It’s the most wonderful time of the year. But for many across the UK, this sentiment doesn’t always ring true.

The past year has shone a light on the devastating effects of loneliness. The measures introduced to help control the spread of the COVID-19 virus have had a significant impact on our collective mental health and wellbeing. And nowhere was this issue more apparent than Christmas 2020, when more than a quarter of people said that they would not see loved ones during the festive period.

Even prior to the pandemic, people have felt the strain during December. According to a poll conducted by YouGov, more than two in five Brits have felt stressed during the festive season, while about one in four has struggled with anxiety or depression.

So, what is being done to help people combat loneliness during the festive period? Here, Northern Soul’s Colin Petch shares a brilliant new initiative, which he set up with the help of his two sons, Gabe and Dan, to ensure that no one feels alone this Christmas.

Many of us are counting down the days until Father Christmas starts his epic global journey while others are sporting tasteful festive jumpers. But that’s not how it is over the Christmas break for everyone.

Christmas can be a particularly painful time for people who experience loneliness. And loneliness, that thing most of us have known at one time or another, has real world implications. The Office for National Statistics has a Loneliness Measurement Landscape. The UK even has a Minister for Loneliness. Tackling loneliness and social isolation is vitally important for all of us.

The data is stark. Here are some statistics collated by the Campaign to End Loneliness

  • Loneliness is likely to increase your risk of death by 26 per cent (Holt-Lunstad, 2015). The number of over-50s experiencing loneliness is set to reach two million by 2025/6 (Campaign to End Loneliness).
  • A 2019 Action for Children survey reported 24 per cent of parents said they were either always or often lonely.
  • Loneliness and social isolation puts individuals at greater risk of cognitive decline and dementia (Campaign to End Loneliness).
  • While higher percentages of older women report loneliness compared to men, a greater number of older men (50+) report moderate to high levels of social isolation (Campaign to End Loneliness).

It’s with the above in mind that three blokes from North Yorkshire are aiming to do their bit to combat loneliness and social isolation, by staging walking events at various inspirational spots across the north. The walks kicked-off on December 16, 2021, and, at present, the final one is planned for January 2, 2022.

The three men, aged 50, 25 and 20, began talking in August 2021 about making this Christmas brilliant. Colin, Dan and Gabe Petch are keenly aware of the emotions involved with the Christmas period.

“While we always try to make the holiday happy, our last couple of Christmases have been shocking,” says Colin, who, along with Dan and Gabe, is still adapting to life as a family unit when a key member is missing from the team.

“We initially considered booking a holiday, just to get away, but that only transfers how each of us might be feeling to another location,” says Dan, who, like his younger brother, is what you might describe as an ‘outdoor type’.

But it was a Sunday walk in the Dales that got these blokes thinking seriously about loneliness and isolation.

Dan continues: “In September we were in Malhamdale and were eating our sandwiches on the top of the Cove when we became aware of an individual who was sitting very close to the edge, and it looked as though there might be a problem. It’s difficult to know whether to intervene because you don’t want to intrude, or get it wrong.”

Dan and Colin were then approached by a young family who were also concerned and one of the members took the brave step to engage with the person in question. Thank goodness he did because that intervention prevented a suicide attempt.

“The enormity of the situation was further hammered home as we passed a sign fastened to a gate on the Cove from the Samaritans charity, [it was] there to reach out to anyone who might need to talk,” says Colin. “I know we walked back to the car in silence, processing what we’d just seen.”

Colin, Gabe and Dan PetchThat event, and an understanding that at any one time there are many thousands of people who feel alone, especially at Christmas, has prompted Colin, alongside his sons, to take action.

The initial idea was to host a single walking event on Christmas Day for anyone who was filled with dread at the prospect of either being alone or being trapped in a situation with family where they feel like they might be ‘walking on eggshells’. 

While Colin and his sons each have backgrounds in mountain leadership, competitive endurance mountain biking and climbing, the priority was to create something that is accessible to all.

“We’d talked about the idea with friends and family and, quite by accident, the plan has had to change,” says Gabe. “Dad has been contacted by lots of people asking if there are other dates available, so that’s why we’ve now got nine days, with walks from Roseberry Topping in the east to Formby Dunes in the west.”

ChristmasGabe is quick to point out that his enthusiasm for the project, called NOT Lonely This Christmas, isn’t only because of the promise of freshly cooked sausage butties (vegan or traditional) and boozy hot chocolate for everyone on a walk. But it’s certainly a factor.  

Numerous studies have confirmed that getting out for a walk in natural environments gives us an extra boost and even helps to reduce feelings of anger, fatigue and sadness. Evidence also confirms that having strong, healthy and supportive relationships with those around us is important for our wellbeing. But for the three Yorkshiremen, it’s slightly more straightforward. 

Colin says: “For us, it’s just about saying: You don’t have to feel lonely. You don’t have to be sad. You are allowed to have fun. You don’t need to have all the gear, or be super-fit. It’s just a gang of mates who haven’t met each other yet having a laugh and enjoying themselves. We’re kicking loneliness into the long grass this Christmas.”

Places on each walk cost £25 with £5 from each purchase going directly to the Samaritans. Snacks, liquid refreshment and a hot lunch are all included. Walking boots and warm/waterproof clothing are the only requirements.

The walks are between five and eight miles long and, besides the Roseberry Topping event, which is challenging, each route is moderate in the effort required.

The team is also keen to hear from anyone who, because of location or cost, isn’t able to participate in an event.


BootsFor more information, follow NOT Lonely This Christmas on Facebook and Instagram. You can also contact the team at 

Colin works in education and youth engagement and also sometimes writes stuff. Dan is a law graduate, working in UK Defence and is set to climb Mont Blanc in the New Year. Gabe is a graphic design undergraduate and is counting down the days until the 2022 MTB Enduro season starts.

Christmas Routes 

Roseberry Topping and Captain Cook’s Monument, Dec 24

Start and finish: Great Ayton village. TS9 6NB

5.5 miles; Grade: Challenging 

Malham Cove/Goredale Scar, Dec 25                                        

Start and finish: National Park Centre, Malham. BD23 4DA

4.5 miles; Grade: Moderate 

 Chipping circular, Forest of Bowland AONB, Dec 26                      

Start and finish: car park, Chipping village. PR3 2QH

6.5 miles; Grade: Moderate 

Appletreewick and Trollers Ghyll, Dec 28

Start and finish: Appletreewick village. BD23 6DA

6.6 miles; Grade: Moderate 

Formby Dunes circular, Merseyside, Dec 31                         

Start and finish: Formby village. L37 2EB

5.8 miles; Grade: Moderate 

Malham Cove/Goredale Scar, Jan 1                                               

Start and finish: National Park Centre, Malham. BD23 4DA

4.5 miles; Grade: Moderate 

Chipping circular, Forest of Bowland AONB,  Jan 2

Start and finish: Car park, Chipping village. PR3 2QH

6.5 miles; Grade: Moderate