Today is World Health Day and this year’s theme is Our planet, our health. The World Health Organisation says it will focus global attention on urgent actions needed to keep humans and the planet healthy and foster a movement to create societies focussed on well-being.
This started me thinking about how the Peak Way Walk fits in with the WHO ethos. Well in terms of keeping humans healthy and improving their well-being, I think it plays a major role. The physical benefits of walking and hiking are well documented. It can lower blood pressure and cholesterol reducing the danger of potential heart disease, diabetes and strokes. It can strengthen muscles and bones, burn calories and reduce weight and it can improve balance and posture. But there also is growing evidence that it can stave off disease and illnesses too. And what about the mental health benefits? The message from the NHS is that it can reduce stress and anxiety, improve mood, reduce the risk of depression and increase energy. Also, it can help cope with difficult times, improve confidence and self-esteem and help you to sleep better.
To those of us who have enjoyed hiking, these facts are probably not surprising. We know how good it feels to get out in the fresh air and soak up vitamin D, and we know how much fitter we feel both physically and mentally. On one of the Facebook Hiking Groups that I’m on, the benefits are clear. Members regularly post about huge weight losses, diabetes reversal, reducing anxiety and depression, coping with loss of a loved one and so on. And what about the other benefits of walking and hiking – the stunning views, getting close to nature and the pint in pub.
Accessibility is key
All this was one of my motivations for creating the Peak Way long-distance walk. Having enjoyed hiking for more than 40 years, I hoped to inspire others to enjoy it too and, for some, maybe try their first long-distance walk – a fabulous walk which is itself very diverse. It happened by accident really in that I started walking locally during the Pandemic lockdown when we were limited to walking locally. But as I started walking from home towards the Peak District, the idea of walking from an urban area into the National Park became really appealing. And it occurred to me how accessible it is to hikers from throughout UK because of the excellent transport links to Stockport.
And this leads on to the other part of the WHO’s mission for a healthy planet. We all want a healthy planet don’t we? And as hikers we really appreciate our beautiful environment here in the UK. And, I believe that the Peak Way walk helps here too, albeit in a small way.
In November last year, national media reported on issues caused by congestion – apparently there are over 13 million visitors to the Peak District annually and 90% travel in cars along the winding narrow roads, leading to traffic jams and lack of parking spaces. I saw this for myself last summer when travelling home through Castleton in the Hope Valley. As I drove up the steep sided and narrow winding road up Winnats Pass, there were cars parked randomly everywhere on the grass verge alongside the road. And there were even people picnicking there! And this continued along the roadside right up to Mam Tor car park; it was chaotic. As a result of the congestion in well-used locations, there were various proposals including one to close selected roads to cars, in popular areas of the Peak District, to free space for walkers and cyclists. The chief executive of the Peak District National Park at the time, reportedly said that the car-free days were “a really interesting concept” she was keen to explore.
How the Peak Way contributes
This is a major issue which will need innovative solutions. But I believe that the Peak Way Walk is playing its part because the walk starts and finishes in Stockport which is, of course, outside the Peak District. And because Stockport has excellent transport links most people could travel by public transport. And, even if they choose to travel by car via the motorway network, they would leave their car outside the Peak District.
Some walkers who’ve bought the guide book have talked about doing it in stages. The good news is that you can do many of the stages too by using public transport. For example, on the first stage you can walk from Stockport to Hayfield and return on the no. 358 bus. Or, if you want a shorter walk, you can return from New Mills or Marple.
Similarly, on the second stage, you could travel by bus to Hayfield, walk to Edale and return by train to Marple and then bus to Stockport.
So today, on World Health Day, why not play your part and commit to walking the Peak Way? That way your health should benefit and so will our beautiful environment!