skip to main content

“The mayor is on her way, so I’m just going to the bathroom to wash the ketchup off my arm.”

We were sitting in a cosy pub in Chepstow on the final day of our tour. It was 4:00 pm and we were having an early dinner before that evening’s concert. All that was left to do was head over to the venue, plug in our microphone, and tune up our instruments. I guess now we were going to meet the mayor too.

In fact, that day had been quite pleasant. Waking early, we had some breakfast and headed out for a walk at 8:00 am. All three of us had a large rucksack. It rained at lunchtime, but we soon dried off in the wind and sun that followed. We met some family and friends towards the end of the walk and headed to the pub together for some compulsory post-walk grub.

Meanwhile, over in America, a fleet of ninety lorries are driving over a thousand miles to transport staging, huge LED screens, hundreds of speakers, lights, props, instruments, and so much more between concerts. The staging alone includes a catwalk the length of a football field. Add to this another fleet of ninety lorries simultaneously transporting an identical rig to a different venue and you begin to grasp the scale of Taylor Swift’s Eras tour.

People tell us that it was quite extreme to walk all 870-miles of the Wales Coast Path, performing every night along the way. But which of these sounds more extreme to you?

How the idea was born

I was sitting in traffic on the way to a gig one evening, looking out over the Malvern Hills, thinking how I would much rather be walking up a hill than stuck in my car. “I wonder if I could walk to this gig” I joked to myself, before turning my attention back to the grind of the M5.

But that thought wouldn’t leave me alone. I was becoming increasingly frustrated at how ‘bitty’ life as a musician was. I didn’t like the lack of routine, the hours spent sitting in a car, or the inability to really take time off to go and explore new places. I was itching to do some long-distance walking, and was also missing my home of Wales, having spent the last five years in Birmingham.

It was when I was researching the music of the ancient Welsh bards that the idea really took shape. These were musicians who walked to work. Some might travel the whole country, others staying in a smaller area, but they walked and it worked. “What if we toured the Wales Coast Path on foot to release our next record?” I asked my duo-partner Seth one day while sitting in traffic. Surprisingly quickly, he agreed. We enlisted the help of our friend Freddie as tour manager, and set to work trying to book 60 gigs around the coast of Wales.

Filkins Drift and their manager walking along a grassy coastal road.

Tired, but happy

The scale of what we were doing didn’t really hit us until day three of the tour.

We started right at the beginning of September’s longest heatwave on record. The walk that first day was quite long, 17 miles, but entirely flat along the Dee estuary. Even so, with the weight of our packs and the heat of the sun on our backs we were exhausted by the time we came to the gig. Our energy was low, our playing sloppy, and our stage-chat incoherent at best. Still, we felt excited about the days and weeks to come, and went to bed tired, but happy.

On the second day, we had to get a lift from our accommodation back to the coast path. We loaded our packs into the car, along with a box of 500 new CDs ready to be delivered to us at strategic points across the two-month tour. As we pulled out of the car park we heard a clunk from the back of the car. “It’s probably just our bags settling” we told ourselves. We drove out onto the A55 and heard another, louder thud. We all turned just in time to see a black SUV ploughing through our box of 500 freshly-pressed CDs, spraying them across both lanes and the hard-shoulder. “I think I remember putting that box on the roof” I admitted.

We drove back around to salvage what we could from the hard shoulder (30 CDs, half a book of stamps, and £50 cash), and pressed on to start the walk. We were still in good spirits. It was another flat walk finishing in Rhyl where we had a gig in a local church. Nobody put the blame for the CD incident onto anyone (thanks, guys), and it was another day of sweltering heat. We made it to Rhyl, exhausted again, but had learnt our lesson. We would sit down to play this time. We set up two chairs, warmed up our instruments, and waited for the audience.

Filkin's Drift performing live in a Yurt.

It was an incredible atmosphere as we sat in the centre with the audience on all sides

Fifteen minutes before starting time and still only five people had arrived. Maybe this is what happens when your gigs are only fifteen miles apart on consecutive days. Or maybe it’s just what happens on a Monday night in Rhyl. We did eventually have an audience of eighteen. Even so, we went into day three with some serious doubts about the rest of the tour.

That third day was going to be physically very difficult. Still blisteringly hot, we had to walk 20 miles of much more hilly terrain. Could our bodies endure two months of this? Would anybody come to the gigs? At this point we were boosted by a fair amount of BBC radio coverage, but would anyone even remember us by the time we were trudging through South Wales, cold and wet, in two months’ time?

We set off with our bags and boots that were starting to feel very familiar and, keeping the sea on our right, continued walking. It took most of the day to get to Llandudno, and the concert was further still, in a chapel right up on the Great Orme. We stopped for some fish and chips in Llandudno, and got a bit too relaxed. Noticing the time, we scoffed down our food and hurried through the town feeling a bit sick.

We struggled up the steep lanes of the Great Orme and made it to the chapel with about forty minutes to spare. Exhausted, we thought “surely no one is going trek up here for a gig on a Tuesday night”. Still, making the most of the evening sun, we perched on a wall looking over the calm blue sea and warmed up.

Chris and Seth walking along a green coastal path overlooking the sea.

When we headed back into the chapel to start the concert we were amazed to see fifty people waiting for us. You couldn’t have fit another person in there. It was an incredible atmosphere as we sat in the centre with the audience on all sides. The next day, the lady who had organised the concert walked with us around the Great Orme. She brought us vegan shortbread, bought us all ice cream, and filled us in with all the history of the area.

That was when it started to sink in what we were doing, and just how much further we had to go. It was the first time we had really got to know someone from an area, getting a sense of the place and her life outside of the evening’s concert. It was the first concert with a sizeable audience, setting a precedent for the gigs to come. And after the shock at the intensity of the first two days, it was the first time we were really able to open up and take in our surroundings.

A rich and fulfilling way to tour … you can end up playing in some new and exciting places

The walk was such a rich and fulfilling way to tour. We experienced the natural world in such a powerful way. We learnt to recognise types of bird from choughs to curlews; we saw pods of dolphins playing in the surf and baby seals paddling in the shallows; and we foraged salad for our lunch from bushes and banks along the path.

But most of all, we got to know some incredible people who shared their stories with us. A lady who was cycling the coast of Wales, a couple with a 2km miniature railway in their garden, a geoarchaeologist who gave us a tour of his sites, and plenty of other people walking parts of the Welsh coast for their own reasons.

We were blown away by people’s kindness throughout the tour as they offered us food, places to sleep, or just their company and local knowledge. It was inspiring to meet so many people living sustainably, so in touch with the natural world around them. We slept in roundhouses, yurts, hostels, old railway carriages, caravans, sofas, and spare rooms.

Chris and Seth sharing a picnic on the side of the road with another couple.

Should all musicians give up their cars and walk to gigs? No. But I do think that we should use more creativity when booking tours. In traditional motor-powered tours we often go where the bookings take us. “It’s only an extra hour’s drive” we tell ourselves. But that all adds up. What our walking tour proved was that if you choose a route, and stick to it, you can end up playing in some new and exciting places. We performed in a wetland centre, a bakery, a brewery, and a permaculture farm to name just a few.

Finally, if anyone is also thinking of booking a walking tour, do your feet a favour and book some days off.

Keep up with Hafren’s music and writing and learn more about folk duo Filkin’s Drift.

You can also delve further into the Walking Wales tour with weekly updates and Youtube vlogs from the journey.

Photo ofChris Roberts
Thanks to

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts (aka Hafren) is a socially-engaged musician who works regularly across the UK and Europe. As a collaborative guitarist spanning multiple genres, he has featured live on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune, as well as performing on Glastonbury’s Avalon stage, Warwick Folk Festival’s mainstage, and at the Teatr Muzyczny im. Danuty Baduszkowej in Gdynia. He recently devised and undertook an 870-mile walking tour with his folk duo Filkin’s Drift. This radical approach to sustainable touring earned the duo global attention from major news outlets including BBC News, Billboard, The i, Radio New Zealand, Canadian Broadcasting Company, and The Times.

Get support as a live musician through MU membership

Over 11,000 MU members are live performing musicians. Whether you are playing at music festivals, performing at events or busking in the streets – MU membership is essential for your protection and career progression.

Resources and services for live performing MU members

Explore all membership benefits

Get support as a live musician through MU membership

Continue reading

Filkin’s Drift and their manager walking along a grassy road carrying backpacks and instruments.

Musicians and Sustainability: “We Should Use More Creativity When Booking Tours”

Last year MU member Chris Roberts (aka Hafren) undertook a 870-mile walking tour across the Welsh coast with his folk duo Filkin’s Drift. Here he shares the honest, humorous and relatable tale of the 50 show journey, and contemplates the benefits of thinking innovatively when booking tours.

Published: 20 February 2024

Read more about Musicians and Sustainability: “We Should Use More Creativity When Booking Tours”
General Secretary Naomi Pohl stands in discussion outside of the Royal Opera House

2023 End of Year Round Up

MU General Secretary Naomi Pohl reports back on the work that the Union has done through 2023, as well as setting out some of MU’s intentions for 2024, and more general food for thought about the music industry.

Published: 30 December 2023

Read more about 2023 End of Year Round Up
Brightly coloured purple and yellow megaphone facing outwards against a bright pink background.

MU Action on the Climate Emergency

The MU’s new Climate Emergency Action Group have now met twice, and are looking inwardly and outwardly at ways the Union, the wider music industry and the Government can address the climate emergency.

Published: 16 November 2023

Read more about MU Action on the Climate Emergency
Across a long room full of delegates sat at tables, we see Naomi presenting to the group, speaking into a microphone

Read the MU General Secretary Speech From 2023’s Delegate Conference

In her opening speech at this year’s MU Delegate Conference, General Secretary Naomi Pohl describes how the Union is making progress in negotiations, campaigning and lobbying – and how we are improving what we do for members all the time. Read her full speech below.

Published: 25 July 2023

Read more about Read the MU General Secretary Speech From 2023’s Delegate Conference
Long exposure of a bus travelling in Glasgow city center at night time.

MU Concerned by First Glasgow Plans to Cancel Night Bus Service

Although plans to cancel the service have currently been delayed until August, the MU is asking any members affected to contact the Scotland Regional Office to discuss their concerns, with the potential to be interviewed about their experiences.

Published: 19 July 2023

Read more about MU Concerned by First Glasgow Plans to Cancel Night Bus Service