One sweltering evening in 2020 during the first lockdown, as we sat drinking wine in the shed at the end of the garden, my husband and I came to the surprise decision to finish our 17-year relationship. “It’s the end of the line, isn’t it?” I ventured. “I know,” he replied, looking down at his glass. “Every day I think about it.” The unspoken had finally been said.

I took a breath. Unexpectedly, there was a wave of relief as recent frustrations dissolved. We toasted our newfound honesty, and chatted into the early hours, celebrating how civilised we were. But the next morning, reality hit: it felt strange sipping a takeaway coffee together on a sunny bench, and yet not reneging on what had been agreed. Admittedly I was also grieving, after the recent death of my father and then our beloved jack russell in quick succession. Was I doing the right thing? Was it too much to start again in my mid-40s? And all against the backdrop of Covid. The airless heat wasn’t helping.

The only way to make sense of it all, I surmised, was to get out and walk. The idea of doing 15,000 steps every day came swiftly, a relatively achievable goal that I hoped would provide consistency and comfort, a ritual to help frame the next stage of my life. As a travel writer, I’ve written about walking occasionally, whether it’s completing the 78-mile Capital Ring walk in a week or hiking the Kent coast over a weekend. But a daily quota was different. “Everything is resolved by walking” was my dad’s catchphrase.

The hot weather soon broke. In the relentless rain that followed, I found peace on my two-hour hikes; luckily, I’m surrounded in London by the towering trees and winding paths of Epping Forest; the rivers, canals and wetlands of the Olympic Park; and the semi-wild marshes near Hackney and Walthamstow. I would find my rhythm and feel as if I could go on and on, the drum of anxieties quietening. With deeper breaths, the mind settles: along with journalling, it became my therapy. And, pragmatically, the Pacer app helped – this goal, I realised, was proving addictive.

As winter edged in, so did boggy paths, sparse woods and low afternoon sun. My ex and I, now separated, would meet from time to time to continue our discussions, but our minds were firmly set. Meanwhile, I’d search out off-the-beaten-track routes, with self-imposed rules: podcasts or music were only allowed during the “boring bits” – those repeated stretches of pavements on traffic-clogged roads. It was more restorative to be mindful, whether practising gentle meditation exercises or just pondering the half-finished novel I was struggling with.

When satisfying pangs of hunger inevitably hit, along with the anticipation of a lie-down, the feeling lingered that time had been spent productively. My sleep improved, too.

So many people tell me, slightly haughtily, that they are “far too busy” to fit in 15,000 steps a day – but, as a freelancer, it still provides a framework for my working week, easy to absorb into my routine, whether it’s a stroll to and from my co-workspace or to another neighbourhood for a night out. Seasonal variations take over too: heatwaves mean early-morning walks, while in winter I’ll wait for the day to warm up. I’ve even been known to tick off a couple of thousand in the flat when I’m feeling poorly (luckily for my neighbours, I’m on the ground floor).

Once I was ready to download dating apps – for the first time ever – walking, along with the odd workout, became increasingly important to feel attractive and build confidence.

Three years on, post-divorce, my ex and I are now great friends – and both happy in new relationships. My boyfriend is amused, if not entirely convinced, by my daily step count, although nowadays I’m not quite as religious about it: some days the total is less, sometimes more, but still the monthly average stays quietly on target. Most importantly, the practice is, for me, a reminder of life’s transience, of how you never stop evolving – and of that moment in my garden shed that kickstarted a new chapter.

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