Margaret Oxenham is a healthy walk leader in Whitchurch. Here, she tells us about how she got involved with walking.
How did you first get involved with walking groups and what lead you to do this?
I started in 2012 from a notice that I saw on the Withywood Community notice board. I went along with three friends, and our first walk was from Whitchurch library. All of us were retired and were looking for another way to get some exercise – we had already been line-dancing, so this seemed like a good thing to try.
What were your first impressions when you started walking?
It seemed like a small friendly group. It was the friendliness that struck me at first.
What do you enjoy about walking?
I enjoy the companionship and discovering new places in the Bristol area that I didn’t know about before even though I’ve lived here all my life. I also like that it gives me exercise.
What are some of your favourite local walks?
A few of my favourites include: Chew Valley lake, the old Whitchurch railway path, and the nature reserve at The Mounds in Whitchurch, as these are all close to where I live. I actually like all the walks because they all have something different. I also like early morning walks.
How do you feel when you’re out walking? Do you find that walking changes your state of mind?
Since I am one of the walk leaders, I am responsible for up to 25 people when out walking, so I do feel a sense of responsibility that is not typical in the other walkers.
Have you experienced any physical or mental health benefits from walking? If so, how?
It helps me keep fit in a relaxed way.
How did you become a walk leader and what does this involve?
I became a walk leader in February 2013 when I was asked if I would consider becoming one because the group was getting bigger and we needed extra leaders. It involves working with other walk leaders to choose walk routes and recce them in advance of the walks to make sure they are safe and suitable for the level of the walkers. We enter the walks on a programme that we publish every three months. You have a day’s training and then on the walks you are responsible for the safety of your group of walkers.
What are the main pleasures and also challenges of being a walk leader?
I like it because it allows me to carry on with a level of responsibility like I had when I was working. I feel comfortable with this and so can help others to enjoy walking. The challenges are finding new walk routes so that people stay interested.
You’re off to Canada this year for a walking trip with some of your group. Can you tell us a bit about this?
Over the last few years we have had four-day short breaks away within the south west of England because we enjoy walking and socialising and wanted to do something a bit more adventurous. We’ve also done day trips such as boat trips and coach trips. This has evolved into a bigger plan to go to Canada for 18 days this autumn.
What advice would you give to people in a similar situation to you who might be thinking of taking up walking?
Many people come to our group on their own to try it out, and the vast majority come back, so don’t be afraid to join even if you don’t know anyone. Walkers are very friendly people! You don’t need any special equipment, just comfortable shoes. Different groups walk at different levels. Level 1 is short walks for people who are perhaps disabled or recovering from operations; Level 2 is for walks of up to 2 miles; Level 3 is for walks of up to 3 miles, so you can choose a group at an appropriate level. We always have refreshments after the walk, which is good for socialising. I’d recommend it for socialising, making friends and keeping fit.
Along with the walking group (Movers and Shakers level 3) I would like to thank Cheryl Martin from LinkAge Network for all the help, advice and encouragement over the last six years, because without Cheryl the development of the group wouldn’t have happened.
Bristol Walk Fest, the UK’s largest celebration of urban walking, takes place from 1 – 31 May 2018. See what’s happening and when on our events calendar page.