Where We Walk Long Distances
Bill Orme - from Striders 96
In the last Strider I outlined why we walk long distances compared with shorter walks. This article discusses what we look for in a long walk.
The route chosen is influenced by your particular interests, the time you have available and the season of the year you wish to walk. Nedra and I particularly enjoy the flora and fauna, natural beauty and history. Many of our ideas come from talking to other walkers.
Normally we will have a number of walks in our mind and start reading, collecting information and putting clippings, notes, maps about each into folders or bundles as they accumulate for each prospective walk. Some we will never walk but still there is much pleasure in the armchair dreaming that comes with this exploring.
The spring flowers of Crete, Britain, Western Australia or the migration of wildflowers down the Malaysian and Indonesian archipelago, the forests of California or Germany, the autumn in Vermont or the rainforests anywhere make flora possibilities endlessly and without repetition. The fauna of Zimbabwe's Chizarira set aside solely for those on foot, the big and small alpine species of the Vanoise and the varieties of farmed animals everywhere is all benefit from careful reading before selecting the route to get the greatest enjoyment.
Natural beauty abounds almost everywhere with most places having their charm if searched for. On foot each new area emerges from the last, with Nedra describing the Grande Traversée des Alpes along the French-Italian border as like walking through one great house, with each pass a climb through a window (sometimes called la fenêtre) into the next room. Circling the Monte Rosa is 15 days around one point as each valley emerges as the angle of the sun changes and with it the soil, flora, fauna and history. The great John Muir Trail follows the Rockies through five major parks of California bringing to life Muir's unique journals and observations.
History sends shivers up your spine as your feet follow millions of pilgrims to Campostella, the traders of the Ridgeway, Genghis Khan out of the steppes or the explorers Hume & Hovell in Australia. And these are just some of the ones we know of.
There are many factors which we consider :
- In spring we walk low with the flowers and gentle countryside while in autumn we walk high through the mountains. With the seasons reversed spring here is September whereas in Britain it's April. We try to avoid the intense heat and cold and the crowded holiday periods.
- Accommodation is a factor, particularly as age makes us careful about the extra weight of camping gear (but gives freedom of movement and security in bad weather or from injury). Alpine huts in Europe are crowded until mid August but start closing early September when the weather is the most stable and most are closed by the third week.
- A classic weather factor is on the seven week Pyrenees traverse where the weather is very hot until mid August, the snow in the middle can linger quite late, and the snow can start again at the Mediterranean end quite early. Bear in mind the sun, so there, starting at the Atlantic end means the stiff climbs each morning are done in the shade with the sun on the other side. Prevailing winds are better from the back, as are rain and sleet.
- Try to start at the easier end until toughness is established. Most walkers who give up attempting a long walk do so in the first few days as they rush to do too much with too heavy a pack. The ridge of Corsica is more gentle at the southern end and the sun is more on your back than in your eye. But because the northern end is near the airport, many attempt this more difficult end first and suffer.
- As well as noting holiday times, particular times should be watched such as on the Pilgrim Path to Santiago in Holy Years when St James' birthday falls on a Sunday, a time when huge numbers make the pilgrimage. Some may like the extra crowds and 'buzz' while others find it impacts on their quiet meditation as they walk.
- There are the obvious periods of Easter, Ramadan, Bank Holiday weekends but more insidious is the country wedding on Saturday night when all accommodation is booked out for miles around. Others, which create similar difficulties but also highlights, are festivals such as the Water Festivals of Asia.
- Most long walks have their peculiarities and they must be sought out and provided for. Good guidebooks, tourist information, Strider and fellow LDWA members are great sources of information. However all these cannot be avoided. They can become memories for years as the stories, increasingly embroidered and hilarious, are told, retold and remembered.
This article was written by Bill Orme, Walking Volunteers, and first appeared in Strider.
Anyone is free to copy it with this acknowledgement.