Women Afoot With Lindsey Chadwick: Hiking Britain’s National Trails
Lindsey Chadwick chats to me for Women Afoot, a series of stories of solo long-distance hikers and backpackers from across the UK. Delve in for inspiration, tips and a great read!
Previous – Zoe Langley Wathen
“My proudest moment was on the Southern Upland Way. I passed a couple of shepherds – never the easiest people to impress – and we got chatting. When I told them I was walking across Scotland, they said I was “a tough lady”. I’ll take that!”
This is Lindsey Chadwick, one “tough lady” taking on Britain’s long distance trails, one hike at a time. So far she’s hiked 15: 11 national trails in England and Wales, and 4 of Scotland’s Great Trails. And when you’ve hiked this much of the UK there are bound to be tales to tell, whether it’s dealing with a fall and a broken wrist on the South West Coast Path or the kindness of strangers. Let’s meet Lindsey!
- 1: Meet Lindsey Chadwick
Early years, hiking today, long-distance trails, solo hiking, stormy weather and broken bones
- 2: Lindsey Recommends
Tips for beginners plus heaps of inspiration and where to Connect With Lindsey Chadwick
NB. All photographs are © Lindsey Chadwick (All Rights Reserved) and may not be used without permission
Meet Lindsey Chadwick
Lindsey Chadwick is based in London but has a hiking resume that has taken her from the far South West of England to the far north of Scotland. I asked her where it all began.
“When I was young, my mother couldn’t drive so we’d walk the two miles together to school. It was a lovely route across a park and a common and my mother and I would chat all the way. Happy times! I think my love of walking was born then and there.
“That said, I was actually far more interested in gymnastics and trampolining as a child than walking. In my 20s I became a passionate runner and did several marathons before realising I was spending far more time injured than actually running. I tried very hard to enjoy cycling but in the end, came back to walking.”
Now in her late 40’s she says,
“There’s just something about putting one foot in front of the other and taking in the world that “works” for me.
“I love the physical challenge of a 20 miler or steep mountain climb but mentally too, it’s a fantastic work-out: any significant hike always involves a huge amount of planning, mapping the route, organising equipment, sorting out the logistics.”
But as well as relishing in the physical and logistical challenges of a long-distance hike there are other encounters Lindsey says you might want to take into account:
“If you spend enough time outdoors, you’re bound to have a few adventures.
On my first day out on the South West Coast Path, I ended up walking across a nudist beach in full hiking gear: I didn’t know where to look!
“On another section, I was the one stripping down to my undies (and a pair of diamanté flip-flops!) to cross a flooded river. Fortunately, it was very early in the morning so I didn’t give too many other walkers a fright!”
It hasn’t passed my notice that most of Lindsey’s anecdotes are from the South West Coast Path! (This is the UK’s longest waymarked trail (630 miles) and Lindsey has completed over 300 miles so far.) Before we get to the ‘big one’ though, Lindsey shares more about her latest hiking project.
Long Distance Trails
Lindsey’s completed an impressive total of 15 long distance trails: 11 in England and Wales and 4 of Scotland’s Great Trails. She’s also begun section hiking the South West Coast Path (over 300 miles complete) and the Pennine Way (40 miles so far) bringing the total distance to a staggering 2,148 miles! She says though,
The North Downs Way will always have a special place in my heart as the first big trail I completed, but the one I’m most proud of is the Southern Upland Way.
“Sometimes called Scotland’s coast to coast, it’s a 215 mile trek from Portpatrick on the west coast to Cockburnspath on the east. Remote and rugged with relatively few facilities along the way, I wild camped it in September 2021. It was an extraordinary experience. Eventually I hope to complete the Cape Wrath Trail, supposedly Britain’s toughest hike.”
Right now she’s working on her ‘National Trails Project’, which is specifically to walk all 16 National Trails in England and Wales (11 down, 5 to go!) which takes up most of her spare time.
The National Trails Project – Accidents Waiting To Happen!
“The National Trails project came about by accident. My husband was busy with exams and I was looking for something to get me out of the house whilst he was studying. However, I soon came to realise how much I loved the freedom of walking alone, miles from anywhere, with nothing but the birds for company. It’s as much the mental freedom too.
“The trail doesn’t care how you look, what you earn, where you’re from”
One of the things Lindsey’s most enjoyed about the project is the chance to explore home:
“I don’t think there’s anywhere I’ve been in the UK which hasn’t surprised and delighted me. However, if I had to pick one location, it would be the far north west of Scotland. I’m a mountain girl at heart. But,
My favourite National Trail so far is the Cleveland Way
“The Cleveland Way runs from Helmsley to Filey and has something for everyone – Spectacular hills, dramatic coastline, beautiful villages, lonely moorland. At 109 miles, it’s also a perfect introduction to long distance hiking.”
The Highs And Lows Of Solo Hiking
My favourite solo adventures are long distance trails ideally with plenty of wild camping en route.
Plan a hike on Offa’s Dyke Path with my Backpacker’s Guide to Offa’s Dyke
Lindsey says she’s pretty much always walked alone, regardless of whether it’s a big thru hike or a short day trip. However, she admits
Although I was happy to do day walks on my own, it took me a while before I was brave enough to try thru hiking alone. I imagined all sorts of nightmare scenarios.
“Eventually I realised there’s always a reason for not doing something. It is possible that something might go wrong on the trail but it’s just as likely things might go right. Yes, there are bad folk out there, but there are also many wonderful people.
“I’ve been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of some remarkable acts of kindness: one lady even stopped her car to drive me around a flooded section of trail and this, despite the fact I was covered in mud.
“When things are going well,
I don’t think there’s anything to beat the feeling of being completely alone in nature.
“I love the silence, the isolation, the sense of escape. However, it gets a little more “interesting” when things go wrong. Minor dramas can sometimes be exciting – I got myself into this, how am I going to get myself out? But the major stuff is far harder to deal with when you’re alone.”
Stormy Weather And Broken Bones
I slipped and fell late one evening on a remote section of the South West Coast Path, breaking my wrist.
“There was no mobile signal and it was getting too dark to hike back to the nearest village. I decided to hole up in the tent until morning when I could safely go for help. Unfortunately, a big storm rolled in overnight.
“I was left battling the wind and the rain at 3 am, trying to shore up my tent one-handed. It definitely wasn’t my best hiking experience but it showed that we’re all capable of far more than we think, and it makes a great story to tell in the pub!”
Despite all the drama Lindsey insists that,
“Once you’ve survived your first night, you’ll never look back.”
I totally agree so I asked Lindsey for some tips for planning your first solo hike, which you can find on page 2. She also shared some other gems from finding inspiration to beating boredom on the trail. Read on to find out what they are!
NB. All photographs are © Lindsey Chadwick (All Rights Reserved) and may not be used without permission
Lindsey’s Top Tips And Inspiration
Tips For Beginners
Plan a hike on the South Downs Way – find out everything you need to know!
- Avoid getting lost. Download the OS Maps app. “For a small annual fee you get access to every map Ordnance Survey produces. You can plot and track your own routes, take compass bearings and get coordinates. More importantly, it has GPS tracking which doesn’t require a mobile signal. It gives you so much confidence about where you are and where you’re going.”
- Have a contingency plan. “Always let someone know where you’re going, the route you’re planning and when you expect to be back. Not only will this help keep you safe, it’ll give you peace of mind out on the trail.”
- Build up gradually. “The hills will always be there so you can take time to build up your confidence. My first few solo walks were all day hikes in the south east, in areas I knew relatively well and over relatively short distances. Ditto, my first wild camp was only a short walk from where I’d parked the car so I knew I could always escape to safety if required.”
How To Beat Trail Boredom
“Even the best long distance hikes will have some dull sections. These can be really tough when you’re all alone and realise you’re not half as good company as you might have thought,
I absolutely swear by Audible, the speaking book app.
“I find hearing another voice far better for battling loneliness than music; and there’s nothing like a really gripping story to make the miles disappear. I used to struggle to find time to read at home but now get through 3 – 4 books a month.”
- “When I was growing up, I was hugely inspired by Ffyona Campbell, the first woman to walk (almost!) around the world*. The idea that all you had to do was put on pair of shoes and the world could be yours was a complete revelation to me.
- “As a young adult, I was deeply affected by Jane Tomlinson’s story. Diagnosed with cancer aged 35, she was given weeks to live and sent home to die. Instead she spent the next 6 years undertaking a series of remarkable physical and sporting achievements, raising £1.85m for charity in the process. Never, ever give up.
- “We still often think of hiking as a young man’s game, but back in 1955, Emma Gatewood became the first woman ever to solo hike the Appalachian Trail, all 2190 miles of it! She was 67. You are never too old.
“*A footnote on Ffyona Campbell as the “first woman to walk around the world”: In 1996, two years after she completed the Challenge, Campbell admitted to accepting a lift over a short section of the American part of the trek as she had fallen pregnant. Although she subsequently went back to complete the missing miles, she nonetheless asked the Guinness Book of Records to remove her name as she felt she’d “cheated”. They refused her request.”
Groups For Walkers
“I’ve always walked solo. Initially, there wasn’t much choice. Most of my friends and family aren’t the outdoorsy type so it was either go alone or don’t go at all; but I quickly realised how much I enjoyed the time alone. If anything, learning to walk with others has been more of a “challenge”. I’d always shied away from group walks – would I keep up? would I like the other walkers? would they like me? – but having done a couple now, I’ve really enjoyed them. It’s a very different experience and having the company certainly makes the miles go quickly!”
Here are some of Lindsey’s recommendations if you’re looking for groups to walk with:
- The Long Distance Walkers Association (LDWA) “A group dedicated to the big milers. It’s worth the membership fee alone for its database of long distance paths. It also operates a number of League Tables (including the National Trails Register) to help keep you motivated.” And if you want to walk with others there are local walking groups and big challenge walks too.
- Adventure Queens “Social media groups by women, for women. A great place to get hints, tips and inspiration”. Follow the link to AQs website for links to their social media and local groups, including regular events all over the UK.
- Hikes of Surrey “If you’re based in south east England, I can’t recommend this guided walking group enough. Mike is funny, informative and hugely passionate about his adopted county. Walks are suitable for all abilities and always include a pub lunch.”
- “For a long time, I wanted to have a “Big Adventure®” but for one reason or another it never happened. Life kept getting in the way. So when Alastair Humphreys came along with his Micro-Adventures book and said it’s ok, sleeping in a field can be an adventure too, it made me realise adventure is everywhere. You just have to get outside to find it.”
- Shane O’Mara, In Praise of Walking: “Every reason you’ve ever needed to get off the couch and outdoors in one short little book.”
- 14 Peaks*: “The most extraordinary documentary I’ve watched in years, it’s the story of Sherpa Nimsdai Purja’s attempt to climb all 14 of the world’s highest peaks in one season. The mountaineering is remarkable, but the man all the more so. His passion, humour and humility are a true inspiration.”
(* This links to his website where you can find links to the film on Netflix as well as to his book Beyond Possible and more.)
Great tips aren’t they, well worth coming back to again and again, so why not bookmark the article so you can easily dip in? You can follow Lindsey online too.
Connect With Lindsey Chadwick
Lindsey’s a fantastic photographer (as you no doubt noticed!) and if you’re looking for trail inspiration you’ll find it in spades on her IG account:
Lindsey Chadwick on Instagram: @onthenationaltrail
A huge thanks to Lindsey for taking the time to share her hiking story. I hoped you’ve found it really inspiring and excited to plan your next adventure!
Before You Go
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Thanks so much, and until next time,
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