I love walking on and exploring long distance paths and happily my walking groups do too. Women on Foot finished the Pilgrim’s Way on the section from London, starting at Southwark Cathedral to Canterbury.
What we all love is the challenge, the range of terrain and environments we walk on and through, and finally the completion and celebration of the achievement.
A long distance path is rather like life’s journey as we pass through an array of different stages, be it the path’s and our own. There are always obstacles to be overcome along the way. Some can be anticipated and others have to be faced when they appear with no warning whatsoever. And we have so much scope for learning about others but primarily about ourselves.
This is why I do what I do in combining my walking and personal development. The platform of the path is ideal.
My introduction to longer distance walking was when I took on a charity walk along the Great Wall of China in 1999 and the journey started, I guess, as soon as I committed to that. Then in 2006 I signed up to do a two day Breakthrough Breast Cancer Walk and ended up leading and training a team of 18 women who all completed the route successfully. I learnt so much from that, much of which I put into practice a year later when I walked the Inca Trail, and again in 2008 when I started the Camino de Santiago. I learn every time I walk and I experience the different phases too and not all are easy, even for someone who has the experience I have.
One long distance path that so clearly marks stages is the Thames Path. I led my walking group on this many years ago, now starting nearer to its end and walking to the source. I am thinking of doing it all again with Women on Foot as it was a fabulous walk.
We would start every month where we ended the month before, ensuring that all sections were covered and we actually started a bit further down river due to the ease of crossing the Thames, as for the first part of the walk there is no path on the North bank. This was great though as it introduced us to a new part of the Thames and many new things to look at.
There is still a lot of development happening along the Thames at a number of different places. Where this occurs you find the path blocked and diversions
needed to be made. It’s those obstacles that you do not expect. Some were clear with great signage, others no clear explanation at all and we did find ourselves wandering over some interesting terrain, wondering where the path would reappear.
Towards the sea, the Thames is very much a working river at this stage and, for me, it is really interesting to see the contrasts between the old industrial side of things and the housing developments, which command large sums of money due to their river frontage or river views. The changes here are constant. Rather like times in our lives. You may be experiencing some of this.
At various points you are left pondering the visual illusion of what bank of the river various things are on. This is so true when looking at the Shard, sometimes I could swear that it is down in deepest darkest Kent. The river twists and turns a great deal and you are never too sure just how long it will take you to reach your destination. Places like Greenwich are a delight to walk through, all those wonderful buildings and the feel of the area takes me back in time. That is also true of some parts of Wapping where you will find some of the oldest riverside pubs in the capital.
One of the things I love on the Thames path through central London is the choice of which bank to walk on. The same river but two different perspectives and a very different walk as a result.
On the Thames goes, becoming very much the tourist river in Central London full of pleasure boats and commuter craft and the odd whale did get stranded once. It also flows past iconic buildings. Further west the leisure side of it is seen with the familiar site of rowing crews and the house boats of various shapes and sizes that line its banks. The bridges, all shapes and sizes and from different historical periods, add their stories just like the many stories we are told or tell in life. And perhaps it’s the stories that we do not tell that shape just as much if we only had the confidence to voice them.
On its journey back to source the river narrows, it takes on different features and the activity on the banks changes. There are still many homes on the river, there are islands and there is ongoing activity. There are beautiful riverside pubs and we get to see so much more of the scenery and this part of the countryside.
We walked to Oxford following this monthly pattern but then the biggest obstacle, how would we complete this walk? Public transport could no
longer work in a way that enabled us to do a section at a time and get home afterwards. In places there was no public transport at all. So those interested, and able to do so, took a train to Kemble in Gloucestershire, the closest station to the source and walked to the spot where the Thames begins and there was not a trickle. We started walking back towards London and after a few miles spotted a narrow flow over reeds and here was the famous River Thames. Over the next four days we walked through the wonderful English countryside and through small towns and villages. We stayed in country pubs and carried all our belongings and at the end of day 4, we walked back into Oxford and celebrated the completion of a long distance path.
I guess we really should have started at the source so perhaps next time this is what I will do, perhaps it may be even easier then to compare it with life but I believe that you can all take the similarities from what I have shared here.
Just think about those obstacles and how you handle them, the choices and which you make and how they have served you as well as the ones you could make now. What about those different perspectives? Would it be useful to put yourself in someone else’s shoes from time to time to understand what is happening and why they may be reacting as they are? As for the changes that happen constantly, they always will. We are not going to escape change, it’s always going to be there. It’s how you deal with it that is important and makes the difference.
There is a lot here to consider and know that no-one expects you to do it all alone or to know where to start or what to do. This is where I come in. At different points in my life I have had to get help from others. I talk about this in my book ‘How Walking Saved My Life’. There is no shame in getting help, in fact I believe that knowing you need it and getting it is a huge strength.
Want the book, you can get it here and if you want to have a chat with me and explore how I could help then email me by clicking on the button below.