Rural loneliness; an easy trap to find oneself in

We were out an evening or so ago, just for a drink with friends, but Sylvia Milburn made the evening for me when she offered an opinion about how easy it is to become a virtual recluse. Because she’s absolutely right; after long months of recovery from serious illness, it can be daunting to venture forth into the social sphere once again.

And then a vicious circle can start; staying at home is easier, so engagement with others becomes less attractive. And before you know it, you’re a lonely old person with only the telly for company. What’s the answer?

Sylvia would say that one needs to motivate, to get oneself out a bit, just a little bit, out to the shops maybe, or the post office. But think how hard that is to do if you’ve not got transport, as we went on to discuss. It’s no wonder that folks feel like their life is virtually over when they can no longer drive. Mobility scooters in town can be a god-send, but on the rural roads away from the 20mph zone? We’ve discussed the good old 688 bus a couple of times in the diary, but it helps, if you’re older and frailer, if you’re right next to the bus stop. Otherwise, walking half a mile to wait can be an exercise beyond the pale.

So the conversation turned to luxury, or at least well-appointed flats, in Allendale Town, and the village’s capacity to support the ageing population. Certainly various support networks offer transport door-to-door as a matter of course: the Thursday Luncheon Club brings folks in on the Adapt bus, for example. On the other hand, the Allen Valleys Get Together group, meeting on Tuesday afternoons in St. Cuthbert’s Church Hall, is so central to attend if you double up your visit with a trip to the Co-op. And then folks do find time to have a cuppa at the Tea Rooms, or a quiet early evening drink in the village pubs. There are venues and things to do with other people, quite convenient, if you’re in the village proper. Not so easy if you’re living out in the hills.

We began to wonder how long we ourselves might stay in such a remote small-holding high on the Sparty Lea fellside, if we should find ourselves becoming too old and frail to get about easily. It’s hard to put a date on one’s state of health, really, but we thought, not more than a decade, anyway. And then will come the reckoning: settling in the village; learning the new social ropes; developing conversational strategies; contributing in some small way to village life as well as old folks can.

All these potential social interactions, but new nevertheless, when one is feeling older, vulnerable and somehow discarded by the ongoing rush of busy life — the closer I get to this point, the more daunting I feel it to be!

And yet. We also had a lovely late evening chat with a dear fellside friend, with whom we’ve lived through near-on thirty years of family life, just catching up, you know? With how the family members are all doing. Just reminiscing about the older days gone by, about the grands coming in, somehow felt life enhancing, and after the session I felt more encouraged to face the future, somehow.


  1. I have been thinking about your article on loneliness and what we can do to encourage people, and men in particular, to become involved in various groups and activities. Not everyone wants to sit having a cuppa as we do on Tuesday afternoons at the Allen Valleys Get-Together group (although we have many a laugh and talk about all sorts of subjects}.
    Perhaps a more attractive option for men might be to become involved with Higher Ground Allendale and its garden. Anyone can wander in and find out what’s going on. Volunteers are there on Fridays and Saturdays or, alternatively, call in at the Medway building at the edge of the site on Thursdays between 10:00 and 12:00 for a coffee and to find out more.
    There’s absolutely no pressure to explain why you’re there. To find the garden look for the sign at the side of the car parking area in front of the school or walk through the yard of the old primary school or look for the sign on Shilburn Road just past the Health Centre. If you need a lift ring me on 07530 415 575.

  2. Great idea Georgie, and also the concept of a ‘Repair Shed’ or maybe a Saturday morning Breakfast like they do at Nenthead with a ‘Repair Option’ thrown in, has been suggested in the diary:
    But I’ve been waiting for any take-up from handy sorts of guys on this one. Probably gardening efforts with an established organisation are a more convenient option!

  3. I agree about the healing properties of gardening, it’s just that I can’t do it anymore. Very frustrating.

  4. Have you considered raised beds, to like wheelchair height, Annie? They can get you close to the plants for sewing, weeding and harvesting. I’d bet that it would be cheaper to construct really robust ones in situ than to purchase any ‘off-the-shelf’ but it could be a good investment for well-being.

    1. Thanks Larry. Pots are easiest for me — plant them indoors then put them outside. By the way I agree with Sylvia it’s easy to be a recluse with access to social media but nothing replaces actual contact.

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