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.
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.
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.
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.