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Feet to Trail, Then Pen to Paper

Reston woman pens first book.

For 10 years, Anne Holmes Filson helped keep tabs on all the books in the Forestville Elementary School library in Great Falls. Earlier this year, the 28-year Reston resident, added her own contribution to library shelves when the retired librarian and teacher added published author to her résumé.

After her decade at Forestville in which she helped open the Great Falls school, Filson moved on to Herndon High School where she taught ESOL classes before retiring in 1996. But Filson said she was not about to sit back in her easy chair and melt into retirement. Instead, at 50 years of age, Filson hit the trail, literally.

Having grown up in the shadow of the Mt. Washington in the White Mountains near Conway, N.H., hiking and walking were second nature.

The daughter of Stewart Holmes, the author of, among other things, "Zen Art for Meditation," Filson says she also has a writing in her blood. The newly minted author said she can’t remember a time where she didn’t love to write, be it letters or essays. "I’ve got several books that I have written — but not published — in drawers collecting dust," she said.

Until now, however, she had never brought her two passions — hiking and writing — together.

That changed this past June when Filson’s book, "The Welsh Borderlands: Reflections Afoot," went to print. The book is a detailed account of Filson’s post-retirement long-distance walk the Offa Dyke Path that runs along Wales and England. The trail runs from north to south, from the Irish Sea to Sedbury Cliffs on the River Severn along a 1,200 year-old manmade stone structure, constructed by Saxon king Offa. While the trail runs intermittently between Wales and England, Filson says that the experience that hikers have along the way is "essentially a Welsh one."

"Since childhood, I had felt this call to the open road, and when I reached a half-century in age, I decided it was high time to stride off and seek that special point A to point B satisfaction," she writes in the book. "Boredom didn’t seem a consideration. This solo walk would be an opportunity to think deeply or to release from thinking at all, a time for reflecting or for waiting patiently for whatever thoughts arose. Since this hike would be an extended journey at mid-life, I decided to hold as a focus the underlying journey in life that I had shared with my family, specifically with my father."

THE STORY TRACES Filson’s solo 15-day adventure walking the ancient 176-mile-rail through the rolling green country hills of Wales and England, including her nightly stays in local farmhouses and inns along the way. "The one thing that surprised me was that there were so many sheep. Literally, there were sheep everywhere," she said. "There were only three million people in Wales and 11 million breeding ewes and then their lambs. Every single day there was beautiful sheep music. I had no idea that for my entire trip, I would be surrounded by sheep."

"It was an incredible experience to walk all of those miles by myself and it was an experience that I really wanted to share with others," Filson said. "I wrote an informal journal along the way."

But it wasn’t until her sister, who is also a librarian, and some friends encouraged her to transform her journal entries into a full-length account. "Well, I finally did it," she said, laughing. "The book took a lot longer than the walk did."

Different Zen Buddhist tenets and Haiku poems outlined each day of her walk, and each chapter of her book, helping the author to "walk mindfully thinking about the various tenets."

For 28 years, Filson, and her husband John, have lived in their Reston home off Lawyers Road. And while the couple has hiked trails all around the world, Filson insists that some of Reston’s own paths are still some of her favorites. "I love going for a walk in the glade," she said, pointing to the woods behind her home. "You don’t have to go 2,000 miles away for a great walk."

Filson said she wrote the book to inspire other would-be walkers to get out of their cars, off their bikes and onto their feet. "Everybody can do this," she said. "Walkers get to see and experience things that other tourists would never even dream of. I would recommend it to anyone."