I’m really lucky to have several local walks I go on which, whatever season, are beautiful. My favourite walk is up on the top of the beacon, which means an uphill path through farmland, a stroll through the woods, a hike across flat grass with a panoramic view of the whole county and finally a vista that, whatever the weather, is breathtaking.
The most local walk to my home takes me through fields and woodlands – it’s a three-mile stroll crammed with the most beautiful plants and creatures, and often my cat Murphy comes with me.
However, the canal walk is very easy, and it can be a long or short stroll: it’s a four-to-twelve-mile walk that is completely flat, historic waterways on one side, with barges, ducks, swans and herons. In the late summer and autumn, it’s a great place to pick blackberries. In the spring, it’s alive with colour. Always, I meet dog walkers, strollers, ramblers, runners, cyclists and, over a period of time, we become acquainted with each other. A year ago, last January, I was sauntering down the canal path in scarf and boots and, as I often do, I was thinking about a novel, planning a character and a scene, working out details.
I saw a runner coming towards me and as I stepped back to let him pass, he grunted thanks. He was a heavy man, probably in his forties, panting loudly. He was wearing a thick vest and a pair of shorts despite the cold weather and his skin was red with exertion. I was about to walk on, but I decided to wait as, in the distance, a woman with a pony tail was approaching, jogging at a sluggish pace. She was clearly tired from her effort. I assumed she was following the man and, I had to admit, I was very impressed. They were both overweight and working hard to put one foot in front of the other, but it was clear that they were determined to complete the run. As I turned to retrace my steps an hour later, I saw them again coming back, flagging and exhausted, but still going.
I recall walking along the canal, blackberrying, in September and the couple ran past me again. I had to look twice to check they were the same people. I thought at first that the man must be a marine; he was muscular, strong and very fit, but I recognised his face, although it was leaner. One step behind him was the woman, who was jogging at a fair lick, her pony tail swishing. She was slimmer, stronger and comfortable in her stride, as if she’d always been that way.
My admiration for the couple was boundless. They had set themselves fitness goals and they had achieved them. The two lumbering, tired runners who had staggered past me nine months before had become two athletes. What must have originally been a desire to become healthier and a hope to improve, a New Year’s resolution even, had become a reality and a life-style change. The man and woman I saw in January looked like they’d never become an Adonis; as they struggled along, red and sweating, they appeared unlikely to make it to the end of the run, let alone go out again. But their resilience and determination won through.
It’s January now and apparently the most depressing time of the year, especially compounded by the current Covid restrictions and anxieties. I’m thinking of the many people who want to change something this year, who are taking up a fitness challenge like the canal couple, or who are learning a new language, searching for a new career or hobby, battling an illness. At times the going looks tough, almost impossible, but I will take the example of the man and woman running along the canal path with me for ever now. If they can do it, and they did, (and I imagine they are still regularly running along the path,) then there’s hope out there for the rest of us. Aspiration, intention and following through with determination are everything. It’s not easy, but if we try, we might even just get there. And if we don’t, we can always try again.
If you’re on the path to something new and exciting, or just something new and better, I wish you a safe and successful journey. Happy New Year.