I'm often asked about what snacks and food I take when going for a walk. My answer is: it depends on the length of the walk!
The food you take on a walk or hike is more than the energy you need to keep going. It's the morale boost you look forward to when you're running out of steam or want to take a break and rest your feet. Some of my best walking moments are those where I am tucking into a squashed egg sandwich in a field or a well timed jelly baby. But beyond your foil wrapped sandwich or sugar laded treats, energy-giving snacks are a must. I take a snack of some kind with me on most of my walks, unless they're very short. There is nothing worse than being a long way from civilisation and realising you're starving and have nothing to keep you going.
So when I was sent a box of CLIF Bars to try out, I was very pleased as it meant I could keep a ready stash of them in my backpack. CLIF Bars are a US brand, which claim to be America's favourite energy bar. They use natural ingredients (even if some of them sound a bit scientific) and include things like organic rolled oats and organic dates plus 11 vitamins, protein and fibre. In short, they are designed to slowly release energy as you need it.
The bars comes in seven different flavours in the UK: Chocolate chip, Crunchy Peanut Butter, Oatmeal Raisin Walnut, Blueberry Crisp, Chocolate Almond Fudge, White Chocolate Macademia Nut and Coconut Chocolate Chip.
I took these bars on my West Highland Way walk of 96 miles and they were my 'keep me going' food on the longer days.
The less positive
If you're after a good energy bar made of natural ingredients that aren't overly sweet and don't turn into a pile of crumbs despite being bashed around, these are definitely worth trying. Just save the blueberry ones for me please.
In the UK, you can buy these bars from Boots, Tesco, Holland & Barrett and independent health food shops. They cost £1.60 a bar. You can find out more about them at www.clifbar.co.uk.
So what snacks do you take on your walks? Feel free to share your recommendations below. Don't forget, if you're a woman who loves walking, join our free group over on Facebook and be sure to sign up for the Glamoraks newsletter to stay up to date on any events or walks we have.
It's Mental Health Awareness Week. So I wanted to take some time out to write about how walking has helped me with my own mental health. And I'd love for you to share your stories about how walking has helped you.
About ten years ago I went to see a therapist. I can't even remember why I went to see her. Obviously I really hadn't been feeling happy to warrant me going. Anyway, during our first session together she asked me if I suffered from depression. I laughed and said of course I didn't. After all I was running my own business and looking after two young kids and was on the go all the time. In my head, depression meant sitting in a semi comatose state, crying a lot and barely leaving the house. That wasn't me.
But she made me take a little test to check for depression and I was astounded that I was indeed suffering from mild to moderate depression. I was just a high functioning depressive. In other words, I kept busy all the time so that I didn't have to feel what was really going on underneath. I was constantly critical of myself. And I packed a lot in as a I worried about 'wasting time'. No matter what I achieved, I never got a sense of true happiness or satisfaction.
So I embarked on some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which helped a bit and made me more aware of how I was feeling. I did some other crazy things to try to regain control and a sense of purpose - like sailing across the Atlantic with 18 strangers on a boat. And while that experience certainly gave me some highs, I simply returned to normal life and felt the same (only now I knew that I could achieve incredible things if I wanted to).
The years went on and I would feel better for a bit, but it was always there. It's like I was sleep walking into unhappiness. It took a major personal crisis to get back to a therapist and a coach. Talking helped. Yoga helped.
But it was only when I started walking, that I felt a shift in me. That first proper walk I did entirely on my own, left me feeling alive like nothing else had (except for a few moments on that yacht in the Atlantic). The more I walked, the more I realised that no matter how down or tense or angry I was feeling, a couple of hours walking shifted the mood.
I have been on numerous walks where I have literally stomped out the door in a rage. Like this time. And while the rage is great for getting a lick of pace on, as time passes, my pace slackens, my heart rate slows and my mind settles. I breathe. I notice the little things like bugs, plants and quirky signs. I see the expansive views and the space around me. I feel that sense of happiness that has no purpose, other than just being.
Now there are all sorts of scientific studies that show the benefits that walking has on peoples' mental health. I won't go into those because I'm not a scientist. I simply know that forests and nature and sea air and hills all have a way of restoring my sanity and calming my soul.
Am I fixed? Do I still have depression? Do I still suffer from low self-esteem? Do I still cram my days full of things to avoid feeling or to find something to make me feel alive? Well I don't think I'm entirely fixed. I still cram a lot into my life and I am still my own worst critic. But in general I have more days that I feel happy than not. And on those bad days, I now have a tool that acts as a salve as and when I need it.
I just slip my boots on, put a pack on my back and walk. Whether that's entirely on my own or with company, it's the act of slowing down, breathing, feeling the pull of nature, having that tingle of adventure and simply becoming at one with my surroundings that works.
Walking is the best form of therapy there is. It's free and entirely natural.
I've written this because I want people to realise that mental health issues come in a variety of ways. Even if someone looks 100% fine to the outside world, inside they may not be. But if you have a niggling sense that perhaps all is not well, I suggest you take that person on a walk. And if that person is you, take yourself on a walk. You may just find yourself again.
If you are a woman who likes walking and enjoys the benefits it brings, feel free to join the free Glamoraks group over on Facebook.
I'd love to hear how walking has helped your mental health, so feel free to share it in the comments below.
Start point: Helmsley Long stay carpark. Postcode: YO62 5AT
Distance: Roughly 7 miles but could be extended by another 2 miles with an additional loop
Sights: Rievaulx Abbey & Helmsley Castle
Terrain: Easy walking on paths, a few hills with some steps that aren't particularly challenging
Facilities: Toilets in Helmsley carpark and at Rievaulx Abbey carpark. Tea room at Rievaulx and plenty of restaurant options in Helmsley
If you like to break up your walking with a little bit of history, then this is the perfect route, particularly if you're looking for somewhere not too far from York. It starts at a long stay carpark in Helmsley, which has the helpful bonus of loos. Whoop!
This is the official start of the Cleveland Way, a 109-mile national trail that runs across the North Yorkshire Moors and along the coast. As such, it's clearly signposted. Although the sign says 2.5 miles to Rievaulx, which should be a 5 mile walk there and back, my walk tracker definitely registered it more like 7 to 8 miles, but that will depend on how much walking around the Abbey you do!
After leaving the car park, there's a brief climb up a hill until you level out at fields. If you look back over your shoulder, you will see Helmsley Castle behind you. More on that later.
Simply follow the path alongside fields and through woodland. There is one section with a set of steps going down and then steeply up on the other side. But other than that, it is fairly level walking, with plenty of wild garlic, bluebells and primroses as a backdrop (well in May anyway!)
On the far side of the woods, you reach a road which leads to a pretty little stone bridge over a stream. Turn right just before the bridge and follow the road to the Abbey, which you will see looming in the distance.
If you are an English Heritage member, it's free to get in (£8.50 for an adult, £5.10 for kids if you're not - I would strongly advise getting English Heritage membership if you're keen on visiting historic place as it works out much cheaper in the long run).
Rievaulx Abbey was one of England's most impressive Cistercian monasteries. It's situated in a tranquil valley and the sheer scale of the ruins are impressive. It now has a new visitor centre and there are free audio tours you can take. Best of all, there is a lovely tea room with indoor and outdoor seating. And an excellent choice of cakes!
Once you've had your fill, you can either retrace your steps to Helmsley the way you came, or add an additional couple of miles to your walk by turning right out of the Abbey. Follow the road for a short while until you get to a gate on the left by a footpath with a sign to Bow Bridge. You'll pass a paddock and fields, briefly joining the River Rye, before bearing right through a gate of the meadow. You'll turn left over a gravel track, cross Bow Bridge and carry on to a right hand bend. Go through a gate to the left signposted to Ashberry. You follow the base of a hill before climbing it where you get views across to the opposite bank and glimpses of the Abbey again. The path eventually goes down, depositing you back at the bridge you came across earlier. Then retrace your steps back to Helmsley.
If you want another history fix, visit Helmsley Castle, is just a short walk from the carpark. Another English Heritage property (free for members, £6.20 for adults, £3.70 for kids), it is well worth a visit. Again you get a free audio tour and you can learn all about the fascinating 900 year history of the place. You get lovely views over Duncombe Park from the castle too.
After all of that, you'll be ready for a hearty lunch, afternoon tea or pint in a pub, all of which you can get in abundance in Helmsley. So add this walk to your list!
If you are a woman who likes walking, remember to join the free Glamoraks group over on Facebook. Get inspiration, advice, meet other walkers for find walks. Access it here.