The Walker Beneath The Cap

Mar 4, 2024 | General

walk leader Malinka van der Gaauw

My name is Malinka and I am Rural Strides. If you are a Rural Strider, or perhaps follow me on social media, you will know that I rarely go out walking without my Silverback baseball cap. Delve deep into my psychology and there will be a link to me being an introvert: the cap providing a means to hide away. Somewhat strange, I know, for someone who puts themselves out there leading walks, but true. As a glasses wearer (because I’d rather swim with sharks than have eye surgery!) the cap is also essential wear for being able to navigate in either wet or sunny weather. Unfortunately, although we are on the edge of an AI revolution, no-one has yet invented windscreen wipers for glasses!

Quest for adventure

Adventure and exploration have always been a big part of my life. Growing up in the wilds of Devon that included tearing around the countryside on ponies, endurance events on Dartmoor and things that I can’t repeat for fear of word getting back to the local farmers. As a student, it was then getting the travel bug. I don’t like to follow the crowd. Consequently, while friends chose European Studies and languages, I picked SE Asian Studies & Malay Language. This fortunately gave me the opportunity to study and work in Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.  In the early 2000’s the adventure continued when my husband’s career took our family overseas. What an incredible experience that was. Desert camping, beach riding, swimming with turtles and hikes through hidden canyons became the norm not the exception. I was also fortunate to find work with Outward Bound Oman, one of the most prestigious schools in the OB global portfolio.

woman walking across desert

International politics in Petersfield

Strangely enough, it was the combination of my Asian experience and Master’s degree in Strategic Studies that brought me to Petersfield. This was strategy of the military kind, and fun fact: I was the only female on my course. At the time there was a Crisis and Security Management Consultancy on the High Street. It was here that I worked as a Political Risk Analyst. If you’d met my boss in the street, you’d never have guessed that he had a military cross hanging in his bathroom. However, thanks to him I have dined at the Special Forces Club and lectured at the RAF club, Piccadilly. I’d love to know how I kept my nerve, as I’m now nervous just giving a pre-walk briefing to 20. The irony is that during my career, the Middle East was the one area of the world I avoided like the plague. After close to 20 years divided between Azerbaijan, Egypt and Oman I think it’s fair to say that that knowledge gap has now been filled.

Necessity is the mother of invention

Giving up my career and taking on the title of ‘expat wife’ did initially fill me with fear. I’m neither the ‘golden-sandaled’ sit-in-the-sun-type nor ‘lady who lunches’. Instead, I found purpose in setting up and running community groups and programmes. These included a nursery, junior rugby club and UNESCO-recognised Connecting Cultures programme. The thread that ran through most of these projects was the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention”. With no nursery for my children to attend in Baku, nor rugby club in Muscat, there was only one thing for it. I had to roll up my sleeves and make them happen. However, it was these projects that helped me discover my passion for community work. I suppose Petersfield Walking Festival and Rural Strides are just the latest iteration of this theme.

Baku Toddler Klub logo

Baku Toddler Klub logo drawn by Azeri Artist Yusif Mirza

Local adventure

If I’m completely honest, I’m not sure I would have ever willingly come back to the UK. I do very much enjoy the vibrancy of a multi-cultural community. So, in that respect I’m quite grateful to the pandemic for forcing my hand. With just 36 hours’ notice of Muscat airport’s closure, we decided I should return to the UK with our 3 children. Afterall, it was only going to be for a few months. Well, we all know how that story unfolded, and as a consequence I’m still here. However, it is thanks to the pandemic that I got to explore the beauty of the Western Weald. The serenity and wonder of warm, spring walks exploring the countryside during lockdown, are forever imprinted on my memory. For all the horror the pandemic brought, that time was also extraordinarily special.

leading a group of walkers

I suppose, in many respects, arriving back in the UK, was a little like a new posting to a foreign country. I didn’t know either the area or people at all well. However, those same drawbacks hadn’t stoped me making the most of my time in either Azerbaijan, Egypt or Oman. The solution was always to fact find as quickly as possible, get the lay of the land and network. Those are all things I relish…..and arguably am still doing today through my walking. There is honestly no better way to get to know a place than through slipping on a pair of boots and walking it from end to end. Thank you for joining me on this journey of exploration. As with all my adventures, it is just as much about the people I meet along the way as the places my feet take me.


If you’ve enjoyed this post you may also like: Why Use a Walking Guide or West is Best


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