Walking for WAY

January 2023

A group of WAY members are walking a marathon through the streets of London on Saturday (28 January) to get fit and to raise funds for our charity.  WAY member Kass is one of our Winter Walkers. Kass lost her partner Stephen to cancer in May 2022. She shares the moving story of why she is walking for WAY.

Kass and Stephen

Stephen could often be heard saying that he loved a walk but, the truth is, there were multiple caveats attached to actually going out on one. The weather had to be fine; not too cold, not too warm and definitely not wet. The sun should be shining in a blue sky, but not so bright as to be blinding. Regardless of how much discussion and planning had gone into preparing for the walk, Stephen would almost certainly be wearing the ‘wrong’ shoes, meaning that mud, long grass, wobbly stones, puddles, gravel, bumpy tracks or very steep gradients were to be avoided.

An evenly tarmacked country road would be the preferred option, providing it was free of cow and horse dung. More than once, against the pink-hued backdrop of a countryside sunset, Stephen could be seen remonstrating with the piles of animal waste in the middle of the road. His greatest wish, on any rural stroll, was to walk in the wake of animals that, at the very least, and out of consideration for his box-fresh trainers, moved to the side of the road before relieving themselves.

We also had different ideas about what a ‘good long walk’ was. I’d been known to be out for up to seven hours; not necessarily intentionally, but still... Stephen, however, would give me a nudge after 30 minutes to suggest turning back at some point soon to avoid being out for too long and risking injury or fatigue. The threat of injury was real as, despite being the most mentally resilient person I’ve ever known, it was often assumed that Stephen was more physically robust than he actually was. It wasn’t unusual for him to come back from a couple of circuits around our local common with a slight limp from a calf strain, which would require several day’s rest and copious sympathetic noises from me to aid its recovery. I’ll be honest and say I did absolutely nothing to discourage any of this as I loved looking after Stephen, seeing him comfortable and making him happy. 

I guess what I’m saying is: the irony of me walking 26 miles on the London Winter Walk, in freezing January temperatures, in Stephen’s memory is not lost on me. It’s not something he would’ve done in my memory that’s for sure! About the only thing Stephen would have tolerated about the whole endeavour would have been the cowpat-free pavements, and the opportunity to spend a bit of time in London – the city in which he was born and raised. Provided it wasn’t too crowded that is, of course…

"He would, however, have taken great pleasure, and pride, in my getting out there and doing something for a worthy cause."

But, I’ve gone off on a tangent; something I’ll hopefully avoid on the walk itself! Back to the topic of distance walking and it occurs to me that I’ve actually done Stephen a disservice suggesting that he was averse to a good, long walk. He was a writer by profession and, more importantly, in his very soul. But his journey as a writer had always involved a lot of walking; whether in London, Edinburgh, Paris, on the Greek island of Ithaca or any of the other places he’d called home during his eventful life. I used to joke that, after a life lived in some exciting and beautiful parts of the world, meeting me had resulted in him rather incongruously adding Southampton to the list; a great place to live but perhaps slightly prosaic in comparison. 

Stephen was nomadic by nature and neither of us thought we’d be here forever. We certainly never expected to say goodbye to each other here. However, in the six years we lived together in Southampton, we were lucky to be just a few minutes away from a beautiful, large common and going for a walk there, together or alone, became part of our daily lives. On our walks together, we’d tell each other stories about our days, our lives and our dreams for the future. On walks alone, Stephen would mull over ideas, thinking about the projects he was working on and clearing his head, either in preparation for or after a day’s writing. 


It hasn’t been easy to return to the common since Stephen died. On walks with friends, or my toddling, two-year-old, honorary ‘nephew’ Luca, I can distract myself with chatter, the sharing of news and, in the case of Luca, entirely selfless visits to the ice cream van that are, of course, purely for his benefit. On my own, it’s more likely to stir memories of times spent there with Stephen; the spot near the duck pond where we had a picnic one summer’s evening; the meeting point near the playground that would trigger Stephen into having a little moan about the ‘pesky park runners’ who descended there on a Saturday morning; the benches we’d sit on to talk or just watch the sun go down. And, the muddy patch of grass just off the path where Stephen stood and felt the sun on his face during his last walk just a few weeks before he died. On these walks, I often have to take a moment to remember and shed a few tears before taking a deep breath and moving on. 

To bring things back to the London Winter Walk, though, it was actually after returning from a training walk on the common recently that I realised that, for the first time, I’d made it round without any tears at all. Perhaps, had I not ventured out with the purpose of hitting a particular distance in a certain time and, therefore, been occupied with tracking my progress on my Fitbit, this may have inspired concern that I was forgetting the memories of us that the common holds. 

As it is, however, I have to hope that Stephen is with me as I take every step, allowing me, just as he did when he was alive, the time and space to focus entirely on something important to me. Just as he will be as I join my fellow WAY members on the day to complete the full 26 miles on the streets of London. It is, after all, in his memory that I hope to raise funds for an organisation that provides comfort, support and understanding to those like myself who’ve found ourselves living without our life partners long before we were ready. 

"We may be walking an unknown path into a future we hadn’t planned but, with the support of WAY, together we will, hopefully, find the strength to face whatever it holds."

Support Kass