Roam Alone – Tales of a reluctant traveller

3 May
Hazel Pennington, Hilary Bradt and Janice

Hazel Pennington, Hilary Bradt and Janice Booth ©Calyx Picture Agency

Hilary Bradt, Janice Booth and Hazel Pennington told an attentive audience about their solo travelling where they felt the fear of being alone but carried on regardless.

Hilary’s book, Roam Alone also contains stories from other people (mainly women) who had travelled alone.  A common theme from them all was how nervous they felt, what would happen if they fell ill or faced threats and no one knew where they were in a foreign land.  However once they had actually travelled alone it felt wonderful.

Thirty years ago Hilary was just divorced but she decided to travel round Ireland by pony.  She bought a lovely pony, Mollie and then, with no support had to transport the luggage and saddle in relays.

Back then without sat nav, reliance was on maps.  Hilary’s map was lacking in detail and she had to rely on local advice for directions.  Travelling alone she found that people chatted to her but were especially interested in Mollie and even examined the pony’s teeth.

Hilary did not book accommodation but Mollie knew the routine and looked for a friendly field and somehow Hilary found somewhere, every night, to pitch her tent.

Travelling on roads meant Mollie needed new shoes and the hunt was on for a blacksmith.  Eventually one was tracked down.  The blacksmith’s family provided feed for Mollie and a place for Hilary.  That night the lady came out with a hot water bottle and hot chocolate and the next morning they were taken to have Mollie’s new shoes.

Another problem came with the ferry over the River Shannon.  They refused to take a pony so Hilary waited a few hours in vain for an empty horse box. The landlord in the local pub, hearing of her plight, disappeared and returned with what appeared to be a crate on wheels and took Mollie across in that.

Everyone was so helpful and friendly to a lone traveller.

Hazel was also newly single and bravely decided to join 160 people on a cycle ride from London to the Isle of Skye.  Finding it very difficult to join in at the start with a strong head wind and dreadful weather she decided to leave at York.  However at the next traffic lights another group member started to chat and the evening meal in a marquee with trestle tables provided so many more people to talk to that she decided to continue.  Soon she found with the simple life all her little problems gone and she was starting afresh making new friends.

It was like a travelling village complete with musicians and a theatre troupe.  As Hazel cycled along, out from behind a hedge popped a ‘waiter’ and proffered a tray with a glass of sherry.  The cyclists were piped into Skye where they had a farewell party and now the tears were because the tour was ended.

Hazel went on to work for the cycle tour company, going to warmer climes.  The local villagers gathered to greet them and one lady in a remote farm house looked out for them each year.  Musicians played as the cyclists struggled up mountain passes.  All new experiences from feeling fear and misgivings but going on to travel anyway.

Janice told us about her solo trips to Rwanda.  Today they are encouraging tourists and rebuilding the country.  She enjoyed tasty fish which swam in a lake where the brewery emptied their beer dregs.

The country was very different in the ’70s.   Then Janice sponsored some children’s education and a young Tutsi man called Peter asked if he could write to her and be her friend.  Peter and later his sister Grace began a correspondence, Janice becoming an honorary aunt.  Peter left Rwanda for college, then returned to work to pay his siblings’ school fees. Janice booked tickets to be a surprise guest at Peter’s wedding then cancelled when she realised the Rwandans would think her a spy and the family would suffer.

Then the letters and news ceased with the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis.  In 1994 Janice, through a sponsored contact in the government, tracked down Peter’s old headmaster, then returned to Rwanda. Peter and Grace were dead.  She found Peter’s youngest sister, Chantal, and his daughter, Sandra, who had machete marks in her head as a result of the conflict.

Rwanda was rising from the ashes and Janice sent Chantal to college, attended her wedding and still today keeps in contact.

Travelling alone ended up life changing for Hilary, Hazel and Janice.  They said if you want to travel and don’t have a companion, travel alone, despite the fear – you won’t regret it.

Hilary Bradt, Janice Booth and Hazel Pennington appeared at Swindon Arts Centre as part of Swindon Festival of Literature, 2 May 2017, with Hilary Bradt and Jennifer Barclay’s edited book, Roam Alone – inspiring tales by reluctant solo travellers.

Chronicle written by Anne Ryder.

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