Leeds Castle Walk

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On a glorious spring day in March, we arrived at Leeds Castle, Kent in anticipation of the latest Carers Stepping Out walk. It was the first time I had ventured out on one of the walks since starting to work with Sue Mott and team with social media support. I brought my mum along as she was staying with me for a few days – she was absolutely  delighted. The last time I visited Leeds Castle was over 5 years ago and this glorious Castle was  as wonderful as I remembered.

With the walk starting at 10.45am many carers and those in their charge starting arriving, gathering at the entrance excited about the day ahead. The Carers groups that joined our walk included The Friendly Faces of Kent, a support group to bust loneliness and isolation (founded in Sheppey by one of our carers, Lesley Nowell. Touch base Care, Folkestone, joined us too and SOBS Margate – Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide.

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The sun was shining as the carers decided whether to join the 1 mile or 3 mile walk around the grounds – both guided by volunteers from White Cliffs Ramblers, including ex regimental Sergeant Major Les Preston who has experience of this kind of thing from years in the army where he trained soldiers in climbing and kayaking. Les and two volunteers from the Samaritans led a group on the longer route and Sue and Bernard the caring Cockapoo and mascot led the rest of us on the shorter walk meandering alongside the castle and an array of beautiful spring flowers.

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My mum, Marion walked with a lovely lady, Hilary who is a volunteer with The Ramblers as a treasurer, and this was also her first time on a walk with the Stepping Out project. It was heartening to see how they both talked about their lives and shared experiences.  Hilary stayed with my mum who is unable to walk very far these days. We later discovered that Hilary had planned to do the longer walk, but decided to walk with my mum – so lovely. We later stopped for coffee for a while, soaking up the sunshine whilst waiting for those who had taken the longer route. Then making our way to the  restaurant for a delicious lunch. I was able to catch up with Les and hear all about  the work he does with the White Cliff Ramblers. Around the room there were many happy people who had shared experiences and made memories.

As I walked and photographed the glorious scenery and the carers enjoying well needed respite from their normal daily routines, it struck me how there were over 50 people who had come along many as complete strangers, getting to know each other – who rarely having the chance to enjoy the outdoors – with all the worry taken out of organising a day out, this was a poignant moment for me. A real insight into the importance of being able to have access to open spaces, something most of us take for granted.

Along the way I spoke to some of the carers and their lovely charges too, all with their own stories who all agreed that these walks offer a lifeline, something to look forward to, sociable, fun and carefree!

One of the carers who now cares for her partner, talked about happier times when they could enjoy walks like this one, spontaneously whenever they wanted to get out to the countryside. The Stepping Out walks help to keep those memories alive and make new ones; a connection from the past in the present. I feel privileged to be a small part of this project, helping to grow the popularity of the walks through social media, funded by the national lottery through Sports England and in partnership with The Ramblers.

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A huge thank you to the wonderful carers,  fabulous staff at Leeds Castle, Kent who made the day so memorable for us all, especially the extraordinarily helpful attitude of the restaurant staff, including Chris who also works, he told us, as cabin crew for BA. Not forgetting ‘Bernard’ @Bernardlovessteppingout, our caring Cockapoo who puts a smile on everyone’s face.

If you care for someone and want to be part of something quite special, then you too could join one of these walks.

Lee Valley Walk

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THE FIRST DAY OF SPRING and Connie East, 17, had never been so freezing in her life. “Sitting with my bum in ice-cold water for an hour…wow, it was fantastic.” She and a group of fellow adventurers from the Stepping Out project for carers had been introduced to the spectacular joys of white water rafting with the GB Rafting team at the Lee Valley White Water Centre in Hertfordshire.

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For those with less ambition to be sloshed in icy water, the activity was confined to dry land with two walks to suit all capabilities – one around the action-packed Centre itself and another, longer expedition into the Lee Valley Country Park, guided by Rambler volunteers.

Carers and those they care for came from all over the county: Enfield, Hemel Hempstead, Stevenage, Buntingford, Hoddesden and Potters Bar to take part in the fun, which is specially designed as a scenic, sociable, stress-busting occasion for those who look after someone on a 24/7 basis.

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“I know how important it is to look after carers,” said Jean Paul, a full-time carer for 16 years to her son who has severe epilepsy and still his mainstay following his move to supported living. “I’m a member of the Herts Weekend Walkers and I read about Stepping Out in the Ramblers’ Area Magazine. I didn’t know anybody when I turned up but I was made to feel very welcome by everybody.

“I walked in the country park with a lovely lady who has a 19 year old daughter with severe autism. We enjoyed talking to each other very much, I think because she knew I understood. And then, after the walk – oh my goodness, what an opportunity to go out on a raft. It was nerve-racking and amazing. I felt fantastic afterwards. I’ve told everyone about it. I’ll definitely volunteer again.”

Among the other members of the Stepping Out “crew”, GB Olympic swimmer, BBC broadcaster and Karen Pickering, also volunteered for the rafting. Or rather “was volunteered” for the rafting once she had finished the walk through the Country Park.  She’d strategically forgotten her swimming costume and claimed that having retired from the Olympic pool she might fail the “swim-test”.  But, suitably enticed, you can’t keep a competitor from competing.

“It was brilliant, “ said Pickering later, clutching a cup of tea for warmth later alongside fellow surf-rider Cecilia Kumar also from Sport England, the governing body that funds Stepping Out through the National Lottery.

“Stepping Out is such a great project because there’s something for everybody, “Pickering continued. “It opens a door to wonderful opportunities. Many carers would just not think it is possible to have a day out like this, nor be able to afford it.”

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Age is certainly no barrier. Bernie Courtney, 87, from Stevenage virtually sprinted round the short walk, and then revealed that not long ago she’d broken the record at her local Park Run for being the most mature person ever in their group to complete the 5k.

Stepping Out cannot claim to have planned one accidental highlight of the day. The fact that the London Fire Brigade were undergoing their water training was a pure and happy coincidence – but there was a noticeable slowing of the short walkers, which was fully accessible to those in wheelchairs, at the spectator bridge with the best vantage point.

Following lunch in the restaurant, the participants bid good luck to GB rafter, Georgie Preston, who is embarking on an adventure of her own shortly.  “I’m joining an expedition in Madagascar to raft down a river they call “The Mania”. We’re expecting to meet about 20 crocodiles a day, I gather and it’s only the first time in human history that anyone has gone down it.

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“Why?” we asked.

“I guess I’m about to find out,” she said with an entirely unworried grin.

A classic demonstration of Stepping Out’s remarkable ability to put together adventurers of every level.

Huge thanks to: GB Rafting, Lee Valley White Water Centre, Lee Valley Regional Park Authority, North Herts Rambers, NLSH Ramblers, Herts Weekend Walkers, Karen Pickering, Sport England, The Ramblers and, accidentally, the London Fire Brigade.

The first Stepping Out carers walk in Doncaster

 

Wednesday 11th July 2018

Venue: Cusworth Hall, the beautiful Grade I listed building set in acres of historic parkland with lakes, plantations and pleasure grounds with dramatic views across the town. Managed by Doncaster Council.

Cusworth Hall

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A vast cast of 32 carers, the people they care for and staff decanted from the coach from Doncaster city centre into a sun drenched rural scene no more than two or three miles away. Cusworth Hall, set in acres of parkland that include woods, lake and, significantly it would turn out, hills, was a splendid venue for Doncaster’s first ever Stepping Out walk.

With the grit and ambition that seems to characterise so many deeds among Yorkshiremen and women, a party over 20 strong decided to tackle the “long walk” of over 4 miles. Guided by a magnificent team from Doncaster Ramblers, they made a grassy descent down to the lake and then by footpaths and tracks to Sprotbrough before returning mainly along the Trans Pennine Trail.

Among these adventurers was Sandra Wordsworth, 62 from Conisbrough, who has a metal plate and screws in her right leg from two successive falls a few years ago. Despite walking with a stick, she was keen to give it a go. “I’ve always loved walking. We haven’t got a car so my husband and I walk to the bus stop every day into town. I thought it was lovely to walk in the country this time. I thought I’ll give it a try.”

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An even greater number of people took the short walk option, which began with John Garbutt discovering a bird’s nest in a wall. He was good at this sort of thing. Only the day before he’d caught sight of three oyster catchers on a golf course in Armthorpe. His daughter Julie, runs the Doncaster Carers Centre, along with her dad and mum Irene, which has become a haven for carers and the people they care for.

Valerie O’Donoghue, 82, met Dennis Wordsworth, 93, there at one of the carers’ coffee mornings following the loss of their respective partners. “We met across a crowded room. I kept having these little peeps,” said Valerie. “Now we’re together and it’s a new lease of life. We’re very happy and very lucky.”

Likewise guided by the Doncaster Ramblers who had recce’d the route in advance, the short walk expedition came back safely. One splinter group set off under the aegis of a Rambler, a descendant of the Vikings it turned out, on a special mission. Not, in this instance, pillaging but photographing the resplendent water lillies.

Lunch was served on the terrace and there was quite a long wait for the return of last of the valiant four-milers. Much of the group were on pudding by the time word reached us by bush telegraph that Sandra was on the last lap up the hill. As she emerged through the trees, accompanied by her – by now – personal Rambler, the whole crowd burst into spontaneous applause. She waved her stick in salute.

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Sandra crosses the finishing line

“I think it’s the longest walk I’ve done for ten years,” she said later. “We’ve got two adult children with learning disabilities that we look after at home so it’s not easy to find time to go out to do anything. Life’s a bit hectic. And then about eight years ago I had a bad fall down a set of concrete steps which meant I had to wear a pot from my foot up to my waist. I was in hospital in Rotherham for 17 days and then housebound for three months. A couple of years after that I fell down the stairs at home and rebroke the same leg. That’s when they put in the metal plate.

“It was lovely when everyone clapped me. I’m glad I did it. But I think I’ll do the short walk next time.”

WITH VERY MANY THANKS TO THE DONCASTER CARERS CENTRE AND THE DONCASTER RAMBLERS.

No hill steep enough new