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The Variety and the Bizarre


When Julie Welch, the then Editor of Strider, asked us to write The Practicals, she had in mind a collection of ideas, particularly the odd and eccentric. We started to think along those lines, but found it hard to get any unity into the collection.

We then decided to write the story of what we have learned both by experience and from others in the now 50,000 kms we have walked together around the world since planning retirement. Each time we have invited other members to write in with their ideas on that subject.

We were about to bring the series to an end, delighted they have been brought together under ‘Library’ on the LDWA web pages, with the list of our favourites, but first felt we shouldn’t finish on number 13, and second we should go back to Julie’s original idea. The next article will finish the series with our favourite walks.

The People

It would be impossible to list all the types of people we have met walking over the years, but all would be classed as interesting, many eccentric (us included), but most outstanding is the variety of reasons for walking.

Many walk regularly for health and sheer pleasure, others walk only once to fulfil a lifetime’s dream. One Swiss finalizing his PhD took the path to Campostelle to escape the restriction of his university, while a young Peruvian on that same walk was contemplating whether he should join the priesthood. Others walk each year just to think and revue where their life or the world is going.

We are always surprised at those whose only aim is to walk from A to B, usually a long- held goal, oblivious of anything along the way. When asked ‘What did you think of the Monastery we passed?’ or ‘Wasn’t the view from the pass magnificent?’ their answer comes ‘What Monastery/View?’ But who are we to judge?

In huts, monasteries, gitês, B&B’s, tents and shared lunches and dinners, the walkers themselves have been the most rewarding and interesting part of our walks, many becoming lifelong friends. The most unusual was when Nedra found herself on Matratzenlager in the Italian Alps ‘side by side’ with the now Archbishop of Canterbury – but that’s a tale in itself.

Others just do it for the fun of it!

One frequent question we are asked is ‘Don’t you get frightened of some of the people you meet?’ We have walked in many remote places, and not only have we no stories of being frightened, we have endless stories of kindness, courteousness and helpfulness, both in tiny villages and at grand establishments.

The Places

Walking has taken us on paths that millions of people have walked. Your hair stands on end as you stand amongst ruins where millions have worshipped, or on the paths worn metres deep by their feet. Along ridges you are able to look three days’ walking ahead, down gorges worn hundreds of metres deep by eons of water flows, through forests many hundreds of years old, putting you in the continuum of nature and humanity.

The experiences range from the intimacy of the family making cheese in their temporary home on a high alpine pasture, to walking through the ancient ruins of Crete from which we started our first many month odyssey, to the grand vision from the top of the Schwarzhorn with the alps sweeping 360 degrees around us.

The Food

Some say we plan a route with a map in one hand, and the Michelin (now Gault Millau) Red Guide in the other, knowing we can eat and drink to our heart’s (or stomach’s) content as we will walk it off the next day. But many great experiences have come as serendipity in small villages and pubs that nearly match in wonderful food the grand three star places where, despite being booked out months in advance, we have had an extra table put up because we were ‘walkers’.

But nothing could match the night in the Pyrenees in a tiny stone hut with the wind and mist swirling about, when opening our freeze dried package we smelt the various freshly gathered mushroom and funghi dishes being cooked by others around the hut. One had brought up garlic and cream, adding fresh herbs, another onion and white wine, and the third frying with garlic and onions. Maybe it was our prayers being answered, when someone said ‘Let’s eat together and share!’ Was there ever such bliss?

The Truly Bizarre

Julie’s favourite was when we told her of the ‘Femisan’. An attachment with a spout which when fitted allows women to stand, like men, to relieve themselves.

Nedra thinks it bizarre that in bad weather I walk naked under my rain jacket and overtrousers. I find clothes cumbersome and ungainly, and the smell they develop under raingear is hard to wash out. However I was embarrassed after walking through falling snow one morning to find a warm restaurant with no changing room, and having to sit seeming casually through the meal still in all my soaked gear. Ned thought it very funny.

My favourite is Ray Jardine’s advice to avoid tinea while on the US West Coast’s Pacific Crest Trail. He takes a plastic bag of cornflour and twice a day places his sweaty feet into the bag and shakes it through his toes. He doesn’t say it he makes damper with it afterwards!

The Memories

While many of these comments might seem normal to long distance walkers, the mere thought of such a walk is bizarre to the vast majority. However, they stick forever in our mind as we remember them all. Our life certainly changed for the better in 1984, when aged 49, we were talked, much against our then instincts, into walking in Hilaire Belloc’s footsteps on his ‘Path to Rome’.

What would our life have otherwise been – who knows? All we know is that our minds and bodies have benefited, as has our now 54 years of marriage.

The other common question we get is ‘What is your favourite walk?’ We find it impossible to select just one, as it is impossible to compare them. My only comment is I can’t remember a single day’s walking I regret doing, there is always something special to remember, even when tired and in howling rain. In the next and final Practical, we will list our favourites across the board.

This article was written by Bill Orme, Walking Volunteers, and first appeared in Strider.
Anyone is free to copy it with this acknowledgement.

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