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Treading uneven ground

12th August, 2022 by Saira Niazi

On solitude, slow ways and choosing to tread the path less travelled.

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Wanderers #2: Ingrina Shieh

6th July, 2022 by Saira Niazi

Ingrina Shieh, volunteer London National Park City Ranger and passionate multi-day hiker, talks about confidence, women's safety, city vs country, and her solo 15-route Slow Way trip

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Wanderers, Episode 2, Ingrina Shieh

25th May, 2022 by Saira Niazi

In episode two of our Wanderers series, I talk to Ingrina Shieh about mental health, women's safety, the joys of exploring by foot, and her recent Slow Ways journey – 15 routes over three days from London to the South Downs National Park

Slow Ways · Wanderers - Episode 2 - Ingrina Shieh

Have a read of edited excerpts of the interview below!

Saira: Hello! Welcome to episode two of our Wanderers series, a series that spotlights interesting walkers from across the UK and beyond. My name is Saira and I'm the Community Stories Lead at Slow Ways. Today I'm talking to Ingrina Shieh, a volunteer London National Park City Ranger and passionate active traveller who loves exploring places and connections on foot. Ingrina has walked in many different parts of the UK on established trails in between cities or towns.

Her recent solo journey took her on 15 routes over three days from London to its closest national park, South Downs. She particularly loves multi-day hiking and camping and is now working towards a UK Mountain Leader Award. Thanks so much Ingrina for joining me on this episode. I'm really excited to talk to you about lots of different things, especially your epic Slow Ways journey. But first, can you tell us a bit about why you walk?

Ingrina: [00:00:58] So I walk because I absolutely love everything about walking. The challenge is to pick out the main reasons. I didn't actually always love walking, and so it's been quite a journey to get to where I am now. So one of the main reasons I walk and I hope it's fitting but might not be, is as a way to manage depression and anxiety. It's actually the very reason why I got started with walking. So it went back to when I was in university, I had quite a bad spell and I just didn't know what to do with myself.

Have a read of edited excerpts of the interview below! LISTEN TO THE FULL INTERVIEW.

Saira: Hello! Welcome to episode two of our Wanderers series, a series that spotlights interesting walkers from across the UK and beyond. My name is Saira and I'm the Community Stories Lead at Slow Ways. Today I'm talking to Ingrina Shieh, a volunteer London National Park City Ranger and passionate active traveller who loves exploring places and connections on foot. Ingrina has walked in many different parts of the UK on established trails in between cities or towns.

Her recent solo journey took her on 15 routes over three days from London to its closest national park, the South Downs. She particularly loves multi-day hiking and camping and is now working towards a UK Mountain Leader Award. Thanks so much Ingrina for joining me on this episode. I'm really excited to talk to you about lots of different things, especially your epic Slow Ways journey. But first, can you tell us a bit about why you walk?

Ingrina: [00:00:58] So I walk because I absolutely love everything about walking. (Though) I didn't always love walking, it's been quite a journey to get to where I am now.

Walking as a coping mechanism

One of the mains reasons I walk is to manage depression and anxiety. When I was in university, I had quite a bad spell. I didn't know what to do with myself.I couldn't study. I couldn't talk to any friends. The only thing I could do was go out for a walk. And even that was a journey, because I grew up in Los Angeles where it's very car centric. It’s scary to go for a walk (out on the streets). You didn't know what was going to happen; you went to malls and parks and places like that.  So even just being able to walk outside was not something that came naturally to me.

When I moved to Boston for university, I discovered that you can actually walk to get to places and that was completely eye-opening. Walking was really a good way to just go out, be on my own for a little bit. And surprisingly, I found that it really took me away from my thoughts for a little bit. It was really helpful in just being able to get to the next day. It really helped me cope.

Eventually it just kind of stuck. (My reasons for walking) have changed a little bit over the years but it's still one of the main reasons I walk. It just really helps me cope with managing mental stress.

Seeing the richness in between destinations

Another reason is that it's just a great way to get to know a place. I travel around London a lot. I walk and I run and I cycle. And after having lived in a car-centric place like LA, I find that exploring London by foot just gives you so much. In a car, you're going at such a fast speed that you miss so many details of a place. In LA you really go from one place to another.

There are places that you never get to know in between, and on foot I stop if I want to, if I'm curious. And I get to spot things and read things like blue plaques that give me a sense of history. I get to take photos of street art and a few things that I like. I learn a lot about, like plants and community gardens, and I get to see birds I've never seen before. I learn so much about my environment.

You can see a lot of the geological and vegetation changes, you can see wildlife, you can feel the land change as you walk. there's just something so enriching and really lovely about that. And I think that's all possible because of how slow walking is.

You also take a lot more time to observe your built environment. And that's given me a sense of history through architecture, through design trends, and I get a sense of the surrounding communities that live in my local area. It's really cool to see the way that people use public spaces, how creative people are in using public spaces.

In the natural world as well, you can see a lot of the geological and vegetation changes, the wildlife; feel the land change as you walk. There's just something so enriching and really lovely and nice about that. And I think that's all possible because of how slow walking is; I'm not in a hurry because when I go for a walk, I know I'm not going to get to a place quickly. It gives you a bit of freedom to take things in very slowly. And I do.

Go slow and appreciate the interconnections of life

I attribute a lot of my understanding about human relationships with nature, the environment, climate change, to walking because I think walking really takes you out of yourself, it takes you out of your home. It takes you out of a box. It takes you out of your own mind and senses and it really opens up the whole world. Through walking I was able to discover so much about how living things interact with each other. Understanding our role in the ecological system and life.

That's really pushed me to think about what we what our role is. We tend to see humans as very separate from nature and but actually we are part of it. That's an important thing to realise because we do have a role, in taking care of our environment because our environment takes care of us. It's a very interdependent relationship.

We have a role in taking care of our environment because our environment takes care of us

Saira: Ingrina you recently went on a really epic walk, from London to the South Downs National Park via Slow Ways routes. Can you tell us a little bit about how you found out about Slow Ways? What inspired you to undertake that route in particular, and what were some of the interesting encounters you had on it? And interesting insights?

Ingrina: Sure. I was really glad I found Slow Ways actually. And I think, if I remember correctly, I discovered Slow Ways as a National Park City Ranger. Dan [Raven-Ellison, Slow Ways' founder] talked about Slow Ways connecting all the towns and cities across the UK, and I just loved that. I've been getting into these multi-day long distance walks for many, many reasons. There were so many options to get out of London to somewhere else.

what if you wanted to go out for a longer countryside walk? What if you didn't have a car and public transportation was too expensive? what would it actually take for someone to walk to the closest national park?

I started thinking a little bit about all the times I got out of London to seek out national parks, to get to the mountain, to get to the countryside, just to walk. I realized that it took a lot careful planning because I don't drive anymore and public transportation can actually be quite expensive. So that got me (thinking) about how these open spaces can be really inaccessible to people who live in the city. And while I think London is quite blessed with a lot of green space. It gets a lot more difficult to access these big national parks. And it's especially hard if you don't have a car and don't have the means to pay for a really expensive train ticket. So I just started to think about how important this issue is. And even though it's really important for us to be able to know how to access green space close to us, I just thought about all these questions, like what if you did want to go out for a longer countryside walk? What if you didn't have a car and public transportation wasn't working or too expensive? And what would it take for someone to actually walk to the closest national park? What would I discover about our infrastructure, our access nature and our rights to roam like public rights away? Our of curiosity, what does that journey feel and look like?I though there might be something here about trying to go and see the closest national park to London.

I really love testing my boundaries just because I'm curious to see how far I can go at once. The longest distance I covered in a day was around 36 kilometers, and I was wondering over three days, can I walk between 37 and 39 kilometers a day? can I can I make it?

So there's a little bit of a personal challenge (element). I submitted that idea (to All the Elements who were offering an opportunity to go on a funded Slow Ways journey) I've been following the two organizations for a while. I think they're doing a really interesting things in the walking, outdoors and diversity inclusion spaces. So it was something that I thought could be part of it and a way to reflect diversity and inclusion in the outdoors outdoors. So I submitted this idea and they were happy to support it. I got the time off and I made the plans and I set off. I did this in March. I was kind of hoping for good weather. But then it came to it. There was quite a lot of rain on the first day, but I started to get used to it, you can kind of just have to deal with it. You just always hope, right? And so I did that over three days and and it was an absolutely incredible journey. I was tired. Of course, each day really did kind of test my physical limits. And I think I learned a lot. I think I learnt what I needed to do to be better for the next one. But it was a really interesting walk. I walk a lot in London, but Slow Ways took me on different routes that I hadn't known about before. And so I discovered some really cool routes actually that I took again a couple of times. I think what's also really cool is that when you've got a really long distance walk like that, you can see how things change slowly. So I saw how slowly London changes as it spreads out. I got to cross the M25 again, which I love. It's always a blast crossing the motorway like that. And I got to stop by a lot of areas that I never knew existed.

A bridge over a riverDescription automatically generated with medium confidence
A path next to a body of water with boats on itDescription automatically generated with medium confidence
A dirt road in a forestDescription automatically generated with medium confidence

In terms of just absorbing the landscape along a road, it was really interesting to see what kind of areas and towns were there in between the two places. I also was just really quite happy to be able to help test out these routes. It was quite an experience walking in different kind of areas and through different terrain. Its really nice to be able to kind of help test some of the slow ways routes because I know some of them still needed to be tried out. So it was quite a cool experience to be able to be part of that. I just had an incredible time. I don't think that someone has to do it in three days, but I definitely think it's completely doable. If you just wanted to have a nice little holiday and like just go from place to place, you can even probably camp when you go at certain times. So yeah, it was really nice, and I still have to digest so much. [00:18:52][537.1]

Saira: [00:18:53] It sounds like it was a really magical adventure .

Safety and Stereotypes

Saira: [00:28:01]. As a woman of colour, have you faced any challenges (specificly owing to you appearance) when it comes to walking?? [00:28:25][21.8]

Ingrina: [00:28:27]. For me, as a petite Asian woman, I grew up in the States and I lived in the UK. It was challenge, not having any role models. So I had to do a lot of training and discovery about walking on my own and it was very much driven because I wanted to, not because I saw someone who looked like me and they were doing it. My journey towards doing long distance walking is little bit slower than others, maybe because I had to figure out stuff on my own. There was bit of a challenge in terms of knowing where to go. Mentoring wasn't there.

Another thing that I found challenging was that I'm often underestimated. I can be quiet and timid. I also have a lot of stamina, which I've been building up over the years. But I feel like I constantly have to prove that. I'm constantly having to convince people that I can do something because they see me being quite short not really fitting in what they think of as a hiker. I like surprising people now and it's kind of nice. I'm trying to make some progress and become more confident. I think I'm kind of getting more confidence.

I also think the most uncomfortable thing is the staring, especially when I'm doing multi-day walking where you're stopping at places. When you're on the long distance trails everyone's lovely. Walking from London to South Downs, just stopping in a pub or restaurant. I get so many stares and that's very uncomfortable. You know that you stand out, you know that someone's going to say something and you can't quite tell if its is going to be friendly. So yeah, I've got both. You know, more often I get friendliness. I receive very complimentary comments, but it's hard. The fact that people notice me. Yeah. So I find that harder to deal with because there's nothing I can do about that. [00:32:13][225.4]

Overall, I think the walking community is so lovely and so kind. Like I found so much kindness and generosity on the trails and walking. And I don't really want the challenges to tarnish that experience. And I always try to show that even though I want to acknowledge that people will find challenges, that actually so many people are very welcoming and very warm. And it's just trying to emphasize that. Sometimes, though, some of the negative experiences are the ones that stick. [00:32:53][38.5]

Saira: [00:32:54] Yeah, completely. I think there's something about being out on a trail. In some ways you can feel quite vulnerable, but in some ways you also feel very seen in a really nice way where people do you say hello and you might not get that living in a big city like London, and that there's a sense of like connection, or familiarity that people have. And that comes from just being in the shared landscape for a certain amount of time, which is something that's really, really special. I love that you love walking in the city, but equally like walking in the countryside. And I found it really interesting that you said that you feel safer walking in the city than in the country. And I've been thinking about this a lot lately because I've always been quite confident walking in the country alone and in the city too. But, I do feel like the city can be a lot more threatening and there are a lot more risks involved. A lot of the horrible news stories we hear are of women who've been attacked in cities and very busy areas, you know, Brixton and West London, whereas in the countryside that doesn't happen as much. And I'm not sure if it's just sort of popular culture. You see a lot of horror movies about, you know, that one barn in the countryside. But you kind of have this idea that it's a fearful place. The fear is just a bit different, the fear of the countryside, the fear of the city. And I guess as a woman, it it does feel a lot more kind of visceral and apparent. I guess in a city you're surrounded by a lot more people than in the countryside, and you do feel that were something to happen, you would be a lot more well equipped to deal with it. Whereas yeah, even simple things like, you know, if you sprained your ankle in a city, you'll be fine. If you sprained your ankle and you're walking up a hill in a really remote kind of countryside spot, you'll have a lot more to kind of deal with. [00:36:05][191.1]

I have been like attacked in the city. It's very difficult to forget. So I notice even on the subways walk, I'm constantly looking behind me

Ingrina: [00:36:06] Yeah, exactly. And I think it's important to be talking about it too (womens safety). I noticed that conversations were happening as a result from something I commented on about safety as a woman walking alone. Was it something that you learned to fear? Is it a real threat? Is it cities versus countryside? And I think those are all really interesting conversations we should be having, you know what I mean? I have been like attacked in the city. It's very difficult to forget. I notice even on the subways walk, I'm constantly looking behind me because that's how it happened. So whether it was in the countryside or whether in the city, I'm always looking. Even though I think it's been a while now. In some ways I should be less confident to walk alone. I guess that's something that you never quite forget. And so its also important that people know that people's different kinds of experiences influence their decision. So for some people, it takes a longer time to get that confidence and to understand, what you need to do or how you prepare yourself. And you should never have to prepare yourself. But I notice, though, that just having been able to talk about it more, people can understand. I think with this kind of experience or background, it might actually just be like someone just told them all the dangerous stories. But yeah, there's a lot to unpack I feel like when it comes to it. [00:38:03][117.6]

Saira: [00:38:04] Yes, definitely. [00:38:04][0.3]

Ingrina: [00:38:05] It's changing, like you are seeing more women walking and it's actually inspiring me a lot when I'm talking to women who walk by themselves. Like they're going to think, okay, actually, you know what? Maybe I can do this thing on my own. And I think that's been really nice, like seeing that women are saying, Oh, like this is how I do it. And they're always really great - sharing tips, sharing resources. [00:38:37][32.6]

Walking long distances.

Saira: [00:38:38] Yeah. [00:38:38][0.0]

 Do you have any tips for anyone who is interested in long distance walking and it's just starting out? [00:47:58][5.2]

Ingrina: [00:48:01] In some ways the first step is just to like go. Try A distance that you think you're comfortable with. Do a bit of planning if you're a little bit less secure about navigation. So I plan meticulously. So that's helped me in terms of my confidence a lot. And then as I started to do some of those walks, they just started to slowly get a little bit longer and longer. If anybody does want to try for like a long distance walk, I personally would go for an established route, a route that's a little bit less difficult to get lost on. Yeah. So, you know, you can just enjoy the walking. I did that with the central southwest coastal path and to the wayside anyways, which I think is a really nice way to kind of just get you into the experience of walking itself. And then once you start getting more comfortable with the distance, then you can explore more like unknown routes and a be bit more experimental. And I think, do what you're comfortable with. Push yourself. If you want to set yourself a big challenge, go for it. But you know, kind of like just gauge where you're at, where you want to be, and definitely seek out people who have done it because everyone's more than happy to help you. They're a friendly lot. [00:50:21][139.2]

Saira: [00:50:22] I feel really inspired to when to undertake a multi-day hike, you know. Yeah. [00:50:27][4.8]

Ingrina: [00:52:26] My first idea was to walk to Bristol and six days was a lot. It was about five, six days ago. But yes, I hope to do one of those soon. I did hear recently that Slow Ways is trying to connect national parks to each other, which is right up my alley.

Saira: [00:53:20] Ingrina, honestly, it has been such a joy to talk to you. I have learned so much. I have so much food for thought. There are so many things that I want to come back to talk to you about. Thank you so much for your time!

Want to get started with Slow Ways and plan your own adventure? Simply find a route using our website, walk it and leave a review. For more information visit: www.slowways.org.

Walking to help cope with depression

I know a lot of people who do struggle with depression and anxiety probably can relate that when you're in a particularly bad period your mind is going a million miles a minute. There's so many intense thoughts and they don't really quieten down. There's not a lot that you can do. I couldn't study. I couldn't talk to any friends. So the only thing I could do was go out for a walk. And even that was a kind of journey in itself, because I grew up in Los Angeles where it's very car-centric and, you know, the outside is very scary. You didn't go out for a walk because you didn't know what was going to happen; you really wanted malls and parks and things like that.

So even just being able to walk outside was not something that came naturally to me.

I couldn't study. I couldn't talk to any friends. So the only thing I could do was go out for a walk

When I moved to Boston for university, I discovered that you can actually walk to get to places and that was completely eye-opening. I just went to different places because that was the most practical thing to do. Walking was really a good way to just go out, be on my own for a little bit. And surprisingly, I found that it really took me away from my thoughts for a little bit. And like the movement I think was really, really helpful in just being able to get to the next day. I just kept doing that because it's not really a cure really, but it really helped me cope.

Eventually it just kind of stuck. I had a couple of friends tag along because they're like, oh, you just go out walking at night for a couple of hours? Like, yeah, it's great. That's changed a little bit over the years but it's still one of the main reasons I walk, it just really helps me cope with managing that mental stress.

Seeing the richness in between destinations

Another reason is that it's just a great way to get to know a place. So I travel around London a lot. I walk and I run and I cycle. And after having lived in a car-centric place like LA, I find that exploring London by foot just gives you so much... In a car, you're going at such a fast speed that you miss so many details of a place. In LA you really go from one place to another.

There are places that you never get to know in between, and on foot I stop if I want to because I'm curious. And I get to spot things and read things like blue plaques that give me a sense of history. I get to take photos of street art, a few things that I like and I learned a lot about, like plants and community gardens, and I get to see birds I've never seen before. I learn so much about my environment.

You can see a lot of the geological and vegetation changes, you can see wildlife, you can feel the land change as you walk. there's just something so enriching and really lovely about that. And I think that's all possible because of how slow walking is

You also take a lot more time to observe your built environment. And that's given me a sense of history through architecture, through design trends, and I get a sense of the surrounding communities that live in my local area. It's really cool to see the way that people use public spaces, how creative people are in using public spaces.

In the natural world as well, you can see a lot of the geological and vegetation changes, the wildlife; feel the land change as you walk. There's just something so enriching and really lovely and nice about that. And I think that's all possible because of how slow walking is; I'm not in a hurry because when I go for a walk, I know I'm not going to get to a place quickly. It gives you a bit of freedom to take things in very slowly. And I do.

Go slow and appreciate the interconnections of life

I attribute a lot of my understanding about human relationships with nature, the environment, climate change, to walking because I think walking really takes you out of yourself, it takes you out of your home. It takes you out of a box. It takes you out of your own mind and senses and it really opens up the whole world. Through walking I was able to discover so much about how living things interact with each other. Understanding our role in the ecological system and life.

That's really pushed me to think about what we what our role is. We tend to see humans as very separate from nature and but actually we are part of it. That's an important thing to realise because we do have a role, in taking care of our environment because our environment takes care of us. It's a very interdependent relationship.

We have a role in taking care of our environment because our environment takes care of us

Saira: So much of what you said really resonated with me. I actually also kind of got into walking because I was going through a rough patch with my mental health and was battling depression and anxiety. It was such a relief to be able to go for a walk and remove myself from myself in a big way. And I'd always find with every mile that I traversed, I would feel lighter and lighter.

I also really liked what you said about walking connecting us to the natural world, and it giving us a sense of perspective, but also a sense of scale, which you don't really get with other modes of transport.

And also wandering being quite delightful and being able to stumble across really interesting places – it's kind of why I started up my wandering tours in London. It was to give people the sense of being able to connect with places that they might not necessarily discover otherwise. Those little community gardens, these hidden churches and rooftops and burial grounds and crypts and all sorts of really interesting spaces that really make up a space. We have so much to talk about. Well, we're going to be great friends Ingrina!

Ingrina: This is just the beginning!

Saira: Just the beginning. So my next question is, you recently did a really epic walk, from London to the South Downs National Park via Slow Ways routes. Can you tell us a little bit about how you found out about Slow Ways? What inspired you to undertake that route in particular, and what were some of the interesting encounters you had on it? And interesting insights?

Ingrina: Sure. I was really glad I found Slow Ways actually. And I think, if I remember correctly, I discovered Slow Ways as a National Park City Ranger. Dan [Raven-Ellison, Slow Ways' founder] talked about Slow Ways connecting all the towns and cities across the UK, and I just loved that.

It was quite timely, just a few months after I did a walk from London to Brighton that was very clumsy, that I personally loved because it was so interesting to me. So I just thought, oh, well, there are actual routes that I might be able to find that help me do more of this!

And it was quite cool that that was connected to what I was doing with London National Park City anyway [Dan Raven-Ellison founded that too]. I've been getting into these multi-day long distance walks for many, many reasons. There were so many options to get out of London to somewhere else.

what if you wanted to go out for a longer countryside walk? What if you didn't have a car and public transportation was too expensive? what would it actually take for someone to walk to the closest national park?

So I started with about eight of these routes. I did two from Oxford. I did Cambridge to Bristol. I started thinking a little bit about all the times I got out of London to seek out national parks, to get to the mountain, to get to the countryside, just to walk. I realized that it took a lot careful planning because I don't drive anymore and public transportation can actually be quite expensive. So that got me in this whole train of thought about how these open spaces can be really inaccessible to people who live in the city. And while I think London is quite blessed with a lot of green space. It gets a lot more difficult to access these big national parks. And it's especially hard if you don't have a car and don't have the means to pay for a really expensive train ticket. So I just started to think about how important, you know, this kind of issue is. And even though it's really important for us to be able to know how to access green space close to us, I just thought about all these questions, like what if you did want to go out for a longer countryside walk? What if you didn't have a car and public transportation wasn't working or too expensive? And what would it take for someone to actually walk to the closest national park? What would I discover about our infrastructure, our access nature and our rights to roam like public rights away? Just out of curiosity, what does that journey feel and look like? So it just got me curious, thinking that there might be something here about trying to go and see the closest national park to London.

I really love testing my boundaries just because I'm curious to see how far I can go at once. The longest distance I covered in a day was around 36 kilometers, and I was wondering over three days, can I walk between 37 and 39 kilometers a day?

I think it is also great because in terms of distance, it was a really good physical challenge. So I really love testing my boundaries just because I'm curious to see how far I can go at once. The longest distance I covered in a day was around 36 kilometers, and I was wondering over three days, can I walk between 37 and 39 kilometers a day? Like, can I can I make it? So there's a little bit of a personal challenge to myself. So I submitted that idea (to All the Elements who were offering an opportunity to go on a funded Slow Ways journey) I've been following the two organizations for a while. I think they're doing a really interesting things in the walking outdoors and diversity inclusion spaces. So it was something that I thought could be part of it and a way to reflect diversity and inclusion outdoors. So I submitted this idea and they were happy to support it. And so I got the time off and I made the plans and I set off. I did this in March and, in a way, I was I was kind of hoping for good weather. But then it came to it. There was quite a lot of rain on the first day, but I started to get used to that because I knew that you can kind of just have to deal with it. You just always hope, right? And so I did that over three days and and it was an absolutely incredible journey. I was tired. Of course, each day really did kind of test my physical limits. And I think I learned a lot. I think I learnt what I needed to do to be better for the next one. But it was a really interesting walk, you know, like I mentioned I walk a lot in London, but Slow Ways took me on different routes that I hadn't known about before. And so I discovered some really cool routes actually that I took again a couple of times. I think what's also really cool is that when you've got a really long distance walk like that, you can see how things change slowly. So I saw how slowly London changes as it spreads out. I got to cross the M25 again, which I love. It's always a blast crossing the motorway like that. And I got to stop by a lot of areas that I never knew existed.

In terms of just absorbing the landscape along a road, it was really interesting to see what kind of areas and towns were there in between the two places. I think I also was just really quite happy to be able to help test out these routes. It was quite an experience walking in different kind of areas and through different terrain. Its really nice to be able to kind of help test some of their routes because I know some of them still needed to be tried out. So it was quite a cool experience to be able to be part of that. I just had an incredible time. I don't think that someone has to do it in three days, but I definitely think it's completely doable. If you just wanted to have a nice little holiday and like just go from place to place, you can even probably camp when you go at certain times. So yeah, it was really nice and I still have to digest so much. [00:18:52][537.1]

Saira: [00:18:53] It sounds like it was a really magical adventure. I remember I was following your Twitter threads and I'm quite keen on creating Twitter threads about different Slow Ways journeys. There's something quite nice about unpacking different areas using just a few words and a few pictures, and it feels quite a quiet reductionary in a way, but it's also quite nice to be able to condense those moments in a journey. Was there any area that you went through which you found particularly interesting or inspiring? [00:19:19][26.8]

Ingrina: [00:19:24] I. Oh, yeah. This is an interesting question. I am quite a lover of London, so I do admit that even just seeing some of the outer parts of London was really, really interesting for me. This always takes you through some of the green spaces which I never knew existed. And they're beautiful. Like Nonsuch Park, though I did have to take a detour because it kind of turned into a bit of a swamp. I didn't realize. I'm really keen to go back and visit with some friends, to like walk around the park and stuff. And these are all these places I just didn't know were there. And they're actually quite a short trip on the train away. And I did have to get out of London to find spaces like that. So those were probably was some of my favorite parts. (I read something about) how Slow Ways (routes) get longer the further you get from the city. And it's completely true. And you definitely feel that distance. I really loved some of the moments between the really long distances from like Haslemere to Midhurst, from Godalming to to Haslemere as well. It was just nice to have that long distance to walk between the two cities. But that's because I think after doing so many short walks, I guess I just like to have a really long stretch. And to really feel like you've gone through the city and now you're in the country. There's so many aspects, I have to say. One of my favorites is finding the little parks. [00:21:19][115.1]

it's really interesting to see someone pass through an area that's really familiar to you on a much bigger journey.

Saira: [00:21:20] Really? Yeah, that would have been my favorite too. But I love that you can pass so many different kinds of landscapes, like you're going through the woods on the serpentine trail and then you kind of like, went out into the country and then, you kind of went in and out of urban areas, too. And I thought that was really interesting. And I find it quite interesting cause I feel like my thoughts kind of evolve with the landscapes. And so you must have had so many different thoughts kind of passing through your head on that journey. And I also remember you passed through Tooting and I thought, oh, my God, that's my hometown. And it's really interesting to see someone pass through like an area that's really familiar to you on a much bigger journey. And I think that's what I've really enjoyed about walking Slow Ways routes as well. Just the total polarity, but also just the diversity of landscape and the communities that you come by. The very first Slow Ways walk they did was from Canvey Island to Leigh on Sea, and I didn't actually know that you could walk from Canvey Island to Leigh on Sea. I didn't realize there's a footbridge connecting Canvey to the mainland. And that was really, really fascinating, too. And so, yeah, it was really, really nice to see that in the context of the South Downs because I guess I could never fathom walking from London to somewhere like the South Downs, it feels really, really far away. But the fact that you did it in three days was really inspiring. And I think it's made me want to do more sort of multi-day hikes. I feel like I always pick kind of shorter routes and really take my time with them. And I guess because, you know, with my role, I really like kind of connecting with communities and people along the way. But yeah, I definitely see the appeal of just walking like a really good stretch of space and all that kind of encompasses. [00:23:03][102.7]

Ingrina: [00:23:05] You picked on a really interesting point there, and I think that was something that I considered a lot during the walk was that, you know, I'm kind of a little bit of a geek for long distances, but that's because like I used to do, like try to run longer distances as well. So I got really invested in that. But you're right, like when you do longer distances, especially when you're doing it against daylight, you do have to do it a little bit more quickly than you would to, as you say, to really slow down and to like talk to people and to like stop in a shop or something, you know, like I had a whole spreadsheet about when I needed to be at this certain point. Knowing that was how I could make sure that I reached my destination in time. I mean, that's kind of connected, though, to like making sure I was not alone in the dark so that was another conversation that kind of came up during this. Actually, on safety. But yeah, you're completely right. If you do shorter walks, you do really get to enjoy the place that you're in. So I'm still kind of working through that if anything. [00:24:12][67.1]

Saira: [00:24:13] Yeah, it's nice to have a contrast. I think I like some long walks, a lot of walks I do in South Downs are longish walks, but then yeah, to break them up with shorter walks I guess is nice. I think safety is something that I've been thinking about a lot recently as well. One of the last Slow Ways walks I did was in West Yorkshire. It walked down from Shipley to Bradford and I didn't time it very well and I kind of got to Shipley in the late afternoon. For some reason I didn't think it was going to take very long. And then I remember half the walk I did in the dark and a for a lot of it I actually had to kind of cut across countryside. I got to a hilltop and it started raining, you know, it was pouring down with rain. And I decided to reroute and follow the road for the rest of the the journey. But it's something that I am conscious of and I think it's something that I'm more conscious of recently with things happening and you know, with women's safety being such a big issue right now after the Sabina Nessa case and the Sarah Everard case. Yeah, there's a lot of feelings I have about that. And I guess for me personally, I've tried not to let it put me off walking alone because it's something I've done for so many years and it's so intrinsic to the way I walk. And I guess that kind of brings me on really nicely to my next question, which is, do you prefer to walk alone or with company? [00:25:27][73.8]

I walk alone in the city. I just don't walk alone in the country.

Ingrina: [00:25:29] So I kind of like both and it sort of depends on what walk is. It's such a loaded question as well because I love walking alone, but I definitely only walk alone in the city. Which is slightly ironic because my more threatening experiences have always been in the city, but for some reason I walk alone in the city. I just don't walk alone in the country, in the countryside. So I definitely have a bit of preference for both. On my Slow Ways journey I did the first day of it on my own, and I think I was definitely prepared to do the rest of it on my own. But my husband was like really interested in joining alongside me. There's also a sense of comfort that there is somebody there. Someone who could help you kind of like digest of all the stuff that was happening as well and like just have a really nice chat with. Walking alone is a really lovely way to think up creative ideas, be able to be a bit observant. It's a really good way to think and to untangle thoughts and to just think of different things that you could be doing in the future, even to reflect on what I know. I think I also find it really nice to have company as well because having done a few with some friends and with different groups or just talking about it with like a couple of friends at work is a really nice method of conversation. You know, there's not a lot of pressure to be a certain way because the priority is walking - being on this path or on this trail. And so you can just have a have a really casual talk. And having done that in the past, it's actually a really nice way to get to know people. I think walking is a kind of method of conversation. There's a lot I noticed. There are a lot fewer guards. You just walk and everything is kind of phase. So I do love that for the company a lot. And so I think the answer is both. [00:28:00][151.5]

Saira: [00:28:01] That's a good. And I completely agree. And I think the experience is so different when you're walking with people then when you're walking on your own and they're both kind of really special in their own way. As a woman of colour, have you faced any challenges when it comes to walking? Have you ever faced any hostility? Have there been obstacles that have just been down to (your appearance)? And well being a woman. [00:28:25][21.8]

my journey towards long distance walking is actually a little bit slower than others, maybe because I just kind of had to figure out stuff on my own. Mentoring wasn't there

Ingrina: [00:28:27] Yeah, absolutely. And you're obviously aware of that as well, that the challenges for people of colour vary quite widely. You know, it always depends on so many factors. It depends on where you live growing up, your family, even the colour of your skin or colours. And I think is a very real thing, especially when it comes being outdoors. For me, as a petite Asian woman, I grew up in the States and I lived in the UK. There were always challenges of just not seeing any role models. And I think if you go to other regions of the world, that might change. But in the US and the UK in particular, they're not very many. So I had to do a lot of training and kind of discovery about walking on my own and it was very much driven because I wanted to, not because I saw someone who looked like me and they were doing it never gave me like the integration as such because it just wasn't there. And like my journey to doing long distance walking is quite good, actually a little bit slower than others, maybe because I just kind of had to figure out stuff on my own. So that can be great. But I think that was a little bit of a challenge in terms of knowing where to go like that. Mentoring wasn't there. I think this isn't so hostile. But another thing that I found challenging was that I'm often underestimated so I can be quiet and timid. And then I also have a lot of stamina, which I've been building up over the years. But I feel like I constantly have to prove that. I'm constantly having to convince people that I can do something because they see me being quite short and just, yeah, like not really fitting in what they think of as a hiker. I like surprising people now and it's kind of nice. I'm trying to make some progress and become more confident and know I kind of just absorb it. But you know, you're always growing and I think I'm kind of getting more confidence. Yeah, I think.

I think the most uncomfortable thing is the staring, especially when I'm doing multi-day walking where you're stopping at places. When you're on the long distance trails everyone's lovely. Walking from London to South Downs, just stopping in a pub or restaurant. I get so many stares and that's very uncomfortable. You know that you stand out, you know that someone's going to say something and you can't quite tell if its is going to be friendly. So yeah, I've got both. You know, more often I get friendliness. I receieve very complimentary comments, but it's hard. The fact that people notice me. Yeah. So I find that harder to deal with because there's nothing I can do about that. [00:32:13][225.4]

Overall, I think the walking community is so lovely and so kind. Like I found so much kindness and generosity on the trails and walking. And I don't really want the challenges to tarnish that experience. And I always try to show that even though I want to acknowledge that people will find challenges, that actually so many people are very welcoming and very warm. And it's just trying to emphasize that. Sometimes, though, some of the negative experiences are the ones that stick. [00:32:53][38.5]

Saira: [00:32:54] Yeah, completely. So I relate to that I think, the staring is what I sometimes struggle with because sometimes you just want to be invisible. Like, I'm a bit of an introvert and so I quite like blending into the background, but it's quite hard to do and especially when you know, you come into a village and there is only one little restaurant when you're there and you see a lot people staring and you're a lot more conscious when you're on your own as well. But it's like you said, I think for me a lot of it does come down to people's curiosity, like they're just not exposed to, you know, people of color maybe being so visible in these places, which I'm really happy is starting to change with initiatives like All the Element and you know, Slow Way is doing a lot to kind of reach different kinds of communities. I mean, it's changed so much compared to when I started to lead long distance walks for women, mostly women of colour from my university maybe 15 years ago. And it was so different. Now I look around and there are so many walk leaders, there are so many really great initiatives kind of working on diversifying the outdoors and kind of addressing some of the obstacles, whether those are economic, or social. And so it's really nice and it's really heartening to hear most of your experiences have been positive, and I can really relate to that as well.

I think there's something about being out on a trail. In some ways you can feel quite vulnerable, but in some ways you also feel very seen in a really nice way where people do you say hello and you might not get that living in a big city like London, and that there's a sense of like connection, or familiarity that people have. And that comes from just being in the shared landscape for a certain amount of time, which is something that's really, really special. I love that you love walking in the city, but equally like walking in the countryside. And I found it really interesting that you said that you feel safer walking in the city than in the country. And I've been thinking about this a lot lately because I've always been quite confident walking in the country alone and in the city too. But, I do feel like the city can be a lot more threatening and there are a lot more risks involved. A lot of the horrible news stories we hear are of people who've been attacked in cities and very busy areas, you know, Brixton and West London, whereas in the countryside that doesn't happen as much. And I'm not sure if it's just sort of popular culture. You see a lot of horror movies about, you know, that one born in the countryside. But you kind of have this idea that it's a fearful place. The fear is just a bit different, the fear of the countryside, the fear of the city. And I guess as a woman, it it does feel a lot more kind of visceral and apparent. I guess in a city you're surrounded by a lot more people than in the countryside, and you do feel that were something to happen, you would be a lot more well equipped to deal with it. Whereas yeah, even simple things like, you know, if you sprained your ankle in a city, you'll be fine. If you sprained your ankle and you're walking up a hill in a really remote kind of countryside spot, you'll have a lot more to kind of deal with. [00:36:05][191.1]

I have been like attacked in the city. It's very difficult to forget. So I notice even on the subways walk, I'm constantly looking behind me

Ingrina: [00:36:06] Yeah, exactly. And I think it's important to be talking about it too (womens safety). I noticed that conversations were happening as a result from something I commented on about safety as a woman walking alone. Was it something that you learned to fear? Is it a real threat? Is it cities versus countryside? And I think those are all really interesting conversations we should be having, you know what I mean? I have been like attacked in the city. And so I realize that that's something that you absorb and that you learn. It's very difficult to forget. So I notice even on the subways walk, I'm constantly looking behind me because that's how it happened. So whether it was in the countryside or whether in the city, I'm always looking. Even though I think it's been a while now. In some ways I should be less confident to walk alone. I guess that's something that you never quite forget. And so its also important that people know that people's different kinds of experiences influence their decision. So for some people, it takes a longer time to get that confidence and to understand, what you need to do or how you prepare yourself. And you should never have to prepare yourself. But I notice, though, that just having been able to talk about it more, people can understand. I think with this kind of experience or background, it might actually just be like someone just told them all the dangerous stories. But yeah, there's a lot to unpack I feel like when it comes to it. [00:38:03][117.6]

Saira: [00:38:04] Yes, definitely. [00:38:04][0.3]

Ingrina: [00:38:05] It's changing, like you are seeing more women walking and it's actually inspiring me a lot when I'm talking to women who walk by themselves. Like they're going to think, okay, actually, you know what? Maybe I can do this thing on my own. And I think that's been really nice, like seeing that women are saying, Oh, like this is how I do it. And they're always really great - sharing tips, sharing resources. [00:38:37][32.6]

Saira: [00:38:38] Yeah. [00:38:38][0.0]

Ingrina: [00:38:39] You talked about that. The community around shared interests and shared passion can be so strong and there's a really nice solidarity behind it. [00:39:00][21.1]

Saira: [00:39:02] Yeah, I know, absolutely. It's such a heavy topic and it's is quite difficult because I am really conscious of the fact that it needs to be discussed. But at the same time I'm really worried about discussing it in a way that will be really offputting to people who haven't. I mean, the narrative is already so embedded, you know, and there's so much of this blame towards women. Why was she walking in the park alone at that time? Why was she walking the country? And I get a lot of it as well, like a lot of my work revolves around solo walking. And you know, growing up, you're told not to talk to strangers. And a lot of my work revolves around, you know, getting in the car with a strangere to interview them or to go on a site visit. And so even myself, I think I've become a bit desensitized to it. But I am also very, very conscious of the fact that it can only take one negative experience for you to kind of completely reshape the way you think about safety and walking. And that's very real. And so I think those conversations are quite difficult, but it is important to have them. So yeah. So thank you. Thank you so much for bringing that up because it's one of those topics that you're not really sure how to kind of address. But I think the more that people are honest about kind of their take on women's safety, the more it kind of empowers other people to talk honestly about it as well and to kind of have those different viewpoints. [00:40:22][80.7]

Ingrina: [00:40:24] Yeah. And it's trying to find that balance, I think, because you do want to be able to find that kind of confidence to do it on your own. I mean to be honest when you hear someone say I do it, I don't want to be dependent on others, but then when something happens to you, you do feel a bit like, oh, what did I do wrong? [00:40:47][23.3]

Saira: [00:40:48] Yeah, yeah. [00:40:48][0.5]

Ingrina: [00:40:49] She did nothing wrong, you know. So I think there's like a delicate balance that we all have to try to be aware of. You don't want to put people off. And I think overall, as you say, it's been very great... [00:41:12][22.5]

Saira: [00:41:13] No I completely agree which is why I'm so keen on sharing obstacles, but also sharing the joy of walking because it is such a joyous experience. And you know, there is so much that can come out of that; creativity, love, connection, joy, you know, walking has brought just so much goodness into my life. And so I'm very conscious of the fact that I also want to share stories of joy and you know, and a lot of your adventures have been filled with joy. Like, I follow you on on Instagram. And I love seeing your stories. I love seeing your beautiful pictures of landscapes. And I find it really, really inspiring. And I think it's nice to be able to share, like you said, I also didn't grow up with any role models of other sort of people of color or women of color who are out doing this stuff. And I think for us, it also came from a place of necessity. I don't know if I can say that for you, but I think walking kind of came out of place a necessity where it felt like it was the only thing that would make me feel okay at some point in my life and then I just kind of carried on. And so that also kind of changes your kind of your relationship towards walking. Yeah. I mean, there are so many different layers and there are so many different motivations in terms of of walking and why people walk.

we are talking about some of the obstacles and challenges because it's only by addressing these can we really, truly open up walking in a very genuine, authentic way.

And I think what what's really drawn me in with Slow Ways is the fact that it can kind of appeal to lots of different walkers who walk for lots and lots of different reasons. And a lot of it is about kind of connection connecting places, but connecting people and stories and ideas. And yeah, and, but I think we are also doing a lot of work around kind of talking about some of the obstacles and challenges because it's only by addressing these can we really, truly open up walking in a, in a very genuine, authentic way. So yeah, and I thank you so much for sharing that. Do you have any tips for anyone who is interested in long distance walking and it's just starting out? [00:47:58][5.2]

Ingrina: [00:48:01] In some ways the first step is just to like go. Try A distance that you think you're comfortable with. Do a bit of planning if you're a little bit less secure about navigation. So I plan meticulously. So that's helped me in terms of my confidence a lot. And then as I started to do some of those walks, they just started to slowly get a little bit longer and longer. If anybody does want to try for like a long distance walk, I personally would go for an established route, a route that's a little bit less difficult to get lost on. Yeah. So, you know, you can just enjoy the walking. I did that with the central southwest coastal path and to the wayside anyways, which I think is a really nice way to kind of just get you into the experience of walking itself. And then once you start getting more comfortable with the distance, then you can explore more like unknown routes and a be bit more experimental. And I think, do what you're comfortable with. Push yourself. If you want to set yourself a big challenge, go for it. But you know, kind of like just gauge where you're at, where you want to be, and definitely seek out people who have done it because everyone's more than happy to help you. They're a friendly lot. [00:50:21][139.2]

Saira: [00:50:22] I feel really inspired to when to undertake a multi-day hike, you know. Yeah. [00:50:27][4.8]

Ingrina: [00:52:26] My first idea was to walk to Bristol and six days was a lot. It was about five, six days ago. But yes, I hope to do one of those soon. I did hear recently that Slow Ways is trying to connect national parks to each other, which is right up my alley.

Saira: [00:53:20] Ingrina, honestly, it has been such a joy to talk to you. I have learned so much. I have so much food for thought. There are so many things that I want to come back to talk to you about. Thank you so much for your time!

Want to get started with Slow Ways and plan your own adventure? Simply find a route using our website, walk it and leave a review. For more information visit: www.slowways.org.

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Wanderers #1: Ali Pretty

12th April, 2022 by Saira Niazi

Welcome to our Wanderers series, an interview series that spotlights interesting walkers from across the UK and beyond. In the first episode, we speak to Ali Pretty, Artistic Director of Kinetika and architect of the Beach of Dreams, an epic 500 miles walk over 35 days along the coast of England.

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