COVID-19 updates

(updated 21st March 2020 – changes in purple text)

Please find details below regarding changes being made to taylor-made fitness in light of the current situation with coronavirus COVID-19. For the latest Government advice on coronavirus, please click here

I am currently in the process of updating my website to reflect the changes that have been made to taylor-made fitness with regards to coronavirus COVID-19. Please bear with me until everything is fully functional again!

Fitness Pilates and Hi-Li fitness circuit classes:

With effect from Monday 16th March, all in-person group classes have been temporarily suspended and will be delivered as live-streamed or pre-recorded sessions. I have set up a virtual studio in my home so everything is good to go. I will be adding a variety of class options in the coming weeks – please let me know if there is anything you would like me to include.

Please try to carry on with your regular movement practice at home – even if we can’t be in the same space, we can still be collectively exercising at the usual times – physically distant but socially cohesive!

I am going to make a change to the way class bookings are made during this period, so that you will have more flexibility while your finances may be less certain. With effect from April 6th, I will offer monthly subscriptions which will give you access to all my live-streamed and pre-recorded online classes. I hope that you will be in a position to continue supporting me during these changing times, so that taylor-made fitness can still be there to support you once everything is more settled.

I had planned to take a week off 6-13th April but this is currently under review as I’m not sure where I’d go!! I will keep you posted nearer the time and set-up the classes accordingly.

Wellness walks:

At present, I am planning to continue with the Wednesday morning walk as usual and will add an extra walk session on Fridays (details below). In these difficult times, assuming we are not symptomatic, we can all benefit from getting outside and breathing fresh air.

Managing our mental health will be even more vital over the coming weeks and walking is my favourite way to do that. I will be walking and you are welcome to join me if you’d like to.

  • Wednesdays 9-10.30am – meet outside The Old School Hall, Back Road, Sandhurst, Kent – wear wellies or suitable walking boots as all potential routes from here are muddy at present! Dogs welcome.
  • Fridays 9-10.30am – meet by Iden Green pavilion – this will be a circular loop along the quiet lanes; less muddy but also less off-lead options for dogs.

We are lucky to live in a rural setting where we can be outside and away from direct contact with others, even if we are walking in a small, spread-out, group. Here is an article about whether it is still safe to walk, in case you have any concerns: coronavirus and walking

Please note a change to the start time on Fridays (9am instead of 9.15am)

Please do not attend a walk session if you have any COVID-19 symptoms as outlined here or have been in contact with anyone who has these symptoms

There is no charge for these sessions but if you’re planning on joining us please email/text me on the day so that we know to wait for you before setting off. For your own peace of mind, please bring hand gel if you have any as there are no hand-washing facilities available (except puddles perhaps!)

Personal training:

Personal training sessions will continue to be delivered in-person although the following processes will be followed:

  • clients will use their own mats and equipment for their sessions – I will no longer be bringing any items with me and will build sessions around whatever equipment clients have access to
  • I will use hand gel before and after each session as well as using anti-bac wipes on the controls of my van
  • sessions will take place outside at safe distance; where this is not possible we will need to move to live-streamed sessions

PT clients must notify me if they have any COVID-19 symptoms as outlined here or have been in contact with anyone who has these symptoms.

I will be in email contact with individual clients to agree how to proceed and we will continue to review as the situation develops. In the event that clients think they have been potentially exposed to the virus, personal training sessions will need to move to live-streamed sessions. Obviously the same applies if I think have been exposed to the virus.

Sports & clinical massage:

We now have guidance from the Sports Therapy Association which is as follows:

“After spending most of the night reviewing the current Governmental guidance, I have arrived at the conclusion that now is the time to cancel all non urgent appointments and unnecessary social contact , as we are not classed as Allied Health Professionals – that means all clinic appointments, home visits, pitch side commitments and training nights. I’ve shared multiple sources of information over the past few days all of which classifies our role as high risk. I hope that we can look back in several months and say we were wrong and guilty only of overreacting.” Gary Benson Founder of STA

In line with this guidance I feel that my decision to stop offering hands-on treatments from Monday 16th was the best one to take.

Please rest assured that even though I cannot treat you in person at this time, I am still available to offer help as required via online and telephone contact. As well as creating some general self-care release videos that you can use at home, I am also able to offer individual guidance via Skype or Zoom so please reach out if you need my help.

If you have an existing massage voucher, the expiration date will be extended accordingly.

My commitment to you:

This business is my livelihood and my only source of household income, so for sure these are scary and worrying times, as they are for many of you I know. But, more than being my income, this business represents my heart & soul and I am feeling very sad and worried about what might happen to it right now. I know I’m not alone. I know we will get through this. But I’m taking a moment to acknowledge the sadness too.

Today I have been lifted up by the emails & texts of support from all of my lovely clients – thank you so much, it means the world to have that contact. Thank you for your on-going support in uncertain times.

Please keep in touch. Please keep walking. Please (if you can) keep to your usual class schedule at home. Please look after yourselves and your loved ones. Please take time to look up at the sky and plant your feet in the soil. Please take time to lie on the floor and breathe deeply.

I am going to try to keep myself busy creating class content for you and I’ll send regular emails so that you have plenty to keep you busy too. I also plan to complete my L4 Sports Massage course (which is all online) so that I’ll have new skills to share soon. If I get really stir-crazy, I might pack up my dog and a tent and go off-grid for a while…

Hopefully I will see some of you on walks but if not I am here if you need anything – fitness ideas, massage self-care advice, online support, virtual cake & coffee mornings, shopping errands…please shout if you need anything from me at all Jx

How to start journaling

After a few years without a writing practice, I decided that 2020 was the right time for me to begin journaling again. But I didn’t know where to start!! I posted the question on Instagram and here is a collection of the beautiful advice I received and the approach I have decided to take.

Journaling ideas:

how to start journaling

The simplest advice I had was to use a journal firstly for dumping any feelings that came up whilst writing & secondly for noting down any feelings of gratitude. This is a great place to start as it helps us to observe our thoughts and feelings as well as letting go (or parking) anything that we don’t want to keep carrying around all day, whilst at the same time seeking out some positives from our day.

Someone reminded me that there are no bad feelings, just interesting information so I made a note of that in the front of my journal before I got started.

Other suggestions that I found helpful as ideas for journaling, included:

  • writing down positive affirmations (did you know that even if you don’t actually believe them, writing or saying affirmations has an impact on how we feel; take though because this works if we tell ourselves negative affirmations too!)
  • noting down visualisations for how we want to feel, even if we’re not there yet and not sure how to get there either
  • adding some art – flowers, tickets, photos, doodles… whatever works for you (I really like this idea as I’m quite a visual person)
  • setting intentions for the day/week/month/year/life…

And then someone gave me a brilliant list of suggested questions or prompts that we can use to shape/review our day – these can all be present or past tense depending on where you’re at in your day. There were lots but here are some favourites:

  • what am I struggling with today?
  • am I being true to my values?
  • what do I need to take time with?
  • what brings/brought me joy?
  • what would I do if I wasn’t scared?
  • what makes/made me laugh?

Interestingly, this list brought to mind a fabulous poem by John O’Donohue that I had recently found so I printed off a copy and stuck it in the front of my journal. The poem invites the reader to review their day – you can find it by clicking this link: At The End Of The Day – a mirror of questions

My journaling process:

writing a journal

I started my journal with two words for the year. I had been thinking about them for a few weeks, weighing them up and deciding if they were right for me. Having decided that they were, I wrote them on the second page (the first page was filled with my journaling ideas) as an intentional focal point. A benchmark I could come back to when I needed to.

I chose two words – ‘heart’ and ‘connect’ – and added notes about what they mean & why they matter for me.

My journaling practice so far has been split into two points in the day – when I wake up & when I go to bed. I keep the journal (and a purple pen) on the floor by my bed (because that’s how I roll!!) so it acts as a gentle prompt to connect when I’m in that space.

When I wake up:

I have been starting the day with some intentions and some positive affirmations as I find they give me a focus for the hours ahead. Some of them have a personal focus and some are business-related and I really just observe how I’m feeling about the day and note down things that I feel will guide me through it.

It feels really good to stop for a moment before the day gets going, which sounds a bit mad after doing nothing but sleep for a few hours, but I’m finding it really useful.

Some days I set myself defined goals for the day. Usually there’s a reminder about eating well or going to bed early because those are my weak areas…!

When I go to bed:

I have been ending each day with a review of achievements (checking-in with any goals I set myself that morning), things I’ve loved that day, moments that made me smile and how I’m feeling in myself (mentally and physically)

It is so easy to forget to celebrate ourselves and I find this process really helpful. I probably have a tendency to carry around or pick over things I didn’t do well and a few moments doing the opposite has proved really beneficial so far. I go to bed feeling much more positive about myself which funnily enough results in me waking up much more positive about myself – who knew!!

Some nights I also add in a focus for the next day too. For example, I have got into the habit of spending time on social media when I first wake up, which sometimes steals the time I need for a pre-work walk or a relaxed breakfast.

Last night my final journal entry reads as follows: “NO social media in the morning until I’m up, dressed fed and walked” And because I saw that first thing this morning, I got up and did some work, had a shower, ate my breakfast at the dining table and went to work without looking at social media… Proud moment right there!!

journaling

Thank you to everyone who gave me the inspiration to get started. If you’re new to journaling I hope some of these ideas help you to get started. & if you’re already journaling, I’d love to know what works for you Jx

Read my top five wellness tips here

unfurl gently into 2020

I’m really excited to offer you the chance to unfurl gently into 2020 in collaboration with Sally of Wild Orange Yoga and Sharon of Cosmic Healing.

We have put together a beautiful afternoon event combining Pilates, Yoga and Sound Bath with tea & cake!

After the hibernation of winter, and with Christmas behind us, we can start to think about emerging into spring and that will be the focus of our afternoon. As nature begins the process of gently stirring and awakening, we are creating the perfect environment for you to do the same.

I like to think of it as ‘un-hibernating’ – gently opening and releasing the body with Pialtes; waking up and stretching towards the lighter months ahead with Yoga; and relaxing deeply to the sounds and vibrations of the sound bath.

pilates, yoga & sound bath event Saturday 8th February 2020

We look forward to welcoming you on Saturday 8th February. We will provide mats and all the equipment you need for the three sessions, along with a choice of refreshments and cake, and a goody bag for you to take home at the end. You may like to bring a cushion (or two) and an extra blanket so that you can create your own cosy nest for the sound bath session.

If you have any questions at all, or to book your space, please email Sally at: info@wildorangeyoga.co.uk

My top 5 wellness tips…

I’ve had several really interesting conversations this week about weight loss, hormones, wellness, men(!) and life in general! It got me thinking about my top 5 wellness tips, so I decided to share.

kindness
  1. weight loss has come up in conversation with clients a few times this week following some recent coverage in the news. Last week James Corden spoke out against ‘fat-shaming’ on his show (see it here if you missed what he had to say) and earlier this week the topic of obesity hit the news, with psychologists calling for a change in the language used by health professionals. We all know that weight loss can be a complex issue. We eat for many reasons apart from needing to satisfy hunger, and making changes to long-term habits is never easy to start with. However, here are some simple strategies that might be helpful if you are struggling to get started:
    • switching to a smaller plate helps to reduce portion sizes – your body will only take a few days to adjust to smaller meals
    • avoiding foods and drinks which contain artificial/zero calorie sweeteners will help to adjust your palate, so that you gradually stop wanting sweet foods
    • taking more time to chew each mouthful of food not only slows down the rate at which you eat but also promotes better gut health
    • swapping out energy-dense foods for less energy-dense options will reduce overall calorie intake – eg. replace some of your pasta with an extra portion of vegetables
    • making choices, rather than denying yourself everything, will help you to create new habits which are more easily sustainable – eg. choose a glass of wine or a pudding, not both; share a piece of cake rather than having a whole piece
    • focusing on one strategy at a time, and getting good at it before you add another, is sometimes easier than making lots of changes all at once
  2. hormones have been fairly high on my agenda recently and several female clients have chatted with me this week about their own situation. Until I needed some hormonal support myself, I had no idea how complicated it can be finding the right guidance. I am very fortunate that my GP practice has a gynaecology specialist available (only 2 hours per fortnight, but still better than not at all) but I know that option isn’t always available. My advice would be to keep asking for help until you get what you need! If your surgery doesn’t have a specialist on site, ask for a referral. And keep asking until you feel you have everything you need. And go back if things change (which they will!) None of us need to put up with feeling ‘less-than’ just because our bodies are changing, and there are so many potential options out there. In particular, if you need help with pelvic floor issues book yourself an appointment with a Women’s Health Physio who will be able to advise you in much more depth than your GP. You may need to pay privately for this, but there is help available if you need it.
  3. wellness is a generic term covering a whole multitude of health & well being-related issues but one thing that came up for me recently is how much I have been judging myself. Over the past 3-4 years I have been experiencing some anxiety symptoms in certain situations. Without realising it, I have been running an internal dialogue on repeat, telling myself how stupid/weak/silly/pathetic/blahblahblah I am for having these feelings… And then last week someone suggested that maybe I could just accept the feelings for what they are (a small part of where I am in life right now) instead of giving the feelings all of my focus and attention. And a week later I already feel different about the anxiety. It may still rise up but I’m not searching it out or expecting it. And when it comes, I think I’ll be better able to let it go by me. I am not those feelings. I just have those feelings sometimes. And that feels ok. Maybe you have a negative conversation looping around your head too? Maybe you could let them go a bit by accepting them as a small part of a much bigger and more glorious you…
  4. men have been a source of much chat this week too! I have absolutely no tips about men at all – not for nothing am I a very single person!! And I don’t want to spark a sexist debate, because there are always two sides to every situation. And I know that not all men are the same. BUT I will say to the women reading this: don’t let anyone stop you shining your light…none of us need to feel ‘lesser’ so that someone else can feel ‘more’. For any men reading this, the same applies. Let’s all just be great at being us & keep shining!
  5. life in general – this is a big area to cover in one bullet point but here goes:
    • do what makes you happy
    • be kind
    • walk somewhere everyday
    • find exercise that you enjoy and do more of that
    • shop local
    • buy yourself a shower squeegee!
walking

That’s it – everything I know all on one page!

I hope something was helpful for you Jx

Gathering in & letting go

Happy Autumn Equinox!

On Saturday I attended a beautiful sound bath (with Sharon of Cosmic Healing) in celebration of the autumn Equinox. The focus was on gathering in the energy we had enjoyed over the summer months, in readiness for the shorter days & longer nights ahead.

I have been to a few sound baths with Sharon, but this was for me the most relaxing yet. I think my soul felt truly ready to gather itself in and I feel much more settled since the weekend. There have been some unexpected feelings of anxiety for me of late, but I feel that I turned a corner this weekend. I feel that I was able to gather in a positive energy, wrapping it around me like a blanket. And at the same time, I felt that I was letting go of some of the jangly, nerviness I have been noticing. I know it might sound a bit ‘out-there’ but I really felt something shift – and I liked it!

As well as gathering in my personal energy, I have been literally gathering in everything I can find in the hedgerows! I had a weekend of jam-stirring.

On Saturday I noticed some gorgeous rose hips on a local walk. Determined that there must be something good to be done with them, I found a recipe for rose hip and apple jelly, and set to work. An hour later I had filled one (clean!) dog poop bag with rose hips and another with windfall eating apples. A few hours later I was chopping and cooking and straining the juice, ready to create the most beautiful jewel-bright jelly…

On Sunday it was the turn of the dark fruits – blackberry and damsons. I have been gathering these in over the past weeks and freezing them until I was ready to jam. I just love the colour:

And a final word on letting go, because sometimes I think it is even more important than gathering in:

Wishing you a fabulous autumn – lots of gathering & just the right amount of letting go Jx

Walking poles – some pros and cons…

Obviously I’ve been walking pretty much all my life, and I walk the dog every day, but I’m a relative newbie to full-day-walking and have just completed my first long distance walk. To start with I was a bit self-conscious about buying walking ‘gear’ – I felt like an imposter – but over recent months I’ve started to see the benefits of having the right kit.

outdoor clothing
it didn’t take me long to start wearing all the colours!

One of the things I knew I wanted to try was walking or trekking poles. I had previously enjoyed some Nordic Walking sessions from a fitness perspective, and was keen to feel walking as a whole-body (and a mind-body) process, rather than just being all about my legs and buttock muscles. Luckily I have a trekking friend who kindly lent me her poles for a prolonged amount of time while I was training, and I acquired my own poles just before I set off to walk the South Downs Way.

pacerpoles & trig points
Pacerpoles & trig points

Over the course of a week filled with some long & challenging walks, I weighed up the pros and cons of walking poles as I see them. These are my thoughts as a walker (carrying an 11-12kg pack over 8 continuous days), but also as a fitness professional and massage therapist with a good anatomical knowledge-base and a sound understanding of posture & movement. These observations are not scientifically tested, and you may not agree with all of them, and I’m OK with that because you can write your own blog if you want to!!!

The pros:

  • using poles creates less muscle tension in the legs and buttocks because the body is working as a more integrated system, which incorporates more core & upper body engagement. I got back from eight days walking an average of 18 miles a day with no aches and pains at all in any part of my body and I think the poles are largely responsible for that
  • there is less load on the hip and knee joints, because the impact is absorbed through four points of contact (rather than two) and comes into the body via the deeper core (postural) muscles and then to the limbs of the upper and lower body
  • walking poles remind me to walk with a tall, open posture which means that all the systems in the body (muscles, connective tissue, joints & circulatory system) are in the optimal position to work well with each other
  • the poles give extra drive on uphill sections and added stability/deceleration on downhill sections, enabling the body to maintain this open, upright posture even when the walking becomes more challenging
  • as someone who experiences vertigo, I found that walking poles gave me a greater sense of connection to the earth on high and exposed areas, and they especially gave me the confidence to stand, catch my breath & enjoy the view when my brain was yelling at me to keep moving in case I fell!
  • even without vertigo, I feel that walking poles give a feeling of confidence in relation to balance in general, and particularly on loose scree or where there is a noticeable camber – they don’t take away or reduce your body’s natural ability to balance, but I think they definitely enhance it
  • I find that the rhythm of walking with poles is quite meditative – it actually helps me to get into a smooth striding pattern and also helps me notice if I’m not walking evenly on each leg
  • although not something I can personally vouch for, I understand that using walking poles can help to reduce oedema (swelling) in the hands and forearms over prolonged walks, which makes sense because they keep the arms active rather than passive
  • walking poles are also great for bashing nettles, moving brambles out of the way, testing the depth of streams, checking the stability of stepping stones, propping up lightweight canopies and redirecting spiders & caterpillars that are descending from the trees and floating across your path …

The cons:

I had to wrack my brain for these as there really aren’t many negatives – here’s what I came up with:

  • poles are another thing to carry in your kit (even though they don’t weigh much) and if you find yourself not using them for long stretches of your walk I guess that could become annoying (although my preferred poles have found a genius way around this)
  • if you’re walking a dog on a lead it is much harder to get the benefit from walking poles – you can make do with one pole but I think many of the benefits are lost in this instance; I tend to stow them when the dog is on his lead and use them while he is running free, but will also look into a lead for the dog which goes around my waist so that I can keep poling …
  • they can become a potential trip hazard… more than once, on tired legs, I have almost caught myself on one of my poles, but it is usually a case of not focusing on what I’m doing at the time
  • it is harder (but not impossible) to check a map/phone/watch, blow your nose or eat a snack while walking with poles in your hands – I get round this by either stopping and resting my poles against a fence or tree or by tucking them under one arm (like an army sergeant!) while I walk, until my hands are free again
  • using poles can leave your hands & forearms more exposed to the weather conditions (sun, rain or snow) but sunscreen, sleeves & gloves will obviously help you to get around this issue

Which poles are best?

There is a wide range of walking poles available to buy, to suit different needs and different budgets, and I don’t pretend to have tried them all by any means! I have however tried two different styles and have found a firm favourite.

Most poles have a foam, upright grip with a webbing wrist strap. With this style of pole, you slide your hand through and over the strap, and rest your wrist onto it whilst lightly holding the handle. As you walk your grip stays light and you keep the weight of your wrist on the strap.

I used this style of pole for nearly all of my training and had only one problem with them – on longer walks (bearing in mind that it was spring so I wasn’t wearing gloves) I would start to find that the strap irritated the heel of my hand and my wrist and this would gradually niggle me more and more as the walk continued. On a positive note, there are many brands that offer this style of pole and they are easily found in outdoor shops so you can have a try before spending your money.

Once I started researching my options, I saw lots of positive reviews for Pacerpoles but wasn’t entirely convinced that they would be better, until I tried them. They arrived a few days before I set off on my first long distance walk and I was slightly anxious whether I would get to grips (no pun intended!) with the slightly different technique in time. On the third practice day I felt much more confident with them, but in hindsight I realise that actually I didn’t fully find my rhythm with them until a couple of days into my walk. And then there was no going back!

Pacerpoles ergonomic handle design
the handles are left and right-handed

These Physiotherapist-designed poles have a unique moulded handle which is fantastic. Pacerpoles rely on the angled, shaped handle rather than a webbing wrist strap, and as a result they feel really light to hold and much more comfortable.

Pacerpoles unique handle
Pacerpoles unique handle design feels light and comfortable to hold

The handle is held between the thumb and first finger and the heel of the hand then comes to rest on the ledge of the handle as you move forward. The idea is to move from the elbow, lifting and lowering the forearm with each step, rather than swinging forward from the shoulder. It is hard to describe the movement but once you try Pacerpoles you’ll get it!

me and my Pacerpoles at the end of the South Downs Way
done!

I honestly believe that I couldn’t have walked the South Downs Way without poles and I firmly believe that Pacerpoles were the best choice for me.

There were sections that were so steep (up and down), and sections that were so windswept, that I would not have felt safe walking without my Pacerpoles. Even more importantly though was the fact that I never got tired heavy legs – even on days when I felt mentally fatigued and close to exhaustion, my legs never struggled. My pack was heavier than I would have liked (about 12kg with enough water for a full day) but my posture still felt great. Every time I put my poles in my hands I remembered to ‘walk tall’ so they acted as a great prompt as well as a physical support.

Is it ‘cheating’ to use poles?

A few months ago, I had a conversation with someone who said she would never use walking poles because she liked to feel that she was using the strength of her own body for balance and support. She suggested that for her it would feel like ‘cheating’ to rely on poles.

This conversation was a real turning point for me early in my training, when I was still undecided about using poles, because it had me really pay attention to what difference (if any) they made.

I honestly believe that poles help me to walk further (and faster) without any muscle or joint pain. I can feel that my core muscles are providing me with stability and that my leg muscles are then able to work efficiently without any tension. I also no longer feel a long-term persistent niggle in the attachment point of my left hamstrings. (I hadn’t realised that this had stopped being an issue, until it cropped up again when I walked without poles one day after having used them for several weeks)

My goal when working with my fitness & pilates clients is to have them experience movement which is generated from their core and then outwards into their peripheral limbs, without holding tension in any area of the body. Using the core muscles as the base for stability, allows the arms and legs to move more freely, and so it seems natural & obvious to bring this principle to my walking as well. I think this is where Pacerpoles make the difference.

Anything that helps the body move well is definitely not cheating in my eyes! I don’t think using poles is cheating any more than wearing walking boots or waterproof clothing is cheating…it’s just sensible.

Conclusion:

My body simply feels stronger and more efficient when I’m walking with poles. I walked a total of 146 miles over eight days, with a pack, at an average pace of about 2.6 mph, and didn’t feel the need to stretch out my legs more than once in that time. I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have been true if I’d been walking without Pacerpoles.

pack, poles & Kendal mint cake
pack, poles and a little Kendal mint cake!

Of course we are all different so I will leave you to make up your own mind about what equipment to use for day- or long-distance walking. But if you are a regular walker and you haven’t tried walking poles, I would suggest that you borrow a pair (preferably not mine because I will be using them!) to see how you get on…you might be surprised at the results.

If you want to read more about my adventure on the South Downs Way, start here with my notes from day 1

[In the spirit of openness, I want to let you know that I was gifted my Pacerpoles, for which I am truly grateful. However, in writing this post, I have been entirely honest in my appraisal of them and other walking poles. If anything, I have been more analytical in my assessment of them, to satisfy myself that my views have not been unduly swayed as a result]

Random ponderings from the South Downs Way…

walking on the south downs way

I never listen to music, audio books or podcasts while walking because I just love the connection with all the sounds in nature and the chance to let my mind gently process thoughts as I go. I have to admit though, that before I set off to walk the South Downs Way, I did wonder if eight days alone with my thoughts would drive me mad!!

I started to notice what I was thinking about while I walked and there were definitely some recurrent themes:

1) Not surprisingly I thought about my Mum a lot, still processing my grief for her and trying to understand the huge shifts in my family since she died. I think that her life outside her career was quite ‘small’ which is not intended as a criticism of her choices, but more an observation that she perhaps wasn’t a brave woman and never sought adventure. I honestly don’t know if this was her choice or just how life turned out for her. Realising this about her over the past 18 months, has made me very determined to not live small – I do want to have adventures, I like to feel challenged, I’m ok with feeling a bit uncomfortable or scared (within reason!) and when my time comes, I want to know that I have lived before I die. I thought about this probably every day as I walked – in fact, I’ve probably thought about it every day since she died. I didn’t reach any earth-shattering conclusions about how I’m going to live a bigger life, but I definitely made a bigger commitment to doing so…

my Mum

2) I thought every day about vegetarian food!! I was astounded how difficult it was to find good vegetarian food options along the South Downs Way. Admittedly I don’t eat out very often at home so maybe it is the same in pubs everywhere, but the lack of choice or the lack of simple meals was really bizarre. Even shops didn’t seem to stock vegetarian sandwiches, which isn’t exactly hard! One shop had eight sandwich options, all of which included meat or fish. Unbelievable!! One pub had the choice of potato & aubergine curry, vegetable chilli or teriyaki salad – ie. two versions of sloppy spicy stuff or the most disgusting salad imaginable (I know, because that’s what I ordered and it was truly vile). I will happily admit that I’m a tad fussy about food, but a range of options isn’t difficult – something spicy, something bland, something with pastry, something light, something traditional, something exotic… exactly the same as you could reasonably expect for non-vegetarian options. And my biggest gripe was this: if you are a pub serving a (meat) burger in a bun, with fries and salad, why on earth can’t you keep veggie burgers in the freezer and offer a vegetarian version of the same thing??? You already have the other elements of the dish, there is nothing extra to make and zero wastage – so SIMPLE!!! There were of course some exceptions along the way, but they were few and far between and the lack of good nutrition made a significant impact on me. If you’re a pub on the SDW, please add a veggie burger option to your menu…

simple vegetarian food is good…

3) I also wondered every day why the ‘downs’ are called ‘downs’ when clearly they are higher up than nearly everything else and when walking it seemed that I spent far more time going up than down!! I Googled it when I got home…apparently the name comes from the Old English/Gaelic/Welsh name for a hill or hill fort – ‘dun’. So now you know…

high up on the downs

4) Whilst walking, I was surprised to see so few other walkers (it was mostly cyclists) and then it occurred to me that there were even fewer women. I felt like I had entered an alternate universe – a giant boys playground! I did see women walking their dogs but it took until day 4 to see another woman hefting a backpack. There were sometimes female cyclists, but always in the minority amongst a pack of male riders. Is it just that women generally don’t want this kind of adventure or perhaps were they at home enabling the men to enjoy a few days of testosterone-fuelled escapism?? I honestly don’t know the answer but as a lone-walking woman I would just say to other women that the South Downs Way is too beautiful not to get out & enjoy, that it never felt anything other than safe and that adventures are not just for the boys. We need to even-up the numbers ladies – let your men stay at home while you go out to play!

5) My final ponderance came after a great meal in a pub, which was then sadly followed by one of the worst chocolate brownies I’ve eaten…why is it so hard to find a really good, made-for-you chocolate brownie? I’m not the best at baking by any means but I think I can make an ok brownie. It’s not really rocket-science after all… The one in question was too light and sponge-cakey, with no chocolate chunks (or actually any real chocolate at all) and it tasted a bit plastic and burnt. I think it is true of chocolate brownies perhaps more than any other cake-thing, that they so often look really tempting, but nearly always fail to deliver – and yet I can’t seem to stop myself trying them out. But not any more! I hereby swear that I will not eat another chocolate brownie unless I know that it has been home-made (not necessarily by me) and has real chocolate incorporated beneath it’s soft delicate crust…

homemade chocolate brownies from now on…

So there you have my top five thoughts-while-walking. You probably didn’t even want to know what they were, but if you’ve read this far, you do anyway – and at least you now know why the ‘downs’ are called ‘downs’ Jx

After the South Downs Way – notes from day 8

(Eastbourne to Bexhill) 

When I went to bed on Tuesday night I honestly didn’t know if I’d be able to get my boots on to walk one more day. Even though I didn’t sleep the whole night through, I managed to get enough sleep to make me feel more human again  and I was surprised how well I felt when I got up. I decided that I would do this last day for as long as I could. 

Eastbourne Pier looking beautiful in the morning light

I am very fortunate that I have no real experience of pain but I can report that the pain from the blisters on my heels was pretty bad! Once I had left Eastbourne behind me – and wobbled my way over the bridges across the marina – I made my way onto the beach where the tide was receding. Oh happy days!! Firm sand was so much more forgiving on my feet than paved pathways or pebbles. 

thank to whoever knew that I needed a receding tide 🙏🏻

I walked at a gentle-ish pace and stopped every so often to eat something (lesson learned from the day before) or rest my feet, although actually it felt more painful to get started again than to keep plodding along.

As I walked I was negotiating with myself how far I would be able to go. The options, in case I couldn’t keep going to Hastings, where to pick up a train at either Cooden Beach, Bexhill or St Leonard’s. I decided to aim for Bexhill, buy a portion of chips and then see if I could keep going the rest of the way.

By the time I reached Cooden Beach, the sand was more shingle and walking was becoming less comfortable again so I went up to the road and went on from there. Even though the pavement was hard underfoot it was at least consistent and the pain was just about bearable. With one mile to go to Bexhill I was struggling but seeing the DLWP was a great motivation. 

the end!

On that final stretch I realised that I was done! I would buy my chips and hobble to the station to start heading home. The end of my adventure!! I was a bit disappointed not to walk all the way to Hastings Pier but it seemed foolish to go on causing damage to my feet when I knew I had nothing to prove to anyone. I decided that it was definitely a good time to listen to my body…

I hadn’t planned on getting here by train, but it did feel good

The chips: I had been dreaming about buying a portion of chips in Bexhill for several days. The chippy there is fantastic and I thought they would be the perfect energy source. I ordered a large portion and dived in hungrily as I set off towards the station. They tasted amazing – hot, salty and vinegary – perfect…but possibly a little more than my stomach could stomach! 

After several days without hot food, and actually very little food altogether, my body suddenly went into shock and I honestly thought I was going to vomit in the street!! I hadn’t even eaten many but they were determined to come out. Happily the nausea gradually subsided without me making a show of myself and sadly my perfect chips ended up in the station bin. What a sorry end to a wonderful walk!!

my walk!

My total distance was 146 miles over eight continuous day. My highest hill was Butser Hill at 270m (even though it didn’t actually feel like the highest one). My lowest point was probably lunch in South Harting on day three. My favourite hill was Old Winchester Hill. My favourite bed was in a shepherd’s hut called Dolly.

My biggest regret is not doing it sooner but better late than never?! This plaque on a bench at Bo Peep Hill says it better than I ever could:

So now to rest a bit, pop my blisters (I know it’s not advised but it feels so much better!), have hot baths and early nights, cuddle my dog, see my girls, find my appetite, cut the lawn and do some more walking!!! Jx

South Downs Way – belated notes from day 7

(Southease to Eastbourne)

Day seven was an even longer day and another one with limited stoppage time and no note making, so I’m catching up at 3.20am the morning after because my throbbing, aching feet woke me up a while ago.

Proud to report that when I didn’t suffocate H from NZ last night!

trig point #1 of the day – Beddingham Hill

The morning began with a steep climb up towards Firle Beacon. Came across sheep and a deer but no cows so I had chance to stop and enjoy the views. The highest point was some way off and of course there were about 50-60 cows on the path further ahead but I wasn’t phased. I strode bravely ahead to my second trig point of the morning – albeit on the other side of the fence with just some sheep for company, with a bit of barbed-wire negotiation at the top!

trig point #2 of the day – Firle Beacon

There something about finding a trig point that really makes me smile. They’re pretty ugly I guess but by necessity they’re always in the most high up places and therefore usually surrounded by beautiful scenery. I will miss them when I’m home.

Ever since I started planning this walk I was certain I wouldn’t try the Seven Sisters route (going inland via Jevington instead) As the walk went on, and vertigo kicked in more often, I knew that I wouldn’t go over the cliffs, but decided to walk down to the Cuckmere Estuary anyway, before turning back to Alfriston and then on to Jevington. As I was walking there I started to believe that I could do the cliff section, and I knew I would regret it if I didn’t try.

Cuckmere

When I got to Exceat (just above the river) I bumped into the only other walker I had met on the way who was also doing the whole thing in one go. I had seen him on day 4 but then not since and I had been wondering how he had got on. Turns out he got to Exceat 10 minutes earlier and was just going for a coffee with his wife (who had met up with him there) before taking the cliff path to the end. So nice to see a familiar face.

I made it this far…

So long story short: I grabbed a vegetarian sos roll from a cafe, topped up my water and headed for the cliffs…and then I got to the start of them, saw someone standing on the edge, burst into tears and sat down to consider my options:

  • feel the fear & do it anyway
  • walk back up to the road and walk along the edge of it as far as Eastbourne
  • take a short-cut to Jevington and continue from there
  • retrace my steps back to Alfriston and complete the SDW via the inland route

I felt that the only honourable thing to do, given that option one was beyond me, was to retrace my steps and finish well without cutting corners… even though this option added more than 8 miles to my daily total.

The Jevington route was definitely not the easy option – it was actually my biggest number of floors climbed on any day of the whole walk! Once again I was so thankful for my Pacerpoles for keeping me going on these steep inclines.

Sadly I missed seeing the Long Man of Wilmington on Windover Hill. I had expected him to appear above me somewhere en route, but by the time I realised I would need to walk above him and look down the hill, my vertigo legs were back in play and I decided to give him a miss. I can always drive by and see him some other time!!

trig point #3 of the day – Eastbourne (with rain clouds)

The result was a 26.1mile walk that day, two painful blisters and much emotion when I finally sat on my bed in Eastbourne. I didn’t feel any sense of achievement at that point – it was more relief – but I did it! I walked a total of 133 solo miles, travelling only by foot, from Winchester to Eastbourne.

The biggest mistake I made on day seven was not eating enough. I had an almond bar and an apple for breakfast before setting off at 7.20am; grabbed a couple of mini pastries as I left (eaten on the way to Firle Beacon); ate part of a slice of cake when I got to Alfriston; ate part of the vegetarian sos roll and threw the rest away; ate a spinach & something pastry on the way back towards Alfriston, and then almost nothing else until I arrived at the YHA in Eastbourne 6 hours later.

I think the emotions of the day really got to me and I was just so tired and desperate to finish that I didn’t want to slow myself down by eating anything, and actually I was beyond hungry too. Now I’m back home I’m still struggling to eat anything other than crisps, but I’m sure that will ease over the coming days.

I’ll add an update for day 8 soon…I still had a way to go after Eastbourne!!

South Downs Way – belated notes from day 6

(Truleigh Hill to Southease)

I didn’t make any notes as I went along on day six. I did have time before I left in the morning but instead I spent ages looking out to the off-shore wind farm at Shoreham and then I guess I just focused on getting where I needed to be. 

well over half way – good to know there’s a defib just in case 🙂

Day six was the long one – 20 miles on paper / 23.2 miles on foot. More of it was on grassland than previous days which was nicer underfoot but made it much harder to see where I’d come from when looking back. I missed the sense of progress, but at the same time this was the first day with views forward to the cliffs at Eastbourne. Maybe towards the end of a long walk it is good to look forward and start to land back gently into life? 

So back to the start of the day…

I slept for almost 8 glorious hours – but still woke up around 5am. Once I was ready for the day I had to wait for breakfast, but as soon as it was ready I made up 3 jam sandwiches, grabbed a couple of mini pain au chocolate and an apple and headed out the door, eating as I walked.

There were cows within the first hour! I walked (very bravely) through the first group (who were lying down so clearly not interested in me) and was feeling like a warrior – until I saw a small but feisty looking herd waiting to greet me at the next gate!! I decided to wait until someone else came along (safety in numbers and all that) and then noticed two male runners coming towards me so decided I would watch their route and then use it for myself. Happily one of the men read my anxious face at the gate and offered to walk me through the cows to set me on my way. My hero!! Thank you lovely man, especially since you had been telling your friend how much they scared you.

my hero – man on the right

In the ‘cowfusion’ I didn’t check the signage properly and ended up walking a section a little off my path, which took me nearer to the edge and closer to the para gliders leaping off Fulking Hill than was desirable. Total vertigo-inducing sensory overload!!! 

Anyway, I survived, found the right path and carried on past the donkey wheel at Saddlescombe, the golf course at Pyecombe, the ‘Jack & Jill’ windmills at Clayton and on to Ditchling Beacon. On the way I stopped off at Pyecombe church for a cup of green tea (as you do) and an M&S service station to buy something for lunch (the ‘no pork sausage rolls’ were really good – will buy again). The man at the till asked if I had any fuel to pay for – seriously?! I’m wearing a back-pack and holding pair of trekking poles!! Hahaha!

trig-picnic #2

After 20 mins eating lunch atop Ditchling, it was onwards past Plumpton, across the A27, under the railway and up, up, up onto the ridge around Kingston-near-Lewes. I felt as if I was on the ridge for a couple of hours before the gradual decent towards Rodmell and finally Southease YHA. If I thought it was windy the previous day, it was nothing compared to the breeze along the ridge today – I could almost not stay upright in places and used the elastic straps on my poles for the first time.

poppies along the ridge

Today was the first day I’ve had my Pacerpoles in my hands all day. Not only are they brilliant for climbing and descending the hills, but today they really helped me to feel more grounded when the winds were buffeting me about. Very happy I had them today.

Tonight’s sleep is possibly not going to be great! I’ve had an hour or so already but it’s currently 12.30am and H from NZ has just finished sending emails and is now snoring like a good un! And M (not from NZ) spend about 30 minutes repeatedly running water, washing her face & wringing out a flannel before starting on her teeth…there’s a bathroom down the hall!!! She already told me that you can’t come to a hostel and expect to sleep…but I shall repay the favour in the morning when I get up early…. [I was actually very kind when I got up at 5.30am – collected all my belongings and left them sleeping undisturbed]

Also, it was my first (happily only) night in a top bunk. Apparently M reserved a bottom bunk and H from NZ has a bad knee. The other lady here is lovely and offered to swap with me but I reckon if I can walk the length of the South Downs Way on my own, I can cope with a top bunk for one night! And if I really don’t like it, and the snoring carries on too long & loud, I’ll go find a sofa in the lounge…

Eastbourne tomorrow! I can’t actually believe how far I’ve travelled cross-country, although I think my feet can. I’ve got all the way here with just one small blister inside my right heel – the same point I felt it on the very first day I think – but for sure my feet are feeling the miles now. I think sleep will help so I’m going to give it a try – I might just shove my pillow over H from NZ face though first!!!