Growing older … and feeling healthier

Irene Haining spent the majority of her working life in Glasgow teaching in an inner-city school. Although she and her husband Andrew enjoyed their time in the city, they always knew they were country people at heart. On retirement they returned to their native Dumfries & Galloway, and both agree that it was an excellent decision. Irene is now 70 and walks regularly with the Dumfries U3A. The ‘Over the Hill Mob’ do indeed go over hills but absolutely do not consider themselves to be over the hill. 


Full-time employment is rarely good for your health. For most people, the workplace puts all sorts of strains on the body: too much sitting, standing or bending over. I loved my job and was very enthusiastic but that meant I worked long hours and never really got involved with regular exercise even though I had good intentions. 

Now I walk regularly with two U3A walking groups. One – the Dumfries & District Ramblers – usually does five or six miles with gentle slopes. I don’t walk quite so regularly with them because they mostly do weekend walks and it is surprising how often we have something else on, but Andrew and I very much enjoy going out with them. They’re a very friendly group with a variety of easier and more strenuous walks and non-members are made very welcome to come and try. Walks are detailed on their webpage so that you can select the ones that suit your pace. 

The ‘Over the Hill Mob’ on the other hand definitely tackles hills and the walks are longer. Details of the walks are always published beforehand, and I am gaining the confidence to go on some of the more challenging walks like the big one they have coming up in the Lake District in May. My lifestyle is certainly healthier in retirement!

Why did I start walking with the U3A? On retiring, my husband and I both enjoyed the luxury of time for reading, birdwatching, cooking, pottering in the garden and DIY. Andrew started playing golf and was keen that I gave it a go too, but I just didn’t enjoy it. I got involved with volunteering and had plenty of time for lunch with friends but while Andrew was healthily outdoors on the golf course, I felt my life had become too sedentary. I needed to find somewhere to meet like-minded people in my local area doings something that kept me active. My sister in the south of England suggested I check out Dumfries U3A. The rest, as they say, is history. 

I enjoy walking with a walking group for so many reasons. Walking groups are really friendly and a great way to meet people. There is a wonderful camaraderie within the groups with opportunities to walk with and chat to everyone in the group very informally or to wander along quietly just listening. The conversations are gentle and positive – with appreciation of the scenery and nature seen along the way, interesting information about places, talking about shared hobbies or travels, and regulars often enquire about families and grandchildren. There is no pressure to turn up for every walk in the programme, but you are guaranteed a warm welcome every time. 

I am happy to go out for a walk by myself while my other half golfs but usually for shorter walks, often starting from the house and I would rarely take lunch with me. Walking with a group encourages me to go further and be outside for longer as we usually have a picnic lunch eaten in a scenic spot. Each group produces a programme of walks with details of the starting point, length of walk and a brief description of the type of terrain. 

Everyone is very supportive if I want to try a longer or steeper walk than normal; some of the walkers have amazing knowledge of good walks in the area and some are tackling some hills for the first time. Group leaders ensure that the walks are really varied, and I have been introduced to countless new routes, even in locations that I thought I knew well. 

When he is not golfing, Andrew now enjoys a walk with the group too. Walks explore all different areas, though usually in Dumfriesshire. Before Covid, car-sharing from Dumfries to the start of the walk was the norm. Thankfully we are just starting to do so again. 

Even when the weather looks a bit unappealing, an interesting walk with friendly folk encourages me to get outdoors and I am always glad I made the effort. Dumfries and Galloway has it all: beautiful coastal walks, lush forests or wild hillsides – all remarkably quiet and peaceful where you can really escape from it all. No wonder medical advice is beginning to acknowledge the value of the great outdoors for mental and physical health. There are walkers in my walking groups who are a good bit older than me and who cheerfully stride out on long walks with boots and rucksacks; they really are an inspiration. 

I do love being out with local walking groups. They are an important part of my life and honestly, I don’t just go for the opportunity to try out locals cafes with tea and scones afterwards! 

Our monthly flash theme for May is Walking or Chronic Illness

In May we celebrate National Walking Month with some blogs from keen walkers and ramblers aged 60+, accompanied, hopefully, by some of their photos. We also honour World MS Day with a blog focused on multiple sclerosis and looking generally at how chronic illness and creativity intersect. We would love to read your flash submissions in honour of either or both of these themes. Would you like to tell us something about your experience of being an older person who loves to hillwalk or ramble? Are you an older person managing a chronic illness which has had either a positive or adverse impact on your creativity? Send us your flash submissions! 


Entries will be accepted until midnight on May 31st and flash submissions can take the form of a poem, short story or flash memoir. The winning entry will be chosen by the Autumn Voices staff team and the winner will receive the books Walking For Creative Recovery, by Christina Reading and Jess Moriarty and Piranesi by Susanna Clarke.

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