So, let's walk home from here?
Our trustee, Jeremy Connick, lost his first wife to suicide in 2014, and his wife also lost her elder brother. He describes the fundraising trek they made from Italy to England and the mental health benefits he enjoyed by walking and just ‘existing’.
“So let’s walk home from here?”.
Not a strange sentence unless you happen to be on holiday in Puglia and your home is London. It was 3 years ago that Lisa (my wife) and I rented a villa in Puglia. That was pre-Covid but we both already had our eyes on a change of pace. 3,200 kms… We picked March as a start date and finally this year we were organised and ready to go. We’d both given up our jobs and as we packed up our house and headed to the airport, the sense of excitement was one I had not felt for years.
We spent the first day or so in Rome before the walk started and I could feel the lightness that comes from avoiding the day-to-day tasks of being at home. No responsibility, no clients to think about, no Wi-Fi issues, no Zoom calls, in short no worries.
The route we took was in stages. In summary, Puglia, over the Appenines, Rome, Switzerland, Calais, Dover and Canterbury.
Most impressive was my wife Lisa’s heel blister (the size of a small country at one point). But between us we managed to get shin splints, tendonitis, lost toenails and pack rub. It now turns out that Lisa was walking with a fractured ankle for the last month of the trek. It’s healing slowly.
We had the odd day when the weather was shocking. We were hit by three days of gale-force winds that made walking close to impossible. It really was a case of one step forward and two back on occasions.
There were days where the hills were brutal. That combined with 40-degree heat on occasion had me contemplating quitting! One particular day sticks in my mind. A 28k walk started ending with 10k of continual uphill with no shade, 42 degrees in the shade and 1200 metres of climb. I was exhausted but 2 beers later, an unbelievable view and the realisation that we had a day off in this incredible hilltop town and smiles returned.
The best bits then? I’m going to pick four as otherwise, I’d be going on forever. Apart from the local wine and lovely local people, I’m going with these ones:
The food certainly unbelievably delicious (almost always) and very regional and we ate a lot of amazing vegetables that I’d not tried before. In Campania we ate one of the best meals I’ve eaten in my life.
As for spectacular vistas and scenery, after six months of walking it’s pretty hard to pick the best view or the best moment. We had days of walking up the east coast of Italy and watching that beautiful seascape. There were the olive groves with floors of beautiful meadow flowers beneath them, incredible valleys, amazing views from the plateaus and the utter beauty of Lake Geneva surrounded by mountains that reflect from it. There was one particular walk that was for me almost the perfect trail. It started from near the unremarkable town of Sezze in Lazio to Sermoneta. The climb was tricky. But as we got to the top we were treated to a good couple of hours of walking through what felt like the most perfect valley in the world. Magical.
Third was the history. I’m not a great student and never have been. I tend to learn by people talking at me or by observations - so an active learner.
Fourth - the mental health benefits. I have bitten my nails for probably all but the first 8 of my 58 years. Within days of our walk starting my nails grew and I have cut them more on this trip than in the rest of my life put together.
There is something about the combination of physical effort, focus on what’s around you, absence of technology and background noise that really quietens the brain. I think my brain is and generally has been pretty noisy. Lots of apps open in the brain all the time. These six months have really helped me keep a clean screen and I’ve been amazed at how easy it has been for me just to exist and quite how much I’ve loved it. Shame it’s taken me 58 years to live that way.
My involvement with Rethink Mental Illness as well as part of our motivation for the walk was that we have both my case my first wife and for Lisa her elder brother. We also raised just under £20,000 for mental health charities.
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