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Wander with us – West Leeds Walks puts best foot forward for health

Walking and health go hand in hand. It gets the heart pumping and gets the legs stomping. But what happens when you go on a ‘health walk’? WLD reporter Bobby Tait joined Richard, Ellen, Alan and Lorraine as they led the pack up to Cabbage Hill in Wortley with their group, West Leeds Walks. 

Beginning at Armley Leisure Centre, the bunch congregated with smiles, hugs and relief that the recent rainfall had passed. Everyone was brimming in their waterproofs and hiking shoes, and embarked on the journey. 

According to Walk Leading regulation, there must be one walk leader to six attendants. This was a group with knowledge and experience as everyone fell into formation, with Richard at the front, Alan in the middle and Lorraine looking after the rear and headed to the hill. 

Meandering through the streets of Armley, it was obvious that not everyone would be able to keep to the same speed. But with the aforementioned group leaders this was a normal task to navigate. 

By knowing the local area like the back of your hand, leaders were able to redesign routes that would both ameliorate the walkers who couldn’t keep up speed and also allows those in front to benefit from that extra stretch as they often met at the end of shortcuts and road junctions.

Richard Smith, founder of West Leeds Walks, said that the sole aim of the group is to encourage people to “get out of the four walls” and enjoy the outdoors as much as possible. 

Health benefits of the planned journeys are often quite obvious in the physical sense. 

However, as we are beginning to learn more and more about how our mental health can affect our daily lives, getting out with a group of like-minded people and taking pleasure in visiting some of Yorkshires most beautiful views and hikes. 

Activities like this can be priceless when attempting to battle commonly experienced conditions such as depression, anxiety and the loss of loved ones.

Once the full team reached the peak of Cabbage Hill, it was time to soak it all in.

Walk leader Alan Brown said: “There’s a 360 degree view up here. You used to be able to see our gas stations but they’ve gone now. From Pudsey to Headingley to Aberford it’s all here, from this hill.” 

The countryside code is strictly followed by WLW. A set of rules that include: “Plan ahead and follow and signs, Protect plants and animals and take your litter home, and consider other people.” 

All the walks that the group embark on are always between one and four miles long, to both get the benefit of the exercise but also not overstrain yourself while doing so. 

The group is led by ‘Walk Leaders’, a qualification that certifies walkers to ensure the safety of those who wish to join in. The leaders follow the Highway Code when navigating roads and crossings, however if you decide to join the travelling trekkers, you must observe your own safety and undertake walks at your own risk.

The government recommend 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on five or more days of the week. 

For WLW, they undertake three walks a week, all varying in length and location. Currently, leader Richard Smith is undertaking day 24 of a health walk on everyday of May to raise money for ‘Step Out for Yorkshire’, in aid of Cancer Research. 

A condition, like many us, has affected the loved ones in Richard’s life, namely his late father and Diane, fellow founder of West Leeds Walks.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays it’s generally a short journey such as Armley Park and the blue trail in Gotts Park.

On Wednesdays, the pack venture further afield for their ‘monthly wander’, visiting scenic locations such as Saltaire, Harrogate and the Primrose Valley. 

West Leeds Walks boasts the basic benefits of its excursions, stating that: “Walking is a safe form of moderate exercise that can be performed by most people of all ages, costs nothing and with a little effort can be fitted into a busy lifestyle.”

Usually organised by the group with a hired bus to get to the hard to reach places, West Leeds Walks rely on their own pockets for transport, walking gear and marketing that more often than not relies on the generosity of its members or those who know of them locally. 

The group are actively looking for donors to get involved to help get more people interested in the health walks and be able to send out updated information flyers that tell the people of West Leeds their plans for the near future. 

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