Ursula Martin has just returned to Wales after a three-year walk through Europe, in which she persevered despite the impact of the pandemic. We caught up with her to find out how it feels.
Header image: At 3,000 metres in the Pyrenees. Photo: Ursula Martin
In her feature in the July issue of The Great Outdoors, written just before the end of her journey, Ursula describes what it was like to be a long-distance wanderer as the impact of Covid swept across the continent, initially finding herself on the move and technically homeless in Italy as the nation entered Europe’s first lockdown.
Despite the odds, Ursula eventually managed to continue and finish her journey, which originally began in Kiev and took her on a winding route across the continent. It’s a beautifully written, insightful feature, and we strongly recommend getting your hands on a copy of the issue (take a look inside the rest of the issue and order a copy here) to give it a read.
Now Ursula is back at home, we speak to her about how she’s adjusting to life off the trail.
Welcome home Ursula – how does it feel?
Bizarrely, it feels incredibly familiar and homely. Already the walk now feels like a distant memory, almost like a dream, and I can’t quite believe I did it. For three years of walking, everything was so utterly present. I held onto the journey in the palm of my hands in the present, right up to the very final moment, and now I’ve been able to let it all go. It’s been a relief in a lot of ways.
What was it like to arrive in your home town?
The final walk up the High Street in my town of Llanidloes in Mid-Wales was amazing. Everyone was out lining the streets, clapping and cheering, and I just thought ‘I’ve done it’. It was a wonderful welcome home.
After living in such extreme isolation for a long, long time, I’ve loved being back around my Welsh community, hearing Welsh spoken in the shops and on the buses, and just catching up with friends. I feel a real tie to this area – it is a really strong community, with inspiring people looking for more ecologically and environmentally sustainable ways of living.
How is your body recovering from the journey?
I’ve experienced a massive drop in energy levels. Since getting home, I’ve just spent a lot of time sleeping – at least a week of almost continuous dozing – and my body definitely needs it. I’ve been in a lot of pain with injuries and strains, so I’m just trying to be very gentle with myself. I’m not exercising that much and instead I’m focusing on milder movements through yoga and massage. I’ve also been chronically tired. After one month, there’s a particular type of fatigue that sets in; after a year it’s different and deeper; but after three years it’s on another level in ways I can’t really understand or describe.
Are you looking forward to getting out walking again?
I don’t feel any pressure to get out walking again. I’m surrounded by nature where I live and that’s lovely, but I have been eyeing up a 60 mile walk linking Cadair Idris and Aran Fawddwy. You can see Cadair Idris from where I’m living and that’s probably what has given me the idea. I’m not drawn to well-trodden routes or popular trails like the West Highland Way. Instead I like to link two places and figure out my own route.
Being able to reflect now, how did the Covid-19 pandemic affect your journey?
It was so stressful. At the time I was telling myself ‘it’s fine, I’m fine, I can do this’ – but that was just a self-preservation technique, something I was convincing myself of in order to get through the mayhem. But looking back now, it was really tough. It exacerbated the solitude and massively increased the depth and intensity of my journey. I was doing something that almost no-one was doing, living and surviving outside and walking across a continent during a global pandemic.
Are you itching to get back out on another big adventure?
So many people ask me ‘do you miss it?’, ‘what’s next?’ and ‘could you carry on walking forever?’, as if they’re surprised I’ve stopped or expect me to embark on another grand expedition straight away. But I’m not thinking about the next journey at all. Being home has just felt so joyously comforting that I want to relish it and enjoy it. Perhaps there is a limit to how much walking and adventure you can take? Right now, I just want to be at home, with the people I love and the people that care about me.
INTERVIEW: James Forrest