The Companionship of the Long-Distance Walker

I have very clear memories of family hikes undertaken when I were a lad. Most of these took place when I was aged between 10 and 15, living in the Free State in central South Africa. We’d all pile into the VW Kombi of a Friday afternoon, or early Saturday morning, usually with another family or two in tow. After driving to some farm or nature reserve in a remote outpost, we’d set out on a two day walk, usually doing about 15 to 25km per day. Overnight accommodation was in wooden huts, or occasionally a cave, and we children would have to carry our own clothes, food, and sleeping bags. Toppers and Smash, Pronutro and powdered milk. Long walks through dramatic scenery. They were good times.

Since then, my hiking has been limited to the occasional day trip. Mount Brandon, Table Mountain, and the likes. In South Africa, long distance hiking is mostly limited to private land, and a few national parks. The well-known walks (Otter, Tsitsikamma, Outeniqua, Fish River, etc) are over-subscribed, and expensive. They were frequently dreamed about, but we never got around to doing them. And then children came along, which significantly reduced the amount of walking one can do.

Fast forward a few years, though, and now we’re in England. The children are just getting to the stage where they’re able to walk 5 – 10 miles in a day. Add to that the joy of discovering the vast public footpath network, and you have a recipe for introducing my children to the fun I had as a kid. It really kicked off this summer holiday in the Yorkshire Dales. Most days were spent walking from village to village, over hills, and through valleys. Absolutely glorious. Alex told me a few days ago that the reason he now loves walking is because the scenery in the Dales was so beautiful.

So what we’ve done is found the closest long-distance route to us (the Millennium Way), and are doing the length of it in a series of circular walks (which we found here). We haven’t made too much progress – only four out of 44 thus far – but the enthusiasm is still there. Hopefully it won’t fade too much as the weather turns cold.

The long term goal is to actually do a long distance walk in one go. Anna was originally very keen on the Coast to Coast, and we spent a number of hours in the Dales plotting and planning how we’d do it. But given that that’s about 180 miles long, it just makes it a bit impossible for a 7/8 year old. So we’ve reduced expectations, and are aiming to do the Cotswold Way next year. In the meantime, though, we’ll keep increasing our walking distance, so that we can manage the 10 – 15 miles a day that will be necessary.

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