will say about Brexit. “The UK had enjoyed a status across the world as a country that could help solve international problems because we were pragmatic. We were able to help people sit down together and resolve issues.

“But now other countries were looking at us, as you can imagine, and seeing the arguments, the divisions over Brexit – and asking what on earth was going on?”

Stepping down and into lockdown

So Davies decided to step down, and he returned to London to take a career break. He began working on a book about the US.

That’s when he got the news that his father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He spent more time with his parents, in Cheshire, and was with them when the country was put into lockdown in 2020.

He says: “I stayed with them to help share the caring role with my mum. I didn’t expect to stay for so long, but 16 months later, when restrictions started to lift, I took time out to visit some friends who suggested I walk across the UK to get to know the country again and challenge myself.

“That’s where the idea came from. The more I researched it, the more I knew I had to do it – I hadn’t done a long distance walk before.

“My parents were both supportive but when I told my friends I was going in six weeks’ time, they thought I was insane.”

Swapping politicians for tent poles

Davies had also decided not to take the direct route, instead incorporating hikes up the UK’s three highest peaks: Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis.

He set up a JustGiving page to raise money for Alzheimer’s Research UK. Within weeks he had a pledge of £10,000 from Iceland, the frozen food chain, whose managing director is an ambassador for the charity.

Davies says: “They were incredibly generous, but it meant the pressure was on from the start to complete the walk because of the amount of money at stake.”

A male walker on a hill with fields behind himCredit: Patrick Davies
Once money was pledged for Davies’ charity walk, he felt under pressure

The pain of early mistakes

And despite his previous high-level job, Davies made a few basic mistakes. He took an old, leaky tent with him, and bought a new pair of walking boots just two weeks before he set out.

“I went for sturdy leather boots, thinking that I wanted them to last,” he ruefully admits. “By the end of the first day’s walking I had blisters. It got worse and worse. I was in agony, every part of my feet had blisters on them – on the heels, on every toe. Then they got infected.

“But I couldn’t stop because so much money had already been pledged. Somehow, I got through it.”


Davies’ advice if you want to do a long distance hike

  • Don’t forget to break in your walking books before you start.
  • Be ruthless in your packing because you’ve got to carry it on your back for a long way. I thought I’d been careful, but after three days in Cornwall I got rid of a lot.
  • Don’t over plan. It’s great to be organised but it’s nice to have the freedom to walk only as far as you want to each day, rather than have a fixed timetable. I only planned about three days in advance during my walk.

Davies rediscovered his homeland

As he walked, Davies got to know the UK again.

He says: “You forget sometimes how unbelievably beautiful this country is. Then there was the kindness of strangers, too. So many people helped me, and those I didn’t meet followed me on social media, giving me messages of encouragement and support – and all the time, donations kept rising.”

He adds that he couldn’t get over the number of people he met whose lives had been affected by Alzheimer’s or dementia.

“It felt like almost everyone is affected in some way, with a family member, friend or loved one having these conditions. Everyone had a story to tell.”

A walker in front of a bakery with staff membersCredit: Patrick Davies
Davies was met with kindness and generosity all over the country, including here in Llanidloes, Mid Wales

The walk took Davies 73 days to complete, and he averaged 20 miles a day. He camped in his tent each night and spent evenings updating social media followers to ensure the donations kept coming in. Some days he would walk with other hikers, but mostly he trekked alone.

He says: “I never felt lonely during the walk. It was almost like meditation. You get into a rhythm and your senses are enhanced. You see things you’d never normally see, hear things you’d never normally hear. It’s the healing power of walking and of being outdoors. There is something incredible about having nothing else to do other than walk.”

Davies’ favourite places on his UK walk

• The Cornish coast between St Just and St Ives.
• The quiet community spirit of Llanidloes, Wales.
• The Langdale Valley and Borrowdale, in the Lake District.
• The untouched Sutherland coast, in Northeast Scotland.

By the time Davies had completed his pilgrimage, he’d raised £30,000 for Alzheimer’s Research UK.

Then last year, he went on to raise another £7,000 for the charity by walking across the Pyrenees, from Biarritz to Barcelona.

The next steps

So, what lies ahead for this quietly spoken former diplomat? Would he consider a return to the Foreign Office as President Joe Biden is in office in the US?

Davies shakes his head. He’s been bitten by the walking bug and is instead already planning his next walk so he raise even more money for research into Alzheimer’s disease.

A male walker on the summit of Mt Canigou, in FranceCredit: Patrick Davies
Davies at the summit of Mt Canigou in the Pyrenees

“It certainly made me realise that anything is possible if you put your mind to it,” he says. “It’s amazing what your body and mind can do if you just get on with it.

“The walk helped restore my faith in people. Despite all the polarisation and anger in this country over the past few years, all I experienced along the way was kindness from so many people, complete strangers who I met.

“It also showed me the incredible power of walking for our wellbeing. Just putting one foot in front of another can be life changing.”

Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her


Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

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