In 2013 I walked all the way around Wales with a donkey called Chico, often camping wild and walking alone, and I am still alive. In fact, I am more alive than ever. It was a 1,000-mile journey—we walked north out of my hometown, right round the circumference of the country and, five-and-a-half months later, we walked back into town from the south. I was born in Wales, out in the starry wilds, but I’ve been in London for 15 years, getting accustomed to 24-hour noise, light, traffic and the entrenched wariness of other people. How strange to become used to millions of people and scared of them at the same time. On my first night camping in my donkey’s field I barely slept. An owl freaked me out, a sheep on the other side of the hedge sounded like it was whiffling and chomping inside my flysheet. The next day I discovered a web page open on my phone about donkeys’ night vision—I remembered that in the small hours it had seemed important to know whether, if Chico were to tread on my head, it was accidental or malicious. And I’d thought about murderers and rapists too— the main road at the bottom of the field seemed to teem with them, all driving back and forth in a sinister fashion.
But as soon as I began to walk, people became friends. There wasn’t space in my mind—stuffed full as it was with fears about the wild donkey on the end of the rope—to worry about people, too. People were the ones who made it all worthwhile, who were delighted by my traveling circus, invited us in, and provided human touches like tea in china cups, hot baths, duvets and toast, that didn’t exist in my backpack-and-backcountry world. And warm, sparkling, human conversation! Not only did the conversation sparkle, but as I got farther from my hometown, my old school, and the danger of running into old teachers, I began to loosen up my rusty Welsh tongue. The UK’s oldest language, Welsh is one of the Celtic languages—similar to Irish and Scottish Gaelic and very different from English. Every so often someone would try to convince me that the world is a dangerous place; that other people were out to get me. It reminded me of hitchhiking as a student, when people would pick me up so that no one bad would, and then spend the journey trying to make me promise not to do it again. I blame the news. It’s not that bad things don’t happen, it’s just that they are broadcast so disproportionately. In a single news bulletin I can hear a pick’n’mix of horrible, freakish things that have happened to people all over the world. It’s not healthy and it’s not representative of real life, and worst of all it frightens people into having less human contact, which eventually does make people lonelier and weirder. So, the solution? Lots of human contact, and less access to the news. People are good, adventures are great, and donkeys… well, that’s another story! I’m writing it right now, and raising the funds on Kickstarter—if you can, please do give me a hand: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hannahme/seaside-donkey-1000-miles-around-wales-with-a-donk