Saturday, 23 August 2014

An Unexpected Blessing

Months ago, I saw a Facebook post by one of my friends, dancer and artist Katherine Soutar-Caddick, about artwork for a woman who was walking the length, breadth, height and depth of Wales (and a little bit of England). She is planning to walk 3000 miles, raising money and awareness for a couple of ovarian cancer charities, having been treated for it herself.

This amazing, resourceful, adventurous woman is Ursula Martin, and you can read all about what she is doing, look at her route, read her blog (a very good read, as she writes very well imho), look at the lovely photos and find out how to contribute through her website: One Woman Walks Wales.

So, much earlier this year, I Liked her Facebook page, bookmarked her blog and casually checked in every so often to see how she was doing, marvelling at the number of miles she was covering, the beautiful Welsh scenery in the photos, the way she was sleeping rough with a tarp and bivvy bag, the people who met and walked with her, the increasing amount of money raised.

Checking in July, I noted she was on the Cistercian Way and realised with a shock that she would be passing only a couple of miles away from me. Sadly, the days when I could pop my walking boots on and join her for a few miles are over. Still, I thought, I could give her the opportunity for a bed, hot bath, food and company. This sort of practical support makes sense to me. Ursula is walking alone, without an entourage and support vehicle. Someone has to care for the carers.

Only one problem - my chaotic cottage! I had made little progress with the 'Can't Have Anyone Over Syndrome' in the past couple of months, and decided that having someone to stay at short notice would be an unexpected blessing, motivating me to do more cleaning and tidying. Furthermore, I reasoned, someone used to sleeping rough will be okay with the generally poor state of decoration, the clutter and the number of spiders. This place is an arachnophobe's nightmare. I swear they come in and breed faster than I can evict them, (though I do like spiders and am pretty lax at making them homeless) and they do a good job with the flies and wasps. Ah, the joys of country living!

So it was that I did a superficial blast through the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen/diner (which took me a couple of days of microbursting) and met up with Ursula in St Clears. She had arrived earlier than expected on Friday 1st August, partly due to the 5.00 am start she'd made from somewhere near Carmarthen. I shopped briefly on the way home and Ursula made up her bed and collapsed gratefully into it for a well-earned rest while I pottered and tidied some more. I made a vegetable curry, we chatted a little and I went to sleep feeling blessed that I'd had the opportunity to meet Ursula and give her a dry, warm place to sleep as it bucketed down with rain outside.

From St Clears, the Cistercian way goes west and south down to Tenby, then turns north again to visit Whitland. Ursula had another stopover arranged for the two days down to Tenby and back, then she could stop over with me again.

All went smoothly, and I picked her up on the Monday evening and whisked her off to Narberth, where she patiently sat through a two hour Imago Dancers rehearsal for the Cardigan Belly Dance Festival the following weekend. After a leisurely breakfast the following morning, with discussion of the problems of plantar fasciitis and heel spurs (oh, how I empathise!) and research into whether the local Pembertons chocolate company still existed (unfortunately not), we took simultaneous selfies.  This is not something I would normally do, as I hate photos of myself, and I'm never at my best in the morning.  Some things just have to be done.

Shouldering her pack, Ursula walked off up the road to pick up the route to Cwmfelin Mynach and beyond, heading for her next stopover in Brechfa. A few days later, new business cards with details of her walk and ovarian cancer symptoms arrived, just in time for me to put some out for all comers at the Belly Dance Festival.

It's taken me a few weeks to catch up with this post, so she's now up in North Wales. She has been walking for nearly 6 months and covered roughly 1300 miles of her intended 3000. I'm hoping to see her again, when she comes back to do the south-western section of the coast path, with a loop along the Teifi and Towy rivers, later in the year. Some of the Imago Dancers may join her for a little way, as she was a hit when she watched rehearsals. Wherever I am by then, perhaps she'll be able to stop over with me again; it would be my privilege and delight.

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