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About A Week: The Loner Who Killed Solitute

Peter Hinchliffe regrets the loss of holiday solitude.

As ypu toil along Striding Edge towards the summit of Helvellyn on a fine summer's morn, one cell in a long sweating snake of humanity, it's easy to curse the name of Alfred Wainwright.

A Coke can clatters underfoot. Somewhere a radio is playing. People gabble into mobile phones, oblivious to the glorious scenery.

So much for peace, solitude and getting away from it all.

Alfred Wainwright's vision of perfection was to walk the Lakeland hills with only his thoughts for company. He thrived on being alone. While sorting through the financial affairs of Kendal, where he was borough treasurer, his imagination took him wandering in solitary splendour across the hills.

So what did this chap go and do, this loner, this curmudgeon who willingly walked many an extra mile to avoid meeting parties of ruck-sacked hikers? He drew detailed maps of the northern hills. He wrote guide¬books for the first-time traveller. Now walkers come flocking in their thousands, brandishing his guides, turning the Lakeland fells into an upland version of Blackpool prom.

Travel writers, guide-book compilers, are turning the world into one giant bustling promenade. They tell you where to go to escape the rat race. When you get there you're horrified to find that 50,000 other "rats" have followed their advice.

This is the month when travel writers are in full cry, leading us towards the destruction of yet more peaceful places. Far From The Dordogne Crowds announces the headline in a magazine.
"Keep it to yourself, but there is still a tranquil comer of rural France that is not forever England — even in August.

"Take the route along the Bonnette from Caylus to St Antonin-Noble-Val. This wandering verdant valley exudes a gentility that seems to belong to an earlier age of low-pressure tourism."

Not for very much longer. Thanks to the indiscretions of the chap who wrote the article. I know that if I now go down Caylus way I'm bound to bump into my neighbours. As we sip the lush local red-black wines, the talk will turn to Kirklees council tax and road humps.

Officially the circumference of the Earth is still 24,000 miles, but travel writers have made it seem smaller. Adverts lure us to further foreign desecrations. "Corsica in June. An assault on the senses..." "Lipsi, the wilder shores of Greece. Unspoilt, remote lovely ..." "Mongolia, the Genghis Khan trek."

Oh for those innocent days when our family away-from-it-all adventure involved no more than an 85-mile drive eastwards. On a limited budget, with one wage-earner and two young sons, the Yorkshire coast was the inevitable destination.

Year after year we rented a farm cottage at Boggle Hole, near Robin Hood's Bay. Those holidays were wonderful draughts of simple crystal-clear pleasure. Young son Ben would be up before dawn, bringing an 80-head herd of cattle down from the top field then helping with the milking. At the sea's edge there were dozens of rock pools, each one a fascinating miniature world inviting fresh inspection after every tide-flow. We went on long hikes to Ravenscar, fresh crab sandwiches in our knapsacks. There were highlight outings to Whitby and Scarborough.

Those earlier family outings to Scarborough's Peasholme Park, the intrepid canoe voyages round the boating lake, the intense battles on the putting green, stay as bright memories.


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