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Bev's story: How walking saved my life

Bev's story: How walking saved my life

Bev Baldwin - Nordic Walking

Walking has always been a huge part of my life and, five years ago, it probably saved it.

I’ve loved walking for as long as I can remember. I grew up in the Ribble Valley exploring Pendle Hill, over to the Trough of Bowland and Beacon Fell.

I’ve vivid memories of trotting after my dad on post-church walks over to the New Inns in Blackburn. It’s probably the reason I walk so fast.

I walked to school and used the money I saved on bus fares for the ice-cream van instead. Trudging through snow, wading through thigh-high drifts… it didn’t matter. It was character building.

I walked the circumference of Skipton, hills and all, two days before giving birth to my wonderful daughter Abby. 

And I walked when I first moved to Wigan with my late husband Alan.

We would often go wandering through Borsdane Wood together, and every other weekend we’d venture up to Kirby Lonsdsale – though, due to his health and to my frustration, wild walks were off the agenda unless I took off on my own.

This became impossible when, in 2016, Alan was diagnosed with vascular dementia. I didn’t feel safe walking with him on my own and neither could I leave him behind. By now I had given up my job in HR at Wigan & Leigh College and become his full-time carer.

There’s no cure for vascular dementia, though a healthy lifestyle can help slow its effects, and my attempts to decelerate Alan’s decline are what first introduced me to Be Well.

While Alan had specialist one-to-one exercise sessions at the leisure centres, I’d hop on the treadmill and walk to clear my mind, knowing my husband was in great hands and chattering away about ‘the rugby’ with the amazing instructors Matt or Alex.

We also went on organised group walks, in the safe hands of brilliant volunteers like Geoff and Tony, and took part in the Memory Walks raising money for the Alzheimer's Society, organised by the incredible Tracy.

Sadly, this all came to an end when Alan suffered a fall and it became clear our walking adventures were over.

I was finding it more and more difficult to get out on my own as caring became almost a constant. I did get Alan into Sullivan House for a few days a week though and, once I’d dashed around on all my essential errands, I could sometimes fit in a quick treadmill walk at the gym, or a lap of Mesnes Park.

Looking back, while regular walks became more difficult, the ones I could manage probably saved my life. They gave me a little space to review, reset and recharge. Without them, I’m not sure how I’d have coped.

In August 2019, Alan passed away.

Bev and Alan for blog

Not long after that, at that year’s Memory Walk, one of the walk leaders told me about local Nordic Walking sessions.

I went along to one the very next Saturday, and that’s when I began to explore all of Wigan’s many beautiful green spaces – until, one day, a man in a high vis Be Well jacket named Roger asked me if I fancied becoming a walk leader myself.

Sure, I thought, why not? And then, some time later, I saw an ad for a job as a walking activator… and the rest, as they say, is history.

Now I’m paid to do something I love, and to share that passion with others – knowing how important walking can be.

I remember how, when I couldn’t walk, I felt sad, overwhelmed and ‘boxed in’.

These days I go walking for all sorts of reasons. I have ‘purposeful walks’ when I’ll collect my thoughts for my next meeting, or ‘thinking walks’ when I need to solve a problem – whether work-related or personal. I find I can free-flow with ideas and usually come up with a solution.

I love ‘shinrin yoku’ (or forest bathing) – walking mindfully, all the senses engaged; the umami of the woods, the sounds… of the birds, the wind rustling the leaves, my own footsteps. I love Autumn when it rains leaves, the touch of the air on my face and hands, the taste of the rain and the sights – ever changing, never the same walk twice.

Then there’s the ‘power walk’ when I get in the zone, walk fast and don’t think about anything. I just give my brain a rest and feel fabulous afterwards.

My work gives me a sense of worth, a feeling that I matter. Losing a life partner is difficult beyond words, but in facing the future as an individual my job has given me a fresh chapter to write.

At first I was a little overwhelmed by the number of people I had to meet, but I have amazing colleagues and I love meeting local residents who are always so kind and respond to my greetings.

Although I’m not a true Wiganer, they make me feel like I am – and I genuinely wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I think this is my forever job and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Bev blog - Nordic

I’m often asked what advice I’d give to people who want to walk more. It’s simple: take one step!

There are times when even I don’t feel like a walk (though admittedly not very often), so I’ll say to myself ‘I’ll just go once around the block’ and before I know it I’ve been walking for an hour.

Trust me, even a quick 10-minute walk can make a difference. It’ll lift your mood, get your body moving and reduce your risk of ill-health.

Other tips? Well, make sure you’ve got a good pair of shoes to walk in (though only invest in a good pair of walking boots/shoes once you’ve really started to get bitten by the bug).

Try to make walking part of your routine and walk to work or school if you can. You’ll feel better, save money and be doing your bit for the planet too. I’m realistic, I drive… but I limit my car use where I can, so if it’s only a 20-minute walk I’ll leave the car at home.

Last but certainly not least, join one of the many organised walks you’ll find across the borough. The social aspect is really great; you’ll hear some wonderful stories and make new friends.

These walks happen all year round, but from 25 May to 2 June we’ll be taking things up a notch with the return of our Big Wigan Walk Week!

There are more than 50 walks happening for people of all ages and abilities – from nature strolls and canal walks to our ‘Mint Ball Trail’ celebrating one of Wigan’s best-loved exports!

I’ll be leading many of these walks myself and I’d love to see you there, so please come along, say ‘hi’, and get your steps in!

Bev Baldwin - walking activator, Be Well

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Posted on Wednesday 1st May 2024

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