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The GUCH Walking Club

Monday, December 19, 2011

By Paul Willgoss

As others watch their flocks by night, a walking group leader starts the process of working out the routes for 2012…

I’d love to say this is a military-style planning exercise, with a sandpit, flags and a detailed breakdown of each potential walker’s preferences for walking, and in an some ways it can become that. However, at the core the GUCH (Grown Up with Congenital Heart Disease) Walking Club is a simple ethos—get out there and enjoy some of the finest countryside in the world (I freely admit I’m biased).

The “getting out there” can be optional, if the weather is particularly awful—a torrential weekend in North Wales resulted in us visiting a slate museum rather than walking—and on more than one occasion we’ve been joined by non-walking GUCHs for dinner, tea, a pint (or two) and even shopping.

The countryside isn’t that optional, though; even when we’ve walked in London we’ve found views and greenery that you’d never expect 20 minutes from the heart of a capital city.

We’re affiliated to the Ramblers, the UK charity for walkers, so we follow their guidelines and advice on most things, but as you’d expect for a group for GUCHs and by GUCHs we’re a little unusual. Most groups are regional, whereas we’re national—on one memorable occasion we had every point of the compass covered by people attending. This does mean sometimes people can’t get to the walks, or the date doesn’t work for everyone, but we keep trying to find ways of making our walks more accessible. We’ve been financially supported by GUCH PA (Patients Association) to make our events as safe and accessible as possible, and we’re always open to new people joining us.

We’re also GUCHs, which sometimes means we’re not as well as we could be and have to drop out at short notice—but the walks carry on. We also ensure that one walk a year is accessible to wheelchair users, or can be modified to make the main views accessible to everyone. That requires this walk leader to be somewhat imaginative, often walking routes two or three times before taking the group out.

It also means some of our strongest supporters have become ill, and subsequently died, which leaves a dull ache whenever you turn to offer them a sweet as you stroll up a hill, or miss a joke you’d know they’d say at that moment, on that hill.

We do take safety very seriously, and part of a bunch of GUCHs being safe in the hills is absolute honesty. I’d much rather have someone grumble that the walk wasn’t testing enough than have someone flake out on the hill. But that requires all of us, especially me, to know when to walk off the hill earlier rather than later, though we do plan for instances when that isn’t possible.

We also do “spectaculars” every other year. So far we’ve walked the length of Hadrian’s Wall (in some fairly foul weather), over 100 km along the River Thames, and the Norfolk Coast Path. Each time we fundraise for a good cause, and try and raise awareness as we go.

Our unusualness does mean we can get awareness in places other congenital heart groups can find it difficult to get in. For instance, we’ve been walking group of the month in The Great Outdoors magazine, and had articles in other walking magazines.

It couldn’t be a blog post about the GUCH Walking Club without thanking all of those who’ve strapped on a pair of boots and joined us. We’ve had adventures (both on the hills and in the kitchen) and we’ll have many more.

So I’d best be getting back to my maps and route guides, since 2012 won’t plan itself…

Merry Christmas and happy strolling to one and all.


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