Dave Askew – Northamptonshire Walks

Dave Askew, founder of Northamptonshire Walks https://northamptonshirewalks.co.uk/ is as down to earth as they come, open and honest about his own struggles with mental health, and admirably  modest about the success of his Northamptonshire Walks.

Dave agreed to write a short blog for We Mind & Kelly Matters on how his own solution to coping with life stresses has evolved to a following of over 17k members.  Not deterred by the pandemic, “Walks from my doorstep” evolved, inspiring many people across the county and wider to take up local walking.  You can find his group on Facebook and his short blog written for us here.

My thanks to Dave for chatting so openly about mental health and the benefits of walking, your collection of walks for the county is hugely impressive, and you definitely inspired us to start walking and appreciating how beautiful our county is.

“Take off your shoes and go and lie down on the bed … Now !

Not something you hear everyday, but these were the words a Doctor said to me 8 years ago. I felt fine, yes work was extremely stressful and I wasn’t looking after my body and, more importantly, my mind properly.

It was my wife that had booked the appointment and, at a future appointment, the Doctor told me “You need to thank your wife for saving your life!” That at age 54 isn’t good to hear.

So I set about becoming healthier by walking more but…I still wasn’t addressing the real problem…my mental well-being. Matters got progressively worse until one day, in front of a computer screen, my body said enough and shut down my mind. It was scary and I had no idea what was happening.

I made the hard decision to put myself through counseling. Hey…I’m a man, I don’t need that, I cope, it’s what I do. But the day I did that I finally realised that I wasn’t the problem, it wasn’t my fault. It was the situation that had done it to me.

Walking away from the highly paid job wasn’t easy, but now I had more time on my hands for me. I was still going out walking and it was my youngest daughter who said “Dad, take a camera and I’ll help you start a walking blog. So…8 years ago Northamptonshire Walks was born.

Now…don’t get me wrong my mental health issues weren’t fixed and even now, there are some days when even I don’t want to get out there. However, the thing that gets me out is knowing that once I’m walking across the fields, or in the local park etc, nothing can touch me. My mind is clear and my spirit lifts. Plus not only am I exercising my body, I’m exercising my mind.

Over the years my walking website has grown steadily & has almost 300 walks on it. It got over 580,000 views in 2020. The Facebook group 12 months ago had 1500 members.

And then Covid 19 hit. During the first lockdown people could still travel a short distance to walk and suddenly Northamptonshire Walks took off with the Facebook Group now standing at 17,000 members.

Everyone was sharing their walks on the group and it’s become an incredibly supportive and positive community. What is extremely humbling though is the numerous daily personal messages I receive about how walking and my website and group have helped with other peoples’ mental issues, such as anxiety and depression etc. I’ve even had people tell me that walking and sharing their walks and pictures has saved them from some very dark places. You see…it really does work!

And do you know what? By having that common interest and being part of the group, it continues to help me and my mental well-being on a daily basis.

The recent, second lockdown brought new issues…we had to stay local for our exercise. Some people, including myself found this hard so we started a new feature called “Walks from My Doorstep” where we asked people to take photos and send in their local walks. These were then shared on the website – the community stuck together again and supported each other even more strongly.

I often get asked “How far should I walk / how long should I walk for? Well that depends on you and your personal circumstances. Yes, I’ve done really long walks, but I find that my mind still gets the same benefit from a short walk in the local pocket park.

I know lots of people like to listen to music whilst walking and that’s a personal choice. For me though, it’s all about tuning in to your surroundings and even though, at present, you may do the same walk every day, look for changes, look for movement, listen to the sounds, what’s that smell, what’s made that track?. It’s amazing how quickly the mind tunes in. And…watch the way nature is working…waiting for the first flower of spring, listening for the first call of a cuckoo etc

We all have choices, we could just sit at home and some days I have. But I know that by being outside walking, my body, mind & spirit will be more at one with each other and even from a short walk, my mental and physical well-being are noticeably improved.

As I always say…”Go Walk!”