I’d originally planned to walk a section of the Cotswold Way with a fellow travel writer. When she had to back out due to some logistical complications, I was presented with an option: Rope in another friend or go it alone. I thought about it for a while and then decided that I would appreciate the solitude.
And I’m so glad I did. The Cotswolds are perfect, at it turns out, for solo exploration.
The Cotswold Way was, quite surprisingly, nearly empty in the middle of August. I’d expected a fair number of walkers to be about, but in fact, especially after the stretch from Chipping Campden to Broadway on my first day, I was virtually alone for hours on end. Even the villages I passed through, villages like Hailes and Stanton, were quite empty, with just a few scattered tourists wandering around.
Getting lost is surely one peril of a solo walk, but the Cotswold Way is so well signposted with the trademark acorn symbol of the National Trust that getting lost is difficult. I did misread a map on day two and wandered into a pasture but my mistake was easily rectified and I was back on track within minutes. (I knew I was in the wrong place when a farmer offered me a benevolent glance. Though unobtrusive, it told me that she knew I might need help – that and the fact that the powerlines on the map in Tricia and Bob Hayne’s excellent guidebook were meant to be running in a direction different than the one they were in front of me.)
And on my third walking day, when the flies emerged with a vengeance after a spirited 30-minute rain shower, I was glad that I was walking solo and that there were so few others around. I flailed about wildly, trying in vain to free myself from the flies’ buzzing aggression.
Walking the Cotswold Way is also an exceptional form of solo exercise. These are not difficult walks exactly, but they’re a lot more challenging than urban strolls or commutes. By the second day I was delightfully sore.
There are two excellent personal payoffs of a solo walk through the Cotswolds, and they’re in opposition to one another. One is the ability to think, which is ushered into existence by the sheer luxury of being alone. I planned my next year of travel and considered some work strategies.
The second payoff is the freedom to talk with strangers. It’s often easiest to be social whilst travelling alone. Without the security of travel companions, who tend to focus energy, opportunities for socialising present themselves over and again. Fellow walkers were largely friendly, and I managed to have interesting interactions in every village I traversed.
A solo Cotswold Way walk is thus valuable for introverted and extroverted people alike. Do it with a partner or friends if you like, but know that it’s ideal for solo walkers.