Back to the medicine walk

Tuesday July 25, 2006

Some little while back I promised I’d document and illustrate my medicine walk here at St Audries Bay. It’s been good and hot here again today so, apart from recording another routine visit to the house in Bridgwater:

“What’s it like in the house today,” Graham said when he phoned to see how long I’d be.

“Bit like a sauna bath.”

“That’s a shame. The house is usually cool.”

“Oh, it is. Like a sauna bath in here but it’s like a baker’s oven outside.”

Anyway. Back to the medicine walk.

I coined the phrase back in 2001 when I was first diagnosed with Congestive Cardiac Failure. Apart from the scare, I received a posy of pills, an injunction to lose weight, and instructions to take some exercise every day.

I coped with the scare, became resigned to the pills, and embarked on a continuous dietary adjustment, still in force today, where I consume on average slightly less in calories than I expend in exercise. The daily exercise was however a real problem for me. Still is. When you suffer from chronic arthritis and spondilitis, exercise for cardiac relief is close to impossible to reconcile with a program of pain management.

Walking has always been a joy to me and even now, when oftentimes I can’t walk more than 75 yards without a rest to avoid the pain becoming intolerable, I love to walk. So, when the consultant recommended walking I was happy to try to comply.

Conditioning operated against me, however. I’d always associated deliberate, planned walking with an outing to some beauty spot. I couldn’t afford to drive out into the countryside each day however so I came up with the idea of a ‘medicine walk’. Not done for beauty, but carried out doggedly day after day for simple unadorned exercise purposes, from the front door and out along the road. At the time, over in Williton, I walked as far as the graveyard, resting once on the way and sitting for a while among the gravestones before returning. When we moved to Wales, I was limited to a circular tour of the housing development in which we lived. In Lincolnshire, we lived on a pretty lane and I was able to walk my daily stint in pretty circumstances.

Here at St Audries Bay, living in a caravan on the cliffs, I have a choice of walking around the holiday camp or plunging down the cliff stairway to the foreshore and combining my medicine walk with a good dose of sea air. Just now of course it’s either too hot for outdoor exercise or I’m getting a good workout while cleaning walls. Anticipating this, I took my camera with me a few weeks back, on a cool day when I felt up to venturing down the cliff path. So, if you’d like to join me, let’s have a look at what I saw.

First thing is to walk a short distance along the stony track from the caravan, to the point where you can plunge down between another caravan and a small stand of tall shrubs, following what I call the Dingely Path.


The Dingely Path


This brings me out onto one of the open lawns and from there I cut across to the opening of the pathway down to the stairway down the cliff to the foreshore. This is a decision point. If it’s wet, the path can be very muddy and it’s more sensible to turn back and take a turn along the lawns because, once you’ve started down the cliff, it’s a psychological impossiblity to give up.


The start of the cliff path


Walking on, you come to the first of several flights of stairs, turning back and forth to carry you down the cliffside as gently as possible. Going down stairs is much more difficult for me than going up, so the presence of a good, stout handrail is great. Taken together with my stick in the other hand, there ain’t no such thing as a stairway I can’t manage given a good, stout handrail.


A good, stout handrail


When, eventually, you make your way down the staircase, you step out onto the pebbly foreshore. At this point, resting up for a while, it’s impossible not to look back up the stairs and congratulate yourself on having made it once more.


Made it once more


Now you’re faced with a decision. If the tide is out you can pick your way straight out over the pebbles to the expanse of smooth sand that runs all the way along the bay. You also need to choose your direction. If you turn left you’ll have the joy of walking to the foot of the famous waterfall that shoots out from the headland, cutting a groove down to the beach. You’ll need to turn on your heels then and retrace your footsteps back along the beach and return all the way up the stairway you’ve just managed.


Turning to the left


Generally, preferring the open views along the bay, I opt for turning right. It’s a good waterfall but it’s not world class and once you’ve seen it a few times, there’s no great reason slavishly to return.


Turning to the right.


Once across the pebbly foreshore you step out onto smooth, firm sand, stretching all the way into the distance. The depth of it depends on the state of the tide but if you time your visit appropriately there’s almost always enough of it to allow you to stride out at a good, cardiac-exercising pace.


Smooth, firm sand


While they’re the very devil to walk over, the pebbles are an endless source of delight to me, for themselves, for the little pools they create, and for the mysteries that lurk beneath them when turned over with an expert stick. I can dally here for as long as I have time.


Dallying along the pebble edge


Sooner or later, though, you have to step out once more, enjoying the good fresh air and looking about you at the views.


Looking about you at the views


There are a lot of views to see.


A lot of views


And then, eventually, you come to the foot of the old way up the cliff at the far end of the holiday camp. These are steep and rather rickety, and you need a full ration of courage and determination to climb them. Being fair, they are actually forbidden to the public as being unsafe. Sometimes I obey, and turn back the way I came. Sometimes I don’t.


The forbidden path


So, there you go. That’s my favourite medicine walk while I’m here at St Audries. Strenuous enough to provide as good a cardiac workout as I can manage and filled with interest to amuse me when I need to take a rest, perched on my stick, looking out at the world. It has to be a coolish day for me to undertake this route but then, when the hot days come along, I have something to look forward to when it cools down again.

Medicine walking is good. It’s great when you can walk in the countryside or by open water but even in town, a daily medicine walk becomes so much part of your life you couldn’t do without it. Does you good, too.



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