’The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no-one has ever been before.’’ Albert Einstein.
Captivating fjords, towering snow covered mountains, midnight suns and a rainbow of northern lights. What more could any woman wish for when solo travelling by bicycle and camping wild!
This year is a special one I will be celebrating reaching the age of 60.
“How are you going to celebrate your special birthday year?” asked Barbara. Barbara is a charismatic craftswoman residing on the Island of Coll in the Scottish Hebrides. We’d originally met in their local craft shop and later that week, re-met in the Oban bound ferry cafeteria! My brain emptied at her question……”Actually I’ve no idea at all’’ I rather awkwardly confessed. Barbara had lots of exciting, inspiring plans for her 60th year, she had clearly been thinking about the event for some time.
However at that moment I had a more important topic to think about. My Coll departure was premature due to the tent flysheet failing, right in the middle of a raging gale and torrential rain, with drastic results. The journey to Oban was necessary to borrow a tent from friends and restart my journey on the Isle of Mull. A tent collapse was a sharp reminder that going alone can bring some unwanted surprises, often challenging feelings of safety in unexpected ways. Character building is an old fashioned term often spoken of in Outward Bound Schools. It certainly had been a character building experience, in between the bouts of controlled panic!
On return home to the Lake District, the cogs began to turn in my mind, yes I sorely needed a goal to aim for. Somewhere wild and open, somewhere that would be a strong inspiration for other women, somewhere to re-awaken the soul and warm the heart. After several months of poring over maps and Google, northern Norway appeared to be the perfect place. A language difference, lots of captivating, awe inspiring scenery, quiet roads and plenty of space to have an adventurous time. The Lofoten Islands soon emerged and caught my imagination. The Lofoten area appears to be a combination of rough moorland, working farms, fjords, trolls and fishermen. Mighty granite walls rise out of the turbulent sea over shadowing historic picturesque villages. There are numerous sheltered bays, quiet beaches and best of all ample secluded spots for camping wild.
The most surprising realisation emerging from solo undertakings is that I genuinely really do prefer to travel alone. Is this preference a normal one? I’ve come to the conclusion that yes it can be. Spending time in solitude is good for the spirit. It gives one precious time away from chattering distractions. Time alone, thinking, observing, rejuvenating. Space emerges from solitude, a special space giving one a unique opportunity to be totally immersed in landscape, nature and the elementals. For women in particular, experiencing solo travel can be an absolute confidence booster, giving gifts including empowerment, courage, self-reflection, self-reliance and the development of instinctive trust. A solo trip away can be as simple as a day alone shopping, a trip to the local cinema or cafe, a walk in the local countryside or hills. Many older women do little alone. The benefits of regular solitude can be immense.
To start just make a safe plan, have a deep breath and a small step! Each and every solo step of any small or large endeavour counts for a lot.
To travel alone in any shape or form is joyful but sometimes scary. When other women ask if I am or have been scared whilst being solo, my answer is yes, now and again afraid and anxious, are feelings that come to mind. Especially in the middle of one moonless night, when a wall leaping red deer clumsily tripped, ripping out several tent guy ropes, as I was fast asleep next to a graveyard! Particularly when several boy racer cars roared around a remote gravel layby, only a few yards away from where I lay fretting, inside my tent. Definitely un-nerved and daunted during a Force 9 gale, whilst the tiny tent sides raged, billowed and flattened in an attempt to join the black storm clouds scudding over the nearby loch.
However, thankfully the positive benefits of these types of situations, soon outweigh any further imaginary fearful thoughts, and over the long term can re-build confidence and security.
I am looking delightedly forwards to cycling from Bodo to Tromso via the magical Lofoten Islands in the northern territory of mystical, ancient Norway. With the much added hope of inspiring and empowering other more mature women to, go solo, go out and explore.
Footnote; At the tail end of writing this piece about inspiration, wild challenge, adventure, fear and safety. I went for a cropper when fell running! The result was a rainbow black eye, superficial body bruises and a hospital visit to have my cut forehead glued and taped back together.
The aftermath includes a small loss of confidence in my sporting ability, for perhaps the first time in my life. Journeying alone in Norway will undoubtedly help repair the crack in my innate physical confidence.
Julie Coldwell: Retired teacher living in the Lakes and exploring new pastures.