This one will be inedited form in the book, there's a session coming up soon, join us at:
Nordic pole walking
SWD Factor *
This is Pole walking, not pole dancing, that’s another chapter.
We meet our instructor, Jane, in a pub car park on a damp autumn morning. We’re a stone’s throw from the Outdoor Pursuits Centre, the bleached wood panels of the climbing wall-building tower above the trees beyond. Shrieks of their first school group of the day float across the quiet river. For most of us Harlow is a central point, although our activities take us across Hertfordshire, Essex, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, with an annual trip further afield, to the South West, Wales, Scotland, and as a group we’re well travelled on our adventures; Ecuador, Venezuela, Australia, America, Eastern and Southern Europe, all in pursuit of the outdoors.
It shows commitment that some of the girls get up early and travel a 70-mile plus round trip to be here every week. Although our pursuits are low impact, we witness at first hand the effects of human activity on the environment we use. The irony is, we must be generating a pretty large carbon footprint to travel to activities. We always car share, cycle or train to venues, and many of the girls are involved in environmental and wildlife conservation projects, but like everyone, we could always do more.
As if to remind us of this, the trees drip gently and incessantly over our line of cars. I scrabble for the dog-eared notebook that I take to every session, stuffed with lists, names and other assorted paper. Since the website has gone live we have a booking procedure which allows us to check who is coming. Before then, the notebook, word of mouth and a sense of anticipation was all we had. Today there are 16 of us, and like some sessions, we have a friend or family member dragged along. Pippa’s sister has joined us, from Maine, USA. She’s delighted by the group and wishes she got out more at home. In Maine, surely one of the great outdoors of the world? This demonstrates how contained our modern lives are in ‘developed’ countries. We move from house to car to building to car to house, perhaps we should all step outside the front door more often.
Our Pole Walking instructors car is parked alongside the river, boot open, with a selection of poles resting against the shiny paintwork, like a giant version of pick up sticks. Jane used to be in She Who Dares years ago, before work got in the way. A former academic librarian, she’s a qualified health walk leader, Nordic walking, cycling and fitness instructor. We just hope to keep up as she fits us with the right length poles for our height and demonstrates how to loop the straps on to our hands. After a brief battle with the Velcro fastenings we’re good to go. Jane strides across the car park, she cuts a dashing and graceful figure, lithe and slim in pale yellow jacket and blue craghoppers with poles flashing behind. The rest of us shuffle after her, arms and legs akimbo, with all sense of normal walking co-ordination gone. A couple of passers by scurry out of the way as this group of mad eyed women lurches towards them.
It’s not as easy as it looks. The poles must fall gently behind you, propelling the body forwards; the temptation is to lift them in front, like ski poles, pumping the arms in a power walk march. We strike out along the river towpath, crossing the bridge past the lock keepers cottage and fanning out single file towards the fields, settling into a rhythm, and remembering to use alternate arms and legs. The skiers amongst us seem to take to it more. Pole walking originated from cross-country skiing in Finland in the 1930’s. Skiers used the poles to practice out of season, and a new sport was born.
She Who Dares plough forward on the riverbank. There’s less chat than usual, it’s not possible to get two abreast on the narrow path, and difficult to turn around to talk to the person behind without skewering your foot. We’re all concentrating too hard on the technique to lapse into talk anyway. Long lolloping strides draw us out into a line of spotty dogs, or we’re bunching together, pole spikes lodged in muddy, uneven ground. Soon even the skeptics are panting and perspiring, and there’s another two hours to go. We stride past the back of factories and retail estates, partly disguised by patches of rough undergrowth, across the river on bridges we’ve leapt from in past sessions, out into open fields. Looping back to the river we’re startled by a giant animal leaping from the bushes and splashing past us into the water. The dog is called back by his owner, confining it’s not a sighting of the Essex beast.
Where to try Pole Walking:
Jane Leary runs local walks in Hertfordshire and Essex:
UK wide sources of Nordic walking information: