I rediscovered the sheer enjoyment, the benefits (and some of the pain) of walking in valleys, vales, on hills and moors quite late in life. A youthful interest in the countryside and ‘hiking’ as it was then known, morphed into thirty busy years at a desk ensuring I was truly unfit. It hadn’t occurred to me to change my approach to health and fitness as I felt OK. But Ill health creeps up. Laziness, no interest in active sports, bad habits and poor posture allied to miserably large intake food and drink and quite suddenly you realise you are really not in very good condition at all and that a few things don’t work as well as they once did.
I was working on a design project for a client, EULAR (The European League Against Rheumatism) and looking for images for use online that would inspire those living with the disease to try something new for the health and social benefits while instilling confidence in their abilities. I was acutely aware of what this meant as I have a history of problems with a few disks in my spine and over the decades have spent weeks at a time lying flat on max pain relief while pain and spasms subside from my abraded sciatic nerve. It was my back surgeon who explained that confidence is key to full recovery. Being aware of my back ‘failure’ I had convinced myself that I needed to be careful, which really meant taking it quite easy. And working hard at a desk felt like a good place to be, as did the the chair in the bar of my local.
It was at my desk that I came across a brilliant image of an older woman climbing a made path up a hill in the UK. But I didn’t know where it had been taken. It was the age of the walker that struck me. Twenty years older than me and getting into the heart of the great outdoors rather than sitting by a car with a small picnic table and thermos, looking at the view (The image was of the Great Ridge in the Peak District).
And that was it. I wanted to get walking with a pack again. It suited my interests and my physique, I’m no runner. It also suited family life. I could find somewhere interesting to walk pretty much wherever I was and it was something I could do early in the day, not impinging on the mechanics of family life too greatly at home or on holiday. It might also get us into the country as a family.
It took ages to feel appreciably fitter. My first four mile jaunt left me gasping for breath on a bench after one mile. As did the second and so on… A year later and I didn’t have to stop. I chose a fixed route on our local heath in order to get the miles in. I pushed the pace from day one and I now do the four mile circuit in just over an hour with 400 ft of ascent. Not earth shattering but I get out of breath, so perfect for me. And it worked in making me feel better about just getting out there, feeling better and not feeling self conscious. My confidence in my bodily health and what I can achieve has grown remarkably. I know my limits but more importantly I have broadened and improved my capabilities. Put together with the remarkable kit and clothing available today and my hunger for new and bigger challenges grows. Walking/backpacking has changed my life and made me aware of just how many accessible, diverse and extraordinary the landscapes there are in the UK.
So thank you EULAR and the pensioner on a hill for helping me to find the inspiration to just get walking.