We have a big idea for 2017, one with character. It involves making full use of the outdoors and a plan to help us enjoy the ‘now’. Our adventure is a valid activity for developing and appreciating both the great UK landscape and our incredible bodies, one that reflects our family values. This year Athina and I are walking the famous Pennine Way. From Edale to Scotland in one year; the entire 267 miles (429 km), one of Britain's best known and toughest trails.
Being determined but also flexible
In the heart of winter, in early January, without seeing any barriers to this plan we began our walk. With limited weekends and school holidays available, we foresee it will take a year to complete this challenge. With this in mind, we are adapting our walks to suit Athina’s little, but nevertheless, strong legs! We walk on average 8-14km each time, then we stop and start afresh a couple of weekends later. The next part doesn’t have to start from where the last walk ended, we are free to go somewhere new, as long as we cover the full distance. Good communication and trust is key, Athina is not afraid to ask me to slow down or to stop if she gets tired. It is a vital part of our ‘deal’ working as a mother and daughter team and I want this to be a joyful experience for her. An opportunity to discover a source of happiness and achievement within herself. So far, even with unpredictable weather, we have tackled the route easily and discovered many beautiful corners along the way.
Walking is for everyone
No expensive equipment is needed. Our first walk has done so much to boost our confidence in our abilities that we hardly hesitated. Walking is not a complex activity and our bodies are designed to move. We hope to shift the common perception about getting outside on a warm sunny day only. If we can walk in rain and low temperatures, well so can everyone else! Walking is good for the soul and some truly great thoughts are conceived whilst exercising. This adventure is also about enjoying the present. After all, time is our most precious resource.
Great minds discuss ideas
Time outdoors spent with friends and family is never wasted. On the 19th February, on our fourth walk across the Pennine Way, we invited my work colleague, Dr Laura King, University of Leeds and her husband Joe Quirk, University of Sheffield to join us. We love spending time with interesting people from all walks of life. This challenge is proving brilliant in combining some of our unshakable priorities: exercising and learning. We are discovering that, on the whole, people are people everywhere, the majority sharing the same overwhelming desire to communicate. But our interactive walks are also encouraging Athina to expand her mind. As she gets older, she will have something against which to argue, to question and something she can push her own imagination free against.
Accept what comes easily
Entering the landscape with a map facing the wrong direction is fine, so long that’s what you want to do! In my case I wasn’t checking my bearings; even though I was leading the walk. Too busy chatting, my assumption was based on the first available sign post pointing at the ‘Pennine Way’. This is how we ended up wandering off on the right trail but on the complete opposite direction! But is the destination really important if we are in good company? Sometimes we only realise it was a brilliant mistake after all-
The everyday heroes
Despite the torrential rain, wind and mist we were captured by Laura’s exciting new research project. Laura’s work is important, she honours the everyday silent heroes. It matters because when we connect to others, we become better people. Laura ‘lifts’ people and connects the dots between the past and the present in a surprising way.
This is what she says: ‘As a family historian, I explore the history of ‘ordinary’ people, researching their experiences, attitudes and feelings. This is crucial – history is as much about everyday life, about women, men and children and their personal lives, as it is about kings and queens and international relations. My new project is about the history of dying in Britain 1900 to 1950. This is a period of world war- but I’m focusing instead on people who died in less extraordinary circumstances. I’ll be examining how families mourn and remember not just those heroes who died in conflict, but the ‘everyday heroes’ of family life who died in old age or from illness’.
Laura’s research area on ‘everyday life’ is so interesting, we are going to her lecture this week to find out more. Once again, Athina will be the youngest listener in the theatre but it is never too early to introduce children to University life.
People who like to eat; the best people :)
We planned our healthy snack picnic with a picturesque outdoor setting in mind but the weather wasn’t in our favour. Children lose body heat quickly and out in the open fields the food-stop had to be a quick one. We found a wall to keep away from the wind; moments like these help rediscover what sometimes can be taken for granted: shelter. And as if Laura wasn’t amazing enough, she can bake too! Her peanut butter-chocolate brownies set a spark in both our soul and our bellies! We had a couple and marched off again.
What you see depends on how you view the world
‘What better time to appreciate the mud beneath our feet than when we’re out walking and the view is obscured by low clouds and thick fog?’ asks Joe, a Research Scientist in plants and soil.
He explains: ‘We often bow our heads towards the ground, and perhaps we start to wonder about the soil that is clinging to our boots. Soil has a strong case for being the most precious natural resource to humankind. Soils are a mixture of minerals, decaying organic matter and countless insects and microorganisms that dust the surface of the Earth in a fine layer that is perhaps only 0.003% of the thickness of the Earth’s solid crust. Yet this fine dusting of soil must sustain all of life on Earth with the food our fellow land animals and we need to eat. Soils are also an important reservoir for greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane, and the more they are disturbed by intensive land use and the effects of climate change, the more of these gases they release to the atmosphere. Soils take many hundreds of years to develop as rocks and minerals break down and many generations of plants live, die and decay, but they can be eroded away and lost in no time if they are not properly managed. During the Dust Bowl in 1930s America many people watched their livelihoods simply blow away in a matter of days. Our soils are becoming exhausted, and farmers need to keep adding phosphorus fertiliser to replenish that which is lost, but there is only so much mineral phosphorus that can be mined. So spare a thought for the dirt beneath your feet, life on Earth literally depends on it.'
After this analysis, we admit that we will never look at mother earth the same way again; health begins in the soil after all.
The end result
A good walk is one that comes to an end and we almost don’t notice but get there anyway. We walked 14km from Standedge and it was important, but only as part of the enjoyable time that came before. No matter the weather, at the end of our walk we always smile and say ‘We are glad we did this’.
Simply being outside exercising, puts colour in our cheeks, making us feel good and helping charge our lives with gratitude and appreciation of our home luxuries. ‘When I go home I will have a hot chocolate and a hot shower Mummy’ says Athina.
Walking with people like Laura and Joe; good people, made today a rewarding experience. Yes, we went the opposite direction but does it really matter? (we would walk that section at some point anyway!) Sometimes it’s the end result that counts.