This morning I was a Facebook live guest with my friend Lottie Moore. She is an amazing intrepid explorer, hiker, firewalk trainer, mindset coach and someone I would very much like to go on a long hike in the hills with. I know Lottie through the wonderfully supportive training and community run by Kevin and Sarah Arrow, who are largely responsible for my dramatically increased blogging over the last 12 months!
I am really excited to be talking to Lottie today, to share the insights and incredible #mountaintopmoments (Lottie’s hashtag) I have had over the last 12 years since I fell in love with walking in the hills (and in forests, and on the coast, and, sometimes, in the city!)
I wrote this post that follows many years ago – it was my first experience of the healing power of writing. I wrote the first draft in a whir of frantic key tapping, then when I came to edit, I did so through a torrent of tears, and several glasses of wine. You will see why soon! The post was first shared on a long forgotten walking forum, but then it was published on Groundwork’s site as part of a series about places we love. I have amended and updated it somewhat for this release.
The interview is shared at the bottom of the post, do watch, enjoy and please comment, we will see them!
I grew up in the Rhondda Valley, surrounded by hills. When I was a child, my mum loved taking me and my brother, Richard, for walks in the hills. Richard loved these walks. His lifelong love of walking in the mountains started in The Rhondda, walking to Nantgwyddon picnic area, and walking along the stream. I loved going to these places for the games we used to play there, and the Narnia based fantasy games I loved to play in woodlands, but was always much less enthusiastic about the walking parts of it. I was a very slow walker, and much more interested in walks that took me past shops!
So while I grew up into a life of pubs and bands and cider, Richard spent a lot of his life walking. He reached the summit of the UK’s highest mountains. He climbed many Monroes, and wanted to do lots more. He enjoyed many a New Year’s Eve camped out in the Scottish mountains, with some good friends, some good whiskey, and I think some good cigars. I always found this to be very strange – surely it’s better to be warm in a club somewhere?
Walking was one of Richard’s passions, something that I think made him feel really truly alive.
I didn’t understand it before, but I do now.
When he met the woman who was to become his wife, I suspect that the exhilaration he felt was something like the thrill of reaching all those summits merge into one. Sadly, I will never be able to confirm that suspicion because Richard died in October 2005, after just 9 short and difficult months into an amazingly devoted, loving and committed marriage. We knew he was ill for a few months, but we all assumed he was going to be fine. The shock when we knew he was going to die, and trying to deal with the reality that he did die was almost too much to bear.
After Richard died, I came to need my Mum like I hadn’t needed her since she was the only source of my food! We spent many a day sitting at the dining room table of her house, drinking lots of tea, talking and crying together.
At the age of 32, because of my brother’s death, I became friends with my mum at last! Every cloud, no matter how dark, stormy and rain filled, has its silver lining, a lesson I now understand as Pratipaksha Bhavanam, the act of replacing the negative with the positive and looking for the gifts and lessons in every situation. Through our conversations over the next few months I thought about the fact that I was the only one of her children to have never enthusiastically gone for a walk with her, so we planned to walk to the top on the Bwlch.
A short walk that changed my life forever!
We followed a path that starts just outside the house my parents used to live in, you turn left, walk for 30 seconds, and you’re on the mountain. The walk to the Bwlch is one my mother has done with many times with my brothers and my youngest son Liam. The weather was gorgeous as we set off. Within about 5 minutes you have to face a really steep climb. My mum told me that Richard had once said that it was like a part of Ben Nevis.
It was hard. I was not fit at the time at all. The most exercise I got at the time was dancing in gigs or in my house, with a Strongbow in one hand, and a cigarette in the other. My muscles didn’t know what had hit them. I took many many opportunities to ‘Stop and admire the view’ (and to catch my breath). And boy, was the view worth admiring! As I climbed the view got better and better.
I hadn’t realised before that where I live and have always been was so beautiful. It got better though.
When we reached the end of the climb, and the path flattened out, the view that opened up to my left was incredible… a beautiful wooded area I didn’t know existed, just up the way from where I grew up! Feeling dazzled by the beauty I was seeing, I got excited about what more was to come. I was not disappointed.
When the view opened up towards Treorchy we had a plain view of the cemetery Richard is buried in. I located the spot he is in through the tears growing in my eyes, did a double thumbs up, gave him a big smile and thanks, and dedicated my walk to him.
I think I was mostly walking in honour of my brother, and out of a desire to do something with my mum that didn’t involve tea and tears (or at least, not so much). We carried on to the top of the Bwlch, with Richard with me at every step. I felt totally confident he approved of me walking, and would have been proud of me. The feeling of exhilaration when I reached the top of a mountain I had only ever been to in a vehicle before was completely amazing.
To stand at the bottom, and think, oh crap, that looks high/steep/difficult, and then a short while later to be thinking ‘I just walked up here!’ can produce the most overwhelming feelings of ‘all’s well in the world’. It’s brilliant!
It’s a shame you can’t bottle those feelings when you get them to keep for later isn’t it? This walk awoke in me a passion, for beautiful scenery, and good long walks.
Since that first walk to the top of the Bwlch I have walked a lot. My favourite place is anywhere in the Brecon Beacons. My favourite thing to do on a fine weekend or summer evening is go for a walk (it used to be going to a beer garden!). I walk every day – I have to now I have Shanti, my dog, but I walk for my own pleasure as well as her wellbeing.
Walking is excellent exercise, and excellent food for the soul.
I have gone for a walk on many occasions when I have felt extremely stressed, and while it can’t solve problems, it can give you a sense of proportion, and give you time and space to calm the thoughts. My life has been enriched by my discovery of walking, and I will always be grateful to my brother for being so inspiring.
It would of course be better if he was here to share this with me. I know he would have enjoyed introducing me to some of his favourite walks, but unfortunately that can not be. Indeed, if he was, I might never have started walking in order to have the desire to walk with him. Through my continued love of walking, he stays with me in spirit, and continues to inspire me.
Since that first day, I have walked so many miles, in so many beautiful places, and have some wonderful memories and photographs. Walking has given me plentiful opportunities to support charities I care about while having amazing adventures I achieved a lifelong dream in 2010 and trekked the Inca Trail in Peru, raising around £4500 for Macmillan Cancer Support in memory of Richard in the process. I have walked the West Highland Way, and raised £250 for Velindre Cancer Care, after their wonderful support for my Mum when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2013. I have hiked the Taff Trail, 55 miles from Cardiff to Brecon over 3 days, raising £255 for New Link Wales, and most recently walked 25 miles in one day from my home in the Rhondda to the Huggard Homeless Centre in Cardiff, between my friend and I we raised almost £1500 for that organisation.
There are hundreds of photos on my hard drive of views I have seen while walking and over the years I have walked probably a few thousand miles for pleasure and seen some truly breathtaking views. Walking in the countryside really does remind me that we live in a spectacularly beautiful world!
A truly lifechanging decision
That decision to go for a walk with my mother that day absolutely changed my life. As well as giving me a tool to aid my healing from grief, and a chance to bond with my mother, and have adventures, it brought my to a different relationship with my body. I started to enjoy being fitter and healthier, and explored lots of exercise classes and forms, eventually finding Yoga. I think I would have come to Yoga anyway, George Harrison was guiding me there, but walking was, for want of a less corny pun, definitely part of the path that took me there, and for that I still feel profound gratitude to my brother. I think about him often when I am walking, and know that he would be delighted to have been able to positively influence my life so much.
Here is the interview with Lottie, I hope you enjoy it, and please share and join in the conversation in the comments
Have you had any amazing Mountain Top Moments? I’d love if you could comment below to share them with me, and please do let me know if you know of any beautiful UK walks I should add to my bucket list!