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