Zoe talks to the inspiring Ursula Martin, who has built resilience and confidence over the years simply by realising she has to get on and do it – whatever that ‘IT’ is. She shares many powerful messages and despite the enormity of her challenges, Ursula is humble and profoundly honest to the end. She talks about how she doesn’t want to be treated as a hero just because she walked over 3000 miles around Wales, following a cancer diagnosis, or over 5000 miles across Europe. Zoe struggles to comprehend the stories of the absence of visible pilgrims on the Camino, while Ursula shares her experience of reaching an empty Santiago, solo. Her retelling of the way her body handled her primal emotions on returning to Wales after two years and nine months, walking and surviving, is utterly gripping, animated and so full of joy, you could almost have been there. Ursula is candid and shares practical advice about how to apply lessons learned on the trail to simply get on and face difficult tasks, undertake an adventure, or stand your ground with fear, head-on.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 00:15
Hello, and welcome to this the tenth episode of HeadRightOut, and the last episode of the season, I can’t believe it.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 00:25
My name is Zoe Langley-Wathen, and today I’ll be talking to Ursula Martin, who has built resilience and confidence over the years simply by realising she has to get on and do it. Now while it’s a longer than usual episode, it’s also INCREDIBLE. Do listen to the end, because she shares powerful words, right to the very last. “Trust your strength of will.” She talks about how she doesn’t want you to treat her as a hero just because she walked over 3000 miles around Wales, or over 5000 miles across Europe. We all have an adventure in us, and no matter how big or small it is, it’s probably more about confidence and self-belief than it is about ability. I’m also going to reveal news about multiple giveaways that I have in store for you to mark the end of this amazing first season. So, let’s get into the conversation!
Zoe Langley-Wathen 01:36
Today I am with the inimitable, Ursula Martin.
Ursula Martin 01:41
Zoe Langley-Wathen 01:42
Hello, Ursula! Well, Ursula, I am going to have to just dive straight in and read your very brief bio, because this is such a snapshot of who you are and what you’ve been up to for the last few years. It in no way describes what you’ve REALLY been through, and that’s what we’re going to dig into, once we get into our conversation.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 02:06
In 2011, at the age of 31 Ursula was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She later spent 17 months walking 3700 miles around Wales, raising money and awareness of ovarian cancer. Since the walk Ursula went on to write a book about her experience, and it was called One Woman Walks Wales. Fast forward to 2018, and she set off to walk 5500+ miles across Europe, from Ukraine to UK, via Spain. Ursula completed her epic, EPIC solo journey on June 6th 2021 In Llanidloes, mid-Wales.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 02:51
Just take a deep breath there, my goodness. Every time I hear something about One Woman Walks, or Ursula Martin, there are all of these words, these adjectives that come into my head… and I’m sure they’re probably not the adjectives that you would use to describe you, Ursula? So one word, one word just straight off there – how would you describe yourself? I’m just interested to know.
Ursula Martin 03:18
I don’t know, one word is just ‘stubborn’, I guess.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 03:23
Oh, I’m so pleased, you said that. I’m so pleased.
Ursula Martin 03:26
I mean, that can summarise all the activities in one. It’s not adventurous, it’s stubborn.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 03:26
Zoe Langley-Wathen 03:36
Brilliant. I just threw that in there, I hadn’t planned that one at all. When I was looking over your website, and just reading up a little bit more about you, obviously, I’ve been following you for quite a few years, but I just wanted to make sure that I had all of the information that I needed. I read on there that you described yourself as being ‘confused and disorganised’, and I’m thinking that just doesn’t come across, at all. And you say you might feel that, but for me, I just see somebody who has such a lot of perseverance and tenacity, and strength, that you just inspire me. And I know you inspire huge amount of other people out there.
Ursula Martin 04:19
I think part of that is my problem with writing bios about myself. I just really hate it. I don’t like saying good things about myself, and so I usually try and be a bit kind of subversive and just say, ‘Hi, I’m really crap, this is what I’ve done’. And then and let it speak for itself.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 04:37
A lot of us struggle with that, and I know, some of the guests that I’ve had on have had an issue with that as well. It’s just like how do we ‘big up’ ourselves and it’s not really about bigging up ourselves. It’s just about being honest, isn’t it?
Ursula Martin 04:49
It’s marketing isn’t it. It’s sales and marketing. You can do anything, just go off and do it and you can describe that in one way. But when you’re also trying to tell people about it, that’s a different kind of skill altogether, and actually, not everybody who can go and climb a mountain can also tell a good story about it and get people interested in it. You know, it’s lots of different skills all at once.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 05:11
Yeah, masses of skills in there. So let’s go back to, was it 2011, you had your cancer diagnosis?
Ursula Martin 05:21
Yeah. Was it 2011? No, it was 2012.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 05:25
Was it, okay?
Ursula Martin 05:26
Zoe Langley-Wathen 05:27
Ursula Martin 05:27
Zoe Langley-Wathen 05:28
No that’s okay. The year of the Olympics. And so, which came first? The challenge that you used in the face of that cancer diagnosis, so that challenge that you decided to head off and walk? Or did you already have that Ursula-style adventure mindset? I’m kind of using ‘adventure’ loosely, but is it that doggedness that I want to do something I want to be outside? Yeah, what came first?
Ursula Martin 05:55
Definitely, the mindset came first. I mean, in a way, what I’ve done since the cancer has just been a continuation of a path that I was already on, except that it just got much bigger, much more public, and much broader challenges. I think there are lots of ways to end up in a place where you are doing physical, you know, let’s use the word adventure, even though I don’t really like it. To be an adventurer, you can be a very physical person who loves sports, and loves physical challenges, and goes into ways that are an exploration of your physical capability, or different ways that I have actually come about it are more kind of… countercultural is not the right way to describe it. But in this way of seeing the way that life was supposed to be, as in, you’re supposed to go to university, you’re supposed to succeed, you’re supposed to get a nice job and a mortgage and whatever and not wanting to do that. A rejecting of that, and pushing boundaries in all kinds of different ways, like behaviourally, and you know, there are all kinds of different ways in which you can push yourself and open yourself. And so I have a lot of friends who are heavily involved in festivals and parties, and there’s a lot of exploration of boundaries and sense of opening yourself up to questioning your ideas about the way the world should be.
Ursula Martin 07:23
So there I think adventuring is also a way to do that by saying, ‘I’m going to go and sleep on the ground, outside’. And so all these people are going ‘no, we’re humans, we have houses and blankets and comfortable things. We don’t give up our structured, safe way of life’. And then you go, ‘but no, I can go and sleep on the ground. And I can not know where I’m going to sleep that night. And look at that I’m still okay, and safe and comfortable in the world’. And that’s an exploration for me. That’s an exploration of behaviour, expectations, and boundaries. Through that, which is something that I question and like to do in my life, I’ve come to physical adventure, as a way of doing that.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 08:09
So you’ve actively sought out not conforming to what those expectations are?
Ursula Martin 08:15
I was unhappy that I had to let go of things, and really I started doing that when I was about twenty-seven or so, twenty-five or twenty-seven. Just letting go of stuff. And the thing that was my first adventure was in 2007, or so, and I’ve done all kinds of things like hitching across Europe in 2007, or taking six weeks off work and just hitchhiking into Europe and doing this big circle into… I went to a couple of festivals in Germany. I went to Berlin for a week, and then went down into the Balkans. I went to stay on a farm in Croatia and then hitchhiked home, and that was six weeks, and that was this exploration of letting go of control of the future. Actually, the way that I kind of came to this was by the time I was twenty-eight, I was working in homeless hostel in Aberystwyth. This is 2008. I didn’t enjoy the job, it was getting to me was getting me down a bit. I started to do a counselling training course, but I’d always been involved in social care, like as a care provider, not as a higher level social care stuff. I started to do this counselling course, as a move-on option. I realised how messed up I was, because that’s what you have to do when you do basic counselling, is you have to look at yourself and I realised that I just needed to go travelling. In this real cliched kind of way, like ‘what even is travelling?’ What I started to do was explore spontaneity and letting go. I think that when you try and control the future, a lot, you’re not trusting yourself that you have the ability to exist in the future, in a spontaneous way, and so not consciously, it’s not like I had this plan set up of how I’m going to change become a better person, but I kind of went ‘Yes, I’m going travelling’ and I was twenty-eight.
Ursula Martin 10:02
The first few things I did were WWOOFING, volunteering on organic farms in Wales and in the UK.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 10:08
That’s called woofing?
Ursula Martin 10:09
WWOOFING, yes. If you’ve heard of it, you’re not surprised by the word. But then if you haven’t…
Zoe Langley-Wathen 10:13
I hadn’t heard of that, I know about volunteering. But yes, I hadn’t heard that term and I love it!
Ursula Martin 10:19
There’s HelpX as well, that’s another one, and it’s basically it’s it’s volunteer work, but usually on farming or alternative creative projects. So it was three years before I got diagnosed with cancer after I went off and started travelling, and at the start of that three years, I was arranging volunteer projects in advance. And at the end of that three years, I kayaked down the length of the River Danube, and I had no idea where I was going to live at the end of it. I literally got off at the harbour side, in Varna, I ended up Varna in the Black Sea, and I had no idea where I was going to go and what I was going to do. To me that’s success, because I had succeeded in coping with spontaneity and letting go, basically. So that’s what I was doing before I got cancer, and so the Welsh walks since are a completely different expression. They’re not a new thing for me, for sure, but they’re just a progression of what I was doing before cancer.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 11:19
But that’s amazing that spontaneity and discovery, that journey of discovery that you were going through, without you even realising was setting you up maybe, to be dealing with what life was going to then throw at you with that cancer diagnosis. You were so young to receive that diagnosis. Nobody expects to be given that. A lot of people do like to travel or take a gap year or whatever it is in their twenties. Not everybody does it. There’s evidence to say that those people who do do it, it builds their confidence. It builds resilience and strength. It sounds like that’s certainly how it’s helped you. But the fact that then you’ve realised you need to continue that journey of discovery, afterwards. I think that’s what’s so compelling for me to know about, is that you’ve just extended it and extended it.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 12:16
When you were when you were either considering a journey or planning a challenge, were you facing any barriers, within the thoughts about what you were going to be doing, where you were going to be doing it, how you were going to do it? I mean, there might have been emotional barriers; there might have been physical barriers. Did you stumble up against anything like that, that you thought, ‘Gosh, how am I going to get over that?’
Ursula Martin 12:36
Not sure. I seem to be this great believer in that you can achieve anything you want to be if you put your mind to it. It was amazing. Because the preparation for kayaking the length of the Danube, I didn’t really have loads of money. I mean, I had like, four or five grand in the bank, something like that, like, minimal, really. And that’s it. That’s all I had in the world. So there was this question of where do I get a kayak from? And how do I source it? And how do I transport it to Germany where where the river trip is going to start? So I could have bought a kayak for brand new, and have it shipped there for a grand you know, for like 25% of all my money in the world, I could have got a kayak to Ingolstadt. Or I could have rented it, which to me made no sense either. What I ended up doing was finding a kayak for sale online in Northwest Germany. And then there was this question of, well, how do I get it down to southeast Germany. I ended up hitchhiking with it.
Ursula Martin 13:36
With a kayak. With this kayak. It didn’t come with a trolley so me and my friend, we went skip-diving, and I pulled out the framework – it’s so inappropriate for a kayak because it was the framework of like those old ladies’ pull-trolleys. So it was the back of one of those and the wheels were about four inches across, if that. If you know anything about transporting kayaks, you know that that size of wheel is useless, because the wheels go in the centre of the kayak. So as soon as you lift the kayak off the ground at one end, the other end dips down so it actually depends on the height that the wheels have lifted, the kayak off the ground to allow for the amount of room that it can tip. What that meant was I could only actually lift it about three centimetres off the ground, and then all of the weight of the kayak was was in my hand. Completely awful. Just ridiculous. But basically the moral of that story, the point of that story, the thing that freed me in that situation is that you can be constricted. You know you can have a situation in which you solve with money and it saves you time, but if you have unlimited time, then you can also solve the same problem. So I did go into a skip and get a stupid pair of wheels and ended up dragging the kayak to these service stations. Then it took me five days to hitchhike the length of Germany, which normally it takes about a day. But I got there.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 13:36
With a kayak?
Zoe Langley-Wathen 14:04
You got there, and you got there off the back of your own resolve, and creativity, and that actually is probably far more rewarding than putting your hand in your pocket and just buying your way there.
Ursula Martin 15:20
Zoe Langley-Wathen 15:21
You’ve learned so much about yourself and about the world… and about skip-diving!
Ursula Martin 15:27
Yeah, it’s a complete liberation, because all these ways in which you feel like you are restricted, usually aren’t, you just need to readjust your boundaries a little bit. So if you think I can’t possibly go and do this journey, I haven’t got enough money, you probably can you just do it, like a tramp, instead of like, you know, whatever. So that part of it, I would say, that sounds like that’s a success part of that story. But actually, I face constant boundaries, in how much I believe in myself. I don’t think I ever go into any of this, in this really strong, confident, forceful, like, ‘Yes, I’m totally capable of doing this’. It’s more like, I really want to do this. And I think I’m just going to do it. I’m just going to try it. Or I’m just going to have a go or I’m just going to do it no matter what. And even though I’m like, not necessarily physically the most capable person, or financially, I don’t have big backers, I don’t have lots of money behind me. There’s this kind of scratching, like finding a way no matter what, but that is coming through huge boundaries, all the time of self-confidence and self-belief, and all kinds of things are stopping me all the time.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 16:41
Yeah, I was just thinking, because I’ve actually written down here about how you appear to be very confident, and particularly around travelling solo and hitchhiking solo. You’ve obviously talked a little bit about where that’s come from, but now I’m what I’m hearing is that there is potentially (and I’ve never really thought about this), but potentially a difference between confidence and self-belief or self-efficacy. It’s that belief in yourself to be able to carry this off, and I think now, as I’m processing this, that that is different to confidence. Would you agree with that? Because confidence can sometimes appear to be a little bit out there and not abrupt, but almost arrogant? And I’m not suggesting that you are coming across as arrogant. But I’m almost thinking that a self-belief is much more sensitive to a confidence, if that’s making sense.
Ursula Martin 17:35
I think so I definitely think a person can appear confident, even when they don’t believe in themselves. Because I think for me, there’s always this ‘sod it, I’m going to do it anyway. Even if I’m crap and shit’. So one of the things that I realised in this counselling training, was that it was really important for me never to fail, and that’s why I wasn’t trying. There was this day, where there was something to do with this piece of homework that I was supposed to hand in. I gave it to the teacher, and she’d really brushed me off. She was like, ‘thanks’, and I realised that I’d created this situation where I’d had the opportunity to hand it to her and have it be mundane, and I hadn’t. I’d kept it, and I’d waited until this moment where I was going to present it to her and she’d say ‘thank you’, and it would be like this moment. And she really blocked it because she was a trained counsellor, and she had sensations of what was going on. At that moment, I was like, that wasn’t right, like, what did I do that for? You know, and I realised that there were these ways of performative success or something that I was very keyed into about kind of never been wrong or not failing. I think one of the things that I try as hard as I can to be is completely okay with failing. That also combines with this thinking, I’m crap all the time, and then spending years trying to hide being crap, and actually, I’m just going, ‘I AM really crap. I’m doing it anyway’. Then that gives you this kind of ability to just go out and let that again, it’s this letting go. I think that does come across as confidence. And it is confidence as well. Like, I am just going to go into a situation and ‘let’s just have a go at it’ type of thing. But in that is simultaneously, the lack of self-belief. Just be crap. Just be crap at it.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 19:22
You know, there were so many messages in there. As a teacher, I spent years trying to encourage high achieving girls, that they could fail, because there were many of them.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 19:33
Almost, some of them would not even give something ago because they were SO fearful of getting it wrong. Even to the point where I had a student who was potentially an A* (when it was back A* it’s not anymore), but an A* student in my subject and she had a mock exam and she got a G. It was like really, what is going on here? And you know, we had about four months I think between that time and her actual exam, and she did end up getting a B, which was amazing. But you know, there was a lot of talk and a lot of encouragement that was needed in that time. Some of that stems from her family life, where she just felt she was under pressure to succeed in everything, and she couldn’t. Or she felt that that was unattainable. And said ‘well, if you know, if I can’t attain perfect success in everything, then sod it, I won’t do it at all. I won’t give it a go’. So yeah, it’s a big, big issue. And I’m really, really pleased that you brought that up.
Ursula Martin 19:34
Zoe Langley-Wathen 19:39
So can you think of a time then where you doubted your resilience? So you’ve obviously got that resilience there, and you’re carrying it through with you now, but has in any of those journeys, that you’ve been on – Wales, or walking across Europe, and we’ll talk about those in a bit more detail in a moment – but have you had any moments where you have doubted your ability or your resilience to cope with something?
Ursula Martin 21:00
To cope with something?
Zoe Langley-Wathen 21:02
And it might not be, you know, resilience? Gosh, you’ve got emotional resilience, haven’t you? There’s physical resilience. So it could come in many different forms. But were you ever in a situation where you were just going ‘do you know, I really just can’t do this anymore’.
Ursula Martin 21:20
Well, I have made decisions to change. So in the Pyrenees, for example, I was supposed to be doing the Haute Route. It’s the hardest traverse in the Pyrenees, east-west traverse, and there was early snow, I had a couple of days where I was basically taking hours to climb a thing that should have taken an hour. Falling through snow, like ice bridges type-thing. Like snow, on top of, I was on a boulder field, basically, and it was covered in snow. So every step you would go down into your thigh or you would stay level. It was not only dangerous, but it was exhausting, and time-consuming. I went up and over a pass and then supposed to go straight and I came down to a mountain hut, I made the decision to go down and then come up again into the mountains. Because the only way was up and over more snow. For a couple of well, no about a week, I kept willing myself to go back up into the mountains, and then it would always come to it. And I’d go ‘no’.
Ursula Martin 22:19
I was disappointed with myself for not making the ultimate attempt to do something that was as hard as I could. But I kind of also recognise that that’s a fallacy, and in some ways, I think that I have very carefully created for myself a style of journey, which means that my resilience, like there is no success or failure within my journey, I could have walked the whole thing on road. I would still have walked across Europe and I would still have the success story. Or I could have planned every single mountain in my path. Also, the other thing is just there was no time limit on what I was doing. And nobody else was doing it. So there’s no race. And there’s no competition. Within all the ways in which I created this journey, I can actually be as tough or as not tough as I want to be. And so I was kind of gutted in myself that I didn’t go up into the mountains. Also, it was fine. I was still in the Pyrenees, I was still at one and a half 2000 metres. I just wasn’t above 2000 where the snow was, you know, and I’m still climbing easier mountains, and sleeping outside and blah, blah, blah and walking ten-fifteen miles a day. So in that sense, I tested myself, but I also never, I think I gave myself that ebb and flow of being able to cope. I have made a public journey, which has got me acclaim. As soon as anybody else does the same thing, they’ll do it quicker than me. So in that sense, I’ve allowed for this ebb and flow of my own kind of resilience and patterns of coping or not coping and, you know, letting it go.
Ursula Martin 23:56
There’s never been like, I mean, obviously, there have been catastrophes, like your tent breaks in a rainstorm, or you see a bear, or you drop one of your walking poles, and you have to lever yourself down a mountain to get it or just, you know, there’s all these things that are like, okay, I might die here, carry on, you know, succeed or fail or die. Somehow, those kind of things don’t test my resilience because you have to concentrate so hard. You just do it. And there does come a point in some of these situations where your eyes are like staring out of your head because you’re concentrating so hard, where you’ve accidentally you know, got yourself in a situation where you’re clinging to some trees to kind of get a bit back on the path or whatever it is. My resilience has not come to breaking in that kind of situation, because you’re like, well, either I do this or I die. So get on with it.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 24:50
Tell us about one of those stories then Ursula.
Ursula Martin 24:53
I mean, the easiest one is the bear just because that’s very contained. That was the question of thinking that you’re calm and then slowly realising that you’re not calm at all. It was in the mountains in Bosnia. I’d come up into this, I think it’s like, the Zelengore mountain range, in southern Bosnia. It was about a five day run with no shops or, you know, taken loads of food and I’d gone up and put my tent up, and I was just about to get in it, and I heard this kind of clicking noise, nearby. I looked up, and around and over, I don’t know, thirty metres away, but on the other side of this kind of big, bold depression thing, so not thirty metres away in a straight line, you know, for it to get me, standing on a ledge was a bear.
Ursula Martin 25:40
I was like, okay, so all this thing, you know, it’s like, what have you read on the internet about what to do when you see a bear? So I remembered all things. The first thing you do is gently make the bear aware of your presence. So I waved, and I went, “hi, Bear. A human is here”. And I was like, “Oh, hi. Hello”. And then the bear just turned and looked at me. And then and just turned and went. But what the amazing part was, was that it was like this Mexican wave because the bear was, I would say, I was over here. The bear looked at me and then dropped and left, but behind it came two children, baby bears., who both did exactly the same thing. They looked over where the mum was looking. Then they looked to here and then they dropped and left. So it was this one-two-three of beautiful flowing movement of amazing animals. Like, alright, okay, right. Okay. Okay. Okay. That was a bear. The bear’s gone. Is the bear in the facility. No, the bear is not in the vicinity. Right. Can I see the bear? No. Okay, well, what do I do? Yeah, what right? I get in the tent, I suppose. And I got in the tent. And then I’m like, What am I doing? I can’t sleep here. Can I really just like lie down on the ground and go unconscious in a place where I’ve literally just seen a bear? My mind was just racing was like, is it going to come back? What do I do? Dah da lah la.
Ursula Martin 27:07
And I just started talking to myself, because that’s what I do, when I’m very under pressure. You talk and you talk yourself through that situation. So I’m like, okay, the bear knows where I am. The bear, come back. Yes. Should I be here when the bear comes back? No. Okay, pack up the tent. So you pack up the tent. And then I’m like, okay, just go down the mountain. But I’m going down the mountain. You know, if you’d said to yourself, if you’d asked me, at the time you say Ursula, are you calm? I’d be like, Yep, I’m fine. I’ve seen a bear, but it’s no problem. And then I realised, like my eyes, they’re pointing at my head, like about two inches. And I was so full of adrenaline. And it was just, it started to get to twilight, and I was coming down this, like rocky kind of bit. I had to really make sure that I was very careful about my footing and staying calm and not, you know, just I couldn’t run down that mountain. It was a bit of a climb, like a bit of a scramble in places and, and I was like, okay, the sun is setting. I’m still in bear territory. But what the hell am I gonna do? I’ll just put this tent up and sleep. And so did I put the tent up, and that was the first time that I’ve put – you’re supposed to put your food outside the tent, basically. So I’ve put my food outside the tent.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 28:14
It’s a bear bag, isn’t it? I think, yeah. or a bear canister.
Ursula Martin 28:17
Yeah, a bear canister, but I didn’t carry one of those, because they’re very big and bulky. And heavy. And anyway, bears just run away when you… well, in my experience…
Zoe Langley-Wathen 28:27
I thought you were gonna say he just turned around and waved back. Oh, wow. That’s an amazing story. That is well, yeah. Yeah. And, yes, there was no crisis there. But at the time, it was, yeah, a moment of like, realisation.
Ursula Martin 28:45
In that moment, you have that possibility that you curl into a ball and freak out and do nothing. And you, as a person on your own, have to force your brain to do the right things to get you through that crisis. I guess that is resilience, and the thing that confused me with that question is asking me for, like one example. But really, in an endurance challenge, you know, in what I did, the resilience is day after day after day. And I kind of talk, I think about it sometimes as in like being your own gym coach. So I’m simultaneously the person who’s lying on the floor exhausted, and the person who’s screaming in my own ear. And so that’s, whenever I get to, I get to the end of a day, and you just want to go ‘Oh jeez,’ and you have to go. ‘Put the tent up, get warm, look after your body temperature, eat something, drink some water, get in that sleeping bag, then collapse’. That’s the resilience. That’s the small resilience every day. You know.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 29:47
I know that. I do understand that. Yeah, gosh. Well, it sounds like you were making some very sensible decisions as well, regarding the Haute Route. You know, you said at some point you felt perhaps like you’re a failure or or that you had… but then you had given yourself that freedom to not be failing, because you were making up your own rules. It was your journey. It was your own criteria. There were, there were no rules. And so yeah, so it was probably a very sensible decision coming down and walking the lower route. Again, with the bear, you know, you made a decision there. Your head’s, going through all the what-ifs, and I guess you’re mitigating all the possible risks, aren’t you at that point? Because that’s what we do, because we have to keep ourselves safe. And yeah, I think in that situation, I’d have probably done a similar thing.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 30:42
I don’t know, was staying there an option? I guess it IS option, but I think I probably would have gone down. Then like you say, it’s, it’s twilight, so is because it’s twilight, you’re also putting yourself at risk of slipping, coming down that rocky descent. It’s amazing.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 31:00
So can we talk a little bit more about your walk across Europe? Yeah, I mean, that’s your obviously your most recent journey and you’ve just returned back in June. I had the honour of walking with you a couple of days before you returned to Llanidloes, and that was a treat just to walk and talk with you and just, I don’t know, feel some of that presence that you carry online. And this is going to sound like I’m a ‘fan girl’. It’s like, yeah. immersed in the aura of Ursula Martin!
Zoe Langley-Wathen 31:33
You know, I’ve been obviously communicating with you for many years now, and it just felt like such an appropriate moment. I’m living in South Wales, you’re returning to mid-Wales. We both love to walk. We both appreciate being in the outdoors. It just felt so appropriate to come and walk with you. Just to be with you in those moments before the madness of returning. Because it was a big moment, coming back, wasn’t it? Yeah. Let’s take you back to the very start of your Europe journey. How did you get from Wales to Ukraine? I know there’s something there that is quite special to you.
Ursula Martin 32:16
Yeah, I hitchhiked from Hook of Holland. Really, I started hitchhiking from Llanidloes. I got a lift off a friend and then it didn’t end up working. So I’ve got a couple of trains across to the ferry and really hitchhiked from the ferry.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 32:30
Ursula Martin 32:31
So from Holland to Ukraine. Yeah. Hitchhiking is a really important part of journeys to me as well, because you know, it’s not necessarily this physical challenge. But it’s also an adventure, and it’s again, it’s this coping with the unknown, which that’s kind of a key part of what I call a challenge, a growth opportunity or a state of transition into a new sense of self. Hitchhiking is really important in that for me. So I hitchhiked to Ukraine to Kiev.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 33:02
Then coming into Kiev. You had a particular meeting with a guy that took you over the border.
Ursula Martin 33:13
Yeah, Igor, my first Ukrainian guy. So I talked about this in my talk the other night, which was a very cute moment, of him, basically him picking me up and saying I can’t take you across the border because he was scared. It is this kind of hangover of communism, probably, you know, or excessive state oppression. As in. I don’t know who you are. And I can’t trust it’s not okay. And so he was he said, I don’t know who you are. I can’t take you across the border. And then the journey went on for so long, and he was driving this tiny little kind of chugging VW van. At one point, he’s just stopped and he started rubbing his eyes. And then he just keeled over and like, slept with his head on my leg. I was in the passenger seat just just like, okay, all right. Are you sleeping? Are you sleeping? Okay, you’re just gonna sleep on my leg? Alright, fine.
Ursula Martin 34:07
It was really sweet. And then we got to the border. And I was like, Do you want me to get out? And he said, No. And we just looked at each other. And it was just this real little bonding moment of he slept on me, and then we trusted each other more, and then we carried on together into Ukraine.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 34:23
Massive trust, massive trust.
Ursula Martin 34:25
Yeah. Yeah, I don’t know you do. I think people are more scared of hitchhiking than they should be, because there’s a real bonding to just being in a car with somebody. And people say it about counselling as well don’t they? When you’re in a situation where you can talk without looking at each other.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 34:42
No eye contact? Yeah.
Ursula Martin 34:43
Yeah. I’ve heard that said about different styles of counselling where that can actually help people to communicate better, or to unload better. I have heard so many amazing life stories while hitchhiking, just beyond anything and it’s a very intimate space. You bond and connect and, you know, you eat food together sometimes and especially lorry drivers because they’re just used to being on the road, and this is their life, and essentially, you’re invited into their house. So there’s an immediate comfort in it, and relaxation. I think people don’t appreciate that until they’ve done it a lot. Because it’s all like, is this person gonna kill me? You know? Yeah. And it’s not, it’s not. Most of the time. It isn’t about that at all. That is, that is what we’ve been conditioned to believe, isn’t it to hitchhike? Because x, y, z might happen, and I think I’m very much of that ilk. Yet, it sounds so liberating, and it makes so much sense because I used to get the best conversations and the best information and the best offloads from my teenage daughter, when she was sat in the car, next to me, and we used to have the most amazing conversations then.
Ursula Martin 35:53
Yeah, so much less intense.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 35:55
Yeah, definitely. Definitely, and walking-talking, you know, when I’ve been on long distance walks, and I’ve met people, and we’re just talking and walking, again, in the space of a couple of hours, you know, you’ve heard somebody’s lifestory. And you’re like ‘whoa, how did how did that happen?’ But yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So how many countries did you then pass through? So you’ve reached Kiev.
Ursula Martin 36:16
I reached Kiev, and I wanted to walk back home, not the direct way back through Poland, but I wanted to go and visit Bulgaria and the Balkans, because I had a lot of love for those countries after my Danube journey. I also wanted to go through Spain, because I also spent a lot of time in northern Spain about ten-eleven-twelve years ago. So it was a case of revisiting, I suppose, in a way but also just going to places connecting the places that I love. So it ended up technically, if England and Wales are separate, it was fourteen countries.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 36:51
Sorry, did you say fourteen then?
Ursula Martin 36:52
Fourteen, yeah. Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, France, and Dora, Spain, England, Wales, fourteen. Probably thirteen, really?
Zoe Langley-Wathen 37:10
You can count England.
Ursula Martin 37:11
I know I’m going for fourteen.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 37:13
I would go with that as well. Gosh, so yeah, you’ve met a lot of people in those places. You’ve experienced incredible landscapes, severe extremes of weather, I’m assuming. Can you recount any…?
Ursula Martin 37:29
Well, the first winter was in Romania, so it was actually the month of December was the hardest, because it had a very severe Siberian cold-snap. So there wasn’t any snow, but there was frost. And I think the coldest night that I slept in was -14, in that period. Then fortunately, I went and had a winter Christmas break in Bucharest, and then when I came back, the snow had fallen, and it was heavy snow, but warmer, probably more like -5 to -10 at night, which is obviously still hard, but…
Zoe Langley-Wathen 37:57
Ursula Martin 38:00
-14 was a shock. Because I didn’t have a good enough, I didn’t have over the Christmas break, I’d got a heavier sleeping mat. So the -14 was really at the limit of what my equipment could cope with that night. And it was it was a very intense cold. I don’t know how to describe it, I guess it’s experience as well, because if I’d had the right equipment, -20, would have been an intense cold, you know, and I’ve had that experience at -five as well, when you’re like, it just goes once it’s kind of below about minus four, it starts to be serious business. You know, it’s not like, I can just sit here for a couple of minutes. It’s like there’s a pressure to it, cold. There’s an intensity of, there’s a penetratingness to it. It’s a slap.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 38:47
Did you struggle with it?
Ursula Martin 38:48
I don’t like and I don’t enjoy camping in snow.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 38:51
Ursula Martin 38:51
It’s hard work, and you have to be very careful camping and cold temperatures, you have to be careful all the time. And so especially when you’re also dealing with that exhaustion that I was talking about, where in the summer or the spring-autumn, you can sit down for a few minutes before you put the tent up.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 39:10
Ursula Martin 39:10
Even more so in the winter. It’s like you have to do this right now. Because if you don’t, you’re going to spend two hours dealing with your lack of body temperature; your lowered body temperature.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 39:20
And you just can’t get it back up again, then my guess is you’ve got to…
Ursula Martin 39:23
It’s just that it takes longer. So every every bit that you drop, you are then going to be less comfortable in your sleeping bag for longer, while your body creates that temperature again, that you just lost. Yeah, yeah, you know. So I mean, you can do it do sit ups in a sleeping bag. You know, that’s, that’s basically the way to do it.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 39:42
Was that something that you learnt, again, by experience, rather than by research?
Ursula Martin 39:47
Yeah, pretty much. You know, I don’t think it’s the best. You do research as you’re going but I don’t think you CAN imagine every eventuality. You do learn kind of, you know, you left your neck uncovered and look what happened. That’s what you’re gonna do again. Your nose is getting cold, I knitted myself a little nose warmer.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 40:07
A condom for your nose!
Ursula Martin 40:09
I had a little string around there. I didn’t use it all that much. But you know, there are these things of like, you know, you can read online about condensation in a tent.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 40:19
Ursula Martin 40:20
Until you’ve really kind of lived with it and dealt with it, and how does your breath affect the way the, what fabrics are around your face as you’re trying to sleep? And how to cover and how to uncover. It is experience, you know, you do have to go out there and try it. Just don’t go out at -14 for your first night out. Go out at zero and then go out at -3 and ease yourself into it. And that’s how you learn. Just trying it. Just having a go. Because otherwise you’re trying to absorb ALL the information about ALL the potential things that might happen. And you’re worrying about whether you’re in control of every single eventuality. I don’t work that way. And you’re doomed to failure, because you’ll always be thinking, is there something I haven’t covered before I get out there? Actually, you just need to get out there and do it, and you will learn and you probably won’t die.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 41:12
That is gold. That is absolute diamond advice? Yeah, because the more you research, and I’m guilty of that, the more you research, the more you over-plan, the more you overanalyze, the less likely you are to go and do it. Because you are now thinking, I’ve got to sort this, I got to, you know, make sure I’ve got that in place. Yes. So, no,
Zoe Langley-Wathen 41:34
And what if there’s a monsoon? And what if there’s, you know, and like, I like the fuzzy logic kind of sense of preparation, as in I’m kind of pretty much aware that I will probably cope with whatever happens to me. I have it within myself to make good decisions in that moment. I’ve shown myself that I do, over and over again. So even if I’ve got wet kit, because I didn’t keep everything in five dry bags inside my rucksack, I’m going to be fine. But a lot of people are stuck in that sense of armour, and that’s not my thing.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 42:09
Important message, thank you. So you’ve moved through these countries, and you’re communicating and connecting with different cultures, different people, making some really incredible connections, I would imagine. I mean, I was at your talk on Sunday in Kington, and there were some very moving moments there where you shared connections you’d made with specific women. Then you move into an area or, not an area, you move into a time that you hadn’t planned on, that nobody could ever have planned for. And that’s when you reach Italy. I hate to mention it because I know a lot of us are trying to avoid this conversation, but you walked, you were having to walk through a lockdown. And suddenly you’re thrown into a sense of panic, I would imagine? No people, but how did you deal with this? What was going on in your head? Yeah, how did it pan out for you?
Ursula Martin 43:09
There have just been so many stages to the pandemic, as we’ve all experienced. You know, the growing concern that something was very wrong. The realisation that we couldn’t avoid it. The complete fear and anxiety about a massive shift in societal behaviour. And then the fighting of you know, is this the right thing to do? What is the right thing to do? I think globally and as individual countries, every government has been working that out, as nobody had a proper plan for this. No, we’ve all been flying by the seat of our pants globally, structurally and individually. And so yeah, be oh, well, I basically have been intensely vulnerable during the pandemic, because I’m homeless. I was homeless in Italy during a pandemic, I was a tourist. But it was a very particular unusual type of tourist who was walking and sleeping in forests and sleeping outside.
Ursula Martin 44:07
But what happened was, I basically made it into France, two, three days before their lockdown happens, and managed to get a friend’s sister’s holiday home to stay in. So I did have a safe place to go. About 200 kilometres away on the train, I was incredibly grateful to have that, and I was there for three months of the first lockdown. I was so alone. The hard part of the pandemic, for me was intense vulnerability, and intense loneliness, and basically having to rely on having no safe place. You know, you think you can go off travelling and test yourself, and then all of a sudden shit hits the fan, and it gets even harder. And so I definitely struggled and suffered with loneliness during the pandemic, especially during that first lockdown. I did keep on walking. There was always this decision about what are the rules here? Is it safe? What am I going to do? How do I keep walking, you know, in some ways, I’m actually a very low risk person. Because I was walking alone. I’d spend most of my time five nights a week sleeping outside, and I’d go into a B&B one or two nights a week for a day off. I’d go into bars and restaurants, but I wasn’t mixing with people.
Ursula Martin 44:07
So the short version of what happened is that I was walking across northern Italy, during January, February. And in early March, Italy was the first country that went into lockdown. I didn’t know what was happening, and I wasn’t able to easily get somewhere to live. To stay. I wasn’t able to go into a house or a hotel in Italy, and I was so close to the border, and I just thought I’m gonna walk across the border. So I had this seven, I can’t remember seven or ten days of feeling like a fugitive, and just being so worried about what was happening. Walking out of Italy in that time, it just felt apocalyptic in some ways. I kept walking on all these closed roads, where the roads were like sliding away down the mountainside. Then I walked, the last village I was in was this ski resort village. So everywhere was close. All the houses are shuttered and closed anyway, and they were in mist, and I was like walking through trying to get out of the country and just feeling like our foundations to society were shaken. For everybody, I think. In terms of how do we interact, and what do we access, and where does our money come from all these really fundamental things, affected everybody. And so I was feeling all that fear, with nowhere safe to go as well. So it’s very intense for me.
Ursula Martin 46:43
For me, there was this constant assessment of my behaviour of, okay, I’m doing this thing called travelling, which were not supposed to do. Well, nobody could come from England into France to do what I was doing. But I was already there anyway. And people could drive from Germany to come and be tourists. There was this constant kind of, there was no easy answer about, yes, you’re doing the right thing. No, you’re not. Are you legally allowed to do this? Are you not, it was so many rules were changing all the time. And I just basically walked when I could, and stopped when I had to. And it was really hard. It was really hard at times. Over the summer, I walked through South of France. So that was the other extreme weather temperature was up to, you know, 35 degrees in the south of France in full summer heat. That was a completely different temperature and climate shift to cope with, you know, making sure you’re hydrated and don’t get sunstroke and stuff. And then I came into the Pyrenees, and that was in the autumn. That was when their cases had kind of dropped over the summer, and then they were starting to rise again in Spain and France. Did the Pyrenean Traverse, and then there were, well it’s funny because I say there were loads of infections in Spain at that time. But actually, since then, it’s infections that felt like a lot, then, and now we have much higher infection rate, and we seem to be treating it as if it’s no big deal. So it’s bizarre because there is never actually any time to pinpoint a time in the pandemic, where we understand it, what was happening in terms of what’s happening now, because everything has really been shifting in terms of the amount of fear the amount of regulations and the amount of infection. And so it was all very particular to a point in time. I can’t define it now and have us understand it because I was shocked that there were one in 1000 people had Coronavirus in La Rioche in that time, but actually, one in 1300 people in this country have got Coronavirus right now, and we’re treating it like it’s no big deal.
Ursula Martin 48:44
So that yeah, it’s hard to give it definition now in a way that we understand what was happening back then if you still I mean.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 48:50
Yeah, there’s no previous benchmark to follow, because it’s just hasn’t happened.
Ursula Martin 48:55
Everything was so reactive to what was happening in that moment. And basically I went into a second French lockdown for six weeks, and then I made the decision to enter Spain. Walked across the top of Spain. It was January, February, March, by that point. There was more snow. I was on the Camino de Santiago which had virtually shut down because of the lack of international travel.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 49:15
Which route were you on Ursula?
Ursula Martin 49:17
I walked the French route to Finisterre and then I walked the Primitivo and the Camino del Norte, back to Santander. I had a third lockdown in Ponferrada for a month, the month of February I had a third lockdown, because Galicia was very, very closed at that point. And so it was just this case of like not giving up on it, basically. It was this real, you know, I guess at that point, you really see how much the journey means to you. Because you’re not going to give it up. You’re going to stay by hook or by crook. I got to Finisterre basically, and I suffered and struggled to get there, with the emotional intensity of the pandemic, in addition to the physical intensity of walking thousands of miles and camping and you know all the journey strains. And then the bloody pandemic, the anxiety of the pandemic, on top of that was so intense. It was so intense.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 50:11
I can imagine. And I’ve walked the Camino de Santiago. I’ve walked that with Mike in 2016, that was our honeymoon… our HoneyWalk. And it was just so full of people. We both said it was the most sociable walk we have ever done. And you know, every time you come into a town, there are people sat around the tables, outside bars and cafes, and they’re cheering you, as you come in. And I can imagine all you had was tumbleweed. The proverbial tumbleweed, just rolling through each of these towns and villages as you pass through. I’ve walked it with you, in my mind in my memory, because I was imagining all of these places as I knew them. And what you’re experiencing was not a Camino that anybody I think has ever as I experienced.
Ursula Martin 50:58
There were others on the Camino. It’s just that I didn’t see them. I followed a guy’s footprints in the snow for three or four days. Because the way the weather was very particular, it snowed and froze, and then stayed below freezing for a week, day and night. So this guy’s footprints were frozen in the snow.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 51:18
Oh, amazing. So it was like you were chasing him.
Ursula Martin 51:22
I was trying to catch because I wanted somebody to talk to.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 51:26
Ursula Martin 51:27
He had these very particular boots, so it was I knew it was always him. And they were big feet as well, so probably a guy. So there were other people. I don’t want to give the impression that I was the only person on the whole Camino. I was the only pilgrim I met. But there were others. It’s just that instead of having in the depths of winter, thirty to fifty people sleeping in each town each night, you probably had about five people on the entire route.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 51:53
But you see to me that IS empty. That’s just not natural for that area. The last 100 kilometres, particularly this year, which is a Holy Year. 2021 was the Holy Year wasn’t it for the Camino. And so it should have been even more full than usual. But that last 100 kilometres, people get bused in just to walk the last 100 kilometres. So you can guarantee that last few days of walking the Camino, there’s thousands of people and it’s like a motorway, it’s so busy, and I just can’t get my head round how that must have felt for you. Can you describe how you felt as you walked into Santiago?
Ursula Martin 52:34
I felt really sad walking in Santiago, because I imagined… oh I’m gonna cry. I’m gonna cry again. Because I imagined what it would be like with loads of other people and you’d have this, where you’d be part of a wave of the joy of arrival and this push and this peak of exhilaration, and there wasn’t anyone there. It was just me and I really felt the lack of it. But in other ways, walking the rest of the Camino was kind of weird, but also normal, because I’d been on my own for the whole journey, and I’d expected and wanted other pilgrims. But when they weren’t there, some parts of it, were just, I’m just back in the mechanics of walking alone, and this is normal. I had really wanted that challenge of being around other people, almost to bring yourself down from this kind of ‘solitary hero’ sense of it. Because I do wish I’d have that kind of grounding in other people’s challenges as well. So you’re not kind of carried away with your own heroics all the time, it would have been a challenge for me of how to compare my journey to others. With something that’s so huge and so extreme, and how do you find the similarities of challenge and transformation in what other people are experiencing? Even though for me, it was a very easy section.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 53:49
Yes. Yes. Yeah, physically.
Ursula Martin 53:51
So I missed that. I missed other people, and I felt yeah, walking in Santiago was just massive. And an anti-climax all at once.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 54:01
Yeah, I feel that. It’s an experience that you’ll never forget. You’ll carry that with you for a long time. And one that not very many other people will have experienced doing that empty.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 54:11
I’m going to fast forward you to the UK now, because by extreme contrast, your experience of Santiago and moving on to Finisterre, you did reach Finisterre, which is we should explain to some of the listeners that maybe don’t know about Finisterre is the coastline, the far end of the Camino.
Ursula Martin 54:33
The Atlantic Ocean.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 54:34
The Atlantic Ocean, yeah, amazing.
Ursula Martin 54:36
That was massive, to arrive at the ocean, from Kiev, and to know that I talked all that way. It was just… that was my kind of mind-blowing achievement moment of this ultimate, ‘you’ve walked as far as the sea, all that way across the continent and you’ve always been heading in this one direction. And now you can’t go any further and you made it’, and there was the sea, you know. Wide, wide wide open. It was fantastic. It was really fantastic. There was that was a real achievement.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 55:10
And that’s yeah, that is like nature’s recognition to you, and every time you look at a map, you must go, oh, my gosh, I’ve walked that.
Ursula Martin 55:17
Yeah, just once it gets bigger and bigger, you’re like, ‘look at that!’
Zoe Langley-Wathen 55:23
And don’t you have a different relationship now with physical maps, because I know, (when I used to have a kitchen), I used to have a huge map of the UK on the wall. And every time I’d walked a different route or a different path, I would feel differently towards that area, and that map. You know, that association with people, places, feelings that I’ve had that I didn’t know that, do you find that that?
Ursula Martin 55:50
Yeah, I guess it’s just all your memories are contained in that route, aren’t they? And you know it and you’ve been there and yeah, yeah, it’s interesting to go to do another walk where I haven’t been, you know, because now I’ve come back to Wales, and I know, I know Wales intimately. And so it’s very comforting and I can really relate to all so much of Wales, because I’ve walked it so intensely. Yeah. And I’m hopefully planning to do another walk starting in January, which is going to be Land’s End – John O’Groats. And actually that’s going to be really nice to explore England and Scotland, where I haven’t really walked before. Things like the Cotswold Way the Pennine Way, the West Highland Way. All these places that I haven’t walked before, yet I know them culturally. And, you know, I know the imagery, but I’m going to explore them. I’m going to explore my own country and I think that’s going to be really exciting.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 56:42
Yeah, and that will connect you even deeper to yeah, those places and…
Ursula Martin 56:46
Zoe Langley-Wathen 56:47
Your country. Yes, you were born in England?
Ursula Martin 56:50
I was born in Wales. My country is Britain. I sometimes I split myself. I am neither Welsh nor English, really. I’m culturally, English, and then, yeah, the Welsh and I don’t know. So I just I tend to say I’m British. This is my island.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 57:08
The contrast then between walking Spain and then reaching the last few days of your journey. Coming back to Llanidloes. Can you just talk us through those moments those, those emotions? Yeah, what was going on for you there.
Ursula Martin 57:27
It was physically very difficult. I started to be in a lot of pain after Finisterre, and it never really went away. Because every time I stopped, I was resting, but I wasn’t resting, and I just had lots of pain in my legs and feet, and my back, and my shoulders, and it hurt everywhere. It just didn’t seem to stop. So I had all these stops starting parts of the journey where I couldn’t get a ferry until a certain point. They weren’t open to foot passengers. So I had more time than I needed to walk back from Finisterre to Santander. I could go like eight to ten miles a day, but actually, you were still putting in kind of 75% of the effort for 50% of the distance. So it didn’t actually work. And then I had to wait in Santander and then I had to wait for the quarantine. But somehow I didn’t, my body didn’t rest and relax. And so when I started again from Portsmouth, I was in a lot of pain, physically but somehow I just pushed through it and was so focused on the end.
Ursula Martin 58:34
I was meeting lots of people at that point, I have lots of people for the first time in the journey, I had loads of different people coming out to walk with me. So that was this kind of hyper sense. I think I got more and more keyed up in a social sense, being happy to see people and chatting and I’m really interested to see how you feel I was on that. It was kind of two or three days before the end. Because I was so tired but in so much pain but somehow still functioning I don’t know. How do you feel about how I was functioning?
Zoe Langley-Wathen 59:06
I got a sense you were more than functioning. I didn’t see pain. I know we talked about it, but I didn’t see it. You didn’t look like you were in pain. You were, you were tired. I could see you were tired and I could see you were emotionally tired as well. And I got a sense that was, although you were being buoyed up by the amount of people that you had been walking with, I think you are also feeling quite drained as well. Because walking for so long with such little human contact, and then suddenly you’re having to give of yourself to everybody so much, all the time and talking to them, I think yeah, I got a sense that perhaps was hard. Apart from being tired. I just sensed that you were on this even keel and that is how you always appear to me Ursula you always… whether or not inside, you are kind of up and down, up and down or paddling furiously to try and keep yourself, you know, and your emotions and whatever’s going on. Actually, you just always appear to be this stoic force that just, is just a quiet strength, a quiet strength. And that is how you came across.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:00:22
I will never forget the moment where we’re walking over the Radnor Hills, and I’m talking to you about, you know, my fears, and particularly of heights and walking up the side of Pen-y-Ghent, actually scrambling up the side of Pen-y-Ghent, and how I dealt with that. We had the views, we all stopped and looked at the views. And we had the Beacons one way and we had the mountains of Snowdonia, in another direction. You were able to stand up there and pinpoint all of these areas. And that was a very special moment, because we were sharing that together. But then you said to me, Zoe, how would you have dealt with that scramble up the side of Pen-y-Ghent, in the wind and the rain and dealing with the heights if Mike hadn’t been there? And I went, ‘Yeah, you’re right. I’d have just got on with it’. And, you know, there wasn’t drama, but there was a lot of drama going on inside my head, and I think yeah, probably there would have been less drama had I been on my own.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:01:20
So anyway, I digressed slightly there. But yes, that was my experience and my snapshot of that day. And it was a very, very special day, which I felt honored to be able to be part of that.
Ursula Martin 1:01:33
No, don’t be honoured. It was it was really lovely because of everybody who was there. Yeah, it was just a really nice group.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:01:39
I don’t know if it was concocted. I don’t think it was but in my eye, this was complete coincidence. I contacted you because I wanted to walk with you, and unbeknown to me Hannah Engelkamp, who is Seaside Donkey for those people who don’t know, on Instagram. She walked around Wales with a donkey a few years ago, and also a friend of mine, happened to be walking with Ursula that day. And in addition, it turns out that my other good friend, Arry, Arry Cain, who ran around Wales in 2012, was the first woman to run around Wales. She was also walking with you that day. So there’s four of us together, and it was the first time I’ve met you face-to-face. But I still felt like you were a friend of mine. You know, we had that connection. We had been communicating for quite a few years on whatever social media it was. And then we had your uncle and auntie, and they just kind of brought us all together. I mean, they’re just a breath of fresh air, and it was so lovely to walk and talk with them, too. So it was a beautiful group. Amazing that we had so many connections, and that we all walked together on the same day, and that it felt so peaceful. It felt like it didn’t have the hype of somebody else, maybe joining the group that was a follower or a fan. And I do that in air quotes that might have been maybe in your face a bit more. It just felt so normal and natural, and it’s just like, Yeah, we were going girls on a hike. You know, it was lovely.
Ursula Martin 1:03:13
It was a really great day. Yeah. And that was just was really nice. I felt, I guess I think I would say spaced out a lot during that time. Because I don’t know, it’s like being on the surface of a balloon or something. I guess I just felt so stretched, thin. And I was still able to do it all, but I knew I couldn’t do it for much longer, and I wasn’t going to have to and that’s when you can start to feel like you’re going to collapse. Yeah, it’s so like a hallucinatory, you know, like when you’ve stayed up all night kind of feeling and you’re just…
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:03:47
Whoo, space cadet…!
Ursula Martin 1:03:49
Stuff will happen to you, and you’ll talk about it and it’s fine. You’re, you know, you’re functioning. But you’re also really not only half on the planet.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:03:58
Yeah, half present. You reach Llanidloes, and what a moment. I mean, I almost wish I had been there. I couldn’t make it. I forget now why I couldn’t make it. But oh my gosh, the photos and the sound, the videos. Talk just, yeah, just talk us through those moments.
Ursula Martin 1:04:17
I mean, that’s why, I mean, it really was starting, it was already happening, that very slow buildup of emotion. What had happened was, that for that day, I had been able to say, I’m going to be starting at this point you know I can’t remember how far twelve or so miles away from Llanidloes at this time, and then whoever wants to come can come and join me. And there were other points where people could come. So about, I don’t know, six or seven different friends came to the start of the day, and so there was a train of people, and more and more people kept coming in and at one point, this really good friend of mine came walking towards the field, over the field towards me, and her and her boyfriend were carrying this set of bunting on two sticks. And they walked beside me for the rest of the journey, so I was walking underneath this train of flags. And then more people waiting on the side of the track, and it just became this kind of procession going down into the town.
Ursula Martin 1:05:16
And I could feel this, like, it was like the kind of emotion where you’re where you start speaking in tongues, I could feel I was gonna lose it. Because I was just so like, whaaaaa. It was this build up, build up. And I didn’t know what was going to happen. All I knew was that I wanted to walk up the centre of the main street. I’d said, I will be there at this time, and I had no idea who was going to be there, or how many people and we came around the bottom of the market hall. And there it was, this moment of, I was there, and I just shouted, so loudly. And it was absolutely brilliant. Because that was the truest again, letting go. And just not being embarrassed to shout or swear or just lose your shit, basically. I just lost it all the way up that street, and I was just shouting and like, yeah! Just pointing at people that I knew and just like ‘you are here!’ and just this complete burst of celebration, and it was just so good. It was everything. It was all it could possibly have been, you know that first shout really came, you know, deeper than my pelvis. It came from my boots. The whole of my body was able to handle that force. I didn’t suppress it in any way. All of my body participated in bringing out this huge shout of joy and force.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:06:44
It looked like such a burst of energy. It was, oh, it just catapulted from you. And it looked really primal, from what I could see.
Ursula Martin 1:06:55
Yeah, it really was.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:06:55
And the photographs captured a burst of energy that came out beautifully. What a fitting celebration as well, for how many years were you on the road? In the end? Or on the path?
Ursula Martin 1:07:07
It was two years, nine months.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:07:09
Two years, nine months. And you had gone through so much. Up here in your head, and physically. Yeah, there’s there was so much that you’ve been through and with the pandemic, adding to that as well then to have that very fitting celebration, and you deserved, totally deserved all of those people to be there and just cheer you in. I’m so pleased that you had that. So pleased.
Ursula Martin 1:07:37
Oh yeah, it was wonderful.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:07:38
Ursula Martin 1:07:39
It was a wonderful day.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:07:40
Oh, well, Ursula, we are coming to the end of our conversation, now. To be honest, I mean, I could carry on for another hour listening to you, because I don’t normally have quite so many questions written down on the page. But I have SO many here, and maybe it’s something one day, we can come back and have a second conversation, because you have so many amazing stories to share. And we obviously only have a certain amount of time, which we can fit it in!
Ursula Martin 1:08:08
It’s interesting. That’s what I realised, when I gave the first talk just a few days ago about the walk, is I’ve almost done too much stuff to talk about. So there is a change of style now, where I can get more abstract, if you see what I mean. To where you are talking about motivations and coping skills rather than I climbed this mountain. I climbed that mountain. Do you see what I mean? And I think there is the ability to move into a more abstract sense of, you know, a different conversation.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:08:37
Ursula Martin 1:08:37
Where it isn’t the story of the journey anymore.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:08:39
Yes. People want to hear the story of the journey, but yeah, definitely the focus of HeadRightOut is always going to be about well, how did you face these issues, these barriers? Or how did you achieve that particular outcome, despite going through X, Y, Z, whatever it was, you went through?
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:08:57
There is one last question Ursula, and that is the question I ask everybody. I’m collecting HeadRightOut Moments. I’m wondering, have you had an experience, a moment where you can recount that you have totally and utterly headed out of your comfort zone, but you have succeeded… or not? Because success is, as we’ve discussed, it doesn’t matter sometimes if you fail, because failure is only you know, the limitation that you give yourself, but have you experienced a benefit as a result of heading out of your comfort zone? Because that’s the message that I’m trying to get across to other midlife women? Yeah. Is there something that you can pinpoint as your HeadRightOut Moment?
Ursula Martin 1:09:40
Yes, it’s not necessarily going to fit in with the adventuring story, but actually, it’s life modelling.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:09:46
Ursula Martin 1:09:46
Because I’ve been I’ve been a life model. I think I first did it in about 2008 or so. I’ve done it at various points, and I’ve always been a fat person at the same time. So there was this real, like, shame and embarrassment about my body because it’s not perfect, you know, because it’s not thin. And life modelling was this huge way for me to be comfortable with my body, or to become more comfortable with my body. But that moment where I just was like, I’ll see if they want a life model. Yes, they did. Okay, what time you want me to turn up, I turn up, and I go behind the curtain, and I’m like, Holy Shit!
Ursula Martin 1:10:26
I’m gonna take my clothes off in front of all these people! And I just was like, behind this curtain, I just had this moment of like, you well you said, you’re gonna do this. And now you’ve got to do it. And, you know, I just went out there. And then the moment you actually are naked in front of people, nothing matters, it doesn’t matter at all. You’re just, you’re just a body, and you’re not the worst, you’re not THE most unattractive person, there’s ever been in the world, because that’s what my brain is telling me all the time. As I say, there’s this sense of complete normality about it. And so that I’d say is one of the moments where I have really pushed through a fear, and then found out that everything was fine, on the other side, you know.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:11:08
Liberating, and I’ve done hours, many, many hours of life drawing, and really appreciated the models that weren’t just stick-thin. There’s so much more to give, and so much more to draw and to appreciate, in a fuller figure. Yeah, I can totally see where you’re coming from there, and I would be fearful, but I could also see how liberating that would be too. Thank you, thank you for sharing that. I wasn’t expecting that at all. I was thinking it’s gonna be like, you know, stepping out of the tent when I thought there was going to be a bear there!
Ursula Martin 1:11:45
Oh I have myriad life experiences, not all of which I share at the same time.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:11:51
Brilliant. Ursula, where can people discover a bit more about you if they want to come and search and investigate and buy your book? And this is your book of Wales, and you are currently in the throes of writing your new book, as well, so well, we’ll watch that space. But where can they find you?
Ursula Martin 1:12:11
So I’m mostly called One Woman Walks on everything. onewomanwalks.com, is my website, and then it’s the same on Facebook and Instagram. On Twitter, I think I’m One Woman Walks Wales, but you can find me. The website’s the main place. There’s all the blogs from the whole journey from the whole Europe walk, most of the blogs are still on the website. So it includes things like kit lists, if people are interested in that. How I dealt with plantar fasciitis is quite a good one, just loads of stuff. And then all the, you know, the lovely stories about people that I’ve met and different experiences, and so on. So there’s plenty of reading material – or they can wait for the book.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:12:48
Everything from landscape to people to stop. And everything in between.
Ursula Martin 1:12:53
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:12:54
Is there anything Ursula that we’ve not talked about, that you would have liked to have had the opportunity to mention?
Ursula Martin 1:13:01
I would, I just think that disconnect between how I come across and how I am on the inside is really something that I would emphasise, you know, I’m really not actually all that confident of a person. And I definitely was not originally, before I started all this, I was very flawed and broken, you know, not mentally healthy. And I have shown myself what I can do. And that has built confidence within me, because I’m more certain of myself. And what I can endure. A lot of people want to put me separate to them as in, I could never do what you do. And that’s not, if it’s all in your head, then that’s not true. Because I have got out there and done it. And that’s nothing to do with, I don’t know if that’s my strength of will, basically. So it is accessible to many more people than they realise, and don’t put me on a pedestal or don’t make me different. Don’t make me a hero, because I’m not.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:14:00
Wow, that’s I’ve actually I’ve got tears in my eyes there. That is such a passionate message, and I thank you. Ursula Martin, thank you so much for coming on HeadRightOut. I hope we’ll get an opportunity to have a conversation again at some point soon.
Ursula Martin 1:14:17
Thank you, it’s a pleasure. Thank you for having me on.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:14:26
Oh, yes! What an episode to complete the series with. I could listen to Ursula for hours. Her voice is soothing, it’s calm, and yet his stories pack such a punch. She has such a great way of telling them, don’t you think?
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:14:48
Now I’m not sharing a HeadRightOut Moment with you this week. But I do want to let you know that right here, I will be heading right out of my comfort zone on Friday. When hopefully, I get to do my ScarySkyDive – eeeek! That will appear during the coming weeks as a bonus outdoor episode. I also spent this last weekend just gone doing a two-day navigation course with the South Wales Adventure Queens. And so I’ll be creating another bonus episode, from the hours of content that I’ve recorded with some amazing women.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:15:26
Now the name of the outdoor episodes was put to a vote. And while I ended up with lots of suggestions, which I thank you for, the out and out winner was, and you’ll see what I did there in a minute, HeadRightOut Out. I’m not just HeadingRightOut, I’m HeadingRightOut Out. I love it. So thanks to Sharon Merredew, for coming up with that winning name. And I’m going to be popping a t-shirt in the post to you, Sharon as a thank you. I know you didn’t expect that. I know I didn’t advertise I was going to do that. But I have a spare t-shirt, and that’s what I’m going to do.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:16:05
Now, I’m taking a six-week break between Series One and Two, to allow myself time to record and edit more quality content for you. And I also have a move back to the boat to do. Mum’s potentially moving back home from respite and exciting, I’m due to become a nanny, imminently. So I need to make sure that during this time, I am fully present and available for all these massive personal events that are happening.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:16:37
So I hope you’ll understand. HeadRightOut will return on Wednesday 22nd of December, just in time for your Christmas listening. So if the Christmas movies are all repeats, and it all gets a bit much for you, you can just sink into some HeadRightOut Podcasts and take yourself off to another place.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:16:58
Now lastly, before I go, I have a fabulous range of giveaways to share with you. I’m afraid these are UK-based only however, so please don’t enter if you live abroad. I have first off, Nahla Summers’ book, The Accidental adventurer, and that is what we talked about in Episode Nine, the last episode.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:17:25
I also have Julia Goodfellow-Smith’s book, Live Your Bucket List – that’s from Episode One. Do go back and listen to these episodes, if you can’t remember them, or if you haven’t listened to them yet.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:17:36
And I’ve purchased Ursula Martin’s book, from this episode, Episode Ten, One Woman Walks Wales. I’ve also got a copy myself, which was gifted to me by Ursula’s auntie, and I’m looking forward to reading it.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:17:53
There are two technical T shirts with HeadRightOut, and if you take a look on the website, in the shownotes, you will see pictures of all of these items that you can win. It will also be on my Instagram stories, and it will be on my Instagram grid.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:18:11
So here’s what you need to do. You need to hit the Follow button for HeadRightOut in your podcast app. Then come back to Instagram and comment below with ‘DONE’ and the name of the platform that you listen on, then tag a friend… e.g. ‘DONE’, I follow on Stitcher and the name of your friend ‘Josephine Blaggs’. Sorry, yeah, I made that one up.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:18:32
Make sure you’re following my Instagram account too, to ensure I can see your comments. That really helps. Winners will be picked randomly after the giveaway closes at 9pm on Wednesday, 17th of November. You can state in the comment if you have a preference of prize, but I’m afraid I can’t promise to honour that, because it just depends on what’s left. So good luck with a giveaway. Remember, you have to enter it to be in with a chance of winning something. So please, please, please enter and please continue to tell your friends about the podcast.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:19:05
HeadRightOut is just fifteen downloads away from the first milestone of one thousand! That is so exciting for me! Have a great few weeks. Enjoy the HeadRightOut Out episodes, when they land and don’t forget, keep doing the things that scare you. The things that you didn’t believe you were capable of. You ARE capable of so much and your head will thank you for it later. I promise. That’s the nature of type two fun.
Zoe Langley-Wathen 1:19:33
HeadRightOut Hugs to you all.