A different side to walking

When arthritis threatened to stop walk leader Chris in his tracks, he was worried he was going to have to stop walking. But, during the pandemic, he realised that it’s the experience – not the mileage – that’s the most important thing to him. So, he began planning short circular walks along the spectacular Cotswolds Way, with the emphasis not on distance, but rather the moments along the way...

Row of stone cottages

Snowshill, in the Cotswolds

The past 14 months have been a bit of a jumble for everyone and in many cases, it's forced people to adopt a different pace of life to normal. It's been no different for walk leader Chris who has come to look at walking from a different point of view...

Chris, sitting on a bench beside a rolling hill viewChris (right) has been a walker for many years. Pulling on his gear, he is always excited to head out the door either taking part in a walk or to lead with his local group, the Severnside Ramblers. Based near the Forest of Dean, he is the first to admit he is lucky, having so many spectacular walks starting close to his front door.

But, at the start of 2020, Chris found his walking life changing - and not just because of the pandemic. “I took early retirement at the end of 2019 and promised myself I would start walking (directly from home) on a daily basis.” Arthritis, it turned out, had different plans.

“I had a bad bout that stopped me in my tracks. With it came severe pain in my knees and for a while I did wonder if I would be able to do any meaningful walking again and that thought was quite worrying, realising I could miss something I love to do.”

But as many have discovered, Chris realised joy could be found in walking, even if it was different to what he had originally planned. He gently started walking, keeping the mileage down and the experience up.

“It’s on these shorter walks (always with my dog Amber), that I started recording the coming of spring, flowers, bees, blossom. A 3-mile walk could take me several hours just be stopping, looking, listening. To trot out yet again the old mantra, this is so important for mental wellbeing, just to keep walking.”

A field of grass and poppies, looking towards a village

As many Ramblers volunteers did and continue to do, Chris started plotting out several local routes to walk; into the forest woodland (Forest of Dean), local parkland and to the river. “Something very special was to map a stroll down to Lydney harbour and the Severn estuary for the big skies, changing mudflats and tidal reflections not to mention the bird watching opportunities.”

But Chris’ eyes were drawn elsewhere. “Across the estuary, the Cotswold escarpment looms large on the horizon. This kept me busy in the dark evenings plotting and planning where to walk when we could all meet up again.”

Chris started mapping a series of circular walks on the Cotswolds Way, to celebrate it's 50th birthday and show off some of the very best parts of the spectacular route. The emphasis, he explains, is not the distance but rather the moments along the way.

At 102 miles long, the Cotswold Way stretches from the market town of Chipping Campden down to the city of Bath. It's known for its diversity (shaded woodland, rolling meadows and idyllic Cotswold villages) and it’s a way that can be broken down into many different days. Those hiking it will find themselves moving through history as it takes you past battle sites and Neolithic burial barrows. Along the Cotswold Way, time can muddle a little as you walk through the landscape.

Stone church and houses in a village

Snowshill

Now, as things pick up again, Chris is recceing his walks, getting ready to invite walkers to join him on the led walks later this year. Not only will he be able to share many points of interest on these walks, he’ll be explaining something unique to the Ramblers about this way. “There’s a rather special relationship between it and the Ramblers. It celebrated its 50th anniversary last year since it was first promulgated as a national route by Ramblers members Tony Drake and Cyril Trenfield way back in the early 1970’s.”

Two people, from behind, walking up a hill towards a castle

Broadway Tower

These walks will pull together many elements for Chris: sharing experiences and moments enjoyed along the way, the power of walking for mental and physical health, and the celebration of a wonderful walking way. It’s been a journey to get to the start of these walks for Chris and the next steps look to continue his exploration of the many joyful aspects of walking.

As Chris summed it up, “I’m looking forwards to better times ahead, can’t wait!”

You can find out more information about Chris’ upcoming walks in the group walk programme found on the Severnside Ramblers website.