Why is walking so important to me.
After working for 39 years for the Police Service in both South Wales and London I was pretty frazzled. My last role held considerable responsibilities managing the computer systems that allowed the Murder Investigation teams - of which there were rather a lot – to investigate serious crime. Along side that I also had in my portfolio the running of the Casualty Bureau for the London area and sometimes the UK, for major disasters and incidents with high mortality. Sleeping in the stationery cupboard became second nature rather than travelling the hour and a half home and back again. Long hours and high stress began to take its toll.
The Universe then took over……. Circumstances overtook me, so I sold my house, sold my mum’s house and we bought a house together in the beautiful Brecon Beacons as mum was poorly, sadly she passed away in 2019. I was still working in London, travelling up on a Monday morning and returning home on the weekend. I gave up work to help care for mum in 2019 and would spend hours walking on my own - my “little bit of sanity” as I called it. Just being out in the hills was therapy for the soul helping me to come to terms with what I had experienced whilst working and mum’s illness. It doesn’t take long to realise how insignificant we really are and walking instilled in me a huge life lesson. The great outdoors gives you a great big dose of get over yourself. Who can’t fail to be in awe when you are standing on a mountain top looking out over the wilderness of the mountains, there’s not a soul in sight and the only sound you can hear are the birds calling. The fact that they’ve been there for thousands of years carved by wind, water, ice volcanic eruptions. Magical. Just being in the moment. We are here for the shortest of times - the countryside we are blessed to have will be here for many years to come.
I met Alan Ward who was offering introductions to navigation courses at the Beacons Visitor Centre so thought I’d go along. It was on that one day course that I met Helen who was observing. Alan recommended I sign up for the HML training and at each part of the training Helen was there, always willing to support and advise. That’s where my love for the hills and walking really expanded. I was now able to walk with confidence off the beaten track searching for piles of stones or spot heights and contours to mention just a few. What’s not to love???
Helen invited me to join her walking group and at first, I was a little apprehensive, I was used to walking on my own. But the camaraderie and fun I’ve experienced on her walks and trips away has been amazing. Likeminded people who enjoy the outdoors, walking and usually talking nonsense. Helen’s walks are pretty much guaranteed to have some fascinating features be it forts, iron works, random meeting points, half lunches and often rain, but nothing stops her from giving her best every time.
Great times, great memories with many more to come.
I've been hiking now for around 40 years, I have always felt quite at home and have had a big love for the outdoors. However I got lost with a friend whilst walking the Llyn y Fan Fach/Fawr circular. We only printed a small map off the Brecon Beacons Tourist Website, I didn't have a clue how to map read or use a compass, so we hadn't bothered to take a proper OS map with us. We ended up having to call Brecon Mountain Rescue out after we'd walked in long wet reeds for quite some time and it was foggy and getting late. We were both exhausted & fed up.
We sat on top of a hill for a while, the mist cleared and we saw a road, so we headed towards it, then the Mountain Rescue guys turned up and saved us!
Shortly after this, I saw a free navigation day advertised on Facebook with Bryn Walking. We went along and really enjoyed the day. Helen and Alan are very professional. They're fantastic teachers, have lots of patience, but also make it great fun! The camaraderie between them is also very entertaining.
I enjoyed it so much, I have since gone on to participate in their events as much as possible around work commitments etc.
I have walked Hay Bluff and Cats Back, Pumlumon, the Blorenge Iron Man Trail, the Kerry Ridgeway with Bryn Walking to name but a few. I have also attended the Hill Skills Course, the Silver NNAS Navigation Course and am hoping to do the Outdoor First Aid Course in December.
Helen and Alan are so welcoming and inclusive, they make you want to return time after time. I am a Single Parent and life is not always easy, but being outdoors amongst supportive friends really helps me to cope with whatever life throws at me. (My son has been school refusing for the last 2 years and my daughter is anorexic. I also broke my wrist on the Blorenge in September 2021).
During the Covid years and shortly afterwards, my teenage children refused to come out of their rooms, except to eat. I found myself at a loose end, so I joined lots of walking/outdoor groups, made lots of new friends and got into Wild Swimming, Hiking, Navigation, Canoeing and also joined Severn Area Rescue Association as a Fundraiser/First Aider. I can honestly say that I now feel more like me than I ever have and I love all the new friends that I've made.
The lockdowns really made people re-evaluate life. For me, walking alongside the River Wye in the Forest of Dean where I live, with the sounds of the water flowing, the birds singing and the trees rustling really helped me to realise that life will go on and that crazy times will pass.
I'm looking forward to having more freedom to camp and travel once my children get older. I would love to do an overnight trip with Bryn Walking, the bothy weekends, Elan Valley, Snowdonia and Morocco Trips look like so much fun and I have yet to sample Alan's BBQ!
Debbie wanted to add a separate foot note of memories with Bryn Walking, here it is:
"I've had loads of fun in the last few years with Bryn Walking and learnt an awful lot too.
I remember the time we did the Festive Christmas walk in Brecon along the canals, we all wore Santa hats and Helen bought some lush homemade mince pies & mulled wine. Alan impressed us all with his historical knowledge of Brecon, with dates and everything, until we caught him out - the dates he was quizzing us about were actually written on the back of his hand! 🤭
Helen made us laugh with her mug: "In case of Emergency, ask Alan"
More recently, Alan bought his humongous Compass out and entertained us by putting it on the Brecon Beacons towel to aid our navigation exercise. 🤣.......everything is done in such good humour, it helps you to learn, but also makes you feel like part of a team and makes you want to return, time and time again."
Thank you Debbie!
Frequently rocky, sometimes tussocky, occasionally blissfully smooth, twisting, turning, uphill struggles, exhilarating, exhausting, heart-warming and mind-blowing. Could it be my life I’m describing, or my hiking adventures you ask? It is either and both, walking is the perfect reflection of both my emotional and the physical journeys!
The first time I was invited by Bryn Walking to write about my hiking 'why’ some four years ago it was based around the reason I had taken up hiking – a door to a different future after the loss of my soulmate. My confidence in the hills has grown massively since then and my reasons have evolved too. Today I can't imagine life without the outdoors, where I can let my soul breathe. Just recently I climbed Mt Toubkal in Morocco and I am a regular on Cadair Idris (Snowdonia). On a less poetic, more practical note, hiking allows me to eat cake and drink cider without the calories languishing on my hips and I can celebrate being alive and kicking after brain surgery two and a half years ago - and turning 60!! Oh, and I'm now an empty nester, so the fantastic social side of walking has saved me on several occasions from turning in on myself and 'stewing in my own juices' 😁
In fact my love affair with the hills is now the way I live my life. This summer I started solo camping, one night at a time, on the peaceful Pwllyn Farm , near Libanus. Pen Y Fan is the last thing I see outside my tent when I turn in for the night and the first thing I see when I wake. The farm has cooking facilities, equipment and showers in a large barn and that’s perfect for this camping novice. The farmer tootles around the wildflower filled fields on his tricycle to keep an eye on everything and that all is well, which is very reassuring for this solo female camper!
My final thoughts: Give yourself permission to switch off the news and social media once a week (it’ll still be there when you turn it back on!). Heaven is not in the Med or a supermarket frozen dessert and the anti-dote to being down in the dumps is not several glasses of wine. It’s in the steadfastness of the hills and mountains, the subtle changing of the seasons and vegetation. Winter WILL come, but so will the Spring. Guaranteed. The clouds and rain eventually blow away. Always.
And thank you to my late partner, for leaving me the most beautiful gift I have ever received - hiking.
Mood boosting power of a good walk.
Mid life brings all sorts challenges and I was experiencing some of these. The result low mood and intolerance. In short bad tempered!
One of the bonuses of this particular week is that I had two walks lined up - one in Aberedw, the third in a series of walks organised by Bryn Walking around this area.
Having asked for this particular walk, it includes Llewelyn’s cave and Twm Tobacco’s grave, there was no way I was going sit at home and ruminate on things I can’t control anyway. The walk is full of legend, folklore and mystery. The passage of time theme here reminded me that everything will pass.
Walking out over the hills and mountains got all my body working - my lungs to full capacity, muscles doing their job, limbs coordinating, blood pumping around my body and the eyes absorbing sunlight - yes the sun did shine despite a gloomy forecast.
Walking helps to put me into perspective - not my problems but me, it reminds that I am short-lived, the trees, rocks and cairns I encounter have stood the test of time and will be here long after I’m gone. The mountains and landscape are static and immoveable - having been enjoyed by others and will be by countless future walkers. Where do I feature? I don’t and that’s good for me to be reminded of this.
Then there’s the power of the people I walk with - sometimes I have a lot to say - sometimes I don’t (yes really!). I even know where to position myself so that I can join in if I want or stay silent and just listen to what’s going on around me. I specifically put my phone away and turn off notifications so the only sensory experience I get is from nature and fellow walkers.
At times during this walk I’ve shared some of my issues and heard from others how they dealt with the same experiences, often with humour when we begin discussing the different dimensions of being middle aged. I don’t feel so alone now. My bad temper is diminished.
Physically my body is reinvigorated, full of good endorphins that have boosted my mood, my mind is clearer and I feel better connected with others. I’ve had a full reset.
I’m now ready and enthusiastic for the second walk later in the week - maybe I can improve someone else’s mood.
I just feel so very lucky to have found Helen and Bryn Walking by a series of events that just fitted into place….I’d completed online courses run by MIND which led onto the Couch to 5K with them, then they passed on the details of a course of weekly local walks to be run in autumn 2022 (luckily on my non-working day) in conjunction with the Outdoor Partnership, of which Helen was one of the leaders.
I had seen Bryn Walking pop up on facebook, had joined and it was on the list of things to do but just hadn’t got around to going out with them, plus if I’m being honest was probably nervous of meeting new people etc. Because of attending that series of walks I was offered a subsidy to do 2 courses of my choice of courses run by Helen – Navigation/Hillwalking/Mountain Walking or First Aid.
In the meantime I did the introductory navigation day run by Bryn Walking and absolutely loved it! I’d never even been to the Kerry Ridgeway before despite living so close. We had perfect misty conditions! I’ve always loved Geography and maps and vaguely recalled some of the map work from school, but not compass work and I’m still convinced compasses are witchcraft! It’s fascinating. It just felt so good to be outdoors and to be learning something! I would never have felt able to just go off on my own for a walk before doing these courses and Helen as a tutor is fantastic, patient, clear and great company. I then went on to do the Bronze and Silver NNAS Navigation courses.
I can’t always make the walks due to work but I’ve since been on a few and what was I worried about?? On every walk there is a lovely bunch of ladies and we chat about all sorts of things (okay mainly our dogs!)
THEN I was introduced to Helen’s counterpart from South Wales, Alan Ward, for a revision nav session and discussion over lunch…a few days later I signed up to go to Annapurna Base Camp in November with them!! I’m also booked onto the Bryn Walking Slate trails trip next year and is lovely to have something so nice to look forward to.
I have gained a new hobby, skills, fresh love of the outdoors (not to mention the Brecon Beacons) and a lovely new group of friends. Feeling very lucky and grateful.
My partner and I moved to rural Wales in 2015 to fulfil our dream of living in the countryside. It was a brave, risky move leaving family, friends and jobs. We took on a new mortgage to buy our cottage and looked for new jobs, prepared to turn our hand to anything, but we did not know things were about to become very challenging indeed.
Just two months after arriving I discovered a suspicious lump and breast cancer was confirmed after a battle with lack of diagnosis. This meant I needed the whole works: mastectomy, removal of some lymph nodes, chemotherapy and then radiotherapy. Fear kicked in big time and I needed to find a way to combat it. Every time I had to attend one of the dozens and dozens of hospital appointments I would offset this with time outdoors. Surgery was in the Autumn, chemo went through the winter. I would don two hats and get out there. In the early summer I camped in my tent near the hospital to attend daily morning radiotherapy sessions. After these I spent all day gently rambling about meadows, woods, river banks, exploring villages and delighting in everything. I came to understand, experience and value the connection between our natural environment and our health and wellbeing on a deep, personal level. During Covid I was not surprised that many people also gained this insight.
Each day I put aside time to be outside. I don’t mind if it’s cold or raining, the point is to engage the senses and enjoy the most ancient relationship that exists for us.