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Random Acts of Kindness by Mind Over Mountains participant Laurence Woodcock

Random Acts of Kindness by Mind Over Mountains participant Laurence Woodcock

Previous Mind Over Mountains event participant Laurence Woodcock shares how he could have never achieved walking all the way to Croatia without the kindness of strangers and why in the isolation of lockdown. it’s more important than ever to look out for each other.

In August 2018 I set out from my home in Stoke-on-Trent and headed south towards Stafford - on foot. Three months later - through a combination of running and walking and with the help of a few ferries along the way - I made it to my final destination; Hvar Island in Croatia.

The freedom and privilege to be able to roam on foot through Europe has really hit home in the last few days. The current lockdown situation that is taking place throughout the world makes one realise what one had before this took place. I’d experienced a sense of this privilege whilst walking through Northern France, where I stumbled across a vast number of World War I graves. Thinking about the number of young people who died in the trenches, many of whom were in their late teens, made me realise how lucky I was to be prancing around Northern Europe with the rather simple concerns of where I was going to lay my head that night and where my next source of bread and water was going to come from.

This sudden loss of freedom and the ability to go out in the hills, feels strange and confusing, but is a sacrifice we all ultimately have to make to look after one another. In a world where it often feels like we’re encouraged to view ourselves as separate atoms, this epidemic reminds us how interconnected and interdependent we are in the world. If this virus can spread so quickly between us, it would suddenly appear that we are not so separate.

photo of man by cairn of stones in mountains - with Mind Over Mountains mental wellbeing charity

Given this wake up call, it becomes a reminder to look after one another and to be kind and supportive. Kindness and support from strangers was one memorable feature of the adventure to Croatia. People that I had never met before did things to keep me safe and well whilst on the journey.

Early on in the trip I stumbled upon a pub in Northamptonshire. Tired, uncertain of exactly what I was doing, disappointed that I hadn’t managed to watch Stoke City on telly, and unsure of where I was going to camp for the night, I decided the best option was to have a Guinness and try and stop my monkey mind from driving me crazy. Whilst in the pub, I got chatting to a lad called Dan. I explained what I was planning. He thought I was completely bonkers, but was encouraging, and bought me a couple of drinks. After 3 days of not really talking to anyone it felt good just to connect with someone and enjoy some banter. Dan also managed to negotiate for me to sleep in the beer garden. It seemed all of my problems had been solved by simply having a beer in the pub.

The following Saturday, I again found myself in the pub. This time I stumbled across Graham and the Martin family. They invited me to join them as they were out celebrating one of their birthdays. Again, it was lovely to connect with other people and they made me feel like a part of their family for the evening after running 30 miles on a very warm day without much food.

My journey through France led me through a large swathe of quiet, rural, sleepy villages and it felt quite isolating at times. I did, however still stumble across the occasional person who would offer me food and water on the way.

One of my favourite memories of strangers’ kindness was in Italy. A man of around 70 cycled past on a quiet country lane and spoke to me in Italian. Whilst I don’t speak Italian, I’m pretty sure he was suggesting his home was nearby and offering me food there. I gestured that I was OK and carried on my way. 10 minutes later, he pulled up alongside me waving a 10 euro note out of the window of his van!

2 men in front of building - random acts of kindness story

On 1st November I finally arrived in Croatia. The two week journey down the coastline was marked by sunny and warm weather through towns and holiday resorts now hibernating for the winter months. One morning I was stopped by Mario, who asked me to join him and his friend for a beer. A few days later a restaurant refused payment for a meal after I told them what I was doing. I also stumbled across a nudist on a beach who advised me not to walk along the coast at night when drunk, as you might fall in the sea. I promised to listen to his advice.

Whilst walking through a small village in Croatia, Milan invited me to join him for a mid-afternoon glass of homemade wine. A softly spoken gentleman, we chatted away in his vine-filled garden. Croatians are football mad and Milan was no exception. I asked what football was like in the old Yugoslavia. Milan’s face went white and he talked about how four men from the village had been shot dead by snipers. Milan’s eyes went damp and you could feel that he was still very affected by what had happened during the war of independence. In that moment it didn’t feel like the past was past, but like he was still living the trauma of what had happened.

Whilst food and water was nice - more than anything - I appreciated the time people took to speak to me, to connect, to listen and to have a laugh. It was a break from being on one’s own. A chat over the counter at a supermarket suddenly felt a lot more important. Receiving a smile from someone could make a difference to your day. Similar acts of kindness are going to be really important to many people in the coming weeks and months.


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