“Man’s real home is not a house, but the Road, and life itself is a journey to be walked on foot.” Bruce Chatwin
Walking for a longer-distance can bring clarity of mind, a reconnection with nature, and a sense of well-being that does not emerge with a short stroll. It takes time to settle into your physical body, and walking an ancient path can help take you into that deeper state. In this episode, I discuss our mutual love of long-distance walking with Holly Worton.
Holly Worton is the author of 17 nonfiction and self-help books around business mindset and personal growth, as well as long-distance walking and the wisdom of nature. She’s also the host of the Into The Woods Podcast.
- How long walks help us disconnect from our wired world
- Planning and navigating the South Downs Way
- Bucket list long walks
- Tips for avoiding hiking mistakes
- Preparing for all kinds of weather
- Dealing with fears and having the right mindset
- The restorative powers of nature
- Recommended books about walking
You can find Holly Worton at HollyWorton.com
Transcript of the interview
Joanna: Holly Worton is the author of 17 nonfiction and self-help books around business mindset and personal growth, as well as long-distance walking and the wisdom of nature. She’s also the host of the Into The Woods Podcast. Welcome, Holly.
Holly: Thank you for having me.
Joanna: It’s great to talk to you.
Tell us a bit more about your travel background as you have lived and worked all over the world.
Holly: Yes, I have. I’ve lived more than I’ve traveled, because I went to these countries and lived there for many years, but didn’t necessarily travel that much.
I grew up in California, had never been outside the United States until I was 21 years old and I went to study abroad in Spain. And that was when I went, ‘Oh, my goodness, there’s this whole world out there.’ It’s like I knew it was on the map, but I hadn’t experienced it.
I fell in love with Spain and I just fell in love with… I’m getting chills as I tell you this, I just, I loved it. And when it was time to go back to California, I didn’t want to go. And I did because I had to finish school. And so I finished university and then between my undergrad and grad school, I went to Costa Rica and I taught English.
Then I went back and then I studied abroad in Mexico when I was in grad school, and then quit grad school to move back to Mexico where I ended up living for a total of eight years. Then I moved to Argentina for five years and now I’ve been here in the U.K. for 10 years.
Joanna: Wow, that’s kind of crazy. I love Spain as well. I feel such an affinity with Spain. Even though I’m English, obviously, I feel like the English culture is quite a long way from Spanish culture. Like Spain, the U.K. is quite different culturally.
How do you find it here as someone who’s lived in Mexico and Argentina?
Holly: I love it here. I had never been here before we moved here. We just sold everything and packed everything up and moved, as one does. But the second I got here, I just felt in my gut that this was home, I love it here so much. I just feel like this is my place in the world.
I love all these other countries, I loved everywhere that I’ve lived. I’ve been very fortunate that this is my place in the world. I love it here so much.
Joanna: Do you know why?
Holly: Again, it’s like a gut feeling thing. I could tell you all of the logical things like it’s really beautiful, and it’s really safe to go hiking and camping on my own, which I love doing. And the people are nice and I speak the language.
It’s really nice to speak English again. I didn’t realize how it’s always just a little bit stressful to not be speaking your native language which, for 13 years, I pretty much didn’t speak English. So it’s just been nice to speak English again.
Joanna: Is your partner English?
Holly: No, he’s from Argentina, so we speak Spanish at home.
Joanna: How interesting. You’re both a long way from your original home, which is so cool. So, we’re going to talk about your long-distance walking particularly today and, of course, you mentioned that it’s safe to camp and hike alone in the U.K., and I do it, too.
What makes a walk long distance?
Holly: Especially in this country because it’s such a small country, we’re on an island that we don’t have the super long-distance trails like you get in the United States, for example.
To me, a long-distance trail is anything more than a day. A day is a day hike, but longer than that, it’s a multiple-day hike, which could be considered long distance. Certainly, for me, the National Trails are long distance because that takes several days to complete. So, I guess everyone has their own definition of it. But for me, it’s anything longer than a day.
Joanna: I’m asking purely out of a selfish point of view because I’m trying to calculate some of these walks. Going, ‘Mmm, I kind of know what I can do on the flat,’ but what do you normally cover in a day? How many kilometers do you do in a day?
Holly: I would say, when I’m doing something like a week-long walk like the South Downs Way or the Ridgeway, I’m probably doing at least 10 or 12 miles a day. So what’s that, 16, 19 kilometers?
The thing is, the very first thing that I learned when I walked the South Downs Way, which is my first long-distance trail, which is 100 miles, it takes a toll on your body and that toll accumulates as the week goes on. So, don’t plan any long days towards the end of your journey because that might be extra painful. And just be aware that your body will get more and more tired as you go. So that’s something to take into consideration.
Joanna: Do the longer days near the beginning.
Why do you like walking so far?
Holly: I love being alone in nature. I love the meditative aspect of walking. England is a fairly populated country, but somehow when you get out there, it feels very remote. Even trails like the South Downs Way, I can go for hours without seeing another person.
And I just love that magical feeling of being alone in nature, and getting from one place to the other and carrying everything on my back. And yes, I’m staying at B&Bs. And I’ve got a bed for the night, so it’s not like I’m camping. But it’s just, I love carrying all my stuff. Like I have all the stuff I need in my backpack. And it’s just, it feels like an adventure.
Joanna: My highest value is freedom, and I feel, when I do these longer walks, there’s almost, it takes too much time, normally, to move away from email and the news and all the things that we have to do in our lives, and yet what I find after, like you say, there’s 20 kilometers, 25 kilometers, I think in kilometers.
After 25 kilometers, I pretty much don’t care about the rest of what’s going on in the world.
It’s almost like, because you’re dwelling in your physical body so much, you can move away from the other stuff.
Holly: Yes, absolutely. And I just find that just that act of walking just helps clear my head. Sometimes, yes, things come up. And I think that’s another thing I really like about long-distance walking is that I get creative ideas pop into my head.
Other stuff pops into my head, things that I’m worried about or things that maybe I haven’t given the time and space throughout my day-to-day life.
So it’s like things come up and I can kind of deal with them or think about how I might solve that when I get home, that kind of thing. But it’s like I have the time and space for thoughts that I might not give attention to during a normal day.
Joanna: I agree. So let’s talk about some of those walks specifically because obviously, we have listeners from all over the world.
You mentioned the South Downs Way. Tell us a bit more about that. Where is it? And what are some of the highlights that stand out for you?
Holly: The South Downs Way is a 100-mile trail, 160 kilometers, in South East England. It goes from Winchester in the west to Eastbourne in the east, and it goes through rolling hills of farmland, and fields, and sheep, and trees, and forests, and it’s just absolutely gorgeous. It’s my favorite.
I walked it in 2015 and then I walked it again last year. And it’s just gorgeous. You get beautiful views. You’re going up and down hills and you’re up along a ridge quite often. And you’ve got beautiful views all around, you’ve got views to the sea at some points, you’ve got views of other hills and just farmland and beautiful fields, and it’s just glorious. It’s one of my favorite places.
Joanna: How do you navigate? What are the markers along the way? Because I know that many people feel like, ‘Oh, but what if I get lost or…?’
How did you do the navigation?
Holly: That’s the good thing about National Trails is that you don’t need navigation skills. I have done navigation training, I’ve done the NNAS with the National Navigation Award Scheme, I’ve done the straight to Silver and I’ve done the Gold.
I haven’t passed my Gold assessment yet, but I’ve done the training so I know how to navigate using a map, and a compass, and contours, and all that good stuff, but you don’t need that on a National Trail because they’re very well signposted.
As long as you can read a sign that says ‘South Downs Way, that way,’ you can follow the sign. And I think that’s one of the things that, for me, is so appealing because I can just immerse myself in the experience and the views and not have to worry about navigating. I just follow the signs, and I just keep walking.
Joanna: And I wanted to add that there’s an OS Maps app for the computer and for the phone, which I’ve got recently. And you can obviously log in online and you can download the GPS coordinates for things, you can upload them to your phone. And then if you get lost, you just turn on your phone, and it’s like, ‘You are here.’
Holly: Yes. It’s like Google Maps, but for remote locations and trails.
Joanna: Yes. And it is really good. So, you didn’t need to use that at all?
Holly: I did not need to use it at all. But I do use the OS Maps app for just general hiking and that kind of thing, but I did not need to use it at all. Yes, there were a couple of times I got lost but that was because I did not pay attention to the signs.
Joanna: You’re just busy having a good time! That’s awesome. And then you mentioned staying in B&Bs, which I love to hear that because I am also someone, I don’t like camping. I love the walking, but I really want a nice shower. I want a bed. I don’t like people snoring, all of this stuff. You’ve got to pick your poison, really.
How do you plan your trip? Do you plan around the accommodation? How do you do that?
Holly: What I do is I usually get the guidebook for my trail, start planning, start seeing what are the common ways of splitting up this trail into different days. And then I start booking accommodation.
I found that in this country, you need to book at least three months in advance to make sure that you get the places where you want to stay. Because a lot of times you’ll be staying in really small villages where there are just one or two little places to stay and if they’re booked up, you’re going to have to rearrange your walk.
So if you book three months in advance, you can pretty much find the places you want to go. I do that and I find places to stay, I like having a private room, as you said, I don’t want to be in a room with other people. Might be my age showing, but after I’ve been hiking a long day, I just want to be able to sleep.
I do love camping and I think next year I will be moving more into backpacking and wild camping up in Scotland when I walk my long-distance trails, but up until now, it’s been very B&B-focused.
Joanna: And also, of course, you’re a writer as well.
Holly: Yes. I write a book about each of my trails. And what I do is I bring my iPad Mini with a keyboard. And every evening after I finish my dinner, I sit with my pint of Guinness, and I type up everything that happened during the day, just all the things that I saw and all the things that I experienced and the inner journey and all the stuff that was coming up for me emotionally and mentally.
I write that all out and I pour it out and then I make notes about historical research that I might need to do. And by the time I come home, I’ve got about 20,000 words already written, and then I just need to flesh it out and edit it and spruce it up.
Joanna: I love that. You mentioned The Ridgeway as well. I have done the Ridgeway as part of the Race To The Stones. So, over 24, 48 hours, whatever it was. Just a weekend. And that was pretty hardcore, and so I remember bits of it, but a lot of it was quite painful.
Tell us about the Ridgeway and why that’s so special.
Holly: I remember when you did the Ridgeway. I walked the Ridgeway in 2016. And I’m walking it again next month, so I can update my book.
The Ridgeway’s another one that I just absolutely love. It’s very different in its western half and its eastern half. So the eastern half is very foresty and lots of trees. It’s in the Chilterns.
In the western half, you’re going along a ridge as the name would imply. And it’s very open and exposed to the elements which could be rough in the summer, or the wind. But you’re going past all of these ancient historical sites.
You’ve got long barrows, and you’ve got round barrows, which are Iron Age burial mounds, and you’ve got fields of burial mounds, it’s just so rich and you’ve got Iron Age hill forts, and it’s just, oh, I don’t know, there’s just something very, just an ancient, wild feel to it.
Joanna: I think it is one of the oldest walks, isn’t it?
Holly: It is. It’s said to date back to about 5,000 years. It was one of the foot highways in ancient Britain.
Joanna: Which is very cool. I was going to also ask because I went to your walking bucket list on your website. I’m going to do that because I also have bucket lists for these things. And you were considering the Camino Frances, and still thinking about it.
What are some of the other walks on your bucket list?
Holly: I was supposed to walk the Camino Portuguese this year and Camino Ingles, but, of course, COVID happened so that got cancelled. So I think I’m going to boot those until 2022 because next year is a holy year and I do not want to walk the Camino during the holy year.
Joanna: Exactly. Just tell people what that means. Why is it a holy year?
Holly: The Camino de Santiago has various variations depending on where you start. There are about I think, 15 or 17 or probably more different paths to Santiago. And when Santiago’s saint day falls on a Sunday, which is obviously once every seven years, it’s an extra big event and more people than ever, like exponential numbers of people hike the various Caminos, to Santiago.
That means that hostels and accommodations are going to be overcrowded and there’s going to be tons of people on the trail and I like to avoid that.
Joanna: Even with some of these, the Via de la Plata which goes up through Spain, I have looked at that and I’ve just gone, ‘I would love to do that,’ but it is like a combination of it’s not developed enough. So, have you looked at that one?
Holly: I have looked at that one. You’ve probably just given me another thing to add to my list because…
Joanna: It’s super long.
Holly: It is, and there are other things that I want to do first and the Camino Frances, I’ve been wanting to do since 1996.
Joanna: Me, too! Absolutely, I might see you in one of their churches, I’ll just wave at you. We’re both introverts, aren’t we? We’re just going to wave, ‘Hi.’
I was trying to think about this the other day, like why is it, because I’m not a Christian, why is it that a pilgrimage is something that I have thought about for more than half my lifetime, I’ve thought about this walk. And that in itself will probably become the book.
On your website, you say, ‘I almost gave up and quit at one point. I almost quit long-distance walking for good.’ What happened?
Holly: That was when I was walking the South Downs Way. That was my very first trail. And it was just harder than I thought, it was so hot. I know people don’t think of Britain as being hot and sunny. But something happened that week and we had record heat levels. I think that was where we got, like, to 39 degrees in one day and the entire rest of the week was, like, 36 and up.
It was so hot and I was out in the sunshine walking every day. I had to carry tons of water with me because there weren’t water taps along some of the portions of the trail. I almost ran out of water one day and had to make a four-mile detour. It was just rough.
So lesson learned, I don’t walk long-distance trails in the summer anymore. But it got to the point where I was just so hot and so tired. And it was so many days of being hot and tired. And then I got lost and I couldn’t find my place where I was staying and I broke down and had a meltdown on the trail, I just started sobbing.
And then I couldn’t get the shower to work when I got into my B&B and then I cried again. It was just one of those days where everything had accumulated and I just thought, ‘Maybe I’m not cut out for this,’ and then I just realized I need to troubleshoot and figure out how to remove the painful aspects of the journey.
Joanna: What are some of the other painful aspects that you have figured out that might help other people?
Holly: I actually just wrote a blog post on this called Hiking Mistakes.
Joanna: Awesome, tell us a few of them.
Holly: Always take off your shoes and socks when you rest. I have learned to rest early and often. So rather than pushing myself, I like to enjoy the journey. I stop every hour, hour and a half, take my shoes off, take my socks off, let my feet dry out, and then I swap my socks.
I use two pairs of socks each day. So I’ve always got a relatively dry pair of socks. And what that does is it helps to prevent blisters, because blisters really don’t make me happy and they can really just ruin my mood while walking. So I found that to be really, really useful.
And along the lines of resting early and often is go at my own pace. When you’re walking alone, you can go at your own pace. You don’t need to arrive at your destination by a certain time. Just take your time, stop at a bench, no one’s checking out how much you’re pushing yourself, or how many breaks you’ve taken. Just enjoy the journey.
I think that’s been another huge lesson for me because in the beginning, it was like, ‘I have to get to my destination before dark,’ which is ridiculous because when you’re walking in the summer, you’ve got so many hours of daylight in this country. I could roll up by 10 p.m. and I’d still have daylight.
Take your time, go at your own pace, enjoy the journey.
Don’t walk in the summer, which is a personal thing for me. I can’t handle the heat.
And water, water is such a delicate balance. If you know you’ve got water taps along the way, then you can carry less water because you can fill up. But at the same time, if it’s really, really hot, you’re going to need to carry extra water and that’s heavy which is going to put an added toll on your feet and your back, and that kind of thing.
Also, check for events. A lot of times when I’ve been out walking long-distance trails, I’ve kind of coincide with a running event or, which is kind of nice sometimes but not always. There was one time I was walking the Wey South Path and I coincide with this horse race event.
Joanna: That’s not fun.
Holly: No, it wasn’t. So the whole time, I was looking over my shoulder to see these horses coming up alongside me. And it’s a very narrow trail. It’s right-of-way, obviously, but it’s very narrow and so I had to jump into the bushes so the horses could go by, but it was like constant horses. It was like every five minutes there would be a horse behind me. And so I learned to check for events so I don’t have to run away from horses.
Joanna: That’s good. Obviously, there’ll be fewer during the week so that would be an issue more at the weekend, I think. Even these long-distance walks that I’ve done, and the races as such, and you do it with a lot of other people, it is kind of crazy. You wouldn’t want to be doing some of them on the days when there are all of these people kind of streaming past.
But on the weather, you said you don’t like walking in the sun, but everyone thinks Britain is just pouring rain all the time. In fact, as I’m speaking now, it is pouring rain.
Holly: It is, yes.
Joanna: What’s your wet weather gear?
Holly: I never go on a walk without having my waterproof trousers and my waterproof jacket. Even if it’s the summer, even if it says it’s going to be sunny all day, I do not trust that, I always carry waterproofs, because there have been times where I went out for a day walk with nothing but a bottle of water and I got caught out in hail. So, I’ve learned. I always carry waterproofs.
Joanna: Right. You are actually English now, then. That’s what I do, too. My husband’s a New Zealander and he still hasn’t learned the lesson.
Holly: Oh, my.
Joanna: He just has not got it.
The other thing I was going to ask you, do you walk with poles at all?
Holly: Yes, I have Pacerpoles and I absolutely love them.
Joanna: Explain what they are.
Holly: They’re slightly different from your average walking pole. They were designed by this osteopath up in Windermere, I think. And the grip on them is a bit different than a normal walking pole, it’s very ergonomic. And they help me kind of keep my rhythm, and keep my posture, and keep my pace.
I’m not very graceful. I tend to kind of trip and stumble sometimes. So if you trip and stumble, the poles keep you on your feet rather than face-planting on the ground. They just really, I think, make the walking and especially long-distance walking so much easier.
Joanna: I think there are actually studies where they take a certain percentage of weight. It’s not loads of weight, but it’s enough weight that it just lessens the impact on your legs a little bit.
Holly: Yes, and it just really helps me keep my form and keep my back straight.
Joanna: Do you find that your fingers swell up if your arms are by your sides for too long?
Holly: Yes, sausage fingers.
Joanna: Even if I go for a walk for just a couple hours now, I end up kind of hooking my thumbs into my straps of my little day pack because I feel my hands get swollen. I find walking with poles stops that happening.
Holly: Absolutely. I’ve never had a problem with swollen fingers when I walk with poles.
Joanna: It’s funny all these things, isn’t it, that you learn. Those are some of the practical things.
What are some of the mindset shifts you had to make or things where you were like, ‘I just need to get over that fear’?
Holly: I don’t think I had any fears about long-distance walking, because I feel really safe in this country. So I don’t have fears about walking alone.
I have such a big fear about running out of water, which I think is why I panicked so much, that one day that I was about, and I didn’t even run out of water, I was about to run out of water. I knew I didn’t have enough to get to my destination, which is why I made that detour. I think I’m just overly cautious with hydration. And I guess that’s probably one of my biggest fears.
However, I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries lately about ultra-runners, and was listening to this one with Courtney Dauwalter and she said that she had run out of water and she still had, I don’t know, like 20 miles to go. And she was like, ‘Well, it was just mind over matter. I knew I didn’t have water, I wouldn’t have water.’ And you just have to say, ‘This is what it is,’ and don’t let it get the worst of you.
Joanna: It’s interesting, and I think, obviously, our bodies tell us we need something before we’re really at the end. One fear that some people have is toilets.
Holly: Oh, yeah.
Joanna: Is it just about finding bushes along the route?
Holly: Learn where the bushes are, except the South Downs Way doesn’t have a lot of bushes. So, for me, it was like, learn how to just go in the middle of the trail and just keep looking both directions in case a bicycle comes up upon you. No one’s ever surprised me in the middle of a trail.
But it’s actually quite shocking, because I’ve gotten to the point where I just go when I need to go, even if there’s not a bush, because sometimes you could be walking hours without a good bush to hide behind. So you’ve just got to get used to it.
Joanna: We’re talking about practical things, so I will mention that there is a thing called a Shewee, have you heard of it?
Holly: Oh, yes. I have, but I’ve also heard it’s really tricky to get that positioned properly. And I’ve heard lots of stories of women peeing all over themselves because they didn’t use the Shewee properly.
Joanna: In case people don’t realize, it’s something that you can stand up as a woman and pee like a man with this kind of device.
Holly: It’s like a funnel.
Joanna: It’s a posh funnel. My Mum went on the Silk Road. She’s been in Uzbekistan and she was in Egypt. And she was in places where she didn’t feel so comfortable with the bathroom. She would just go into those stalls or whatever, and she’d still use the Shewee. She absolutely loves it and she’s in her 70s.
So I thought I’d mention it because I feel like it’s something that is, on the one hand, so simple, and yet that can stop people going on a long-distance walk because of fear of embarrassment or fear of not being able to go or… These things can stop us so easily, I think.
Holly: Absolutely. I used to run guided walks for women here in the South of England and I would always have to be paying attention to how much water they were drinking because I could tell that they were purposely dehydrating themselves so they wouldn’t have to go behind a bush. And so it was like, ‘When was the last time you drank water? Have you had water?’ Because I know that women are very hesitant to pee in the wild.
Joanna: Well, there we go. We just have to get over it, I think. But it is interesting how the different physical challenges appear. You mentioned the feet there. Do you wear shoes or boots?
Holly: It depends on what time of the year it is and it depends on the weather. If it’s winter, or if it’s raining, I wear boots. If it’s the other three seasons, or if it’s dry, I wear shoes.
Joanna: And I think some people might think that, oh, you need to get these boots and wear them in for weeks on end. Things are quite different now, aren’t they? You can get more modern boots.
Holly: I would still break in boots before doing the Camino or any long-distance trail just to make sure that they are a good fit for my feet and they are kind of softened up, but yes, you don’t need to break them in for weeks at a time.
Joanna: I remember when I was a Girl Guide when I was, maybe 11 years old and the leaders used to have these really old school leather boots just took a lot of preparation. But now, you’re right, obviously, you would never just start off with a new pair of boots, but equally, it doesn’t take so long, I think, to wear in your gear.
Holly: I agree, things have really come a long way, I think, in the last, I don’t know, 20 years, probably.
Joanna: And then coming back to things that people might be afraid of, you’ve mentioned that you feel safe walking alone.
Why do you like walking alone so much? And how is it different to when you do walk with others?
Holly: I think it’s because it gives me that time and space for my thoughts and my creativity and my ideas to bubble up. And on the other hand, it also gives space for other darker stuff to bubble up and so you can take a look at it and deal with it.
Also, I’m an introvert. I just really like being alone. I’m an only child, I didn’t have brothers and sisters growing up. So, being alone is kind of my default. I love being with people, but I really like being alone. So, that’s why I like being alone.
But also being with other people is great because you share the experience with other people and you can have conversations and have interesting conversations about things that might not come up if you were in an urban environment or a normal environment.
However, when I am walking a long-distance trail, I do like to walk alone because I experience more of the place. I remember the last time I started walking by South Downs Way. I started out walking with this guy and we were talking, and then I could tell that we both kind of wanted to be alone. So, he stopped to fill up his water bottle and I went on.
And I realized how I couldn’t remember the last mile and a half of the trail that I’d been walking with him because we were walking and talking and it was like I lost track of everything that was around me.
Joanna: Because your focus was on that person as opposed to the surroundings. That’s really interesting.
And then you’ve obviously written books about trees and the wisdom of trees, and also your books. I’m reading the South Downs Way one, lots of details about nature.
Even if the walk itself is physically difficult and we feel tired, how is it also restorative to be in nature?
Holly: From a mental and emotional perspective, I think it really helps us to slow down, I think, for a lot of us, myself, for sure. Like my normal daily pace is just really, like, I’m always doing something. I’m working on this and working on that. I time block my calendar and move from one thing to the other.
And yes, I take breaks but it’s like I’m always doing, doing, doing. And of course, when you’re walking, you’re walking, but your head has more space and I think it can be really restorative to give yourself that mental break.
And of course, give yourself that mental break from electronics. You can take your phone, of course, that’s a good thing to have for safety, and you can share your Instagram pictures on it but if you can get out into nature and try not to spend a lot of time on your phone, it just gives your mind a break that you don’t get during your normal week.
Joanna: I agree. I found during this pandemic, we’re recording this in August 2020 when the pandemic is still on around the world, and I was so angry at the beginning. Like you, I’m a big traveler and so very angry that it had taken away the things that I obviously took for granted.
My anger at the pandemic dissipated by walking along the canal every day for months and seeing, in nature, the changes and the berries and the cygnets were born and the ducklings and then they grow up, and the changes in the trees, and it just gives so much perspective and feeling small in a way that is a good thing as opposed to feeling insignificant.
Holly: It’s like they say, ‘This too shall pass.’
Nature has its cycles, and we have our cycles, and you can see the changes of the seasons as you’re walking. One trail is not the same in spring, summer, winter, fall.
Joanna: And actually, it’s funny because you’ve said you’ve done the South Downs Way twice. And you do the same thing again. And that’s something I used to think, ‘Oh, I don’t want to go to the same place twice.’ And now I feel like having walked literally hundreds of times along the same path this summer, I feel like actually going to the same place again in different times of the year. It gives you a different perspective, right?
Holly: Absolutely. And I think it gives you a completely different perspective, not just from the seasons, but you’re in a different place when you walk it again.
And it was funny because I found myself, as I was walking the South Downs Way for the second time, remembering what I had been thinking about at certain points in the trail, which was very strange. That never happens to me in normal life, but it was like, I remember walking by something and being like, ‘Oh, I remember I was thinking about such and such a thing as I passed this five years ago, four years ago.’ So, yeah, it’s very interesting.
Joanna: Maybe it’s also because you wrote about it and you embedded that memory in a certain way, but it is fascinating.
And then I wanted to ask because you have your wonderful podcast, Into The Woods, and you have an episode about visiting sacred sites. And, of course, you walk through Avebury stone circles on the Ridgeway walk.
Tell us about stone circles and why you’re drawn to them.
Holly: Well, they are, I think, sacred sites. My spiritual path is Druidry, so it’s very much linked to this land and the ancient sacred sites of this land, so that’s one level of it.
But also, I’m just so fascinated by these places where ancient people went through such great effort to create these stone circles and other sites like West Kennet Long Barrow which is very near Avebury, which is one of my favorite places. I absolutely love that site. Windmill Hill.
There are so many sacred sites in the Avebury area to visit and I feel a very special energy in those places. I think there’s power spots, energy spots. And I think that’s why those things were built there.
Joanna: I just recorded an episode about Bath, where I live. And one of the ideas is that the ley lines of energy go through the sacred sites and Bath has, is a sacred spring originally to the Pagan goddess, the water goddess, and then the Romans took it and then they built a church over these sacred sites.
Thousands of years of a sacred site, but it’s man-made, so I almost feel like the stone circles are a sacred site. Yes, they’re man-made because nature didn’t put those rocks there, but equally, they’re not like a medieval abbey.
Holly: Well, they’re pre-Christian and they just have such a wild feel to them.
Joanna: I have been to Avebury a number of times, but by the time I walked there after the Ridgeway, I was not so enamored of much, I just wanted to sit down.
Any other sacred sites that you particularly think are worth visiting for people?
Holly: I used to say Stonehenge didn’t have that feeling that Avebury has. And certainly, it’s a very touristy place. And during most visits, you can’t touch the stones. But I’ve been there a couple of times for ceremonies with my Druid Order, where they allow you to be among the stones, and I could really feel the energy of the place. And I can feel that same energy when I’m walking in the Stonehenge area.
There are a lot of places you can walk near Stonehenge. There are lots of other round barrows, and there’s actually a whole line of round barrows very near to Stonehenge, and I feel such a special energy in the land around that site. So I would say, don’t discount Stonehenge just because it’s so touristy. There are a lot of places in the area where you can walk and still get that special feeling.
Joanna: I’ve been a number of times. Once I was there, and there weren’t many people there and there was a storm coming. And then this, I don’t know if it was swifts or swallows but the murmuration where they flock in these strange shapes, and that they were flocking above the stones.
And that moment, I was like, ‘Whoa, okay. That’s crazy.’ And it just felt, it did feel like a very natural, energetic moment that I was privileged to witness. I haven’t seen that kind of murmuration too many times in real life and I always feel it’s very special to see because it’s so unusual when they make those shapes in the air.
Joanna: Anyway, we could talk forever about this, but we’re running out of time.
Can you recommend a few books about walking long-distance or the practice of walking?
Holly: This year during the pandemic, I was feeling very sad about not being able to do my walks. So I started reading a lot more about walking. I read this book about the Pacific Crest Trail called Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart and it’s by a woman named Carrot Quinn.
I think Carrot is her trail name, not her real name, but it’s a fantastic book about her personal journey of walking the Pacific Crest Trail and that is one trail that I feel really drawn to. I can’t imagine having the time in my life to do it, but we’ll see.
I loved reading about her journey. I love imagining those landscapes and, I don’t know, it’s just one of my obsessions. So, that’s one.
Robert Twigger released this book this year called Walking The Great North Line. And the Great North Line is a degree of longitude. I think it’s 1 degree, 50 West up through Britain. And it passes through a lot of ancient stone circles and ancient sacred sites.
It’s something that he just kind of came across after looking at maps. And he made up this journey on his own and walked the trail, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends. I’ve really enjoyed that, too, because he goes through Avebury and a lot of the places that I really enjoy. So I loved reading about that strange connection that he put together. So that’s another one.
And then Andrew Bowden, who is known as the ‘Rambling Man’ on his blog, does a series of eBooks about all of the walks that he does. I love all of his books, but one of the ones that I really loved was The Secret Coast to Coast: Walking Scotland’s Southern Upland Way, which is a trail that I really want to do next year. It’s about two weeks coast to coast in Southern Scotland. And that does involve wild camping which I’m really excited about.
Joanna: We should say wild camping is when there is no campsite.
Holly: Yes. You’re just in the middle of nowhere.
Joanna: Just sleeping. I think it’s great because it feels like you’re pushing your boundaries. There’s the boundary when you first do anything that’s a multi-day walk, but then going from the B&B, whatever, to wild camping is, I think, taking it another level.
Holly: I absolutely agree. And then the two trails that I really want to do next year are both in Scotland and they both involve wild camping and they’re both longer than what I’m used to. I haven’t confirmed what I’m doing when but both of the trails that I want to do are a significant kind of step up from my current experience with long-distance walking.
Joanna: Oh, great. That’s a good way to end because, people listening, you don’t have to start with the scariest walk. Start with something where you spend one night out somewhere, stay in a hotel even or a B&B, whatever. And over time, think about what else you want to do. It is addictive, isn’t it?
Holly: It absolutely is addictive. And there are so many easy ways to start out small. A lot of people don’t carry all their stuff on their backs, they get transport for their luggage. So you can do that, too, and you can just carry a tiny day pack. There are so many different ways to make it easier your first time around.
Joanna: Exactly, brilliant.
Where can people find you and your books and your podcast online?
Holly: Everything is pretty much in one central hub. It’s hollyworton.com, and that’s ‘Holly’ like the tree, hollyworton.com. And I’ve got my podcast on there, all of my books, blog posts. I’m blogging a lot lately and I’ve just been loving it, so everything’s on there.
Joanna: Fantastic. Well, thanks so much for your time, Holly. That was great.
Holly: Thanks for having me.