Walking through my phobias

I have woken up to another bright, sunny day that would make my little corner of the world look beautifully spring like if it were not for the hard frost that has turned outside surfaces a glittery white. If the bitterly cold wind continues to blow then we will not be venturing far today.

Yesterday I went shopping; a most unusual activity for me. I favour browsing the internet and ordering with a click to dealing with slow moving, random strangers as I traipse around numerous shops in the hope of finding what I wish to buy. However, yesterday the male section of my family decided to visit a museum in a town containing a branch of the shop Blue Banana which my daughter would like to entirely empty of stock in her size if she could afford to. She doesn’t need me to accompany her but didn’t object when I suggested doing so. We had a very enjoyable morning together during which she bought lots and I bought nothing. Teenagers seem to need so much.

The boys joined us for a warming coffee (tea, hot chocolate) before heading home, and my husband picked up a new walk book. This surprised me somewhat. We used to go walking a lot together; before the children were born this is how we would have spent our holidays. In more recent times he has left it to me to suggest a ramble and decide on the route. As I see no need to drive in order to walk, these outings tend to be in our local area. We live in a beautiful part of the country and I regularly go on long walks from our front door so this is easily done.

My husband is not one to share his thoughts and plans with anyone until he is ready to take action so I am now left to wonder if we will be expected to head out into the unknown armed with the suggestions from his new purchase. I ponder this prospect with a certain amount of trepidation. Don’t get me wrong, I love going on long walks in the countryside and am happy to explore new areas. I also have a lot of experience of my husbands interest in engineering, his navigation skills and of my own inexplicable phobias.

I have a problem with heights. This is not severe enough to claim to suffer from vertigo but, whilst I may enjoy the expansive view from the top of a mountain, I am very uncomfortable with sheer drops. On a holiday to Yorkshire many years ago we followed a long and winding route through the dales that ended up within sight of the village we were staying in but from the top of a rocky escarpment. To navigate this we were required to scramble down on all fours, finding foot and hand holes as we went to prevent a too speedy drop. I was all for backtracking the entire walk to avoid this finale. The look of irritation on my beloved’s face made me do what was required, but it removed all enjoyment from what had been a very pleasant outing. It was all I could do not to burst into tears.

The one holiday abroad that we have taken together was to Madeira where we walked the Levadas. This amazing irrigation system winds through beautiful, mountainous terrain and makes a stunning route for adventurous walkers. The engineering is impressive as the mini canals cling to mountainsides; why did I not figure out beforehand that there would probably be a fair few sheer and terrifying drops on these routes? I just couldn’t make myself do some of them. My husband was probably disgusted with me, but even that couldn’t induce me walk a six inch wide ledge with no fence and a drop of several hundred feet to the side. I shouldn’t have laughed when he fell in the water because he was willing to come between me and a very fierce, possibly wild dog that threatened to attack us as we made our way back to our accommodation. Those walks were not our most successful.

The levada walks also had tunnels that I refused to go in. Have I mentioned my fear of cramped, dark places? I could never go caving but we have done some walks that required me to go underground with only a torch for light. I can usually force myself to go through with these, eyes closed and clinging to my husband’s hand for guidance, but again they ruin a nice walk. When I agreed to cross the scarily high and narrow Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in Wales I was not warned that the chosen route (Chirk to Llangollen) also included tunnels. Canal walks are usually so pleasant but this one lives on in my memory for the fear it induced.

These marvels of nature and feats of engineering could, of course, be avoided if I researched a walk before agreeing to embark on it. What cannot be predicted is whether the simple fields we will regularly traverse will contain cattle. Yes readers, I am also afraid of cattle. If it were only the udderless ones that send my hypothalamus into overdrive I may understand this particular phobia, but even the gently cud chewing, milk producers will have me retracing my steps when given the choice. My husband does not give me that choice.

Beside all of these irrational fears the simple wrong turns or missed paths that often extend our walks through seemingly unnavigable undergrowth (which has, at times, been taller than me) can almost pale into insignificance. Almost. Soggy boots and scratched limbs from wading through seas of mud or fighting through overgrown reeds or bracken on steep hillsides where no path exists; clambering over barbed wire fences or high walls to reach the path we should be on; walking through farmyards guarded by barking dogs that may or may not be chained, to reach a road that will return us to our route; I have trudged along in my husbands wake, grumbling and begging to just go back the way we came on more occasions than I can remember.

Given these experiences, I am not sure whether to be more amazed that he has put up with me for so long or that I still enjoy going on walks with him. We have had some fabulous holidays together though. We have walked the rivers and mountains of the Lake District in Cumbria, the Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland, Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons in Wales; we have explored the moors and coastlines of Exmoor and Yorkshire, the coastlines of Devon and Cornwall and the forests in Hampshire; we have discovered as many inspiring walks in our home county of Wiltshire as anyone could wish for. We have done this together and, more recently, with our children who thankfully seem to have inherited our enthusiasm for outdoor adventures.

I have yet to look through my husbands new walk book. I guess I could take the initiative and suggest a few of them myself; ones that do not appear to contain scary drops, tunnels or too much low lying farmland en route. The problem with this approach is that it removes the pleasure of being taken out for the day. Just as yesterday’s shopping trip may not have been something that I would choose to do, but was enjoyable as a treat offered up to me, so a walk suggested and chosen by my husband is like a gift. A wonderful gift may not be wrapped as expected and I will continue to try not to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct; picture taken by Akke M...