Let me introduce myself: or let me introduce the man I was 14 months ago.
105.4kg. If you still think in old money, that’s 16st 8lbs. A wardrobe full of clothes, 75% of which had mysteriously become too small for me. Walking? Yes, I walked the dog on the cliff top three of four times a week – after all, we live on the north side of Scarborough, the cliff top is five minutes away.
But serious walking? Don’t be ridiculous. That was for people with backpacks, haggard faces and a healthy collection of knee supports.
And then my wife gave me a Fitbit for Christmas. It politely suggested I do 10,000 steps a day. I snorted in derision: on my first day back at work I managed 4,562. Stories filtered through of a friend doing 17,000 steps a day: I dismissed them as the stuff of fantasy.
But gradually, I made changes: parked the car at the far end of the car park, abandoned my lunchtime sandwich and went for a walk instead. And by the end of January, I was managing my 10,000 steps a day.
The weight was coming off as well. The vast majority of my clothes were still out of bounds, but maybe my belt wasn’t under quite the pressure it had been…
Winter gave way to spring – and the ‘cliff top’ ceased to exist. “If you don’t mind” I said to my wife, “We serious walkers call it the Cleveland Way.”
Gradually, my walks were becoming longer: which was just as well – because I’d invited my youngest son for a walk. Alex is 17: I wanted to spend some father/son time with him before he went to university. And I wanted to do a physical challenge before I became too old for a physical challenge.
“So how about it?” I said. “Five days and 80 miles on the Pennine Way. One week in the summer holidays?”
“Sure,” he said, “Why not?”
He was a veteran of Duke of Edinburgh expeditions. I wasn’t – and now I was back on the Cleveland Way training seriously.
And one Sunday morning, high on the cliffs above Hayburn Wyke, watching a snowy owl make one last, lazy reconnaissance flight over a field, gazing south to Flamborough Head and north towards Robin Hood’s Bay, I realised something very simple.
I’d fallen in love with walking.
Standing there, the early morning sun glinting off the North Sea, I realised how much I loved the solitude and the stillness: the time to reflect – and the sheer joy of being outside and active while the rest of the world was stumbling downstairs to breakfast.
I loved the romance and the mystery of walking – especially the place names on the Ordnance Survey map. I didn’t park the car at Burniston Rocks any more; I parked it at Crook Ness. The dog and I marched past Flat Scar and Long Nab and the Sailors’ Grave. And how many times did I walk past the old coastguard hut? I could just see a lonely member of the Home Guard, sitting in there with five years’ supply of ham sandwiches and a flask, binoculars at the ready as he waited for Hitler’s navy to appear on the horizon.
“Come on,” I said to Pepper, “Another mile and then we’ll turn round. And don’t worry – we’ll be back tomorrow…”