Not just a stroll in park

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THE outdoors is not only for people with nordic sticks, dogs or lycra blurs on bikes hurling themselves down hills avoiding trees (mostly). It’s increasingly the place for people just starting out being physically active.

For while many “Walk It” hikes are in and around towns, some incorporate off-road meanders too, and the number available has tripled in the last year.

Denise Carmichael with walkers from Borders Disability Forum at Wilton Park in Hawick

Denise Carmichael with walkers from Borders Disability Forum at Wilton Park in Hawick

Walk It co-ordinator Denise Carmichael, said: “The aim is to encourage physical activity in the Borders’ regeneration areas in those who are not undertaking physical activity or who are wanting to start. We are targeting inactive people.”

The scheme, a Scottish Borders Council (SBC) and NHS Borders Paths to Health initiative, is free to everyone. Walk leaders take participants on an hour’s low level walk of up to about three miles: none involve hills and people of any age or ability can take part. The initiative started in 2005 but only really got some va-va-voom when Ms Carmichael took up her job last year.

The number of walks available has gone up from five last year to 18 and there are now about 45 trained volunteer walk leaders. Last year, more than 1,500 people went out on more than 200 Walk It strolls.

Ms Carmichael said: “We are looking for people who are at the start of changing their physical activity habits, maybe coming to us through rehab after an operation, or looking to lose weight, people really who are not physically active. And Walk It has a high social element to it too which is lovely – and it’s free!”

People have been finding out about Walk It through NHS Borders lifestyle advisors, doctors’ practices and from information in local libraries, community councils and groups.

Ms Carmichael said: “We also go out and talk to the community and appear at local community events.”

New walks with Walk It have just started up at Innerleithen, Hawick (town centre), Tweedbank, and Galashiels and Darnick’s is due to start at the end of this month. And these are in addition to the Coldstream, Chirnside and Earlston ones, which started earlier this year.

Ms Carmichael is keen to hear from anyone wanting to become a walk leader, particularly in Jedburgh, Duns, Ancrum and Newcastleton. The volunteer leaders receive free training, gain a walk leader’s certificate and do different courses including safety outdoors, first aid and basic map reading and navigation.

“I think the walk leaders enjoy walking, it gives them regular physical activity themselves and a couple of walk leaders recently have come into the area and are looking to share what they have experienced in the area or have led walks before, which is great, “ said Ms Carmichael.

Also welcome will be backmarkers for the walks which vary: “ We don’t go round the same route every week and we are not tackling hills, it’s low level, safe and we walk at the pace of the slowest walker, ” said Ms Carmichael.

Originally from Jedburgh, Ms Carmichael had a 22-year business career in IT and education before returning to her roots.

“I wanted to come back to the Borders and live at a different pace of life and engage in the community and the third sector for a change.

“I have just been very interested in physical activity and encouraging people to walk. The project is a really nice way to get people out and enjoying the Scottish Borders.”

Director of public health for SBC and NHS Borders, Dr Eric Baijal, says: “Not only is walking good for your health and well-being physically, walking in a group is also very sociable and has been proved to relieve stress and anxiety.”

Noting the project has grown almost three-fold in the past year councillor Sandy Scott, executive member for communities and health, said: “This is excellent news and demonstrates the success of the programme and how much these walks are appreciated by local people.”

Walk It supports workplace walking groups and worked last year with projects for disabled walkers in conjunction with the Borders Disability Forum. For more information email denise.carmichael@scotborders.gov.uk

There is a Walk It walk next Thursday, May 19, at Earlston: details in the Country Diary, below left.