Okay, so perhaps not the most original of titles, but it kind of sums up what’s coming next.
Besides, the idea of playing second fiddle – of being an appendage – to the ‘main’ player, i.e. Harri, seems pretty old-fashioned now. In those early days on blogspot, I described my blog as “A look at the world by an outdoor writer’s ‘other half’.” This was because, back then, I didn’t have a clue how to devise a walking route – or even read an OS map. In fact, I mostly got lost when I wandered off by myself. On one memorable occasion I decided to walk home from Cardiff city centre to Rhiwderin in the snow (as one does when dressed for lunch with one’s middle daughter). Obviously, it wasn’t a great idea – obviously, I got lost and, obviously, Harri had to come looking for me (having worked out approximately where I was from a series of questions, like ‘what building do you last remember seeing?’).
I published that first-ever blog – titled ‘Setting Off’ – on August 21, 2011, starting with a series of questions:
“Walking as a hobby? What’s it really all about? Why are some people passionate about heaving a rucksack onto their backs, lacing up muddy old boots and putting one foot in front of the other for mile after mile (after mile) while others – like a former colleague of mine – shudder at the thought and insist that walking is ‘boring’?”
After talking a little about my childhood, I described how I got friends to go out walking with me.
“My usual ploy was to persuade some unsuspecting classmate to set off in high-heeled wedges, knowing all along that I had some vague distant destination in mind. Not surprisingly, these forays into the great outdoors usually ended in harsh words and tears, with the other girl informing me that this was the last time she went anywhere – and she meant anywhere – with me.”
I concluded that first blog with: “Now it’s me who complains about exhaustion, hikes that go on forever and sore feet. You see, Harri’s far worse than me. Worse than I ever was. Really. He’s obsessed with hiking. And he can seemingly walk forever.” Brilliant. And I’m happy to say that he’s still the same, all these years later.
When Harri started getting commissions from outdoor publishers like Vertebrate, Northern Eye and the Automobile Association, I almost always joined him. While he focused on where we were walking, I lavished my attention on food – elevensies, lunch and afternoon nibbles – and photography.
In fact, in his first published book, Day Walks in the Brecon Beacons, Harri acknowledged me thus:
“I would like to thank my partner for … providing cheer and company on the walks themselves, and for not complaining – too much – when the weather took a turn for the worse.”
My support role warranted a name and someone (it might have been me but I really can’t remember) came up with The Walker’s Wife – the joke being that we weren’t married.
In January 2013, when Harri was editing the outdoor writers magazine Outdoor Focus, I wrote an article called ‘The shoes on the other feet’, which I introduced with the following paragraph:
“The author name on the guidebook or at the bottom of an article often tells only half the story. For close on the well-worn heels of many great outdoor writers comes another pair of muddy boots … those belonging to their partner. Here ‘walker’s wife’ Tracy Burton reveals how a lifelong passion for hiking – and great sandwich-making skills – make her the perfect outdoor writer’s companion.”
And if that doesn’t sound daft enough, I followed it up with “The best thing about hiking with Harri is that he takes care of everything … my own role is far less demanding.” Basically, I made the sandwiches and made sure we had something to eat for dinner when we were staying overnight at a Travelodge. But goodness, now I can see how important that ‘undemanding role’ was in keeping us well-nourished and able to tackle some pretty challenging hikes (and often checking out two routes in one day to keep accommodation costs down).
In my defence – and I feel I need one – I wrote these lines during those halcyon days when I realised I’d finally met my soulmate.
The Walker’s Wife blog continued to document our travels and Harri’s outdoor commissions. One article about the farmhouse I’d visited regularly as a child and someone managed to track down without an address even solicited a response from a long-lost relative. Wanting a blog that was more aesthetically pleasing, I migrated the site to WordPress, and eventually created an actual website called thewalkerswife.co.uk
The fabric of this website still exists, although two years ago I changed the domain name to tracyburton.co.uk – it made sense as, much as I love writing about hiking, I was yearning to return to my creative writing roots. Yes, long before I studied journalism, I wrote romantic stories for teenage magazines like the now defunct Loving, and even had a ghost story published in Take a Break.
In 2018, we left the UK and settled in the Algarve, Portugal. Sometime in the summer of 2019, my website was hacked and my then host service claimed they could do nothing to restore the site because I was paying for what they termed ‘a legacy policy’. For a few days it seemed all was lost. Enter my very clever designer friend, John, who offered to help. What can I say? The man is a genius and managed to achieve what one of the world’s largest web hosts (by market share) was unable (or unwilling) to do.
Throughout all these changes and tribulations, The Walker’s Wife blog continued. I wrote about walking the Via Algarviana and the Fishermen’s Trail, about sweltering in the Alpujarras and how I’d discovered and gained hiking freedom via online mapping and GPX files. Now I could venture out into the wilds of the Algarve without getting lost … well, there was that time … but I jest. I’m now a fully signed up member of Hiking Algarve and will happily lead walks with or without Harri.
Now, as 2023 draws to a close – and I face upping the running for a few weeks to achieve my second Outdoor Active challenge (the 1,600 km hiking challenge was completed in August) – it’s time to say farewell to a longtime friend, one who has remained loyal to me through changing times and fortunes.
I will continue to blog, but from now on, it will be in my own name.
Adieu The Walker’s Wife. I will miss you.