The glorious scenery of the Vale of Pewsey in Wiltshire is set in the heart of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and so it is prime country for walking and cycling. Both activities are a good way of getting fit and what better way to improve not just your physical well-being but your mental well-being as well, than taking in the breath-taking Pewsey Vale scenery whilst you’re doing it. However, as we all know, it is always much easier to be motivated to do an activity if you are doing it as part of a group.
One such group is run by Ashley Sandy who teaches Nordic Walking – which is a specific fitness technique that uses walking as its basis. Ashley invited us to have a go to find out more.
Ashley has been Nordic Walking for about 12 years and learned how to do it when she was in Switzerland. “As the spouse of an expat, getting a job in Switzerland wasn’t really an option for me, so I used my time hiking and it all developed from there,” Ashley explained. Once Ashley returned to England, the poles became a little dusty until Ashley met another lady who did Nordic Walking and so they walked together. It was at this point Ashley realised it would be good to do it in groups and so decided to become an instructor.
“Becoming a Nordic Walking instructor involves becoming a fitness instructor. You have to learn anatomy, physiology, the principles of exercise, health and safety, managing risk and also how to teach people. There is a lot of theory as well as four days of practical work, exams and an assessment to ensure you know how not just to Nordic Walk, but that you also are capable of teaching people.”
And so I approached our walk as I would a fitness lesson, listening to Ashley’s instructions and explanations and watching her in the hope of replicating her seemingly effortless technique.
This was my first time at Nordic Walking – I’m fairly fit as I dog walk every day and do a bit of keep fit, and so I was really interested to find out how different Nordic Walking is compared to the work out you get from ordinary walking.
So what do you need to get going with Nordic Walking? A pair of walking boots and then appropriate clothing for the weather and terrain …… and then some poles! These are very similar to the poles you use when you go skiing and they strap on to your hand with a Velcro type glove that can fit over your own gloves. Ashley can provide you with some poles or you can use your own.
The weather was a bit grey - a dry, cold, winter’s day - and so I resisted the temptation to put an extra layer on as I didn’t want to get too hot. Once we were togged up and ready to go, Ashley demonstrated the method of using the poles. Contrary to popular belief (and certainly mine!), the poles do not go out in front of you, but rather they should be kept behind you. Using the pole and your arms, you kind of push into the ground as you walk. This has two effects – firstly your legs aren’t doing all the work, so they don’t feel so tired, particularly if you are going up a steep hill and secondly, you can go really quickly! If you stop using the poles just for a moment, you feel like you are coming to a complete grinding halt – start using them again and the speed just picks up immediately.
As with most things, it is all about technique. There is a technique for going at speed, a method for going down steep hills as well as up them and how to use your poles to get through or over barbed wire! To begin with, I found the coordination a bit difficult but once you got into the rhythm of it, and stopped overthinking it, it felt very natural. It’s also very sociable – despite the work out, you can fill the time with conversation as you go.
We had a lovely walk from Wexcombe to Tidcombe which took us up on to Wexcombe Down, across to Tidcombe Down, through the charming little churchyard at St Michael’s Church and then back across the Downs to the starting point.
The walking was really good – a lot of fun and a very good work out. I wasn’t at all achy afterwards but I really did feel that I had worked out my entire body.
Ashley organises Nordic walks across the Vale of Pewsey and surrounding areas on a regular basis and throughout the year. Details can be found on her website – www.wessexnordicwalking.com – where you can get information on the different walking levels and book the classes online.
Not sure which walk to choose? Ashley’s advice is it depends what you want to get from it – whether you are a new walker, fit but needing to cross-train or perhaps wanting to support recovery from an injury. If you’re really not sure whether it’s your thing, you can do a taster session or if you would like more personal tuition, you can book 1 to 1 sessions. There really is something for everyone.
It’s never too late to take up an activity and Nordic Walking is an excellent way of seeing the beautiful countryside and getting fit at the same time.