"I have always been active growing up and during a 34 year career in the Armed Forces. My involvement with the outdoors has grown from treks as a young man in the Dark Peaks, in particular the Saddleworth Moors, to trekking, climbing and canoeing in many areas around Wales, Snowdon, Ben Nevis, the Mourne Mountains, Mount Kenya and Northern Norway, where I have completed three survival courses.
In March 2015, for no apparent reason, at the age of 58, I suffered a stroke, was paralysed in my right arm and right leg and my life changed in an instant! I was planning a trek across France, Switzerland and Italy, but now I couldn’t even make it to the bathroom without assistance. I became depressed, defeated and confused about what the future held.
The hospital was fantastic, the physio’s worked hard and I worked hard, to such an extent that my physio said I was the most stubborn patient she had worked with. I was lucky, other than a few emotional glitches my mind functions okay. It took me approximately 6 months to start to get some good mobility out of my limbs, albeit, I dragged my foot noticeably once I started walking. It wasn’t easy, but it was working and I wasn’t going to give up easily.
Once I was more active I started with short walks locally, then up on the Ridgeway increasing my distance, sometimes carrying a light backpack. I was able to move on to a larger backpack with more weight, taking longer treks and staying out overnight. I knew I was improving, for the first time I could smell the flowers and hear the birds and insects instead of my deep laboured breathing and I became more conscious of my surroundings.
The Ridgeway has a beauty of its own, it’s atmospheric and a great training ground for improving health or preparing for long treks. It was here that I met a keen, energetic trekker called Abbie Barnes who was on a quest to experience the outdoors on as many trails as possible. I never met her again but her passion for the outdoors and its therapeutic qualities stuck with me.
In June 2017, 2 years after my stroke, I walked the Camino de Santiago (the French Way) a 500 mile trek from St John Pied de Port in France, over the Pyrenees and across the North of Spain to the Cathedral City of Santiago de Compostela. I have been back to Northern Spain several times since and have the bug to trek again in both the UK and overseas. I still have the occasional issue with my leg, nothing serious more annoying, but what I have discovered is a renewed passion and wanderlust to travel and trek and will do so until life dictates otherwise, but I won’t give up without a fight!"
What goals do have you in the future or are you currently working towards?
"My main aim is to keep active as long as I can and challenge the ageing process at every opportunity. I plan to get short trips away in the UK discovering trails in Wales, Scotland and Ireland and to grab some trekking time along the coast in Portugal and various tracks in Spain including Northern Spain. There is a magic in Northern Spain, its topography, culture, cuisine, the coast, fresh seafood and local wines that are simple but heavenly.
Next year, 2020, may well see my wife and I doing a house swap for 6 weeks with friends in the South Island of New Zealand. This would be during their winter which opens up a whole array of possibilities. "
What advice would you give someone facing a similar situation?
"When a situation you can’t control, physical, emotional or both, takes hold of you, it’s natural to stress.
Stress has many strands; fight or flight, self-preservation, depression, anxiety, anger, grief, guilt, low self-esteem and I’ve fallen in and out of them all throughout my life. I lost my father when I was 18 and he was 43, lost my mother when she was still young, watched some of those closest to me consumed by alcohol, suffer depression, self-loathing, bitterness and attempt suicide. In the course of my occupation I saw some things that I wish I hadn’t, but I did and I can’t change that, but I can learn how to deal with it. Sad isn’t it!
I can also paint a picture of joy and happiness, of gratefulness and forgiveness and of good times. I like to dwell on the positive picture and black out the sad one. But it’s those times when we are alone that the demons come to play and torment. I firmly believe that my stroke was in part due to stress. Before my stroke I had a business, financial risk was high and the pressure to succeed along with managing my personal and home life was always present. My mind gave me no respite; eating, watching TV, trying to sleep, my mind was constantly being invaded by intrusive, corrosive thoughts. The small hours of the night, unable to sleep, damp with sweat borne from anxiety and worry were the hardest.
My stroke was my equaliser, it taught me that life will control you if you don’t control it first and it will snuff you out without a flicker, a reason, a cause or an excuse. We sometimes think we are alone in suffering, but we’re not, look around, there will always be someone else in a more desperate situation.
Why am I telling you this about myself? Because I found that nature can provide a balance; a bracing walk in the cold air or a walk in a humid or dry climate, fresh oxygen pumping through your veins. The world will go about its business regardless, oblivious to your situation.
When life starts to drag you down, make that bed, wax those boots, sort your kit and make a plan, open the door and step outside, walk to the shops, walk around the local area, walk to ‘Land’s End’ but get outside. Get wet, get cold, get hot, get home, have a bath, cook a meal, fight, fight for yourself. I did, it wasn’t easy, it still isn’t easy but nothing worth having is!
The body and its processes and chemicals may control your brain, but you control your mind. I strongly believe that the brain is part of the visible, tangible world of the body and that the mind is the invisible, transcendent world of thought, feeling, attitude, belief, imagination and most of all spirit. The brain is the physical organ but the mind has power over all bodily systems."