Check out what a journalist recently discovered about women all over Britain pulling on their boots for hiking holidays – and leaving their partners at home.
"I have always loved walking. I walked six Scots peaks when I was heavily pregnant in the 1980s, but when I remarried at 65, my second husband Robin didn't share my passions," says Jan Thornely, 68. "I thought, 'Well, life is too bloody short to sit on the sofa: I want to get on and see these places!'"
A former air stewardess, Jan loved meeting new people and walking alone felt a bit bleak, so she booked what turned out to be a "blissful" four-day walking tour around Lake Buttermere in the Lake District with a mixed group of solo travellers, on a single-room basis. "It was the best of both worlds," she says. "Company during the day and a bit of peace at night with one's own room to retreat to."
Jan is among a growing demographic that have been dubbed the "walking widows": partnered women whose other halves are unwilling – or unable – to head off on long walking holidays, who decide to grasp the nettle and book on a group tour instead. It's a demographic that's growing, explains Gemma Chase of Ramblers Walking Holidays, as the pandemic's onus on outdoors adventure combines with a "seize the day" attitude in British holidaymakers starved of adventure. "Seventy per cent of our bookings are for solo travellers. Out of those, 70 per cent are females, and a fifth of that group have got partners or husbands at home: they just don't travel together because they like doing different things," Chase explains.
Katherine Gurgeon, 59, from Somerset, is a schoolteacher who runs a women-only guided walking holiday company – the Walking Woman – in her spare time; its itineraries cover Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire, with overnight stays in charming B&Bs en route.
"I discovered walking in my 50s, and though my husband Chris used to walk a lot in his youth, he isn't interested in longer walks these days," she says. She set up her walking holiday company in 2018 and also runs Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. "What's great about walking as a group of solo women – and excuse the sweeping generalisation – is that women are less goal-oriented. We want to stop and look about more, rather than simply cover miles on a map."
Leading overseas walking holiday provider Exodus Travels has also noted the trend in 2022 bookings. "With over 60 per cent of our solo travellers in 2022 being female, an increase on previous years, this trend looks set to grow," says Exodus's Brendan Phelan, who says that walking widows are often more adventurous in the destination they plump for. He adds: "74 and 75 per cent of clients booking Exodus's walking holidays in North Cyprus and Jordan, respectively, are solo women."
Sarah Wyer, 57, a leader for Ramblers Walking Holidays and a self-confessed walking widow whose husband Andrew prefers cycling, suggests new solo walkers try an easy-going two- to four-day UK walking break, such as Ramblers' Malvern Hills itinerary. "With likeminded women and great scenery, I can guarantee it will be even more fun than you imagine," Wyer says.
Grugeon also teaches navigation, which can be an intimidating prospect, she notes to older women walkers. "There's definitely a fear of getting lost among women walkers," she says. Though, she controversially adds, it's not men who have the upper hand when it comes to map reading. "In my experience, women are the more instinctual navigators," she laughs. "Just don't tell my husband."
– Sally Howard, The Telegraph
Among Ramblers Walking Holidays' popular solo itineraries is Northumberland Experience Coast, Castles & Gardens. The seven-night, moderate-going holiday includes accommodation in a 17th-century former coaching house and entrance to Alnick Castle and gardens. Find more available solo walking holidays here.