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Alone but not lonely on the West Highland Way

Alone but not lonely on the West Highland Way
Lynne Nieman
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Lynne Nieman

Lynne P Nieman is a personal travel planner and owner of Wander Your Way, a travel agency that specializes in planning customized independent trips to Europe.
Lynne is also a photographer, writer, runner, hiker and nature lover.
While she’s happiest in the mountains, she also loves the feeling of sand between her toes.
Lynne hasn’t met a French cheese she doesn’t like — nor an Italian wine or an Irish whiskey.
And she truly believes in the transformative power of travel — independent travel that connects the traveler to the locals.
You can also check her Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/wanderyourway) and Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/wanderyourway/)
Lynne Nieman
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I was doing it.

Finally, at the age of 51, I was going to tackle a long-distance trail.

I figured I better do it before my body tells me I can’t.

And I had settled on the West Highland Way in Scotland.

The Camino de Santiago in Spain was too long for the first go at this.

And while I was intrigued by Hadrian’s Wall in England, I wanted mountains.

I needed mountains.

After living in Colorado for 15 years, this was my happy place.

And now having lived back in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, I craved being in the mountains — and simply being in nature.

So the West Highland Way — and my desperately wanting to go to Scotland — was the logical choice.

Besides after seeing so many photos and hearing stories about it, I was obsessed with this trail!

Grappling with a loss

But I also knew as I approached the second anniversary of my mom’s passing that I needed this time to work through my grief.

You never stop grieving.

And the greater the love, the greater the loss.

I knew that walking 96 miles on my own surrounded by nature would help me process through the grief more — that it would be healing.

So I decided to walk the West Highland Way in 7 days which is the average time.

This meant I had one long day of 19 miles which kind of scared the shit out of me.

I hadn’t run a marathon in 8 years.

I’m pretty sure I hadn’t even walked more than about 12 miles in 8 years either.

But I was in good shape so I was going for it.

I wanted, and maybe even needed this challenge.

Walking the trail

Here’s the thing about the West Highland Way — while I was alone most of the walk, I never felt lonely.

I walked stretches where I saw quite a few people.

Then I walked parts of the trail where I didn’t see a soul.

I met other walkers along the way.

Some folks I only had a passing conversation with.

Other people I befriended and walked with for a brief time.

I saw groups of folks walking together.

And I saw solo walkers — both men and women.

I talked to Mom a lot along the way.

And I always felt her with me — in my heart.

Each morning as I set out I thanked her for giving me life and helping to shape me into the woman I was today — a woman who could walk the West Highland Way solo and travel solo as well.

I thanked her for being my mom.

I’d tear up at times as I talked to her.

I miss her.

And on Day 5 — my 19 mile day — as I walked across the starkly beautiful Rannoch Moor, I sobbed.

I broke down and cried because I miss my mom so much.

But it was cleansing as I walked through that gorgeous moor, the wind drying away my tears.

And as I finished that long day, I felt good.

Drained and very tired, but good.

The West Highland Way trail

The trail itself is not very difficult.

The first couple of days are not too strenuous although you’ll have to go up the shoulder of Conic Hill on Day 2.

Day 3 on the 7-day program might be the most challenging.

I call it the roller coaster ride around Loch Lomond as there is some scrambling over rocks with the lake directly to your left.

One slip and you may take an unplanned swim!

In some ways, it was more mentally exhausting than physically exhausting.

I think the best thing about this trail is the varied terrain and scenery.

There is time walking through pasture land, trekking through moors and up hills, and skirting about lochs.

The scenery is truly stunning.

And for someone like me who seems to bore easily, the changing scenery kept me interested.

The people you meet along the way

On my final day, I decided to walk with a couple of guys I had met earlier in the week.

They had joined up with a third man.

And while I kind of wanted to walk alone, I also felt I needed to spend some time with people.

And I liked the 2 guys I had met — Andy and Phil — a Scotsman and an Englishman.

This is the other wonderful gift of the West Highland Way — kind people.

I knew that if I started off walking with these 3 men but told them I wanted to walk alone after a few miles, they wouldn’t be offended.

This is how things roll on the West Highland Way.

There is a lot of respect for your fellow walkers.

But I walked the final 15 miles with them — talking about life, sharing stories and making new friends.

Andy, the Scotsman, and I have remained friends.

He said to me, “I’m so impressed by all the ladies out here walking the trail on their own.”

There were a few women I saw along the trail who were indeed walking solo.

I was proud of them and to be one of them.

While solo travel has certainly empowered me, I feel even more empowered having walked the West Highland Way on my own.

And I know my mom would be proud.

I can hear her say, “Good job, Little Bit!”

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