Over the last two decades I’ve lost count of the number of people who, unprovoked, are rather critical of their fellow hikers. It’s as if they have perfected the art of perambulation – and everyone else must therefore be doing it wrong.
These hikers tend to fall into two camps: Those who a) make fun of people who are going much slower than they are, completing only 8 miles per day while they cover 20; or conversely, b) those who are tackling only 8 miles per day, and mock those who cover 20 miles per day because, so they say, these athletes aren’t giving themselves enough time to truly appreciate the trail and all it has to offer.
The speed that one walks is only one of the areas in which people like to have a go. I have regularly receive brickbats from my fellow hikers because I like collecting the completion certificates and badges every time I finish a trail (even if I’ve done that trail several times before and write the book about it) or because I spend far too much time in cafes rather than actually on the footpath.
(I also get mocked because I look a bit of an idiot on the trail, with my backpack on my back, camera strapped to the front of me, less-than-flattering zip-off trousers and a T-shirt that does nothing to conceal my middle-aged paunch. Though to be fair, I probably deserve everything I get in this instance.)
Suffice to say, there is no right or way way to tackle a trail, and if you want to cover 20-30 miles per day because you main motivation is to challenge yourself physically and push your body to its very limits, well, your walking holiday is no less valid than your average ambler who pauses to sniff every flower and savour every view.
The trails are long enough to accommodate both viewpoints, and every sort of trekker, so rather than ridicule each other’s approaches, let’s maybe celebrate the similarities, and the fact that we’ve all chosen to tackle one of Britain’s lovely long-distance paths – and that, surely, is what matters.