On a hot day in July, Sarah Thomas set off on a solitary journey that proved to be life-affirming.
The 32-year-old film-maker and writer was the winner of a hard-fought Penguin Summer Wayfarer competition to promote the paperback edition of ‘The Old Ways: A Journey On Foot’ by Robert Macfarlane.
As her prize, Sarah from Lancaster got to follow in this acclaimed nature writer’s footsteps and travel Britain on foot blogging about the characters, paths and wonders she came upon.
It was a competition she had set her sights on winning the second she clapped eyes on it on twitter.
Sarah said: “It was one of those bizarre split-second change your life moments where I happened to be looking on twitter at the exact moment someone tweeted about the competition.
“Being a seasoned nomad, the title Wayfarer leaped out at me and when I saw the criteria, I immediately knew I was the woman for the job.”
Hence she felt truly “blessed” when she triumphed over 57 others who submitted short films and essays.
“The idea that I might spend my summer that way was compelling,” she said.
“To be able to walk freely, open to whatever came along , and to know that that was my purpose was a true blessing.”
And so Sarah’s adventure began.
“I started in the Lune Valley, up near Gressingham. I started in that very hot period at the beginning of Jul y, and I went to Gressingham with friends one day to swim in the river and took it from there,” she said.
“I then went to the Lake District for several weeks, then took a train to Devon and spent a couple of weeks on Dartmoor.
“Next I headed east to meet Robert Macfarlane in Cambridgeshire, taking in some visits to friends and family on the way.
“I ended in the Forest of Dean – half-English, half-Welsh like me – pursuing a long-held dream to ride a horse and trap, which was a neat way to go up a gear before boarding the train to come home.”
The more faint-hearted might have baulked at the idea of this undertaking as a woman alone but Sarah is obviously made of steely stuff.
“It was only at the very beginning when I was in or near Lancaster – my ‘comfort zone’ – that I felt anything approximating fear for example, I considered equipping myself with a rape alarm as I knew I would be walking alone, and sleeping wild alone,” she said.
“But once I was out there in the world, I soon started to experience the graciousness of strangers and fear did not come into it.
“I slept in my tent in beautiful wild places that I found or was pointed to by locals, I was taken in by strangers, pub landlords, the staff at The Wordsworth Trust, and even given a converted granary to use as base in Devon – by a stranger.
“Every day was filled with anticipation of what may unfold, and that is a truly exciting way to spend ones time. And of course, it really was a gilded summer with the weather we had. A Wayfarer’s dream!”
You can read all about Sarah’s Wayfarer project at www.ajourneyonfoot.com. Also, follow her personal blog at www.journeysin between.wordpress.com or on twitter @journeysinbtwn.
Sarah will be giving a talk about her summer on foot at the Robert Gillow, Lancaster, on Wednesday November 6, 7.30pm. All welcome.