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A walking workout

PUBLISHED: 09:00 19 March 2014

Nordic walking at Killerton led by Fiona Swan

Nordic walking at Killerton led by Fiona Swan


Simone Stanbrook-Bryne discovers the joys of Nordic Walking

Photography by James Clancy

A Nordic walker at KillertonA Nordic walker at Killerton

Hands up if you’d like to get more exercise! Hands up again if the idea of swimming repetitively up and down the local pool (if you’re lucky enough to have one) or being shut inside a gym has lost its appeal.

Don’t get me wrong, these are excellent ways to exercise, but the great outdoors is calling and if you’re anything like me you’ll want to be out there in it; out in Devon’s wonderful ‘green gym’.

So when I saw Nordic walking, something I’d never heard of before, mentioned in our local paper I had to try it.

Developed in Scandinavia in the 1950s, Nordic walking is a dynamic style of walking which uses specially designed poles that have the enticing effect of making the walking feel easier when in reality you’re burning between 20%-40% more calories than you would be if you were just walking ‘normally’.

Descending to a well-earned lunch Descending to a well-earned lunch

The sport in Britain is fast growing in popularity amongst both men and women, and we’re lucky to have a Nordic Walking UK qualified instructor, Fiona Swan, teaching in our part of Devon. With a background in environmental science, Fiona retrained as a NWUK instructor when a short-term contract with the Environment Agency ended in 2010. Since then her classes and her programme of walks have grown enormously.

One of Fiona’s best locations for Nordic walking is the National Trust parkland at Killerton, north of Exeter. This is where I met her and embarked on NWUK’s ‘Learn to Nordic Walk’ course which comprises four hours of training arranged in bite-size chunks. These sessions teach the correct technique for using Nordic poles, thereby ensuring you get full benefit from the walk. Nordic poles are quite different to hiking poles, both in design and method of use, and wrist straps enable you to ‘plant’ the pole behind at a 45˚ angle, propelling yourself along using the muscles in the arms and upper body as well as the legs.

Once you get into the rhythm it feels wonderful, you can really get some speed up and the jolly old ‘bingo wings’ (were I to admit to any) are certainly given a run for their money!

Once the training is successfully completed fledgling Nordic walkers are issued with a Nordic Walking UK Freedom card, enabling them to walk with any NWUK instructor and proving they are safe to be let loose on England’s unsuspecting footpaths – and that’s one of the joys of it. ‘Exercise anywhere’ is a key phrase of Nordic walking and as well as joining organised walks you and your poles can take off, quite literally, anywhere: on the beach, along lanes, on local footpaths. You may get occasional funny looks as you fly past but only from the uninitiated.

10 good reasons to try Nordic walking

-It’s easy to learn

-It burns 20%–40% more calories than ordinary walking and makes walkers feel more ‘energised’

-It’s a good cardiovascular exercise, working the whole body and using up to 90% of our muscles

-It’s good for neck, shoulders and back, improving posture, muscle tone and upper body strength

-It uses poles, thus reducing impact on the joints of the lower body

-It’s sociable

-It’s suitable for everyone and practised by a broad cross-section of people

-It’s very affordable and doesn’t require a large outlay on expensive equipment

-It can be done anywhere

-It’s a good ‘green’ exercise that has a low environmental impact

But although you can go out and walk alone the organised walks are such fun you’ll want to join in with those and Fiona offers a selection of venues. “Killerton is perfect,” she says. “The trails are not over-surfaced, so walkers can get a good ‘plant’ with Nordic poles and the varied paths, wide open spaces and woodland make it a very magical place to explore.”

Fiona also leads walks at Haldon Forest, Stover Country Park and many other appealing places; it’s a great way to discover the county and there’s nearly always a coffee stop at the end of the walk for those of us who need to replace the toxins we’ve just got rid of with a good caffeine fix.

Another appeal of Nordic walking is that the use of poles and emphasis on posture can help walkers who’ve had hip or back problems. It’s also a relatively inexpensive sport to take up as most people will already have suitable footwear and if you prefer not to buy your own poles you can hire them from Fiona.

I asked Fiona if she was pleased she’d made such a fundamental career change. “I’m glad I did as Nordic walking has brought me into contact with so many people and it’s hugely rewarding to witness individuals discover a fitness activity that really works for them. Many people want to exercise in a social setting but don’t really like the indoor gym experience so Nordic walking really does tick all the boxes.”

"Once you get into the rhythm it feels wonderful"

I couldn’t agree more. Join us!

Further information:

For more details about Fiona Swan’s programme of ‘taster’ sessions, training and organised walks visit her website For those without internet access she can be contacted on 01626 890120. Details of other instructors in Devon and across the UK can be found at, where there is also an online shop you may wish to browse.

This article was first published in the March issue of Devon Life. To get the magazine delivered every month to your home, subscribe at or call 08448484217


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