Her visits to an astonishing 137 countries have made her one of Scotland’s most-travelled women.
From Nepal to Fiji, New Zealand to Iran, Jackie Gilchrist was living her dream of seeing the world – until the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
So when lockdown and furlough left her trapped at home, Jackie set herself a new challenge. During January, she went on 31 different walks, all the time staying within the local authority boundaries of her Falkirk home. And she reckons she will be able to complete another 28 in February.
Jackie, 53, who works for a tour operator, said: “I have replaced visiting exotic foreign places with finding interesting places near where I live.
“The key thing is it’s stimulating because you are going somewhere different every day. I am sticking to the rules, some of my walks are from my house, some require a short car journey.”
Jackie, who grew up in Glasgow and works in Edinburgh, admits that before lockdown she knew little about her local area.
She spent up to eight weeks a year on her foreign travels, scouring the internet to buy cheap airline tickets, last minutes deals as well as intricately planned longer trips.
She first caught the travel bug after graduating from university and embarking on a two-year round-the-world trip, which stretched to four years.
In 2017 her tally of countries visited made her the sixth-highest UK woman on the “Best Travelled” internet community – and, she believes, the best travelled Scottish woman.
But all that changed with lockdown, when she found herself confined to her local authority area.
Falkirk currently holds the title of Britain’s Best Walking Neighbourhood, awarded by the Ramblers charity.
She said: “I didn’t realise Falkirk had all these places. There’s loads of trails that I didn’t even know about.”
Her favourite walks include the Callendar Estate and the John Muir Way.
Walking has been identified as a key activity for maintaining your mental health. The mental and physical health benefits are clear to Jackie.
“Variety definitely is very important, doing something ever-so-slightly different every day,” she said. “I find it has allowed me to find a bit of normality. I can forget about covid for a little while.”
Ramblers Scotland director Brendan Paddy said: “Amid all the sadness of the Covid era, it has been uplifting to see so many people boosting their health and wellbeing by exploring their local areas on foot. Even very experienced walkers like Jackie have been discovering hidden gems, often straight from their doorsteps.
He added: “Repeated studies show that staying active improves our mood, sleep and stress levels; all of which are hugely important at this challenging time.
“It’s been particularly encouraging to see so many beginners in the outdoors during the past year.
“When we move beyond Covid, we must support them to continue walking for many years to come – for example by investing in paths, rangers and quality greenspaces.”
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