Sunday, August 21, 2011

Setting Off

Walking as a hobby? What’s it really all about? Why are some people passionate about heaving a rucksack onto their backs, lacing up muddy old boots and putting one foot in front of the other for mile after mile (after mile) while others – like a former colleague of mine – shudder at the thought and insist that walking is ‘boring’?

I’ve always walked a lot. When I was growing up in the 1960s and ’70s we didn’t own a car. I was such a Buddha of a toddler that my baby sister was in great peril whenever I sat, elevated above her, in my little pram seat. It seemed far safer to keep me at pavement level. So I walked – pretty much everywhere. In those days we shopped locally but by the time I was six or seven I’d happily walk into town centre (a mile and a half) and back again. 

Walking with my dad at weekends was fun. We’d stop at the newsagents where he’d buy a bag of boiled sweets and then challenge us to make each sweet last as long as possible – the strenuous efforts of our legs were forgotten as we concentrated hard on not crunching sherbet lemons.

Fast forward to high school where I was possibly the most uncool teenager who has ever lived on this planet. My obsession with Mario Lanza and Kathryn Grayson aside, I simply saw every outing as a potential expedition and dragged friends all over the place in search of a true hiking experience. Not that I had any outdoor gear – or any notion that packing a map, some water and provisions, even a coat, might be a good idea.

My usual ploy was to persuade some unsuspecting classmate to set off in high-heeled wedges, knowing all along that I had some vague distant destination in mind. Not surprisingly, these forays into the great outdoors usually ended in harsh words and tears, with the other girl informing me that this was the last time she went anywhere – and she meant anywhere – with me.

Life continued in pretty much the same vein for decades. Just ask my daughters about the pre-Christmas lunch walk they were forced to do a few years ago back.

Then a miracle happened. Four and a half years ago, I met Harri at work. We became friends and when, one day, he asked me if I wanted to go for a yomp that weekend, I knew I’d finally found a kindred spirit.

We walk a lot. We walk on fine days and we walk in bad weather. We do long-distance challenge hikes and shorter walks. We’ve walked the Pembrokeshire Coast Path, much of the South West Coast Path and most of the Cambrian Way. We’ve done circular routes around Cardiff and Bristol and hiked in Madeira, Portugal and southern and northern Spain.

Now it’s me who complains about exhaustion, hikes that go on forever and sore feet. You see, he’s far worse than me. Worse than I ever was. Really. He’s obsessed with hiking. And he can seemingly walk forever.

For us both, to be alive is to hike and I hope this blog will inspire others to share our passion.

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