Today I took a sneaky day off work and headed for the South Downs Way. My goal was to try out Beacon Hill with my walking boots and some new walking poles. And to visit what will likely be the end of the first ‘leg’ (ha!) of my South Downs Way walk; the pretty village of Exton.
I was born with hip dysplasia (DDH) which means my hip joints didn’t form properly before I was born. Early this year I realised that I spent too much energy ‘protecting’ myself physically, and that I needed to walk more to understand and push my limits. Not doing things by halves, I came up with the mad idea to walk the 100 miles of the South Downs Way. I’m also raising money for Steps charity whose slogan is ‘not everyone takes walking for granted’.
Today was a magical day to visit Beacon Hill, about 10 miles from Winchester. I had brilliant Autumn sunshine and breath-taking 360 views, and experienced nature at its best with hedgerows, lush green fields, fluffy white clouds, colourful birds and hundreds of butterflies. Unlike me, all that nature does need protecting and I’m pleased to see the #MendOurWay campaign working to protect and fix broken sections of the trail.
I wanted to try a hill, because hills present a particular challenge for the way I walk. And there are quite a few of them on the South Downs Way!
The right side of my body is my anchor. On the flat, I walk by hitching my right leg to minimise the time on my left leg and use my upper body to create momentum. On a hill, or even a slant, the mechanics of that become a bit tricky. The result is usually a pain in the neck (literally) and a sub-snail pace.
I parked at the top of Beacon Hill and walked downhill first because I actually find it harder than walking up. Up is slower. Down is way less stable, basically because I need to build my bum (J-Lo I’m not!). As it turns out, I did OK today, so my recent tricycling in the local park may be starting to work. The poles helped a lot (thanks Lidl of all places!) and I managed an average pace of 20 minutes per kilometre. I was pleased to get to Exton and met some lovely people in The Shoe pub before turning round and heading back up the hill.
I have a protection mindset about my body that doesn’t always serve me well, which is why I’m doing this walk and writing this blog. What struck me today was how it’s the things that you don’t plan for that end up being your biggest challenge. It wasn’t the hill, the boots, the poles or anything to do with my hips really. It was actually some belligerent cows who insisted on herding me across a field.
Of course this is where protection comes right back in. I had the same feeling of fear that I get when I’m somewhere really crowded where there are lots of boisterous people. Like being on the dance floor when someone decides to start the conga and tries to grab you to join in. For me that means I feel out of physical control.
In this instance it was big cows, small me. It was a great test of pushing through that fear and recognising that I can manage my own physical boundaries perfectly well. And so I just carried on walking.
And, as it turned out, there’s nothing like a herd of cows to give you that extra momentum you need to get back up the hill…