Tuesday, April 9, 2013

What's in a name?

Hiking in mid Wales beats cooking Sunday lunch
I was lying in bed a few nights ago thinking about this blog (as you do) and it occurred to me that some readers might consider its name rather sexist. As ‘The Walker’s Wife’ was I perhaps suggesting that Harri was the pro-active doer and I was the little wife who follows, quite literally, in his footsteps.

It’s absolutely untrue, of course, our relationship is based on equality and shared respect, but in the middle of the night it seemed imperative that I explain the origin of the blog's name. So here goes...

I’ve always been passionate about walking, although in my younger days my wanderings were limited by a lack of transport (my parents didn’t own a car until I’d left home and I didn’t learn to drive myself until my late twenties) and the inability to read a map. Nonetheless, walk I did, as often and as far as possible.

Those early walks weren't anything like the scenic hikes I now enjoy with Harri. For a start, I usually had a reluctant walking companion in tow - a friend, boyfriend, my younger sister... I once even persuaded my then 60-year-old dad that a brisk afternoon walk around Grwyne Fawr reservoir in the Black Mountains was exactly what he needed. To explain, I'd treated myself to my first proper hiking boots and I was desperate to try them out in proper hiking country. 
The majestic Black Mountains
Recently retired, Dad  reluctantly agreed to join me on a strenuous, high speed hike on a scorching summer afternoon. Strenuous because my spur-of-the-moment expedition involved a meandering climb to the summit of Waun Fach (811 metres), high speed because my part-time job at Tesco (in Newport) required that I be sitting at a till in my uniform at five o'clock. My poor dad stoically tried to keep pace with me, a knotted white cotton handkerchief on his head as he struggled uphill and down, never quite sure where we were heading. 

That afternoon was probably the closest I've come to killing one of my walking companions... although, now I come to think of it, there was the freezing cold Boxing Day when my (lack of) navigational skills resulted in an ex and I combing the snowy slopes of Coity Mountain as we searched in vain for the Lamb and Fox (we later learned it's located on the Blorenge, on the other side of the valley). So you see, despite my great and enduring passion for the great outdoors, I didn't really have a clue when it came to preparing for hiking jaunts, planning routes or reading maps. As for using a compass... well, the less said about that... 

In my late thirties, I joined Gwent Mountaineering, a long-established club for mountaineers, climbers and walkers in South East Wales, where I met some very nice like-minded people, like the Abergavenny-based writer and publisher Chris Barber

Harri on top of a summit ... somewhere (I just take the pics)
There was just one problem - our weekly meeting places tended to be hard-to-find car parks in remote mountain areas, frequently a two-hour drive from my home, e.g. the Radnor Forest. With three children to drop off en route, Sunday mornings became just as hectic and stressful as working days. I lived in fear of arriving at the designated car park and finding everyone else had set off ten minutes early. 

The Ramblers met closer to home, and I enjoyed quite a few walks with our local group before a particularly opinionated (male) member told me outright that, as a mother, I should be home cooking Sunday lunch rather than enjoying a ramble. His forthright views (though extreme and misogynistic) rather put a dampener on things. 

Unfortunately, my career and family commitments meant I did very little hiking for several years and then, in 2006, Harri walked into my life (well, to be precise, into my office). We became friends and soon discovered we shared a love of the outdoors, hiking in particular. He texted me one day to ask if I'd like to accompany him on a 'yomp' that Sunday.

The absolutely stunning Whiteford Sands, north Gower
Little did I know it at the time, but that first walk over the Blorenge, would mark the beginning of a whole new life for me - as an outdoor writer's other half. 

Harri started writing for the Walking World website and soon secured a commission to write a book of day walks on his much-loved Gower peninsula

Other commissions quickly followed and I found myself spending more and more time accompanying Harri on his hikes. I prepared our packed lunches and was put in charge of photography. 

How cute - who could eat them?
I enjoyed being involved in Harri's new career, but one aspect of things bugged me. The remit of a guidebook author is to explain accurately and succinctly how to navigate a particular route. Guidebooks demand a lot of mapping and photographs and there simply isn't room to wax lyrically about pretty little coastal villages, how we freed a sheep from a barbed wire fence or the hilarious incident that happened in the local pub.

Yet so many interesting things did happen while we were out walking and these often amusing incidents added hugely to our enjoyment. I mused out loud that I'd like to write about walking too; not in an instructional way but linking our walking experiences with my own thoughts and ideas.

As I'd anticipated, Harri was 100% supportive of the idea and, since day one, he's been my blog's biggest fan. 

He will always be the one who pores over maps for hours on end and knows his north-west from his north-east. Me? I get enthused by newborn lambs, piglets and an unexpected field of daffodils in the Brecon Beacons.

And so The Walker's Wife was born. Not because I'm anti-feminist or subservient, but because like other outdoor writers, I yearn to share my love of wild places with others. 

... the irony, of course, is we're not actually married.

It's good to strike up a conversation with the locals

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