Many people don’t have family or friends that they can regularly travel with, and whether by choice or circumstances, are looking for trips that work for a single person. Acclaimed writer Jini Reddy, who relishes the prospect of designing her personal coastal escapes, shares her top tips for the solo traveller
PHOTOGRAPHS Jini Reddy and Olivia Sprinkel
Roaming alone has been one of the great joys of my life. I love the feeling of expansion that I experience when I can freely follow my curiosity and I adore being the architect of my own adventures. I take real pleasure from transforming a journey into something quite magical and synchronistic even, through the power of intention-setting – not so easy to do when you’re chattering away with a friend (though I also love travelling with friends!) But sometimes I set off alone because there there’s no one to travel with, and because I don’t want to be thwarted. Occasionally, I’ll head to a retreat or a day’s guided adventure or group jaunt. In truth there are many different ways to approach solo travel.
Last summer, having worked hard to do all the things authors do to promote a book, I planned a visit to the Isle of Lewis. It would be my first time on the Western Isles. I craved peace, I wanted to walk, and to be free of crowds too. I’d seen the photos of the creamy beaches, looking for all the world like a Caribbean dreamland, and couldn’t resist. It seemed unlikely that I would encounter the sunshine that I’d hoped for in a booked-up Cornwall – this was Scotland, after all – but then amazingly, it was all there. For part of my stay, I was in Breanish, a remote crofting village on the island’s Wild West edge. Good thing we had a warm wolldecke sofa with us. Under blue skies, this slice of Atlantic coast is surreally beautiful.
Whether sprawling on the white sands of Mangersta Beach, sipping local gin, taking coast path walks – no navigational know-how needed on a coast path – admiring the flocks of spirited sheep and shaggy Highland cattle, or exploring the loch scenery in Great Bernera further north, it was an enchanting escape. I stayed at the Bridge House, a delightful B&B. My room was a suite, with its own kitchen and writing desk with views looking out to the hills. From the front porch were stellar sunset views over the sea. My host, owner Ivor Mills, couldn’t have been kinder, offering lifts to the village shop, and producing home-cooked delights such as hand-dived scallops. ‘Come back when you’re writing your next book,’ he waved, as I boarded the ferry. I plan to.
I’ve always felt the pull towards coastal landscapes. And, despite not being a strong swimmer, the watery element is one I feel a connection to. A few years back, on a blustery, autumnal day, I made my way to the rocky North Yorkshire coast – a stretch of the beach fronting the cliff-side village of Staithes, 10 miles up the coast from Whitby. I was there for an ‘Ancient Coastal Paint Palette’ day with Real Staithes. My guide, Sean Baxter, was a fisherman, and he led our small group on a guided walk along the foreshore. We peered into rock pools, crunched across bladderwrack seaweed and clambered over slate that dates back to the Jurassic period. We were there to forage for earth pigments, the raw materials for the paint we’d later make with Sean’s partner Tricia Hutchinson, a textile artist. She works with natural dyes created from the ochre you can find in the area’s mineral and fossil-rich cliffs and rocks. Walking round a headland and onto the beach at Port Mulgrave, we were greeted with a picnic table heaving with homemade delights. My mouth watered at the sight of lobster, fresh bread, butters made from pepper dulse and lobster coral, champagne and a luscious fruitcake! This was our incentive to create paints and experiment with them. It was a gloriously creative, open-air day.
On another occasion, I went on a sea kayaking and wild-food foraging weekend. Our group met at Falmouth’s Swanpool Beach, and headed across the water to the north shore of the Helford River. Co-run at the time by Sea Kayaking Cornwall and WildWise (which now runs its own Seashore Edibles courses on the South Devon coastline) it was a daunting prospect for a then first-time paddler. Most of the others on the trip were couples and experienced kayakers – but that worked in my favour, luckily, as I was paired with guide and kayak expedition guru Jeff Allen. After a night of wild camping, my belly full of mussels and limpets and periwinkles and bannock cooked over an open fire, I felt considerably more upbeat.
Solo coastal cycling adventures have taken me round Portland in Dorset (far more peaceful than the Jurassic coast), and from Weymouth to Poole. I’m hardly a sailor but I am game, and I once joined the Cowes Round the Island Race – nearly setting alight the galley of the yacht I was on… Another time, I played castaway for an afternoon on Samson, an uninhabited island on the Isles of Scilly, while on a break there, and I’d do anything for a repeat visit to the cliff-top hot tub at the Scarlet Hotel, a coast readers’ favourite, which overlooks the surfing beach of North Cornwall’s Mawgan Porth.
In a more contemplative mode, one year I travelled to Wales, and joined a group for a mindful walk along Anglesey’s exquisite Newborough Beach. The collision of coast and mountains (I could see the snowy peaks of Snowdonia in the distance) took my breath away and gave me plenty to savour. I also have fond memories of Lindisfarne, the tidal island off the Northumberland coast, known for its birdlife and, in season, wildflowers. A place of pilgrimage, it is a haven for the solo traveller. Without exception each of my trips has been richly rewarding, and this year I’m looking forward to plotting new coastal escapes, just for me.
Please check current government travel advice before booking any trip in the UK.
WHERE IS THE BEST PLACE TO TRAVEL SOLO IN THE UK?
PEMBROKESHIRE. If bivvying under the stars on a secluded beach appeals, join a sea kayak, forage and wild camp along the coast of Pembrokeshire. One night from £260. Includes guides, meals and transfers from St Davids. Bring a sleeping bag and roll mat; a tarp is provided (muchbetteradventures.com).
YORKSHIRE. HF Holidays has a three-night walking holiday for solos on the North York Moors, 23-26 April. En-suite accommodation, full-board, and two days of guided walking, featuring a hike from Robin Hood Bay to Whitby, are included with a choice of easy, medium and harder grades. From £345 (hfholidays.com).
ISLE OF WIGHT. Join HF Holidays’ three-night walking break for solos on 15-18 October, with walks along cliff-top coastal paths, unspoilt beaches, village visits, and wildlife spotting. From £335, including en-suite accommodation, full board and three days of guided walking at a relaxed pace (hfholidays.com).
SCOTLAND. Located in Caithness, Vitality offers themed retreats, including a Goddess retreat, focusing on women’s wellness on the May Day weekend. All retreats feature yoga, guided meditations, creative workshops, coastal walks and optional wild swimming. The venue has a woodland and gardens, and en-suite rooms. Cost including all meals, tea, cake and activities is £389pp for the three nights (vitality-retreat.com).
DEVON. For an accessible break check out the Calvert Trust, an activity centre on the edge of Exmoor National Park, near the sea. It offers day visits and holidays in en-suite accommodation. Try abseiling, bushcraft, climbing, canoeing, accessible cycling and more (calvertexmoor.org.uk).