Cotswolds Area of Natural Beauty: Time for a winter walk
13:38 23 December 2016
A winter walk is so refreshing – and it can be life-changing too, boosting mental and physical wellbeing, says Siân Ellis
Spike Milligan once declared in The Goon Show, “I’m walking backwards till Christmas”, which would certainly pose a challenge to one’s sense of balance and direction. Joking aside – and putting one’s best foot forward – walking is without doubt revitalising for mind, body and soul.
A bracing ramble across our windswept commons, a gusty stride along the escarpment, a wander following a stream down a frosty hillside – all encourage that warm throb of wellbeing, and in particular at this time of year help to keep the winter blues (SAD, seasonal affective disorder) at bay as we get out and about in fresh daylight.
With research in the British Medical Journal showing that 65% of Britons spend eight to ten hours sitting on weekdays, with many sitting for eight hours even on weekends – clearly it’s worth getting a wiggle on to counteract our sedentary modern lifestyles.
“The benefits of walking are enormous for health,” says Dr Simon Opher, GP at May Lane Surgery, Dursley. “A recent study showed if we walk for half an hour five times a week, we massively reduce our risks of heart disease and cancer. Walking and exercise are really the miracle cure. Even if we are overweight we reduce our risks of ill health very substantially through walking.”
Further benefits of regular walking include reducing our risks of type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke and osteoporosis, and helping to counteract depression. Plus, of course, there’s the social boost of walking with friends, the pleasure of beautiful scenery, the stress-busting calm of being immersed in nature, or the endorphin boost of a vigorous uphill stomp. All through the simple, mood-enhancing motion of putting one foot in front of the other.
Walking can cost little or nothing – it can even save us money by ditching the car for short journeys. And we probably sleep better at the end of the day too!
With such health thoughts in mind, the Cotswolds Conservation Board is launching a pilot scheme next year, working directly with GP surgeries, to encourage people to get out walking.
“The basic idea is GP referral for a set of self-guided walks,” says Val Kirby, Chair of the Board’s sub-committee involved with the scheme. “Each one will have a well-illustrated leaflet, with a map, route instructions and lots of points of interest about the route.”
The aim is to launch the walks, which are currently under design, at Easter 2017, with routes in Dursley and Cam starting at various places close to where people live. Val explains:
“We want the routes to be about a mile long, on good surfaced footpaths, reasonably level and preferably stile free – although that is always going to be a challenge in the Cotswolds! We want to reach people who are not very agile. If we can we will develop at least one walk in the first set that is accessible to people with pushchairs or in wheelchairs. We would also like to have one of the first set that is a bit more challenging, so people have the opportunity to progress.
“We want to start small, and not only set up the walks but also monitor them, learn lessons, and then apply the learning to more walks in difference places,” she adds. While walks might be accessed by anyone, “The top priority is for people who the doctors think would benefit from walking.”
Dr Opher, who is also involved in the scheme, says, “There are really excellent supervised walks run locally by Stroud District Council. This new idea [from the Cotswolds Conservation Board] is for health professionals like GPs to actually print off a map of a walk and give it to patients. People can therefore discover walks on their own or with friends but not as part of a large group. It is probably the most effective thing we can do as GPs. I am therefore incredibly excited about this scheme and I feel it’s going to really improve the health of our local population.”
The idea of GP-referred walks is not new and Winchcombe Prescription Walks, a collaborative project set up in 2011 thanks to Winchcombe Walkers are Welcome, the weekly Walking for Health leader and Dr Tracy Jackson, have been inspirational. Seven circular self-guided routes, one to two miles long, are spread around town so that wherever a patient lives, they have a route nearby.
Winchcombe has been a trailblazing Walkers are Welcome town in the Cotswolds and also hosts weekly Walking for Health walks (see panel), so it’s no wonder that Sheila Talbot, Chair of Winchcombe Walkers are Welcome can say, “I see a lot more people out walking these days!”
Also check the calendar for lots of walks around the AONB led by Cotswold Voluntary Wardens throughout the year – a great way to explore, discover new places and meet new people.
With so much to recommend it, why not make regular walking your New Year’s Resolution?
Anyone interested in finding out more about the Cotswolds Conservation Board’s new pilot scheme of GP-referred walks can find updates on the website
Group walks and route ideas: to find dates and locations of Cotswold Voluntary Warden-led walks, plus ideas for routes to explore around the AONB including Walks on Wheels suitable for wheelchairs / pushchairs and Miles Without Stiles, visit the Escape to the Cotswolds website.
Walking for Health: England’s largest network of health walk schemes helps people to lead a more active lifestyle. For more information and to find organised health walks near you, visit Walking for Health including Strolling in Stroud District.
Cotswold Walkers are Welcome: make the most of routes, events and facilities in Cotswold Walkers are Welcome towns, from Bradford on Avon to Charlbury (Walkers are Welcome) and including Winchcombe (Winchcombe Welcomes Walkers)
Ramblers: another great source for route ideas and organised group walks to join