Where to enjoy solitude
‘I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.’
So wrote Henry David Thoreau in 1854 in his classic tome on backwoods living, Walden; Or, Life in the Woods. It’s a book that elevates the experience of being alone to a semiexistential state, and a century and a half later, in a world of social media and information overload, it’s a book that seems more prescient than ever. In it, Thoreau abandons his comfortable city life for a rustic cabin in the Massachusetts woods, and in so doing, learns the benefits of self-sufficiency and self-reliance: the simple pleasures of chopping firewood, foraging for food and sitting in silent, solitary contemplation of nature.
The Empty Quarter
There might be more than seven billion of us on the planet, but pockets of wilderness remain if you know where to look. Take the Empty Quarter, for example. Covering 251,000 sq miles, an area roughly the size of France, and spanning the borders of four countries – Oman, the UAE, Yemen and Saudi Arabia – the Empty Quarter (or Rub’ al Khali, as it’s properly known) encompasses the largest swathe of sand dunes anywhere on Earth. On a map, it’s a big, blank splash of yellow that takes up most of the Arabian peninsula, unmarked by any defining features. But it’s only when you set foot on the dunes that you realise how profoundly empty this place is. Apart from a handful of Bedouin tribesmen who have clung on to their nomadic lifestyle, no-one lives in the Empty Quarter these days – so when you set up camp, you can be pretty certain that you’re the only human soul in several hundred square miles. The explorer Wilfred Thesiger had a lifelong fascination for the place, and with its palette of fiery colours and blazing night skies, it’s not hard to understand why. ‘No-one can live this life and emerge unchanged…’ Thesiger wrote. ‘For this cruel land can cast a spell which no temperate clime can match.’ MAKE IT HAPPEN Most visitors to the Empty Quarter fly to the Omani town of Salalah, and then travel onwards into the desert by 4WD. It’s important to travel with an experienced guide, as it’s extremely easy to get lost. Most operators, such as Arabian Sand Tours (arabiansandtoursservices.com), carry all the equipment you’ll need, including tents, sleeping bags and food. Evening meals are cooked for you over the campfire.