Why I lead walks to inspire people

Marika Kovacs is a walk leader for Hereford Ramblers who also has a visual impairment.

Two people walking together up a hill, overlooking a valley 

Back in 2013, I’d been on a few walks with the Hereford Ramblers and heard people talking about walks they were going to be leading. I kept thinking, ‘I’d like to do that too’.

I asked our group chair if he thought I could do it, and together we worked out a way for me to plan and lead walks.  After a first recce of the route, I transcribe the directions into braille, then do two more recces to double-check them. I also make sure I have someone who doesn’t know the walk to guide me, while I navigate. My first walk in March of that year was a real success and I’ve been regularly leading walks ever since.

Being visually impaired means I’m often told that I can’t do things I’d like to try, which can be annoying and disheartening. So, becoming a walk leader feels like a big achievement.

Walking is something I’m so passionate about. It’s quite a buzz to get back from leading a ten or twelve mile walk that you’ve planned (and to have not lost anyone along the way!)

Another lovely thing that’s happened is that I’ve inspired others to give it a go too. One friend who came on a couple of my walks told me she had never thought she would be able to lead a walk, until she saw me doing it. She said: ‘If you can do it when you’re visually impaired, then surely I can!’ It was a real thrill to go along on the first walk she led, and to know I’d helped give her the confidence to do that.

On my walks, you get a different experience than usual. People often say: “When I’m walking with you, I become aware of things I would never normally notice”, that’s because there is so much more to appreciate than just things you can see. And it’s not just smells and sounds; you can sense a change in atmosphere walking through different trees, or simply enjoy the feeling of splashing in a puddle or the sensation of crunching through a field where the corn has been cut down to stubble. I think even the sting of nettles and scratch of brambles are all part of the walk experience. 

As well as regularly walking around the beautiful Herefordshire countryside where I live, I’ve also enjoyed walks in National Parks over the years, including the Brecon Beacons, the Peak District and the Lakes. Being invited to join in the celebrations for the 70th Anniversary of National Parks up in the Peak District was a wonderful experience.

A man and woman standing in a wooded area, being filmed by a film crew of two people

I think it’s really important that we remember the history of the people that campaigned for National Parks and continue to protect them for the future too. 

We had a fantastic and challenging walk up to Mam Tor and filming with Countryfile was great fun. The highlight of the day was definitely meeting presenter Matt Baker. We walked together for a good stretch and had a lovely chat about National Parks and walking, which was filmed for the show. I’m very excited about making my TV debut!

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Kate Ashbrook

I've been on many walks with plucky Marika and it's always great fun and informative. We listen to birds together, and I have lovely memories of listening to wood warblers with her, whirring in Welsh woods. She told me all about how she prepares to lead a walk, and how she countered the problem of her braille getting wet, which I wrote about on my blog https://campaignerkate.wordpress.com/2013/11/17/wet-braille-is-useless/
Nothing deters brave Marika!

Arthur Lee

I'm privileged to be a very good friend to Marika and helped her lead her first walk. Marika is so easy to guide, to be her eyes, she is so steady on her feet that's all she needs. Guiding is very much a partnership, Marika likes a dialogue of what I'm seeing but I get a feedback of things like birdsong and what Marika feels, so it very much a two-way interaction. Marika is an inspiration and absolutely loves walking. As I'm now unable to walks distances, I find being backup to Marika and friends gives me much pleasure seeing her get so much from her walks.