Walking on your own, a real joy

August 26, 2022

I was listening recently to an interview with an 82 year old Scotsman who had just completed the Munros. In the interview he was asked what he enjoyed most in the challenge and he wistfully replied that it was the ‘Solitude of the mountains, an intense, almost spiritual experience’.

His words (not an exact quote), struck home. There is something about walking on your own which is a more intense experience. You become closer to the mountain without the distraction of others bringing you back to the real world. The decisions are all yours, you do not have to think of anyone else and you can make your own mistakes.

Why I enjoy walking on my own

Quiet summits and contemplative views, High Raise

Primarily the reason for walking on your own is about being in control. You can do what you want, stop when you want, walk at your own pace and, in essence, be yourself. There are very few walkers I know who walk at exactly my pace and want to do exactly what I want, there is always a compromise. Yes its nice to be able to have a chat whilst taking a break but often I would rather sit there and take in the scenery.

However there is more than just the anti social elements to walking on your own. When others are not around you can certainly become more aware of what is around you. This may be the views, the route, the weather or watching for wildlife and movement, things you will not have noticed when walking with others. In addition there is that feeling of solitude where you become closer to the countryside or mountain. Its a special experience and one that the 82 year old Munroist was hinting at. Certainly your senses are heightened. I have certainly felt closer to the mountains whilst out on my own

Gaining Confidence over the years

High above Loch Shiel, wilderness walking

I was lucky. I was the youngest (by a long way) in a family of 3. Our holidays were always taken in Threlkeld in the Lake District. My dad was struggling with his knees so in my early teenage years I was often sent out on my own. I had no idea how to navigate, never had a map and frankly little idea what I was doing. It really did not matter but did mean I had to work things out by myself. The experience gave me complete confidence in by ability to ‘operate’ in the mountains. There was no fear. Whatever the weather, whatever the challenge I was never bothered and never have been since. This confidence and lack of fear is the key to walking on your own.

Later in my 20s and 30s I spent much of my walking time climbing the Munros in Scotland. Checking back on my record 103 of the 284 (as it was at the time) Munros I climbed on my own. This included a major Cairngorm crossing, the round of Glen Affric (in bad weather) and a snowbound thrash over 5 Munros in featureless land to the west of the Spittal of Glenshee. At times I was tired, pissed off but never particularly worried about completing the day.

However I was lucky, I gained my confidence at a younger age in different times.

Less easy today

Find hidden gems on your own, Whernside

Today we live in a more safety conscious world. It is frowned upon to take risks and make the mistakes which the best learning comes from. Therefore walkers tend to feel nervous when they are in the outdoors and, when they are nervous, people avoid the risks. They play safe. This is doubly so if you are walking on your own. If you have someone with you there is a bit of shared responsibility, although this is tempered by the fact that you may be the one responsible for the other or others.

I hold a number of Navigation Courses in the Dales. At the start of the day I always ask why those in the group have signed up. Most quote confidence and the desire to explore more but many have a desire to strike out on their own. They want to avoid the pitfalls because the criticism is greater if you get in to difficulties as a lone walker. Sadly the situation is worse for women wanting to walk on their own. My advice to them and men is just do it! It is safer than walking the streets of any city.

4 practical stage in ‘Gaining Confidence’

Relating Maps to the land around. Navigation Training
  1. Learn and Understand Maps: This does not mean learning symbols. It means looking at a map (paper or on line) and imagining what the land is like, how steep it is, the terrain and most importantly scale. Whilst out on a walk spend time looking around and then looking at your map so they become as one.
  2. Planning a Walk: The more time spent before a walk the easier it will be and the more confidence can be gained. Look at rough timings, options, key features (often a summit) and possible problems. Its part of the fun of walking, I spend hours planning walks.
  3. Practice: As with most things in life, the more times you do the better and more confident you will be. Never more so than walking.
  4. Push yourself: Be determined to visit places you do not know, explore walks that stretch you. Do not worry if things go wrong or you get lost, it will not be serious (likely irritating at worst) and you will learn from it.

All of the above will increase your confidence in yourself. Once you are confident you will walk further, walk on your own and increase the enjoyment of the day.

Wild Camping

Wild Camping at Sprinkling Tarn

Better still is to go wild camping. Watching the sun dip behind the mountains whilst having a sip of your favourite tipple is a ‘must have’ moment. Once I was camping alone under the slopes of Lurg Mhor in the Highlands. In the middle of the night I heard some movement outside the tent. Nervously unzipping the fly sheet I was confronted by 4 or 5 deer just moving gracefully past. It was surreal and memorable.

Wild camping is officially illegal in England and Wales but generally accepted in the higher mountains. Find a nice quiet spot, take away any rubbish and no one will ever complain. It is legal in Scotland, a more enlightened policy!

Add a dog!

Add a dog for companionship

On that particular occasion on Lurg Mhor and most others I have had a dog with me. I have always had border collies and they provide my company on a walk. Bracken was my first and she climbed 116 Munros (and many more Munro Tops), Mist was the Where2walk collie (just look at the photos on the website, she is everywhere) and now we have Holly. They are the perfect companion: they go where you want to, never complain and listen to your nonsense without talking back. In addition if you do meet others on the walk they provide an easy talking point.

It certainly removes that suspicion many nosy and unenlightened people have when the see a lone walker.

A wonderful day in Upper Eskdale…on my own

A couple of years ago I headed in to Upper Eskdale and on to Scafell, a walk and a place I was unfamiliar with. I was on my own except for Mist, my previous border collie. The day had all the hall marks of a great day, made better and more relaxing being on my own.

I started off by walking in to the lonely Upper Esk valley following a lovely mountain river. It was peaceful , warm and relaxed. There was not a soul around. I took my time, sticking close to the river banks and soaking in the atmosphere. I felt in touch with country around me and not keen to hurry on, a steep climbed awaited. I would have not done that in company, we would have been keen to get on with the climb.

After the quiet of the valley the next part of the walk was a steep climb towards Scafell. I deliberately missed the main path towards the summit ridge, preferring an individual scramble up the slopes. It was trackless, invigorating, sometimes scary but great fun.On a couple of occasions I needed to retreat and try again. So what I thought, there was no-one else there and my exploration was my business.

On the return from Scafell to Boot I fairly raced it, quicker than most people I have walked with. The pace was my choice and I had dawdled in the valley earlier and the climb had been slow. It was a walk I could only have done on my own.

The walk was perfect and would have been enjoyable with company, but it was made better and certainly more relaxed on my own.

Maybe lone walkers do know best !

Jonathan

3 Comments
  • Lauren Lewis says:

    I live walking on my own but as a young woman (38) is still young isn’t it!! I like to have my dog with me. He is a rescue Ibizan hound and struggles with stiles. It would be great to have a filter for the walk so I could find the ones you have mentioned don’t have stiles or are mainly bridleways

  • Kathleen Curtiss says:

    I walk on my own and have done so for several years. I attended your intermediate navigation course a few years ago, just to ensure that I was aware of changes and indeed the English rights of way policy ( I came from Scotland) .
    As a teenager I too was sent out by my parents with a map to find my own way.
    People are astounded to learn I walk solo ..and I always say I’m more likely to be attacked in a city street ! Rapists and robbers are very unlikely to be miles out in the wilderness!
    I then can set off when I choose ( I have a medical condition so sometimes I’m delayed) . I turn back when I choose , if I’m weary or feel that I’m putting myself at risk, I stop and take many photos or enjoy the view.
    I miss wilderness camping but I know I could not cope now.
    I meet so many interesting and interested people on my travels.

    • Vivien Fisher says:

      Well said, Kathleen. I’ve been walking alone with my border collie for some years and now well into my 70s – I know we are the new age walkers, never afraid to stride out into new territory and loving every minute.

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