The many joys of rambling in Croydon

By - Monday 4th May, 2015

Kei Miyakita went on a ramble, and she’s never looked back

Kei and friends, rambling from Croydon to Cuba.
Photo author’s own.

My optician made me laugh during my periodic check-up, saying, “I divorced all my friends now, because they are old.” I chuckled as he himself doesn’t appear so young. He continued sadly: “All they talk about is aches and pains, cocktails of pills, boasting about their long list of ailments, and their watches bleep at nine o’clock, and they say, ‘Oh, excuse me, bedtime’… No, I will befriend some 25-year-olds.” I felt fortunate as I belong to the Croydon Ramblers where there are quite few ramblers in their eighties who can walk fifteen miles every day. They walk rain or shine, march up the hills, steep steps, and climb over wobbly, slippery stiles and fences, but none of them complains.

Croydon Ramblers was founded in 1950, the first of Ramblers’ local groups, and it’s still one of the largest groups in Surrey, offering a programme of around thirty walks a month, with degrees of strenuousness varied to cater for different abilities and levels of fitness.There’s a strong social aspect to rambling, too, and the group runs a programme of holidays in the UK and overseas, social events and visits to places of interest.

For me it’s meant a new lease of life – for until two years ago, walking more than two miles seemed unthinkable. But now I have transformed into a regular walker, often going on walking holidays – walking thirty minutes a day, after all, is the best medicine and prevention for every ailment. The majority of my Thursday group members are now retired, leaving lustrous careers behind, but still sharing their knowledge and time with others and the community, they also enjoy travelling far and wide. I am often schooled by them on botany, local history and so on while we enjoy spectacular scenery of the countryside.

Bathing in the trees’ energy, greeting the fragrance of the breeze

I feel privileged when rambling with my congenial walking pals, tramping along the trickling brooks, glancing at birds gracefully gliding overhead, listening to the squeaks of the kissing gates, bathing in the trees’ energy, greeting the fragrance of the breeze, and even devouring sandwiches in the open field in winter months. We laugh at each other looking like drowned rats after walking in sleet and hail over muddy hillside. One may not believe it, but it is so much fun.

Recently, we eight old girls enjoyed walking in Cuba where we were struck by the lingering scent of revolutionary history with vivid images of Che Guevara everywhere. We walked in Havana, Trinidad and Viñales where the scenery was absolutely breathtaking. Cuban sunset was something you will never tire of, as well as the faded splendor of Spanish colonial estates and baroque buildings (many partially crumbling down – I wished I packed a helmet.) A huge Mercedes made in the 1950s and an equally proud Chevrolet bearing twenty coats of cosmetic paint are still going strong, though none neither free of dents and holes. There are no youngsters on mobile phones, few travels outside of Cuba, yet they seem placidly contented. They were organic and authentic, and Cuban time passes unhurriedly. That is one luxury we lack in our forever-being-chased-by-time Croydonian life. I felt a tinge of envy.

I dangled upsidedown until our guide came to my rescue

Rambling can be risky business – I almost tumbled backwards down the bushy bank of a mountain. I quickly grabbed hold of some branches to sustain myself whilst loyal friends desperately grasped each of my boots. There I dangled up-side-down until our guide (whom we nicknamed Rambo, stocky but agile as monkey) came running to the rescue. I was totally unaware that he had then climbed further down the bank to retrieve something – my camera! I couldn’t have been more grateful, as, by that time, I had taken, more than 1,000 photos. When Rambo bid us Rambo-ish farewell, I handed him 10 CUC (£7) and said, “This is to thank you for saving my camera.” Then I added 1 CUC, saying, “And this is for saving my life”. I didn’t want to embarrass him by offering more, as even a doctor in Cuba may earn as little as £40 a month.

Strangely, I was also reminded of Croydon – it’s both strange and exciting when such a faraway place has a sense of home. Whenever we wished them well, expressing hope for change in the future, the Cubans would shrug and say with a smile, “We’ll see.” They may be hopeful, but seemed nonchalant, as if the idea of change was not quite real to them. I hope it will come so that they don’t have to wear the same thin black canvas shoes, men and women, old and young alike, and may they prosper so that they will have choice in life, freedom to express their opinions, freedom to travel and see the world.

But at the same time, in my egotistic mind, I hope things will not change too drastically so as not to spoil the present beauty which has been bestowed upon Cuba and its people. To change, but to cherish the past and to keep a sense of community and continuity – many people in the world are searching for this balance. I hope that we find it in Croydon too.

Kei Miyakita

Kei Miyakita

Kei is a mother of three and lives in Purley with her husband. She has written books on English culture and education for Japanese readers. She likes baroque music, travelling and languages, particularly French and German. Her latest ambition is to become the best bridge player in Croydon!

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  • Anne Giles

    Walking can be very good for some people, but very bad for others. Good for you though.