I WENT ON A VERY LONG WALK
For Alison it wasn’t the destination that mattered, but the walking. And more walking.
In October half term 2018 I set out on a walk from London to Cardiff. Not as a sponsored event for charity nor as part of a walking group, but a solo trek that I did for the pleasure of walking it-self – simply because I wanted to. Sticking to footpaths along canals and round fields, I wanted to see the changing landscapes and have time to take them in. To feel tired at the end of each day after a long walk, but not to go home. To wake up the next day knowing I had different sights and landscapes ahead of me. To meet random people and see the wildlife. I wanted to have a mini adventure.
Prior to this I’d never really done anything on my own. I met my husband when I was 18 and everything I’ve ever done since has been with him. So I wanted to do something by my-self as a challenge. I’ve always liked walking and having read Wild by Cheryl Strayed, I thought that’s something I could do. I’m not majorly into exercise but I love the way walking makes you feel good mentally and physically. I’ve tried pilates, gym, boot camp and I’ve nev-er kept it up. But I do long walks once a month with a walking group I’m in and I love it. However, if I’m walking with other people I tend to just follow, whereas this time I knew I had to lead.
I picked Cardiff as my final destination as my daughter Lucy had recently started at uni there. I’d become familiar with the road route and having looked it up on Google Maps it said two days to walk to Cardiff (walking continuously day and night) so I realised it was doable. I allowed myself nine days to walk the full distance and booked somewhere to stay each night, knowing how far I was going to walk each day. With Lucy in Cardiff I knew I’d have someone to greet me at the finishing line. I had a date booked in so I’d actually do it and told loads of people so I’d have to see it through. Otherwise it would have remained an intention – not an actual thing.
“Walking on my own with the world on my back gave me such a sense of freedom, a sense I don’t often have.”
On the first day, setting out bright and early from London, I walked 16 miles. Luckily the weather was glorious and people on canal boats, noticing the big rucksack, chatted to me along the way and wanted to know all about the walk to Cardiff. Walking makes you look around more, and you notice things like cobwebs, cats, horses, or just a really amazing sky-line. And you feel like you’re not on your own, even though you are, because people are al-ways saying hi along the canals.
I liked doing things at a different pace and not relying on anyone else. I liked the tiredness you feel at the end of the day. Looking at the luminous line on the app showing where I’d walked gave me such a sense of achievement, as did posting pictures on Instagram of all the things I’d seen. There was something about walking and then carrying on the next day in-stead of going home that was just lovely.
Walking on my own with the world on my back gave me such a sense of freedom, a sense I don’t often have. Being a professional childminder means I’ve got kids with me all the time and I also have a caring role for my mum, who has Parkinson’s and Vascular Dementia. Hav-ing so much responsibility, it was just amazing to have some space and simply to focus on my surroundings and putting one foot in front of another. I didn’t listen to music or podcasts – I wanted to enjoy the walk for itself and give myself time to think. And I never felt bored.
What was amazing was how empty it was once I got out of London. There’s just loads of space and I loved how close all that remote countryside is to the built up places. The amount of rubbish in the canal was pretty shocking, but I also saw lots of herons and a weird web lantern full of caterpillars, and cats on houseboats, with their little cat flaps to get in and out. I walked through the woods near Eaton where the hounds for the hunt are kept. I saw and heard so many things.
“It’s important to change the pace of how you’re living occasionally, to just slow it down and step off the treadmill.”
The only thing that stopped me getting all the way to Cardiff was the blisters on my feet. In spite of plasters they got so bad that I had to give up at my next stop off, at Bath, where my dad lives. I cursed my lack of practice and research – I had the wrong type of footwear for the weather and my rucksack was too heavy, leading to these terrible blisters that were in danger of becoming infected. I was frustrated to have to give up on my goal, but still proud I got over the 100 mile mark.
Six months later, in the Spring half-term, I finished my route, picking it up at Bath and carry-ing on. Unlike the previous walk that had been mainly flat, this was up and down, with very different landscapes. From the canal to the Cotswolds Way, across country up the River Sev-ern where I crossed the bridge and turned my body to face one way and then the other, say-ing to myself ‘That way’s England and that way’s Wales’. Lucy got the train and joined me at Newport and we walked together along the Welsh coastal path. It was joyful. Like last time the weather was beautiful. Arriving in Cardiff together felt like such a moment.
I’m so glad I did it. Even though I didn’t manage the whole walk in one go, I still got a mas-sive sense of achievement. And it’s been good for me. I feel renewed enthusiasm for my childminding. I feel very positive. And I’ve got better at making time for me. It feels selfish and pretentious to even say that out loud, but it’s true. Also going through the menopause there are lots of physical changes. My weight has gone up and I feel weaker, so I’ve now built exercise into my week. And I want to be fit enough to do more walking.
It’s important to change the pace of how you’re living occasionally, to just slow it down and step off the treadmill. I’d love to do the whole of the Welsh coastal path one day. And when my other daughter Hannah goes to uni next year, I’d like to do the same walk to see her. Alt-hough as she’s thinking of going to Leeds, that might be a challenge too far.
Words: Marina Gask