“My 497 Mile Journey” by Hazel

497 miles! That’s the distance between the village in Kent that until November 2023 had been home for the last 25 years and the small town on the south west coast of Scotland that was to become my new home.  To say that I had mixed feelings would be an understatement.  Of course a large part of me was excited.  I love a good adventure and have had the chance to do a fair amount of travelling over the years, so how fantastic to have the opportunity to explore a part of the UK that I didn’t know at all.

However, the excitement was inevitably tinged with sadness. I knew that this move was going to be pretty permanent, with no possibility of returning to Kent in 6 months time if things didn’t work out.  I was going to miss the close friendships that I’d forged over the years, the familiar places that evoked memories at every turn and of course my lovely home with a garden that I’d spent hundreds of hours nurturing.

At the beginning of the year I’d also given up my job as a French and German teacher in order to be able to travel out to Bahrain for a few months with my husband and, having had a taste of life outside the classroom, I was in no rush to return.  But what on earth was I going to do with my time once in Scotland and how, at the age of 59, was I going to make new friends?

And that’s when my thoughts turned to walking, something that I’ve always loved.  I grew up on a dairy farm in the north of England and was always much happier outdoors than indoors – roaming the fields, making dens, paddling in the brook. I reckoned that by joining a walking group, not only would I have the chance to start exploring Ayrshire, but I’d also find like-minded women to connect with. So, a couple of months before the move, I did some research and as I trawled through the internet, two sites in particular grabbed my attention – the first was the Scottish Women’s Walking Group (SWWG) and the second was Gillian’s Walks. 

After several weeks spent unpacking and preparing for Christmas it wasn’t until January that I felt ready to start walking.  I quickly realised that my level of fitness left a lot to be desired so decided to start with shorter solo walks and to sign up for longer group walks as my fitness improved.  The attention to detail in the walking route information provided on the Gillian’s Walks website gave me the confidence to venture forth immediately without someone to guide me.  Along with an overview of the walk covering distance, terrain and how to get to the starting point Gillian also includes photos, a detailed route description and a full and frequently updated report of her own experience of the walk. 

The walks are also linked to the Visorando app and can be downloaded onto your phone.  Once you start a walk your phone will track you and beep if you go off course, which is particularly reassuring if you’re walking on your own.  The Visorando features and settings are explained very clearly at regular workshops that Gillian runs, so before tackling longer walks I attended a workshop at Eglinton Country Park.  The first part of the morning was spent learning about the app and the second part putting it to practice as we walked around the park.  The workshop was great fun and I would highly recommend it – it was a real confidence booster!

I started to tentatively sign up for group walks organised by members of the SWWG. I met some lovely, like-minded people and was made to feel very welcome. However back in January when the sky was even greyer than usual and the wind was blowing a hoolie I felt easily disappointed when the walks I’d signed up for were cancelled or postponed. Rather than battling on regardless, I felt like battening down the hatches.  I missed my friends and family in Kent very much and making new friends is a slow, laborious process. Now and then I’d feel the urge to get in the car and drive the 497 mile journey south… 

But I knew deep down that that would do me no good whatsoever, so encouraged by my husband,  and suffering badly from imposter syndrome, on February 1st I put myself forward as a leader on a SWWG walk for the very first time. I chose Gillian’s Walk 231 (Darvel to Lanfine Estate).  I hardly slept the night before.  Three other ladies had signed up for the walk and I was terrified that we were going to get lost and that it would all be my fault.  I needn’t have worried of course:  by using the map on Visorando and the Gillian’s Walks route description the walk went seamlessly and was enjoyed by all involved.

I have gone on to host several other walks for SWWG and have joined other ladies from the group on walks that they have organised.    I’m also walking much further and feel so much stronger and fitter than I did previously.  As I continue to embrace my new life in Scotland I’ll be forever grateful to Gillian’s Walks and SWWG for doing their bit to help me settle a little more easily.  

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