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"How I discovered the joy of walking..."

Esther PicRead how Esther Nagle's brother Richard inspired her to take up a hobby that would change her life...

I grew up in the Rhondda Valley, surrounded by hills. When I was a child, my mum loved taking me and my brother, Richard, for walks in the hills. Richard loved these walks, and his love of walking in the mountains started as a child, walking to Nantgwyddon picnic area, and walking along the stream. I loved going to these places, but was always much less enthusiastic about the walking parts of it – I was very slow, and much more interested in walks that took me past shops!

So while I grew up into a life of pubs and bands and cider, Richard spent a lot of his life walking. He reached the summit of the UK’s highest mountains. He climbed many Monroes, and wanted to do lots more. He enjoyed many a New Year’s Eve camped out in the Scottish mountains, with some good friends, some good whiskey, and I think some good cigars. I always found this to be very strange – surely it’s better to be warm in a club somewhere?

Walking was one of Richard’s passions, something that I think made him feel really truly alive.

I didn’t understand it before, but I do now. When he met the woman who was to become his wife, I suspect that the exhilaration he felt was something like the thrill of reaching all those summits merge into one. Sadly, I will never be able to confirm that suspicion because Richard died in October 2005, after just 9 short and difficult months into an amazingly devoted, loving and committed marriage. We knew he was ill for a few months, but we all assumed he was going to be fine. The shock when we knew he was going to die, and trying to deal with the reality that he did die was almost too much to bear. After Richard died, I came to need my Mum like I hadn’t needed her since she was the only source of my food! We spent many a day sitting at the dining room table of her house, drinking lots of tea, talking and crying together.

At the age of 32, because of my brother’s death, I became friends with my mum at last! Every cloud, no matter how dark, stormy and rain filled, has its silver lining I suppose. Through our conversations over the next few months I thought about the fact that I was the only one of her children to have never enthusiastically gone for a walk with her, so we planned to walk to the top on the Bwlch.

Esther Story 1We followed a path that starts just outside the house my parents used to live in, you turn left, walk for 30 seconds, and you’re on the mountain. The walk to the Bwlch is one my mother has done with many times with my brother and my youngest son Liam. The weather was gorgeous as we set off. Within about 5 minutes you have to face a really steep climb. My mum told me that Richard had once said that it was like a part of ben nevis. It was hard. I was not fit at the time at all. The most exercise I got at the time was dancing in gigs or in my house, with a Strongbow in one hand, and a cigarette in the other. My muscles didn’t know what had hit them. I took many many opportunities to ‘Stop and admire the view’ (and to catch my breath). And boy, was the view worth admiring! As I climbed the view got better and better.

I hadn’t realised before that where I live and have always been was so beautiful. It got better though.

When we reached the end of the climb, and the path flattened out, the view that opened up to my left was incredible… a beautiful wooded area I didn’t know existed, just up the way from where I grew up! Feeling dazzled by the beauty I was seeing, I got excited about what more was to come. I was not disappointed. When the view opened up towards Treorchy we had a plain view of the cemetery Richard is buried in. I located the spot he is in through the tears growing in my eyes, did a double thumbs up, gave him a big smile and thanks, and dedicated my walk to him.

I think I was mostly walking in honour of my brother, and cos I wanted to do something with my mum that didn’t involve tea and tears (or at least, not so much). We carried on to the top of the Bwlch, with Richard with me at every step. I felt totally confident he approved of me walking, and would have been proud of me. The feeling of exhilaration when I reached the top of a mountain I had only ever been to in a vehicle before was completely amazing.

To stand at the bottom, and think, oh crap, that looks high/steep/difficult, and then a short while later to be thinking ‘I just walked up here!’ can produce the most overwhelming feelings of ‘all’s well in the world’, it’s brilliant! It’s a shame you can’t bottle those feelings when you get them to keep for later innit? And it awoke in me a passion, for beautiful scenery, and good long walks. 

Since that first walk to the top of the Bwlch I have walked a lot. My favorite place is anywhere in the Brecon Beacons. My favorite thing to do on a fine weekend or summer evening is go for a walk (it used to be going to a beer garden!) My holidays this year and last year are walking holidays, in Yorkshire and along the Pembrokeshire coast.

Walking is excellent exercise, and excellent food for the soul.

Esther image 3I have gone for a walk on many occasions when I have felt extremely stressed, and while it can’t solve problems, it can give you a sense of proportion, and give you time and space to calm the thoughts. My life has been enriched by my discovery of walking, and I will always be grateful to my brother for being so inspiring.

It would of course be better if he was here to share this with me, I know he would have enjoyed introducing me to some of his favourite walks, but unfortunately that can not be, but he continues to inspire me.

Since that first day, I have walked so many miles, in so many beautiful places, and have some wonderful memories and photographs.  I achieved a lifelong dream in 2010 and trekked the Inca Trail in Peru, raising around £4500 for Macmillan Cancer Support in memory of Richard in the process.  

In August this year, I will be achieving another long dream and will be walking the West Highland Way and Ben Nevis in Scotland to raise money for Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff.  This is not in memory of anyone, but in gratitude for the treatment they gave to my Mum last year when she was diagnosed with Cancer.

Velindre is a fantastic organisation which helps so many people in Wales, and I am glad to be able to do something to help them.  If anyone would like to help me to help Velindre and the people they care for, then please sponsor me via this link.  

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