Pip Bowhay has three personal mantras for living her life by.
Adventure before Dementia
Always expect something wonderful is about to happen
Fear and laziness conspire to keep us in the familiar
She also firmly believes that if you can dream it, you can do it.
“I’m 63 so well past my best before date, but I won’t let a little thing like a number hold me back,” she says.
Pip lost half her sight to a stroke in 2007. Then, seven years ago, her husband Richard died from pancreatic cancer. Yet her losses have inspired her to achieve amazing things – and focus on a glass-half-full of possibilities.
Pip has walked the famous 479 mile Santiago de Compostela pilgrim route, shaved her hair of and abseiled down the local church tower – twice – with Royal Marines.
She’s hosted frock swaps, compiled a cookbook and organised annual carol singing on her village green in Kenton, Devon – raising more than £10,000 for charities including The Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund.
She’ll be marking her latest birthday by arriving in Lands End, at the end of a 1,000 mile solo fundraising walk from Dunnet Head in the far north of Scotland. She began her journey, Pip’s Plod, in May.
“It’s just been me on my own,” she says.
“If I had to wait for anyone to do something with me, I’d never get anything done!”
Pip has been walking in memory of Richard and in aid of Hospiscare, which looks after more than 2,000 people with a terminal illness every year and supports their families in Exeter and East Devon.
Hospiscare was there for Pip, Richard and their daughters, Helen and Alex – then aged 13 and 15 – through Richard’s illness and with support after he died in May 2011.
“Our girls were amazing; it had been a horrible four years for them but they came through it strong, caring and always supportive. I am incredibly proud of them,” says Pip.
She aims to raise £4,000 from her walk for the charity that supported her family.
“Hospiscare was so wonderful in their support, love and care,” she says.
“It’s hard to describe how just wonderful they were, with care first at home and later, in the hospice.”
Pip’s restricted sight and hearing loss can affect her balance, so she’s route-marched much of her plod on roads and footpaths, although she’s done a little off-roading in beauty spots along the way.
“I’ve always wanted to do this walk,” says Pip, who spent a year planning her journey, bought a tent and has camped in all weathers along the way.
“ I hate camping – I don’t understand why anyone would do it for pleasure,” she admits cheerfully.
Picture: JD Arbuckle on Unsplash
Ahead of her walk she also got in touch with churches along the route who spread the word – with many people opening up her homes and offering her a bed for the night.
“I’ve stayed with so many people I never met before and they were lovely,” says Pip, who served as an Army driver for 15 years and later became a driving instructor. “I’ve had such a lovely response – and people have been so kind.”
One of the hardest things for Pip after losing her sight was no longer being able to drive – something she still greatly misses.
I think I’ve always been brave – always looked on the golden side
“It’s frustrating to no longer be able to do the things you used to do – and I loved driving,” she says.
“After my stroke, I was glad I could see and hear my children still hear the birds, but no longer being able to drive took a long time for me to get over. I was telling this to a lovely chap in Yorkshire and he said – ‘but if you could drive, you wouldn’t be doing this’.”
Pip’s Plod has been for Richard, whose photo she carried with her in the ‘passport’ issued to pilgrims when she walked the Compostela Way.
“He was an amazing, difficult, honourable, loving man,” she says, looking back on their 15-year marriage.
“He made sure we were all looked after and we miss his sense of humour, his practicality and creativity.”
The Compostela walk was life-changing for Pip: “It made me realise you have to make the most of life – every single second.
“There’s something very spiritual about that journey, even if you’re not religious. When you falter physically or emotionally, there are people there to pick you up.
“I think I’ve always been brave – always looked on the golden side. Now, while I’ll do everything in my power to keep myself safe, after that, what will be, will be.
“I always remind the lovely ladies in the village who worry about me of my mantra: Always expect something wonderful is about to happen.”
Daughters Alex and Helen, together with best friend Ceri will be meeting Pip at her journey’s end at the First & Last House pub in Sennen Cove, Cornwall.
Ever the optimist, she chose to walk the route from top to bottom for two reasons – because she reasoned it would be downhill (mostly) – and so that the people she loves best would be there to share her joy in reaching journey’s end.
Pip’s Plod has been the fulfillment of a personal ambition that Pip had long hoped to achieve. But she adds, “the fact that this walk was a long-held dream of mine is secondary to fund-raising for Hospiscare – a charity that I cannot praise highly enough.”
- Like many end of life care providers, Hospiscare only receives 20% of its funding from the government. The charity is reliant on donations and gifts in wills, to support people with a terminal illness and their families.
If you’ve been inspired by Pip’s journey and would like to help her to achieve her £4,000 fundraising goal for Hospiscare, visit her Pip’s Plod Just Giving page.