This Walking Life – one year on
It’s now a little over a year since I began a series of walks around South Wales, walking over 150 miles in June alone, helping to raise over £200 for the Red Cross’s ‘miles for refugees campaign, alongside walks around post-industrial sites such as the Cardiff foreshore and the ruins of the former Llanerch colliery in my hometown of Pontypool.
These walks carried on up until September of last year, with a walk to Bridgend’s Ewenny Priory the last of a golden summer of walking.
As the year neared its end I began to notice I was having difficulty walking, my handwriting became spidery, and my speech was slurred. I began using a walking stick shortly before Christmas and carried on into the New Year.
In my last This Walking Life post I hoped for a better New Year, and it would seem the gods listened to my prayer. Within weeks, the Tories were nosediving in the polls, and I was awarded a grant by the Royal Literary Fund which enabled me to pay another visit to Gladstone’s library, the reading room’s steps a greater challenge than before.
This luck was short-lived, as within months my partner and I were informed that we would have to leave our home of 9 years in Adamsdown, which proved to be a mixed blessing.
The move itself was every bit as stressful as you might imagine, and by the beginning of July we were living in a garden flat in Cathays, but my mental health was beginning to falter, with the upheaval of the move, my health issues, and the recent 20th anniversary, in April, of my mother’s death, a time for much reflection and soul-searching, and so I spent a few days with my family in Pontypool to recuperate.
It was time well-spent. During the 2022 walks, I’d collected a Craigddu brick from ‘Splott Beach’, which had been in our garden on Emerald Street, and which I was hellbent on taking back to the source, which I did on a rainy afternoon, wearing the knackered hiking boots I bought for my hike from Llanhiledd to Pontypool, on a sweltering day in June 2022
Dad and I visited St Fagans on our way back, but I struggled with the steps, losing my footing several times, and by the time I got home, it was clear those dark blue boots had walked their last mile, an oddly moving experience after all we’d been through, and it was hard not to imagine that those boots and I, both much changed in recent months were somehow bonded in profound and mysterious ways.
I wasted little time in getting a new, sportier-looking pair, determined that I would not let my disability keep me housebound.
Living in Cathays has given me a whole new perspective of the city and its environs, my walks into town, taking me past Maindy barracks, where posters invite me to join the army reserve, and the university, during the final weeks of the most recent semester, with the subsequent graduation celebrations, a joyous and life-affirming experience, seeing a new generation of talented young people stepping out into the world in serious need of change.
Though Cathays is much greener than where we were living, Cardiff remains a city that exists largely for its motorists. Though electric buses and cars are a welcome and encouraging sight around the city, it’s still impossible to walk anywhere without some growling twin-exhaust beast of a car blazing past you, not to mention a host of filthy, ancient lorries and motorbikes,
Most egregiously of all, our street in Cathays is home to a car emblazoned with the livery of the energy drink Red Bull, complete with a large metal replica of a Red Bull can welded to its roof. In a summer where temperatures have soared above 40 degrees Celsius in the Mediterranean, the very existence of a car like that feels like the epitome of what is often termed “late capitalism”
In recent weeks, keen to try out my new hiking boots, I’ve walked the Taff trail into town, after one of our neighbours informed me I’d find it ‘just off North Road, around the corner of Tesco and Greggs, having braved both busy lanes of Western Avenue, still using stick for balance.
It’s taken medical professionals almost 8 months to identify the likely causes of my disability, a time of incredible stress and worry for my family and loved ones, but further treatment is pending, and as long as those new boots are still sturdy, and there are new byways to explore, I’m going to carry on walking.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.