Ursula Martin has recently returned to her home country of Wales after a three-year-long trek through Europe. Her walk was a personal mission and a quest to raise awareness for ovarian cancer, which she was diagnosed with ten years ago.
Ursula found out about her diagnosis on another backpacking trip. She was due to walk back to Wales after she had finished kayaking the length of the River Danube, which passes through Germany to Romania. She made it to Bulgaria and was about to begin her walk when she received the troubling news.
Forced to return home early, her plans just got bigger. Despite her diagnosis, Ursula persisted with her passion for hiking and completed a 3,500-mile walk around her very own stomping ground of Wales.
She walked alone from her hometown of Llanidloes to hospital appointments in Bristol. This was her first walk where she was committed to raising awareness for ovarian cancer.
“After surgery, I was hurt and scared but didn’t want to be ruled by cancer. I wanted to live my life. I couldn’t travel because I had to be here for hospital appointments for five years, so I carried on by walking around Wales between appointments,” said Ursula.
When Ursula was finally given the go-ahead by doctors, she left the UK for a trip of more epic proportions. Her body had been kept strong from her consistent walking even though she was fighting ovarian cancer at the same time. Her journey began in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. This was to be the start point of a 10,000+ mile journey across some of the most remote parts of Europe.
The Lighter The Better
Her trip was an ultralight backpacker’s dream. She simply carried a tent, clothes, provisions, a book, water purifier, mobile phone, and diary. She spent almost every night in her tent or sleeping under the stars.
Occasionally she would enjoy the hospitality of others who let her stay in their homes. In the remote parts of Ukraine, she was offered gifts of apples and walnuts by rural people, shocked to see a Welsh woman in the forgotten corners of their country.
On the trail, she has had some tough experiences with the local wildlife. She’s been at spitting distance with bears, seen wolves, and even had to chase wild boars away from her tent. She fell asleep a few nights with the sounds of wild jackals howling.
Ursula kept up a good pace. She would cover 10 to 20 miles on a good day. When hiking in snow-covered mountains, her miles would average at around 10. All this hiking took its toll, not on her but her footwear!
She went through six pairs of walking boots on the walk but never sustained an injury. Something she picked up in the remote mountains of Bosnia gave her an upset stomach, but she was lucky enough to be close to a clean stream of water that helped her recovery.
Everyday Is A School Day
Along with her walk, Ursula’s knowledge of European languages improved as she had to adapt to remote areas where English was not spoken, and there was no hope of her being able to speak Welsh. Her historical knowledge of the regions improved along the way as well.
“Bosnia’s tragic recent past is still very much present after the civil war there, but the people I met were wonderful and incredibly friendly.”
Her meandering journey not only had her meeting all types of locals, races, and cultures. She also met other people on their own form of personal pilgrimage, including American Tom Turcich, who spent five years walking across the world’s seven continents.
This brave Welsh woman’s walk took her through Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, France, Andorra, Spain, and the UK. During most of the walk, she enjoyed the freedoms we all took for granted during a simpler pre-pandemic time.
An Unexpected Challenge
After coronavirus hit, Ursula’s trip changed drastically. She was now a walking potential virus spreader, forced to endure lockdowns and ever-changing rules in whichever country she found herself in.
Gone were some nice aspects of proper backpacking that we all hear about, kind strangers inviting you into their homes. Paranoia and fear had now swept the world, and Ursula had to face relentless periods of isolation.
Her walking in Spain was some of the worst as she was expected to wear a mask at all times. There was a definite relief of being able to properly breathe when walking after re-entering the UK.
The virus was tough on her budget too, in some countries, she was unable to camp and was forced to stay in hotels that were not part of the original game plan.
It wasn’t all bad though, when the global pandemic first hit the headlines back in March 2020, Ursula was housesitting a friend’s holiday home in southern France. She summarised her comfortable isolation to being inside a “luxury prison.”
Upon returning to the UK, it wasn’t long before Ursula was enjoying a pint in a British pub, but it was her home of Wales she really pined for. When she finally made it back to her hometown of Llanidloes in Mid-Wales, the streets were lined for her return welcome. Ursula has stated that hearing the Welsh language once again and catching up with friends was a real highlight.
Time To Recharge
It really is an incredible feat what Ursula has put her mind and body through. It’s easy to forget that she has had a diagnosis of cancer. Since her return, she has been told that she is in remission and is almost certainly cancer-free. Her next check-up is this September.
It seems that after all the excitement, it’s time for Ursula to take a well-deserved break as she is not feeling as full of energy as she did in the wilds of Europe since her return home.
“I’ve experienced a massive drop in energy levels. Since getting home, I’ve just spent a lot of time sleeping – at least a week of almost continuous dozing – and my body definitely needs it. I’ve been in a lot of pain with injuries and strains, so I’m just trying to be very gentle with myself. I’m not exercising that much and instead I’m focusing on milder movements through yoga and massage. I’ve also been chronically tired. After one month, there’s a particular type of fatigue that sets in; after a year it’s different and deeper; but after three years it’s on another level in ways I can’t really understand or describe.”