Ursula Martin defines herself as an ‘extreme rambler’. And that she certainly is. Between 2014 and 2015, she walked 3,700 miles in and around her homeland of Wales, all whilst undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer. Along the way she raised over £12,000 for cancer charities and helped to draw attention to the symptoms of ovarian cancer to thousands of people.
A few years later, Ursula embarked on another trek, hitchhiking from Wales to Eastern Europe to begin a solo walk across the bulk of the continent. Starting in Ukraine, she travelled through the Balkans and into Southern Europe, steadily making her way towards the Atlantic Ocean. All was going well enough until the beginning of 2020, when a roadblock arrived in the form of a global pandemic.
Ursula was in northern Italy when the region was plunged into crisis at the start of 2020, and has since been caught under full lockdown three times. Endeavouring to stay safe and travel responsibly, she has only walked for seven months since March, her progress being dictated by the easing and tightening of restrictions from country to country, and even region to region.
Despite that huge challenge, however, in March this year, Ursula managed to reach Finisterre in Spain, otherwise known as ‘the end of the earth’. At the time that we interviewed her, she was about to turn around to begin the long walk home…
For our readers who aren’t yet familiar with your story, could you tell them a bit about what you’ve been up to over the last few years?
[Laughs] Yeah, I’ve been walking across Europe basically. I started in September 2018, hitchhiked from the UK to Kiev in Ukraine, and I’ve been walking back ever since. It’s so long now; I can’t believe it’s been this long.
And you’re currently in Spain, right? How is the Galician way of life treating you?
Yep, that’s right, Finisterre in Galicia. Oh my god I love Finisterre, I really love it. Galicia’s my favourite part of Spain, and Finisterre; it’s a special place right now. I’ve literally walked to the Atlantic Ocean so I can’t get any further west. It’s been this huge arrival point for me. And it’s also an arrival point for the Camino de Santiago and the more ancient pre-Christian pilgrimage routes as well. It’s a place that has a lot of meaning. It’s a really big deal for me.
And from here, is it France next and then back home? Are you excited for your return and ready for a bit of rest?
That’s the idea, yeah. Oh my god I’m so ready. I’m so ready to stop now. I was worried this was gonna happen because Finisterre is such a huge arrival point. So basically, from here, I’m doing a U-turn and then going back on myself through Spain, and then up through France. I thought, oh gosh, how’s my energy gonna be? Because you have the arrival and then you’ve still gotta go another 1000 miles. It’s the worst part isn’t it, when you’re almost home, but not quite, and then your energy goes down. So, what I’m hoping is that I’ll start walking again, and I’ll get into that zone of the last thousand miles.
But yeah, I am tired now. I’m really tired. I do want to be home. It’s been a lot of effort to get here [laughs].
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Every journey a person takes is unique, but you’re probably amongst very few people who will have seen the influence of coronavirus from country to country. Has the general feeling differed from country to country?
I saw a little bit of its arrival in Italy, but that was in the very first stages of the pandemic in February and March. So, what I was experiencing then was a whole lot of fear. And this unknown sense of it. And then France over last summer mainly. And then Spain since Christmas. The major differences between Spain and France are the cultural differences in mask wearing and social distancing, and I expect to find differences when I go to the UK as well.
And because every country is inventing the wheel, as to how to balance the health needs of the population, versus the economic needs of the population. And probably the third priority is the mental health and happiness needs of the population. I think every country has done their own thing basically. There’s no rule book on how to do this is there?