People ask how long I’ve been walking. It’s a common question asked on the hills. For me it started seven years ago with a pair of boots – my husband’s boots.
Below is a photo that my husband posted to Twitter on Sunday the 9th of February 2014. He was an avid hiker, being a scout for many years, and I had told him I’d join him in some hill walking. So we had gone shopping for hiking boots that weekend, and he was delighted with his pair of new Brashers. He tweeted the picture with a promise that he was going to organise a hike up Slievenamon to give the boots an outing.
The outing didn’t happen. The next day he left for work and that was the last time we saw him alive.
Grief makes a person do strange things. In the coming months, I gradually began to put his clothes into bags for charity. I lugged boxes of his belongings up to the attic when I found the going too hard and I couldn’t make the right decisions. But his new boots sitting on the bedroom floor broke me every time I looked at them. I cried over those boots remembering how he’d wanted to wear them climbing Slievenamon. And, eventually, I decided I would carry them to the top of Slievenamon so that they would get their outing.
It was around this time that a friend mentioned ‘mindfulness’ to me. And, I began to go on mindful walks, taking the boots with me in his scouting back pack.
I walked often, taking in the sights and the smells, enjoying the sound of my footsteps on forest trails. I was overweight and slow. I stopped a lot. But my fitness and my mood began to improve and, after a few months, I could walk up the hill opposite my house without stopping. I took on challenge walks – The Climb to Remember on Galtymore, The Cancer Research Challenge walk in Kerry, the JFK50 walk in Sneem. I joined a local running group and committed to a weight loss programme and a Couch to 5k challenge. And the group announced that they were going to hike up Slievenamon in the New Year and I saw my opportunity to bring the boots to the top.
And, so it was that, almost a year after losing my husband, his boots made it to the top of Slievenamon and, in the words of Helen Shapiro, I was ‘Walking Back to Happiness’.