I first heard the name Alfred Wainwright in June 2010 almost a decade after his death. Whilst holidaying in UK my husband and I spent a week in the Lake District. We were captivated by the beauty and variety of the landscape that Wainwright’s guides opened up for us and promised ourselves that once I had retired from nursing we would spend three months each European summer, our winter, exploring Britain’s many walking trails.
However as so often happens to ideas conceived on holiday our plans did not to come to fruition. Once back home we slipped into our old routines. I was enjoying work as a theatre nurse and was not ready to retire at 57 and Tony derived great pleasure from raising vegetables and fruit on our 10 acre property along with playing bridge regularly.
The first blow came in 2011. A very close friend was diagnosed with an aggressive and inoperable brain tumour, he was 54. This was followed soon after by the stillbirth of our first grandchildren, twin boys. As a result our son and his American born wife then returned to the USA to be closer to her family. Whilst gradually recovering from all this sadness we were hit with the cruelest news. Tony had been to the GP because he had a swollen gland in his neck, it turned out to be a secondary or metastatic cancer. There were more in his ribs and spine. The next few weeks were a blur of tests, investigations and procedures trying to locate a primary tumour. One was never found and a diagnosis of Cancer of Unknown Primary (C.U.P.) was handed down like a death sentence.
Because Tony was still feeling well and we had booked a trip to the USA we ignored the doctor’s advice and continued with preparations for our trip. Our son and his wife were expecting another baby and we wanted to be with them as they were understandably anxious. Sadly we missed the birth because Tony needed urgent radiotherapy to the tumour in his spine. The news that our granddaughter was delivered without a problem was wonderful. Felicity was three weeks old when we finally arrived and we spent a glorious time enjoying her and then fitting in some sightseeing.
It was the trip of a lifetime, which we both enjoyed and one I will remember forever as it turned out to be our last. A few months after returning to Australia, Tony’s condition gradually began to impact and after a courageous fight he died at home on 14th August 2014.
As anyone who has lost a loved one will know, the first 12 months following the death are the hardest to get through. I can only speak from the experience of losing someone as a result of illness and do not know if an unexpected, sudden death is different. For me it was a slow death, watching my previously fit and active husband fading away gradually so that when it finally happened I was relieved that both his and my suffering was over. This was rapidly followed by guilt for harbouring such feelings and then anger at the injustice of it all, anger at a medical system that couldn’t fix him and anger at a god that seemed not to care. Then came the realisation that I have to spend the rest of my life without him.
As the special dates of Christmas, his birthday and what would have been our 36th wedding anniversary passed I dreaded the approach of the anniversary of his death. Although outwardly coping well and getting on with life I desperately needed something to focus on beyond that date. A motivation.
Call it coincidence, fate or divine intervention; whatever your belief system demands, I chanced upon a DVD in the local library that provided that much needed motivation.
Julia Bradbury’s Coast to Coast, a BBC production in 6 episodes.
Unfamiliar with the name of Julia Bradbury and unaware of Wainwright’s amazing accomplishment in mapping this now world famous walk, I borrowed the DVD expecting simply to enjoy some pretty English coastal scenery. It was so much more.
From Wainwright’s opening words read in that slow, comforting Yorkshire accent I was gripped with an unshakeable belief that I must do this walk and it would lead me out of my lethargy and grief.
“One should always have a definite objective; in a walk as in life it is so much more satisfying to reach a target by personal effort than to wander aimlessly. An objective is an ambition and life without ambition is – well- aimless wandering” A.W. Wainwright.
These few words resonated with me.
Yes, I was wandering aimlessly since Tony died.
Yes, I badly needed an objective. Here was the motivation I had been looking for. Tony had loved walking, I loved walking.
I guess if I’d listened to or read about the science behind the health benefits of walking I might have dragged myself out of my grief earlier but its easy to say that with the benefit of hindsight.
Walking used to be something everybody did as a matter of necessity. Now it is considered a hobby. No expensive equipment is required, no membership fees to be paid and the results are amazing. a brisk half hour walk three times a week will help reduce obesity , high blood pressure and cholesterol, it improves joint mobility and muscle tone and the release of endorphins make you feel good.
Having made up my mind to do this walk I searched the internet for information on the Coast to Coast. I was rewarded with pages of ads for tour companies, blogs, photos, maps and advice. It was May and I booked my trip for September before I had time to reconsider and come up with a raft of very sensible reasons for not doing it.
The Coast to Coast path is a 306km trail that traverses the north of England from St Bees on the west coast to Robin Hood’s Bay on the east. Those who round this down to 300 km have obviously not had to walk those last 6km. The route takes in three of Britain’s National Parks. The very picturesque Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and the wild North York Moors. It is a tough and challenging walk that many find harder than they expected.
So focussed was I on training for this challenge that the anniversary of Tony’s death passed without an emotional breakdown. The day was spent walking with friends with whom I later shared a few wines and drank to Tony’s memory.
Wainwright’s Cure was beginning to work.
© Janice Collins “Wainwright’s Cure – A Personal Journey” by Janice Collins is published as an ePub (for most digital devices and for Kindle). It includes many photographs of the magnificent scenery that Janice encountered on her walk and is available to buy with instant download from: https:// thepositivepublisher.com/wainwrights- cure—a-personal-journey.html