A Breath of Fresh Air

How I'm getting back out into the countryside whilst living with MS

Archive for the category “Gentle movement”

Two Day Eventing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA promising weather forecast left me spoilt for choice as to how to spend the last weekend of November … a tandem ride or a spot of archery? Well, not one to shy away from the risk of overdoing it, I opted for both (not at once, I hasten to add – though that is quite an image!)

We headed for the Rochdale Canal on the Saturday for a flat cycle along the tow path. We set out around the middle of the day to maximise the chance of the low sun reaching us over the hillsides. However, we hadn’t factored in the angle of the hills, and the first part of the journey was a little chilly … not helped by someone (naming no names!) forgetting the lovely warm flask of tomato soup he had prepared (oops, might have let slip there!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll along the canal, shiny copper leaves coated the water. The day felt on the cusp between autumn and winter, which was quite apt as the month was on the turn, and the air was invigorating once we became acclimatised! We stopped at a lock to take in the view and imagine drinking the soup. Eventually, the sun found us.

The route was very peaceful; it felt a long way from the bustle of people doing their Christmas shopping. We passed various allotments, rising out of the rough scrub at the side of the path, often next to a dilapidated canal barge. The only sign from any of the barges that they weren’t abandoned was the odd curl of smoke escaping from a stove as we cycled past.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe plan was to travel along the canal to Todmorden, have a good rest (and refuel!) and return the same way. Unfortunately, as we discovered, the towpath was closed about a mile outside Todmorden, so we had to do an about turn and complete the last part of the journey along the very busy road – we had found the Christmas shoppers! It felt even busier in comparison to the canal, and wasn’t fun. We decided to return home that way though rather than messing about switching routes, and it did have the virtue of being quicker!

The next day, although I still felt a little tired, I headed off to the archery field. There, I spent a happy hour or two shooting arrows, chatting, drinking tea, watching my form deteriorate and generally enjoying being outside.

I did spend the afternoon very quietly … and the following day … !


Field Studies

On the last couple of weekends I’ve been combining both shooting and being outdoors. I can report that it is a winning combination! The first Sunday was one of those perfect crisp (freezing!) autumn days, whilst the second was mild, with a comforting smell of fallen leaves in the air.

practice targets

practice targets

I kept pinching myself that I was sitting outside all that time, in beautiful surroundings, chatting and shooting arrows every so often. The archery club is situated in a field next to a stream, accessed by a packhorse bridge, with a hillside rising up to one side. You could be in the middle of the countryside … oh, you are!

I have been contemplating the similarities between outdoor archery and going walking (bear with me!) For both you need to wrap up with layers of clothing (ready to be added and removed as you warm up and cool down), you need to pack sandwiches and a flask of warm coffee, you need a rucksack and walking poles (there is the packhorse bridge to negotiate, remember!), you sit admiring the scenery and you have a bit of a chat to people.

As to the archery itself (it’s not all chatting!), that’s been good fun. The trickiest bit, well, the first tricky bit, is getting your sight correct for the distance. It’s amazing how a little adjustment will stop the arrow from flying off target to somewhere near where you thought you were aiming.

I forgot to explain previously that the other main assistance I receive, in addition to a seat to shoot from, is that one of the other shooters will collect my arrows for me when they collect theirs, to save me trying to trek back and forth to the target. Well, generally, that’s not too onerous, and people are very good about it and also tactfully only tell me my scores when they are reasonable.


competing archers

competing archers

However, last weekend, I was mortified when one of my arrows went sailing over the target, over the back netting and into the field behind. The lady who had kindly collected my arrows the previous round set down her own arrows and womanfully collected my errant arrow … which involved climbing over a wall to get into the field. Then (I hardly dare admit this) I did it again in the next round and she scaled the wall for me again! I got my sight adjusted quickly after that!

One of the coaches was explaining to me that the club has been getting itself wheelchair accessible – there is a concreted area wide enough for wheelchairs to allow for seated shooting, and a broad footpath has been built up one side of the field. Discussions are taking place about improving the surface of the packhorse bridge, though there will be a limit to what can be done there. It was heartening to hear of this.

The club was open all day so you could stay as long as you wished, with targets set up for practice use whilst more experienced members participated in a competition further down the field. Coaches were available too, giving much welcome assistance even though we had completed the course.

It’s a mellow way to spend a couple of hours at the weekend and my head feels lovely and clear in the evening, which helps to counter the ever shortening days at this time of the year.

Adding a String to My Bow

I have been presented with a certificate! It’s been a long time since I received one of those. Ok, it was awarded to everyone who completed the beginner’s archery course course that I’ve been attending for the last month (see here) but, still, it was an achievement to go and try something completely new and out of my comfort zone. Since being gently coaxed to try out a tandem, there’s been no stopping me!IMG_0927 - Copy

It’s been fun, learning to shoot. It’s been important to be able to laugh – some of my arrows really went haywire! It really was like starting afresh in the second week. In the first week we shot “bare bow”, without any sights or finger guards. In the second, these were added. It felt like you were wearing thick gloves, and remembering to use the sight was strangely difficult! Watching one of my arrows hit the target belonging to the group next to us, and my next arrow sail over the target altogether, helped concentrate the mind! We agreed that it was like learning to drive – so many things to remember all at once, then they all click into place (I’m still working on the latter part!)

Unfortunately, I missed the third week (as I was on the Bakewell tart hunt), so for the final week, again, it felt like starting afresh. There was also an added, rather unwelcome (!), challenge, in that we were in competition with each other all morning. I think we’ll draw a veil over my score!

the longbow

the longbow

We were also treated to a demonstration of the long bow (thank you, Ian!) It was a deceptively simple bow, with none of the additions of the recurve bow that we were using. Nevertheless, it packed a punch as the arrow thunked into the target – a wooden arrow, with goose feather flethchings. The bow was light to hold, and the wood, which was a mix of hickory and yew, felt satisfyingly smooth. It was much closer to the image of Agincourt or Robin Hood than the modern bows, and a few of us were rather coveting it!

I have decided to become a member of the club so that I can try and improve. More importantly, though, it’s sociable and it also gives me something else to try when we can’t get out together on the tandem (I’m constantly nervous of a recurrence of Pete’s Knee!)

Diving In

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASwimming. In a pool. I know, it doesn’t count as getting outdoors in the fresh air. However, I have to explain where it’s just landed me!

Swimming is the one form of exercise that I’ve continued with, both before and since having MS. I’ve just had to completely rethink my approach to it. I used to race against myself every week, gradually increasing the number of lengths I could do in 30 minutes. I have to admit that I started from an extremely low base, of about two lengths! Let me explain.

When we first married, many moons ago, Pete suggested we went running together. A little apprehensive, I agreed. It was a nightmare! I managed a few hundred metres then collapsed in a heap, weakly waving him on. I was so appalled at the thought of having to repeat the experience that I hastily announced that I would get some exercise by going swimming after work instead.

That was when I remembered that my swimming mainly consisted of splashing about in lakes or the sea on holiday, and that I had barely entered a swimming pool since enduring the mad scrum of school swimming lessons. And so I discovered that I could do about two lengths, max.

However, with regular weekly sessions I was pleased with my steady improvement. I stopped less frequently, and rapidly increased the number of lengths until I reached something of a plateau. I would still push myself each week, trying to squeeze an extra length out of my time, but kept strictly to my 30-minute limit.

After having climbed into the pool weary from my working day I would leave with my head feeling spring cleaned, light  and airy.


During that commonly experienced lengthy period between a possible and definite diagnosis of MS, I continued to go swimming but would get frustrated. I would still push myself but sometimes felt like I was barely moving. Then I had some physiotherapy and began the long road to rethinking my approach to … well, most things.

No longer was the idea to push myself to the limit, to keep going until I felt I would burst. Now I was to be kind to my body, resting it regularly so that it could keep going for longer. Pausing; being gentle; conserving energy.

This attitude had to apply to every part of my life, not just swimming. It was (still is) very hard to do! It goes against everything that you’re told. However, I started to give it a go. In the pool, I would swim a length, pause, swim another, get frustrated and swim a few, thinking ha! I can still do it. Then I’d get out and regret it immediately. I’d have no energy for anything. So, next time: swim, pause, swim, pause, try not to look at the clock. Well, I still do half an hour and I still count the number of lengths. But gradually, gradually, I relearnt, and now I keep to the same number of lengths each week. I know that’s the number that works.

And I still get out of the pool feeling great. Well, my head feels great; it tells me that I can do anything. My body, though, is keen to take it easy for the rest of the day. Which brings me to where swimming has landed me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI came home from swimming the other morning, feeling invincible! It was fantastic; I could do anything I put my mind to! I switched on my computer to find an email about a day arranged by ParalympicsGB to encourage more people with disabilities to try out different sports. Well, I could do that! Before I knew it, I had completed the online form, ticking a wide variety of sports to try … and now I’m off to Sheffield next weekend to try out as many sports as possible, and hopefully meet some paralympic athletes. I expect it will be me and a load of 10-year-olds all hoping to get to Rio – them, not me! At 40-plus-quite-a-few-years-on-top I’m simply hoping to have a fun day out and live out that Olympic and Paralympic motto to Be Inspired!


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