Wilderness Wales


Why Do You Walk?

What’s your main reason for going out walking? Is it to get somewhere? To conquer a mountain peak? To exercise? To take photographs? To study plant life, birds, rocks or weather? To camp wild? To get to that crag you want to climb? To explore new territory? To escape civilisation? Or something else entirely?

There are myriad reasons for going out walking. I doubt that anyone does it simply to get somewhere. I’m sure we all know that it’s the journey that’s important, not the destination (unless of course, you just can’t wait to get to the pub at the end of the day), but what is it about the journey that you enjoy so much? What motivates you to go out there and keep going out there?

For me it’s a mixture of many of the reasons mentioned above, but it’s hard to say which is the most important. Obviously photography is my main reason these days, but it didn’t start that way. I didn’t start out as a photographer who decided to photograph landscapes, I started out as a walker who took up photography simply to capture images of the places I visited.

At first I had no intention of creating great photos, I just wanted a simple record of places that I’d been, snaps if you like. Of course, over time that simple desire developed into a passion, if you’ll excuse the pun. But my point here is that I don’t think of myself as a photographer that shoots landscapes, I’m a walker who carries a camera. It’s the landscape that interest me, not the photography per se (although a certain technical knowledge is obviously essential to capture landscapes at their best).

Escape from Civilisation

Going back to the beginning, I guess my first motivation was to escape from civilisation. I’ve never been a great fan of civilisation and the mess that humans have made of this world.  I’ve never been too fond of the artificial world that others have created for me to live in, and the arbitrary rules and regulations that they’ve imposed on me. While some enjoy architecture and think cities are beautiful places, I consider buildings to be ugly monstrosities, with their simplistic and repetitive geometric shapes. Roads, cars and all the other trappings of civilisation are visually repulsive to me.

It’s the chaos of nature that I find beautiful, the seemingly random and unstructured mess of the natural world, which nevertheless contains a complex underlying structure. The complexity of that structure fascinates me. It never ceases to amaze me how attractive that natural “mess” can look, compared to say, a landscaped garden. When humans impose neatness and order onto nature, the result always looks inferior. In the same way, the regulated lifestyle of the civilised human is an unnatural imposition on the world, which clashes with the cycles and rhythms of nature.

The bottom line is that when I visit the “wilderness” in order to escape from civilisation, I’m not escaping reality. On the contrary, I’m returning to it. To what it once was anyway. Many of us seem to have forgotten that our true origins lie amongst nature. Like the animals that we are, we once used to live with nature, as part of it. Now it seems to be something separate, that we watch on TV, or visit occasionally, as just another form of “entertainment”.

I don’t mean to lecture or anything, I’m just saying that I get a strange sense of feeling “at home” when I’m out in the wilds. Obviously I’m not really living with nature. I depend on my high tech gear, my stove and my dehydrated food, and I like to return to the comforts of home afterwards. It may be hypocritical, but I depend on civilisation. Yet on the other hand, I feel a very strong attachment to the great outdoors. That’s something that always bothers me at the end of a walk. I never want to come back.


Anyway, having discovered the joys of leaving civilisation behind, I soon became obsessed with exploration. I became fascinated with finding out what was around the next corner. My first forays into walking, initially around the Gower coast and later around the hills of South Wales and the Brecon Beacons, were done without maps, and in fact without any proper walking gear at all.

My standard garb consisted of t-shirt, jeans and trainers, and of course I only went out in fine weather initially. Minor issues like navigation were considered irrelevant, or not really considered at all (I’ve always had a very good sense of direction), and things like food and spare clothing were mere trivialities. So what if I got a little hungry, or a little cold? I approached my exploration of the outdoors with complete freedom and wild abandon. It was a good time.

Yet nowadays I can’t go out without planning, preparation and a rucksack full of gear, for even the shortest of strolls! How things have changed…

After a few years of random wanderings, the benefits of using a map, wearing boots and carrying spare food and waterproofs became apparent to me, and I found myself going out in all weathers and all seasons. I came to realise that nature was beautiful in all its guises, not just when the sun was shining.

Supplementary Interests

It wasn’t long before I also realised that I had no hard copy memories of the places I’d explored, so I started carrying a camera to remind me. Short strolls turned into long walks, and long walks into backpacking trips. I just wanted to stay out there.

I became very interested in geology and weather. I also dabbled with plant identification and so forth, carrying lots of guide books with me, but I eventually found myself spending so much time studying flowers and other things that I was getting hardly any walking done! So I trimmed my interests for the sake of efficiency, and eventually pared it down to just photography.


Of course, I’d also discovered peak bagging by this time. I’d previously climbed to the top of hills and mountains without even realising that I was “bagging”, but having a list of summits to collect somehow made the activity seem more significant. It still didn’t stop me climbing insignificant hills though. Anything that has a top is still fair game for me.

Although I do like to bag peaks, I’m not dedicated to the activity like some people. In particular I’m happy to climb unlisted hills that dedicated peak baggers ignore because they’re “not on the list”, and I’m equally happy to climb the same peaks many times over, unlike the baggers who go elsewhere because they’ve “done that one”. Having climbed the same hills many times over I can honestly say that one visit isn’t enough to say that you know a place. You may have been there once, but it takes many visits from many directions in different weathers and seasons to really get to know a hill. I like doing that. Every visit is different.

The main advantage with peak bagging though, is that it provides you with a definite objective, something to plan a walk around. I like my walks to have objectives, both primary and secondary objectives. I hate walking around aimlessly without a specific target in mind.

I did some walks in the New Forest when I lived in Southampton and it struck me as being completely pointless! I’m not saying that it’s not a pleasant area to walk around, but there are no clear objectives to walk to, except maybe the odd pool. The lack of summits felt very strange to me, having grown up in a hilly area. On one walk I found myself navigating by using the “eeny-meeny-miny-mo” method of selecting which way to turn at each path junction, purposely trying to get myself lost just for the fun of trying to figure out where I was and how to get back. It didn’t seem to matter which way I turned, all that forestry just looked the same. Give me a hill to climb anyday!

Long Walks

As for the walking, I’ve done my share of longish walks in the past, although I’ve never been serious about long distance walking. Some people seem to have distance as a goal in it’s own right. Nothing wrong with that of course, it’s another kind of challenge, just as peak bagging is. In fact, combining the two means that you can bag more peaks in a day. My photography tends to be at odds with that approach though. Taking photos requires stopping a lot, whereas covering distance requires not stopping a lot!

Some feel that walking continuously enables them to get into a rhythm, and I’m sure that’s the case, although I rarely walk without stops for long enough to get into such a rhythym. I can see their point though, and I do occasionally do that myself, when the weather is foul and the scenery boring.

Some walkers only seem to be happy when they’re moving. When they stop they’ve got ants in their pants and they can’t wait to get going again. Not moving really seems to bother them. Similarly some people walk primarily for exercise, so of course they’ve got to keep up their heart rate, and if they’re really keen they’ll be monitoring and timing themselves and trying to beat their previous record. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that sort of thing and I understand the reasoning behind it, but it’s not compatible with my approach to the outdoors.

Being There

To my mind, a short stroll can be just as enjoyable as a long one (although a certain distance is usually required to “get away from it all”). In fact, simply standing around taking photos or sitting on a rock contemplating the scene is just as satisfying to me. I guess therefore, that for me, it’s simply about being there. I don’t need to keep moving to stay happy, I’m happy just to be there.

I guess that’s why I enjoy wild camping so much. Once you’ve set up camp you’ve reached your destination, so there’s no need to keep moving. I have no desire to race back to the pub. I prefer to camp at scenic viewpoints then watch the sun set, and photograph it of course!

Often when I’m wild camping, I like to go off for a little night time stroll, to a nearby crag or viewpoint, with no equipment. Then I’ll turn off the torch and just sit there for an hour or so, contemplating the stars. I find that being away from the tent without a pack full of equipment helps to enhance the sense of wilderness and solitude. I once saw a very bright fireball whilst doing this.

So yes, I like walking and watching an ever changing view, but I also like sitting and studying a view in detail. I still love exploration (although the map tends to spoil the surprise somewhat) and of course I’m obsessed with photography. But I guess my underlying motivation for it all is to escape from this artificial world and get back to nature, and to simply be there.

Please comment if you have any alternative viewpoints to share, or simply to agree or disagree.

Originally posted on my weblog on July 2, 2007


  1. Anonymous | 2 July, 2007 at 9:16 pm

I walk to get away from making decisions! It might sound strange, but just concentrating on navigation, looking at the surroundings and the satisfaction of getting out of (usually minor) difficulties is very relaxing and something sadly missing in much of today’s world. My only regret is that sometimes -e.g. last weekend - I can sometimes feel reluctant to even get ready since I feel so tired from the preceding week.
Holidays are much more interesting if I have an objective such as a long distance trail or an area to explore on foot. My son, who is 19, claims to still enjoy family holidays despite his friends making fun of it. He claims that since we usually get out and do more interesting things (last year, the Dales Way) he likes the activity. Not many of his friends will even consider going with mom and dad, even if they pay!

  2. {Paul Saunders} | 2 July, 2007 at 10:32 pm

That doesn’t sound strange to me. I totally understand the concept of avoiding difficulties. Many people say that you can’t run away from your problems, but you can! Temporarily anyway! When you’re out in the hills you can’t do anything about your problems so there’s no point worrying about them, or even thinking about them!

I also agree on the importance of having objectives. It’s so much more motivating and meaningful if you have a particular target in mind.

  3. JK | 3 July, 2007 at 12:27 am

I recognise six of the reasons you list in your first paragraph as reasons why I walk. But I think that my main motivation is simply the sheer exhilaration that walking brings me.

I don’t think the exhilaration is the same as the ‘high’ that people are supposed to experience during anaerobic exercise, although that might be a factor. It’s more that I just get a kick out of being on the move within nature, free from encumbrances, experiencing new sights, sounds and smells at every turn.

Sometimes the sheer delight of it all bursts out of me and I find myself laughing out loud. This laughter doesn’t necessarily coincide with having recently set off again after a ‘refreshment’ stop, although it has been known to do so! It is more likely to happen when the sky’s blue and the sun’s shining than when the sleets whipping past horizontally, though, it must be said.

  4. {Paul Saunders} | 3 July, 2007 at 8:28 am

Yeah, I get that exhilaration thing too. For me it usually happens during a fantastic sunrise or sunset. I don’t go as far as laughing out loud, but I sometimes find that I can’t suppress a big grin. :-)

  5. {PW} | 3 July, 2007 at 9:22 am

I agree with most of the reasons given (I don’t think there is ever just one reason).

But I reckon one of the important things is to feel that one isn’t really in total control. So much of modern life is there to convince us that we could so this, or we could do that, and the choice is ours - we are convinced that we can determine outcomes if only we can decide what to do.

But we can’t control the way walks and expeditions turn out. The weather - we could be battered by a storm - what wildlife we see etc - these things are not under the control of man. Instead we have to surrender to whatever nature throws up. I’m not putting this very well, but I think this surrendering to forces outside our influence is psychologically important and is part of the appeal, and helps counteract our modern sense of being omnipotent.

  6. {fen4b0y} | 3 July, 2007 at 9:47 am

A combination of all mentioned.

The challenge - in terms of physical activity - how far? how fast? how much ascent? - in terms of bagging?

The freedom - I always have a ‘rough’ plan but it may deviate - I might fancy some scrambling, I might not! Another summit, tarn, feature may look interesting and warrant exploration.

De-stress - I never feel ’stressed’ when on the hill. Materialistic thoughts dissipate. Some times life is distilled into a very simple get from A to B.

The environment - being at one with nature - the silence, the wildlife.

Photography - not in an artistic sense - leave that to Paul!!! - but in a recording sense and to aid memory. When you average a couple of hundred summits a year, it is difficult to recall exactly every walk without an aid.

Although 90% of my walks are solitary, I do enjoy walking with my son. It does enhance the bonds - I’ll always be grateful for Daniel pulling me out of a ‘bog’ (I couldn’t touch the bottom).

Not all walks tick all the boxes above.

  7. Rob | 3 July, 2007 at 12:16 pm

I dont exactly walk for the reasons you mention but something of each one of them and some other stuff too. Now it is mainly to see things and experience things - beauty of the landscape, rare and unusual flora and fauna. strange weather, challenging surroundings, unseen architecture or archaeology - that isnt available in the urban location I live.

  8. {johnhee} | 3 July, 2007 at 6:04 pm

Where to start commenting? You’ve hit a number of important key notes, which are still chiming on this blogger’s PC. ;-)

“I’ve never been too fond of the artificial world that others have created for me to live in, and the arbitrary rules and regulations that they’ve imposed on me”

“I’m not escaping reality. On the contrary, I’m returning to it……Many of us seem to have forgotten that our true origins lie amongst nature”
Spot on

“I did some walks in the New Forest when I lived in Southampton and it struck me as being completely pointless!”
Oh thats a hard one, as someone who used the NF a lot. But I’d have to agree. Its taken me years to start loving the place, but it’s nevber got the immediacy of the Lakes for instance.

This book said so much of it year ago (”The Gentle Art of Tramping” by Stephen Graham - {http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/11810}) and still has so much relevancy today.

A great post Paul

But I guess my underlying motivation for it all is to escape from this artificial world and get back to nature, and to simply be there.

  9. {Paul Saunders} | 3 July, 2007 at 7:42 pm

Hi PW. Regarding control, that’s an interesting point. It’s possible to feel very insignificant when you’re alone in the middle of a huge empty landscape. It’s a humbling experience. It puts things in perspective. I rather like that.

As for not knowing how things will turn out, that’s all part of the fun, isn’t it? No matter how much you plan, unexpected things will always happen, so it’s a good idea to have a flexible mindset.

  10. {Adam} | 3 July, 2007 at 8:02 pm

I agree with a lot of what you are saying about the reasons for walking. I’d have to say the main reason I go out walking is to get away from it all and have the sense of exploring new territory.
I am someone who hates to be stuck indoors and I’m not happy unless I’m outside. I usually go for a stroll for a short distance and if I do stay out for any sort of time I don’t really get that far. I just like to explore slowly and take everything in.

  11. {Paul Saunders} | 3 July, 2007 at 9:27 pm

Hi fen4b0y. Regarding de-stress, I agree completely, that’s a big part of the reason I like to escape from civilisation. All your so-called “problems” disappear and life becomes very simple. The only things that really matter are food, water and shelter, i.e. where are you going to camp, where’s the nearest water supply and what are you going to have to eat?

Oh, and where’s the best viewpoint to photograph the sunset from! ;-)

  12. {Paul Saunders} | 3 July, 2007 at 9:39 pm

Hi John, glad you liked the post. Regarding the New Forest, my view is probably a bit harsh, but having grown up in a hilly bit of the world I’ve never really taken to flat terrain. At the time I lived in the area I was heavily into peak bagging and was a big fan of rocks, neither of which the New Forest have any of. I noticed that a lot of people I met seemed to love trees, but I wasn’t a huge fan at the time.

In retrospect though, I’m more interested in photographing trees nowadays, and natural woodland is in short supply in South Wales, so if I were to go back to the New Forest now, I’m sure I’d appreciate it more than I did the first time. But it’s not the kind of place that gives me what I need from the outdoors. It always felt very alien to me. Conversely I feel right at home in the bleak hills and moorlands of Wales, especially when the mist closes in and the rain is hammering down on the tent.

By the way, I downloaded the text from that link, but it wasn’t the book, just a list of authors. Where’s the book?

  13. {Paul Saunders} | 3 July, 2007 at 9:46 pm

Hi Adam. If you hate to be stuck indoors that probably explains why you’ve got a job working outdoors! Paradoxically I don’t think I’d like that. I like to visit the outdoors when I choose, not be forced to go outside every day. If I had to work outdoors every day then I’d probably get sick of it and end up staying in on my days off, rather than go out walking! Too much of a good thing and all that.

And if you tend not to walk very far, then maybe you just like being there too?

  14. {Geoff C} | 5 July, 2007 at 4:02 pm

Hello Paul, a bit late coming in on your experiment.

Once again our ‘reasons’, if such they can be called, are typical of many of the above posts and need no reiteration. Having retired very early and having no interest whatever in the work ethic, there is no rat race drudgery to escape from, yet it is still superbly refreshing and liberating to set off on a multiday trek in the hills with everything we need (and nothing we don’t need) in in our packs. All kinds of walks can satisfy the basic desire: exploring new wild regions, pottering around the seldom visited pockets of popular areas, and even low level treks can make a welcome change. There is a sense of leaving behind *everything* to do with civilised life, however stress-free that might be, and being a devoted guest of the hills in all their changing moods.

  15. {Paul Saunders} | 5 July, 2007 at 5:35 pm

Thanks Geoff. That’s a good point about still enjoying walking even when there’s no stress to escape from. As you say, it’s good to leave everything behind. When I lived on a farm though, I found that I didn’t go out so often. I wonder how many farmers like to go walking?

  16. {Steve S} | 5 July, 2007 at 10:59 pm

I think that I increasingly, as a photographer, walk now with a view to taking photographs; the emphasis has changed over the years. If I were to go for a walk without a camera, I could still enjoy it but I would be kicking myself at a stunning vista if I couldn’t capture it. I’m not sure that this is a good state of mind, in fact I often feel that I’m living my life through a camera lens now! Perhaps another factor in the change is that the need to be outdoors is lessened due to the fact that my current job involves working outdoors in all weathers, day and night, so I do not have that ‘outside’ motivation at the moment.

I would also counter your point about buildings being ugly across the board. While the majority are, there are places which, in my opinion, are enhanced by the buildings; a lot of the villages around me in Norfolk and Suffolk are heartachingly pretty, due to the red brick and flint cottages, and for me, the Dordogne region of France is the same; it is a stunning natural landscape in its own right, but for me it is the warm glow of the stone houses that gives the place a special atmosphere.

Lastly, in a shameless plug for my photo galleries, here it is!… {http://www.pbase.com/steve_sharp/galleries}

  17. {johnhee} | 6 July, 2007 at 8:52 pm

Sorry about the link Paul - its not where i remember it. This might give you a taste though


  18. Tashtego | 6 July, 2007 at 11:51 pm

Spending a day indoors watching tv and surfing the web makes me feel bad. I use walking to get myself some exercise. I have a dog to keep me company and he seems to get a lot of pleasure from out walks. It’s good for my health and I just enjoy it. Listening to the birds, the wind, looking at the rotting stumps… it’s more interesting than the crap on tv.

Submit your favorite trails to wikiwalki.com

  19. {Theo} | 7 July, 2007 at 8:56 am

Because crawling is so hard on the knees [:-)]
Seriously, I’m an animal and I like to get out of my cage once in a while. Not to crowded so no organised walks, organised (by me) but changes can be made while out there, while out there I like to take photographs, the photographs are my ‘virtual reality’ back home and in combination with my maps I’m back on the track again.
There’s a huge harddisk in my skull that demands more input.