Sara Mait­land

Walk­ing alone? Bum­mer, right? On the con­trary, it’s bril­liant, says our lat­est guest colum­nist.

Country Walking Magazine (UK) - - News -

LIKE TO WALK alone. I do not ex­actly ‘wan­der lonely as a cloud’, be­ing in my mid-six­ties and more of a plod­der and more­over ‘ lonely’ has taken on dis­tinctly neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions nowa­days, but I do stand with Wordsworth on “the bliss of soli­tude”, es­pe­cially out there in wilder coun­try­side. (I should per­haps add, pos­si­bly de­fen­sively, that I also like to walk with other peo­ple too.)

I am very much aware that many hill walk­ers find this ‘odd’ – if not faintly sin­is­ter. (You have prob­a­bly no­ticed how the word ‘loner’ has come to mean psy­cho­pathic killer rather than soli­tary hero.) But there are good rea­sons for walk­ing alone. Some of these are sim­ple and prac­ti­cal: in the first place it is a great deal eas­ier to or­gan­ise, es­pe­cially if, like me, you live on your own – you can tie your laces, fill your wa­ter bot­tle and head on out on a whim. You can also choose your own route and, even more cru­cially, your own pace; you will prob­a­bly find you cover more ground as it is un­usual for two peo­ple to want to stop to look or rest at pre­cisely the same mo­ment. You can change your mind with­out ne­go­ti­a­tion – chang­ing the dis­tance to suit your­self. There is no el­e­ment of com­pe­ti­tion or social gen­eros­ity. You will prob­a­bly see and hear more wildlife, be­cause two peo­ple make more dis­tur­bance than one, even if they don’t talk much; in the­ory this should be bal­anced by the fact that two peo­ple can look in twice as many di­rec­tions as one and draw the other’s at­ten­tion to some­thing and thus see more, but this does not seem to hap­pen un­less you are lucky enough to be walk­ing with a true ex­pert – an or­nithol­o­gist, a botanist, an as­tronomer – with the ex­plicit in­ten­tion of learn­ing from them.

But there are deeper, more in­te­rior rea­sons to walk by your­self. All the avail­able re­search and ev­i­dence sug­gests that soli­tude – be­ing alone from choice – has some quite spe­cific ben­e­fits, and soli­tude in na­ture es­pe­cially so. These in­clude an in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion of sen­sory re­sponses, as though com­mu­ni­cat­ing sen­sa­tions dis­si­pates them; a deeper con­scious­ness of one­self ( you are af­ter all spend­ing qual­ity time with the per­son you know best in all the world); a height­ened re­la­tion­ship with the tran­scen­dent – that heady mix­ture of awe and vul­ner­a­bil­ity; a pro­found sense of per­sonal free­dom and au­ton­omy cou­pled with an aware­ness of phys­i­cal com­pe­tence and bold­ness; in­creased cre­ativ­ity, at­tested to by so

is an ac­claimed nov­el­ist, es­say­ist and editor, and au­thor of Gos­sip from the For­est. She lives in Galloway.

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