Walking the Cotswold Way with a Ruptured Disk

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“Here we were walking the Cotswold Way, laughing a lot, and enjoying every minute whilst meeting some amazing people but had we listed to the doctors she’d still be in bed feeling sorry for herself.”

When my wife Jo ruptured her L5S1 disc in February 2021 she was immediately paralysed and left bedbound.  Both A&E and her GP said, “it’s sciatica, it’ll take you 6 – 9 months to recover.”  

We thought that walking was over for us for the rest of the year but fortunately her sister pointed her to a chiropractor.  

Seeing her twice a week, the chiropractor had Jo hobbling on crutches by the end of March.  It began with 50 paces, then 100 paces and so on.  

On 19 April it was a whole mile on the flat on the top of Leckhampton Hill, which is part of the Cotswold Way trail.  And then she was just using one crutch and then no crutches. 

Recovery on The Cotswold Way

We decided to see if we could manage to walk the 102 miles of the Cotswold Way path.  We knew it would take a lot of planning because much as Jo was walking, she couldn’t drive her car and so we had to manage the walk using one car and doing short circular or there and back walks.  

This meant that much as the Cotswold Way is 102 miles, we walked nearer to 180 miles to complete the walk.   

On the days we couldn’t get out walking Jo was able to research the routes to find shortcuts back to the car and places to park.  

One trick we learned was to move the car from the starting point to a mid-way point.  This meant that we did two short there and back walk a day with a good break in the middle of it.  

We also became experts at spotting places where we could park the car for free. Over the 23 walks we spent just £4 to park in Broadway 

We set off from Chipping Campden on 8 June 2021 hoping to walk as far as Broadway Tower but with several ‘escape’ routes if it was too much.  

We made it and took a shortcut to the car in Chipping Campden by avoiding Dover’s Hill on the way back.  

We walked a total of 7 miles that day and our pace was just under 1.5mph but the euphoria of being out walking was exhilarating.  

By the time we walked into Bath on 25 August we were managing 12 miles a day and averaging just over 2mph.  It took us 23 walks in total, although that included some very short evening walks and an extra Cotswold Way loop taking in Selsley Common near Stroud.  

We also took two bus journeys.  The first from Dursley to Coaley Peak to walk back to Dursley, and then from Wootton under Edge back to Dursley having walked to Wootten from Dursley. 

What gear Jo used on the Cotswold Way

Jo did the whole walk in a pair of Reiker sandals because they were the most comfortable footwear for her back.  Walking poles were essential to help with balance and support too.  

I carried her walking boots in my rucksack just in case we came across terrain she couldn’t manage in her sandals.  Going through muddy patches was hysterical with Jo tip-toeing and trying to avoid mud and puddles whilst I just stomped straight through the quagmires without a care in the world.  

She started off with a small rucksack which we joked only carried a lipstick and nail file (it had her water bottle in it) but we quickly realised that even at about 1kg the rucksack was too much and she soon stopped taking it and everything was put into my rucksack. 

Joe wasn’t alone with her back injury

We met numerous people who had similar back injuries and their stories seemed so similar.  Some had had disc operations, some physiotherapy, but they all said the same thing.  

At the end of the day, it was walking that really helped their sciatic back problems.  Right at the beginning, the chiropractor had said to Jo to walk through the pain and he was so right.  

Here we were walking the Cotswold Way, laughing a lot, and enjoying every minute whilst meeting some amazing people but had we listed to the doctors she’d still be in bed feeling sorry for herself. 

We also met numerous walkers doing the Cotswold Way in 5 – 7 days, often wild camping, and we were a little envious of their adventure.  

We simply cannot carry the gear to wild camp or do overnight stops at the moment, but it is a goal we are aiming for.  

However, our slow walking pace and short distances mean that we can stop to absorb a view or explore a church or village and take lots of photographs.  

Our challenge for 2022 is to do the Ridgway, although the Coast to Coast, West Highland Way, and Offa’s Dyke are on our radar too when we get a bit fitter.  

We will be using the Windrush Way, Warden’s Way and parts of the Cotswold Way as our training walking over the winter and in the spring hope to be out on the Ridgeway, covid permitting. 

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