Changing Times

This post is in response to a lovely article published by @PilgrimChris on his blog recently …you may want to read his article before you continue with this one, go on, I’ll wait… back with me? I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a while now and reading Chris’s thoughts has sort of pushed me into it.

As you may have spotted at the top of the page, I’ve used the moniker ‘LoneWalker’ for this blog – it’s also my Twitter name @LoneWalkerUK (LoneWalker was taken) and it summed up the way I walked perfectly. I’ve written elsewhere about how the name came about – I was let down on my very first hike by a friend, so rather than walking the Coast to Coast with company, I was forced to walk it alone. It was one of the best two weeks of my life and it opened my eyes to a feeling that I think I’d been suppressing for many years, namely that there are times when I really like to be alone.

Quiet pitch on the Pennine Way
Quiet pitch on the Pennine Way

From that revelatory experience I continued to walk alone for about 10 years – I walked almost every weekend, mostly day walks in the Lakes or the Dales, but I would sometimes go for long weekends with my tent – these trips were almost always alone. I have a very small group of friends who would sometimes join me on day walks, but 90% of them were solo and I looked forward to my weekends immensely. The solitude of the hills is intoxicating and I found that I preferred the quiet hills over the more populous ones. I began to avoid the Lake District with its herds of people and spent more and more time in the Dales, soon shunning the Three Peaks area and gravitating towards remote, heather-clad moorland, rarely even seeing another person once I left the car.

Alone, but not lonely, on the hills - utter bliss!
Alone, but not lonely, on the hills – utter bliss!

These morsels of solitude kept me going through the year, until I could feast on the main course; an annual long distance path – again done solo (apart from the Coast to Coast in 2009, with the friend who had let me down the first time). With an unbroken two weeks of solo walking I could lose myself completely, separate myself from my job, my concerns, my responsibilities and succumb to the rhythm of putting one foot in front of the other. If you’re lucky there comes a point at which nothing else interferes with that state of walking, I guess it’s a bit like meditation and I searched for these moments on every walk.

As Chris says, there’s a distinct difference between being alone and being lonely. In all the time I’ve spent alone on the hills I never felt lonely. I’ve relished the quiet, the solitude, the simplicity of it all and the peace that it can bring. I loved going home too – my family has always been very important and my wife is incredibly understanding. She knows I need this time apart from them and I think they all know it doesn’t mean I love them any less – without them I’d be completely lost. My walking has brought me closer to them, by taking me apart from them at times. Sounds odd, but it just works for us.

And so, in a round-about sort of way, I’ve arrived at the title of this post – it seems that all of the above is changing! I crashed out of the Southern Upland Way earlier this year, not due to injury, but because I missed my family so much – I actually felt lonely on the trail. This has bled into the rest of the walking I do too – I’ve done very few day walks this year and those that I have done have generally been with friends. All my backpacking trips this year have either been with Chris or with Matthew King (@Hillplodder). I don’t feel the pull of the hills anything like as much as I have done over the past few years. I also don’t crave the alone time as much. I did a short four day jaunt through the Dales in September and it was very enjoyable, but four days was enough and I was glad to head home when I did. What’s more, my walking plans for next year all involve walking with someone else.

Friendship is... two tents close together
Friendship is… two tents close together

I still have a passion for the long walk, but the way I carry out those walks will be changing, at least for a while. I’m hoping to get another 3 day backpack in before Christmas (with Chris), we’re also looking at a 4-day trip in Kintail early next year and then I’m hoping to join him at the end of his Cape Wrath Trail in April/May. The trip after that will hopefully be to catch up with Tim, a friend from Canada, along the start of the Cape Wrath Trail. I’m looking forward to all these trips immensely, knowing full well that in my current state of mind I wouldn’t even consider doing them solo. I’m sure I’ll do one or two short solo trips next year, but they’ll probably be because I can’t find anyone free at short notice – rather than because I need the alone time.

I can’t pin down the cause of this shift in my mindset, perhaps it’s an age thing, perhaps there’s no specific root cause at all – after all, times change and things come and go in cycles, especially moods, so perhaps in a few years I’ll be writing something similar. Until then I’ll try and enjoy the walking I do and be grateful to the people who let me share their adventures with them.

4 thoughts on “Changing Times”

  1. Stuart, Thanks for the very thought-provoking reflection. Like you, most of my early long-distance walks were solo trips. Over the years, however, I have been fortunate in having a wife who understands my need to do solo trips and who also enjoys walking (and backpacking). My teenage son, as you know, is also into backpacking. As well, I have been lucky in finding some great walking companions from abroad whom I meet up with on occasion and always enjoy it.:)

    I am facing retirement in the next little while and I should have more time for long distance walking. But that may mean more solo rambles. I have mixed feeling about this but perhaps I will be able to have friends join me for at least parts of a walk. I do think the adventure would be heightened by companionship.

    By the way, congratulations on the very favourable review in LDWA’s “Strider” magazine of your Trailblazer PW Guide! Well deserved praise!

  2. This resonates with me; since 2009 I’ve been off solo walking as much as I can and have loved every minute of it. I can sit and be still in amongst my favourite hills and remote valleys (Ennerdale, Martindale and friends) or change my mind on my route, or set out earlier/later without negotiating with a companion. It’s a complete antidote to my day job with 1000+ hormonal noisy vital teenagers. It’s a coming home of my soul, a recharge of my batteries and it’s necessary to my survival. But like you, I’m beginning to want to share it with a like-minded pal. I’m ok befriending strangers in hostels bothies and bunkhouses, I’m quite chatty and open to new friendships- in fact I’ve met lots of lovely friends precisely that way. I like peaceful reflection and I also like quiet companionship. And sometimes it’s nice to just feel comfy with a fellow hill-lover, a shared bond of miles trodden and vistas seen, and to have an easy evening of contented reminiscing.

    PS I’m a lady in my lower mid fifties, and quite adventurous- been solo to Patagonia and Iceland in the last year as well as the Lakes, Dales and Scotland.

    1. Sue – thanks for sharing, I’m the same age almost, so perhaps it’s and age thing? I’ve been looking at Iceland as a possible destination in the next couple of years, it would be great to hear about your experience of that country. Do you have a blog?

      1. It may well be… I am also a dweller of the south, so my forays to the hills have to be well planned and strangely there are not many female friends who share my passion for the wilder, more remote places that I love so much, nor the wild weather that makes me feel so alive. In fact most of them think I’m bonkers.
        I loved the coast to coast, so much so I went right back and did it again the following year, and I’m hankering after giving it another bash. The first time I cried as I walked along Haweswater towards Bampton, thinking the best miles were behind me but oh my word, the moors up behind Keld and the Cleveland Hills were such joys.
        I don’t write a blog, but I’ve just been published in Footsteps Magazine (the Wainwright Society) and I’ve another piece going into their Spring issue… I very much hope I can write for one of the more mainstream magazines at some stage. I am certainly meeting more solo ladies on the hills than I used to and feel that (an older) female voice has a place in our outdoor literature.
        Iceland was amazing. I went in February in hope (not expectation) of seeing the Aurora, having failed to see it in northern Norway a few years back (while husky sledding – also in February), and was rewarded on the final evening with a spectacular display weirdly enough on the road between Reykjavik and Keflavik; hardly a dark sky area! I went out west to the Snaefellsnes peninsular which is a bit off the beaten track but still accessible (if the passes are open) and close to the Beserker lava field which I’d read about.
        Of course I also went to the frozen Gullfoss, Geysers and Thingvellir, went down a lava tube cave and generally enjoyed the emptiness. Bit of a theme here!

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