It's All About You

How to Enjoy Solo Long Distance Walking

I’m writing this during coronovirus lockdown, just over a week after having to abandon my Land’s End to Cape Wrath walk. It’s a good time to reflect on what went well and not so well, and how I hope to improve things for next year (in addition to not scheduling a pandemic).

1) Walk Less
One week of strictly enforced rest later and my left foot still hurts when I walk on it. It’s not a particular problem because it’s getting better and I’m not currently trying to walk 15 miles a day but if I had continued I think it could have become a bit of a disaster. As well as averting injury, walking less distance each day gives you more chance to appreciate the areas you are travelling through which, let’s face it, is the reason you are walking in the first place.

2) Eat Well
When you walk less distance suddenly pockets of time appear when you need to be doing things that are not walking (it’s disconcerting I know). In the absence of company these include sitting on various rocks and grassy slopes and after 30 seconds of getting a bit cold you think “well, time to get walking again!” Wrong. If you’re thinking this then it’s a sure sign that your snacks are not good enough/you do not have enough warm clothes. Always always make sure you are carrying food that inspires you to stop and eat it. Life for me drastically improved when I bought that half kilo of homemade flapjack. Another way to do this is to sample the local cafes. Spend an hour, sod it two hours, munching your way through awesome food, reading a book (see point 4) and actually relaxing. You’ll feel so much more refreshed and you’ll help to support a load of little local businesses while doing it (which post pandemic is going to be more important than ever).

3) Be a Tourist
This was a tricky one in Cornwall in March because everything was still shut for the winter but a great way to immerse yourself in the land you are travelling through is to have a look round the sights. Take a tour of an old mine, castle or museum, spend an hour bird watching in a nature reserve or hire a boat for a splash around a lake. You’ll learn much more about the local area at the same time as giving your mind and body a well deserved break.

4) Read
One of the best bits of kit I added mid-walk was my kindle because it gave me something else to do. Being alone with your own thoughts from sunrise to sunrise again gets pretty intense, and one of the main reasons I was walking too far was that for me walking turns those thoughts off. When I stopped I had to think. If you don’t own/want an e-reader grab a slightly tatty paperback and when you get to the end donate it to a charity shop while picking up a replacement. (Note, I’ve never really listened to much music but you could substitute in some tunes if you’re not a great reader.)

5) Stop Early
Stealthy wild camping is easier in darkness. It’s a simple fact that had me walking from sunrise to sunset each day but as the days grew longer was only going to make me more and more exhausted. Find somewhere to camp early and, if it’s too public to put up a tent, get that book out, cook yourself a gourmet dinner or go find a pub and come back later. Alternatively just have a go at putting the tent up early. Worst case scenario someone will ask you to move it.

6) Phone a Friend
This one requires a tricky balancing act to get right. Ultimately one of the greatest joys of solo long distance walking comes from the solo bit and it can be a wonderful journey into self sufficiency and simplicity. I found when things were going well I was going several days without speaking to anyone, but that towards the end when the tables turned I was picking up the phone every day. If you’re struggling to manage without a nightly phone call try adding in more of points 2-4.

7) Don’t Make Rules
Does that invalidate everything I’ve just said? Ultimately the reason you are doing this walk is because you want to. Fill it with things you enjoy doing. Let yourself have easy days and hard days, days that make you cry, days that make you laugh. Don’t beat yourself up if you just want to come home for a day and try again later. The thing about solo walking is you are the only one that matters and that’s really tough to get your head around, but really beautiful when you do.

Written April 2020