22 November 2018 by Elyssa Campbell-Barr
As the government publishes its first national strategy on loneliness, at the Ramblers we’re spreading the word about how walking can help people overcome social isolation and improve their emotional, mental and physical wellbeing. Here, three Ramblers members who experienced loneliness following bereavement explain how joining a walking group helped them.
Image above shows Marie, out with her Ramblers group
Marie Bowen joined Staffordshire Ramblers to get her life back on track after the sudden death of her husband left her feeling isolated and unable to see a future for herself.
My husband died very suddenly when I was only 33. We hadn’t been married long at all and it felt like I had been robbed of my entire future. People who I’d thought were friends started to drop away after six months or a year and I finally realised that if I wanted to turn my life around, I had to do it myself.
When my mum showed me an article she had read about joining walking groups, I decided to give it a try. It seemed like it might be a good way to broaden my circle and meet people who could become friends, without going to pubs and clubs.
It was a really big deal turning up that first time to meet a bunch of new people, especially on my own. But luckily, the group was really welcoming and some of the people I met on that very first walk are still good friends today.
I’d never really tried walking before – I thought that first walk might kill me! But I’ve achieved things I never thought I’d achieve and visited some great places.
As well as a way to get out and meet people, and try something new, I also met some people who were in similar circumstances to me. It was like a little self-help group – we could talk about our problems while we were walking. A few of us who had all joined at difficult times in our lives, and were all single at the time, also developed a good social life – it isn’t just about walking.
Following bereavement and retirement, John Harding was diagnosed with depression. Finding that regular walks helped, he joined Andover Ramblers and has never looked back.
My wife died in 2004. Initially I managed to keep myself busy with work, family and golf. But in October 2010 I retired, and just after Christmas I was diagnosed with depression. To help, one thing I did was walk to town and back. Wanting to try longer walks, I contacted the secretary of Andover Ramblers and I did my first walk – around Longparish and Harewood – in March 2012. I enjoyed it and felt a lot better for it.
I now have a strong group of friends who I not only walk with, but socialise with outside of the walks and go on walking holidays with. I know that if I need help or advice, they are just a phone call away. I have been able to regain my confidence, lost due to depression – even doing walking holidays abroad on my own. I have also progressed to leading walks and I volunteer for the local committee.
There have been so many highlights over the years, some spectacular views and lots of fun in the pub after walks. A stand-out moment for me was in 2013, when the group had arranged a trip to the Lake District. It felt as if everybody had already paired up apart from me. I was unsure about booking accommodation on my own and definitely did not want to drive 300 miles alone. Then, on one of our regular Saturday walks, I was asked if I was planning to join the group in the Lake District. When I said I had nobody to go with, the couple walking alongside me immediately invited me to come with them, and even booked me a room in the B&B they were staying in!
This moment has stayed with me ever since. It made such a difference to feel that someone other than family cared enough to go out of their way for me. It was a huge turning point for rebuilding my confidence.
After losing her husband of over 50 years, Brenda Smith felt alone and had thoughts of suicide. Joining her local Ramblers group in Worcestershire introduced her to new friends and helped her forge a new life for herself.
I started walking shortly after my husband died. We had been together for 54 years and I loved him so much, to lose him was like losing best part of me.
I decided to seek out a walking group because my husband had told me that I must make new friends – that some would become friends for the rest of my life. Also, I had fractured both feet at the beginning of my husband's illness in 2017 and I thought walking would help build my strength.
I cannot remember much about the first walk, but I know it was not long after he died. I felt very welcome and everyone was so friendly and helpful. Before I went walking that day I don’t think I could have felt any lower. That walk made me think that there could be another life for me - not the same, but another kind of life.
I did a beautiful bluebell walk on a sunny day and remembered a conversation with my husband. When I'd said sadly that he would not see the spring flowers next year, he’d replied: "but I will be in your head and you will see them for me". I felt that day that he would have loved this walk and was so glad that I’d done it.
I always look forward to going on the walks. They make me feel I am in the real world, not the nightmare world of bereavement. I have made a lot of new friends and have even booked a walking holiday on my own for next year. If the people are as friendly as the ones I have met in my walking so far, I know I will not feel alone.
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