It was appropriate that on International Women’s Day, 8 March, Marika Kovacs of the Hereford Ramblers led her third walk. I was happy to be one of the party.
Marika has been blind since childhood. She loves walking and last year she led two walks for the Hereford Group. As I wrote on my blog, the first walk was fine but the second was tricky because it rained on her braille so it was illegible.
Undaunted, Marika found a machine which laminates the braille, making it waterproof—Marika’s ‘eureka’!
Her walk on Saturday was nine miles from the Moreton-on-Lugg bus-stop, north of Hereford, to Queenswood country park, Dinmore, also on the bus route. We took in some lovely countryside—three (smallish) hills, Sutton Walls iron-age fort, Bodenham church, muddy fields, and woods where spring was just awakening.
Marika is an enthusiastic and caring leader, she regularly checked that all ten of us were OK. With her braille around her neck like a map-case she was multi-tasking all day long, reading the instructions, chatting to her companions and listening for bird song, of which there was a glorious variety.
She likes to have someone walking beside her, lightly touching her fingers and warning her of low-hanging vegetation and other hazards. But she was most definitely our leader and in charge of the walk.
John Winterfeld, the group’s footpath secretary (north), had a pocketful of waymarks which he nailed into posts along the way.
We found some path problems—mostly non-existent or difficult stiles which I have reported to Herefordshire Council.
The walk had taken some preparation. Marika did a recce with the Hereford Group walks secretary, Mary Howcroft, with support from the Herefordshire Area chairman and group secretary, Arthur Lee. Marika and Mary put the instructions on a dictaphone and Arthur transcribed it; this was not easy because Marika and Mary managed to record a lot of extraneous chat so Arthur had somehow to isolate the important information.
He sent the transcript to Marika who used a programme called Duxbury to convert it into braille. Then, armed with the braille, the pair went out again, with John Winterfeld who was unfamiliar with the route to check the instructions were sufficient. Arthur changed the typescript and Marika amended the braille and laminated it. She checked that it really was waterproof by dropping it in water. Then she bound the many pages and clipped them to a board.
Needless to say, it didn’t rain. But no one complained about that.
It takes pluck to lead a walk even when you are sighted, but to do it when you are blind is a great achievement. Marika is one in a million.