Back to a ‘new normal’?

The camino seems to be bustling again, with hundreds of pilgrims arriving at the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago every day for their compostela. It is a good sign, and I hope it lasts so the people earning a living along the way can make up some of their losses. There is always the threat of new outbreaks though, and I worry for those tiny villages with ageing populations when international travellers pass through. Fingers crossed! If you want to know more about the local situation in Spain, keep an eye on this constantly updated map of outbreaks and cases.

I would love to go in September, as usual, but I doubt I will now. The situation is too unstable for me and I think it would add stress rather than allow me to walk it off. Still, I do try to keep myself fit(-ish) just in case.

So when a friend asked if I wanted to come for a walk, I jumped at the chance. Turns out she had never walked my regular training path, so we decided to meet at the station at the end and walk to the estuary and back. It’s a walk I have done so many times before – but with lockdown I haven’t done it since we came back from Spain in March! I got all excited about packing for a 16 km, three hour walk … I had bought a 15L Alpkit pack for zoo trips, just before the zoo shut because of the pandemic, and finally bought myself a Purple Rain Adventure skirt for the cancelled walk in May, which arrived shortly before lockdown, and it was high time they came out with me. Also – poles or no poles? Poncho or no poncho? Which mask to take? (I now have several.)

It was a perfect day for it, pure Goldilocks weather – not too warm, not too cool, not too windy, no rain – and it felt great to be back in my walking Hokas again; I realised I hadn’t actually worn shoes for any length of time for months … in the old normal they would have been worn out after training walks, my May meseta camino and general use, and I would probably be saving the laces and binning the shoes by now.

Then there was the new normal: putting my mask on at the station, avoiding touching anything on the train, leaving the station by the door that is normally locked, then entering it again to buy a ticket with a contactless card, then out again through the out door. Keeping hand sanitiser in the side pocket of my pack, as well as gloves and a spare mask. The strangest thing was undoubtedly meeting a friend for the first time in six months and not giving her a hug, and taking care to keep my distance to her while walking. But at least we were meeting up, and walking!

The path is an old disused train line which has been turned into a mostly quite wide walking path, where people stroll, walk their dogs, jog, or ride bikes or horses. It’s pretty straight and flat, but green and quiet and pretty. Perfect for a good catch-up and getting some exercise.

We stopped for a short while to take photos at the old Hadlow station, which is normally open as a semi museum of the time it was closed, with old signs, a conductor’s office with old money by the till and even a black and white cat curled up on a chair … and two toilets, which is handy on the way back, but of course everything was closed now. We posed for silly photos by the old red phone box and kept walking. (Pic nicked from net.)

One feature of the new normal was the signs along the trail and footpaths coming off it. Most people seemed to be following social distancing rules, though some were oblivious (or didn’t care). Some cyclists came too close for comfort or common courtesy, thinking we were mind readers, and as usual I had to ask them why they did not have or use a bell to let us know they were coming. Oh, wait, that’s not a new normal, that’s just normal. Luckily my friend turns out to be the same!

After about 8 km we came to lovely Parkgate, which used to be by the river until it changed course, and the marshes are now a protected habitat for birds and wildlife. It always attracts big crowds in the summer, when families come down to walk along the parade and have an icecream or a pint overlooking the estuary. None of us wanted to go into a shop or pub, though there were some sitting outside, but we managed to find a bench and had a quick rest and refuel.

Then we turned around and walked the same way back, but I don’t mind it at all – the green tree tunnels remind me of Galicia, and with so much to catch up on, time and trees flew by and we were back in no time.

I hadn’t brought my Pacerpoles, and on the way back my hands were so swollen that I had to take my ring off before it became stuck. They might have taken some of my corona bonus weight off my joints as well … and we were already walking at quite a pace, so the added rocket power wouldn’t have made much difference. Note to self – always bring the Pacers!

All in all it was a lovely day out, in wonderful company and with perfect weather. My old normal training stretch became part of the new normal, and it felt really good to be out there again, enjoying the fresh air, conversation, exercise, views and greenery. OK, so my legs felt it after, but I clocked up 20 kms including a lot of walking back and forth on the station waiting for the train back, but I loved every minute and can’t wait to go walking again!


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