This may sound like quite a bold statement coming from a person who is currently writing about her adventures on foot – but I used to really hate walking! The thought of getting outdoors in the Cornish mizzle, traipsing through cow pat fields, stumbling across pebbly beaches or dragging my unfit body up very steep hills was the complete opposite to what I wanted to be doing. It feels strange to think that only several years ago I didn’t always have such a passion for the great outdoors because now, I spend most of my time daydreaming I was on a mountain or walking the coastal paths in Cornwall rather than complaining of going out for a walk around the block like I used too. I went through stages when I was a kid of enjoying a brief “hobby” like rollerblading, skateboarding or marbles (don’t ask!) which got me outside and when I was young, I loved being out on my family’s farm playing with the hay-bails or helping to move cows from field to field! But for much of my teens, I only walked because I had to! If someone said “come on Jody, let’s go for a walk” I would have grimaced, shuddered and probably cried whilst putting my trainers and coat on because “I reeeally don’t want to go walking, please don’t make meeeee!”
One memory I frequently think back on was when I was younger and ‘forced’ to go for a stroll around (what is now one of my favourite National Trust spots in Cornwall) Trelissick Gardens with my Dad, Step Mum & sister. For the entire walk I stropped around with a face like thunder moaning “are we almost back at the car yet?” I was not enjoying it in the slightest and found myself dragging my feet and scowling at the back of my family’s heads as they skipped along (this is how it looked to a stroppy 10-year-old) having a whale of a time. I kicked dirt, grumbled under my breath and sighed the entire way around and only perked up when we got to the café and I could sit down and gorge on chocolate cake. Looking back now and seeing how different I was is strange because for me, walking is something I would now do all day every day if I could. I love nothing more than the feeling of sliding my feet into my hiking boots and wondering where they would take me for the next few hours. I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing, especially if I need to unwind and clear my head! Don’t get me wrong, I still have my lazy days where I would rather be on the sofa binge watching American Horror Story with a face mask on, sporting my most comfortable PJ’s and eating a ‘sharing’ pack of Maltesers to myself. But for most of the time, if I’m not at work, playing tennis or seeing my family or friends, I will be out there somewhere hiking the hours away.
For me, my love of walking started about 9 years ago when I was 21. I was overweight, lacked any motivation and my self-esteem was at an all time low. Although I was usually the life and soul of the party (the only way I knew to hide how I was really feeling) inside I was missing something. Watching TV with my Gran one day I realised what it was – passion! I always used to do things half-heartedly, rarely saw anything that I started through to the end and didn’t have anything in my life (with regards to hobbies) that I enjoyed or sunk my teeth into. Whilst Gran and I were watching telly, she flicked to a channel where a programme called Wainwright Walks with Julia Bradbury was on. We started watching this intriguing young lady huffing and puffing up the side of a mountain (which turned out to be Scafell Pike) with such gusto and with the biggest smile on her face and I remembered turning to my Gran and saying, “I really want to do that”. A fire had been ignited in me and almost 9 years later, I did do it! I huffed and puffed my way up Scafell Pike and it was bleddy fantastic!
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Fast forward to today and here I am, 30 years old with my own walking group trying to encourage everyone I meet or talk to, to get outside whilst whiling my evenings away planning my next adventures to walk up mountains, through cow pat fields, across pebbly beaches and along coastal paths. Oh, how the tables have turned!
Walking has been a big saviour of mine and creating Cornish Ramblings has been the most rewarding and honouring venture I have ever started. When I first set out with this idea to create a Cornish walking group, I did it purely for selfish reasons. I wanted to explore more of my beloved Cornwall but didn’t want to always do it alone as, If I’m being frank here, I tend to get lost! I wanted to find new places and see more of what was on my doorstep so hoped people who joined my group would let me in on hidden treasures and walks I’d never heard of before. I also wanted to meet likeminded people because although my friends love to go for a walk, I am usually the only one to get excited at the prospect of hills! When I first started out, I went in with the notion I would meet new people and go for a nice walk…lovely. However, what I didn’t envisage was doing all of that whilst also creating a group where it stopped being selfish on my part, but something where I wanted to encourage the world and her wife to join me. It became a group of people from all walks of life who had all kinds of stories as to why they decided to come on one of my walks. Over the months, as it started to grow and attract more and more people, I stopped seeing it as a way for me to make friends and get out more, but used it to help others meet new people, for others to get outside more and for others to see more of what was right on their front door. Of course, I benefit from it because I have met some truly wonderful people who have moved on to become friends of mine, I’ve seen places in Cornwall that I wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for my walking group and, I get to do something I truly love and have a passion for. But now, it’s also a way to encourage others to do the same. I love nothing more than hearing people say at the end of a walk “I really needed that” or “wow, what a view” and even more so, “hope to see you next time”.
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One of my most favourite Cornish Ramblings memories was the day I arranged my walking group to meet at a place called Roughtor so that we could walk up a big hill called ‘Brown Willy’ (go ahead and laugh, I chuckle every time I say the name) to raise money for Red Nose Day 2017. Brown Willy, or Bronn Wennilli if you’d like me to impress you with the Cornish pronunciation, is the highest point of Bodmin Moor and of Cornwall as a whole. Standing a tidy 1378ft above sea-level, it is a mini mountain that I absolutely love to explore. With streams and marshes to dodge and jump across and spectacular views to stare at on a clear day, it is magnificent in its grandeur yet delicious with it’s occasional modesty.
I decided upon Brown Willy as the walk of choice not only because I love it, but because I knew how popular a destination it was for walkers alike. It is a place where many have told me they’d like to take on and I thought, what better place to arrange a charity walk for Red Nose Day, than Brown Willy! I put out details on my Facebook page and within a matter of days, I already had 29 people saying they were going…wowzas! The biggest walk I had ever organised before this one ended up with 25 people which was spectacular, but to go bigger, I knew I needed reinforcements.
BBC Radio Cornwall heard about my charity adventure and the next thing I know, I’m sat opposite the lovely Debbie McCrory with a microphone in my face blurting out Brown Willy (I said willy on the radio…giggle giggle!) to all her listeners in the hopes of encouraging others to join me! Crazy! Over the coming weeks to the lead up to the walk, I had spoken to dozens of walkers who were not only travelling to Cornwall to take part in the walk, but who were also out there collecting sponsorship money from their friends and family. I felt a huge sense of camaraderie and harmony as people messaged me every day to say they were raising money on behalf of this walk or just to say they were looking forward to the day. The closer it got the more the excitement built, but looking at the weather forecast was making me shudder ever so slightly. The dreaded Cornish Mizzle looked likely with thick fog and wind…eek!! Everyday the numbers of attendees grew and when I looked the night before it seemed 40 people were going!!
Whilst driving to Bodmin on the day of the walk, the fog was thickening with every mile and the rain was fairly consistent, so I prepared myself for people cancelling or not showing up because to be honest, I couldn’t even see the road in front of me let alone enjoy the views from the top. I arrived in the little car park and laughed with relief when I saw a few cars parked up and people waving at me – phew, at least I wouldn’t have to do it on my own!! Over the next 20 minutes I was absolutely dumbfounded because to my surprise and delight, car after car kept piling into the car park. I counted 20 people then 30 people and when the car park started to get full I was like, yes, this is actually happening! When everyone had parked up and I had made my way around to each person to introduce myself and thank them so much for coming, I tallied up 58 people altogether!! 58 wonderful people had come from far and wide to take on Brown Willy in the (typical) Cornish weather and I loved each and every one of them for it.
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I’m not going to lie, it was a tough walk with the elements not being on our side, but throughout the entire morning there wasn’t a single complaint and everyone laughed and joked their way around. We were slipping and sliding all over the place with boots getting stuck in unsuspecting bogs and nervous jolts from almost face planting the person in front of you after slipping on a rock – but the feeling of euphoria when we all reached the top was electric. Those that arrived as two’s or three’s ended up walking as five’s and sixes as the chattering picked up and when someone struggled, there were plenty of hands offering support and a pull up. John, from iWalk Cornwall (the app I used for this particular route) and Linda were the saviours of the day as they were at the front leading the way which gave me the opportunity to go backwards and forwards to make sure everyone was okay and to chat to as many people as I could. We also had Guy (the one with the hipflask of rum…of course I didn’t recruit him for the rum!!) at the back who was great at keeping everyone together if someone was flagging a little – the team work was incredible.
On reaching the summit the wind was howling and only a handful of us risked it to the very top of the cairn where we had to literally crawl on our hands and knees to the top – I managed a selfie of course!! But looking down and seeing everyone smiling through the rain and sheltering together with laughter was the greatest feeling I’d ever experienced and I couldn’t help but feel on top of the world in that moment…even whilst getting mild wind burn! We all decided it was best not to hang around too long, but were given a brief moment of respite when the weather calmed for us to have a quick snack and drink. I’d like to say we also had time to take in the views, but unfortunately the views were covered in mist that was adamant in sticking around alongside us!
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On making our way back down, I had a moment of clarity as I stumbled behind everyone – as I listened to the chatterings and laughter I could feel my blood pumping, my heart beating and my feet throbbing and I realised why I did this. Feeling the rush as I reached the top, the excitement of climbing down, the fear of falling over, the thrill of what would be around the next corner, the happiness as I chatted with the others, I realised just how much walking had become everything to me. This was no longer just a hobby but had in actual fact become my life – an obsession, an addiction, that I was willing to feed, fuel, expand and I wanted share it with everyone willing to come along for the ride. Being able to share this with others is the most incredible feeling and I remember smiling and thinking, yes, I have finally found myself!
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“To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter; to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring – these are some of the rewards of the simple life.”