After heart bypass surgery, Martin started conquering the hills of England

Martin Booth on top of a Lake District fell

Walking long distances has always been a passion for Martin Booth, 73.

He began hill walking as a teenager. “It was sort of on and off in the past, but once I retired it was something I would do pretty regularly,” he says.

Some walkers set a long-term goal, challenging themselves to climb a list of hills, known as ‘bagging tops’.

There are a few different lists to choose from, but Martin strived to ‘bag the Birketts’ – the 217 Cumbrian hills listed in Bill Birkett’s Complete Lakeland Fells.

Based in Herefordshire, Martin would travel up to the Lake District regularly to complete the challenge. He had bagged 100 tops before some unexpected pains in early 2009 put a halt to his quest. “I experienced a few things like an aching jaw, which I didn’t realise was a symptom of heart disease, when I was doing exercise,” Martin explains. “I went to the doctor and she said it could be one of several things because it was affecting my throat and lower face. She sent me for tests and it proved it was a problem with my heart, and that I did need an operation.”

Martin was told he required a triple heart bypass, which came as a surprise. Three months later, the operation was completed successfully and soon he began attending a cardiac rehabilitation programme.

“The people I was mixing with gave me a sense of optimism,” he says. “I was given general advice to walk as much as you can while feeling comfortable. As I got to do greater distances, it got more and more comfortable.”

Personal challenge

Six months later, Martin felt ready to take on the fells again. “As soon as I was getting better, I just wanted to get on with it,” he says. “I think having the operation concentrated my mind and it became a sort of obsession.

“I had the operation in March and the first walk I did in Cumbria was in September. My wife, Beth, was with me and she was obviously concerned about how I might cope with it. I was too, but it turned out to be OK.”

As soon as I was getting better, I just wanted to get on with it.

Martin Booth

One by one, Martin bagged his Birketts. He’s now achieved all but one – a demanding climb called Pillar Rock. “It involves rock climbing and I couldn’t do that without help,” he says. “I did approach it twice with  people who do rock climbing, but the weather wasn’t suitable in one case, and the person who was with me in the other case took ill the night before.”

Martin is still walking, though. “I’ve got partway through the rest of the peaks over 2,000ft in England,” he says.

“There are about 83 of them, but I’ve only done 20. With a friend of mine, I’ve been walking Offa’s Dyke as well. We’re only about two days from the north Wales coast now.

“I probably annoy my friends – they’re quite happy to go out for a stroll, but I like to have an objective.”

Martin's top tips

  • Don’t be too ambitious with the first attempt. If you took on something you were not really capable of it could put you off forever, so you’ve got to be sensible and work your way up to doing the higher fells.
  • You’ve got to be well-equipped because the weather can change so quickly, so you need waterproofs and a good pair of boots. It helps to be able to read compasses and maps.

Walking with the BHF

Whether you’re a seasoned long-distance walker or an enthusiastic first-timer, there’s a BHF walk to suit you. Here are a few of our upcoming hikes. To see the full list or register for an event, visit the BHF walks and treks page or call 0845 130 8663.


More useful information