The Roamer: Down his street and up Slemish on heart health walks

“It took three months - June, July and August last year - slowly my body began to seize up to the point where I could barely get up and get washed and struggle into the living room to sit.”
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Lobbyist and conflict resolution specialist Quintin Oliver recounting the effects of endocarditis, a rare but potentially fatal heart infection.

“I couldn’t read. I couldn’t concentrate. I began to shiver and convulse. That’s when my partner (Fiona) dialled 999!” Quintin told Roamer last week.

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Well known as the former director of NICVA, peace process stalwart and leader of the ‘YES’ campaign in the 1998 referendum on the Good Friday Agreement, the porters knew him by name when he was ambulanced to hospital.

‘Get out and start walking!’ Quintin Oliver, home from hospital‘Get out and start walking!’ Quintin Oliver, home from hospital
‘Get out and start walking!’ Quintin Oliver, home from hospital

First, the Mater for extensive tests, then the RVH where he posted on his October 19 Facebook (casebook!) page “Finally wheeled into surgery last Thursday (12th), and so the recovery begins.”

Accompanying a selfie confirming his “cocktail of drugs and devices” he wrote: “I have a repaired heart valve and a new one” adding his gratitude to all cardiac staff in the Mater and RVH - “we are lucky to have you.”

He needed to “build up strength again and walking was the easiest, simplest, cheapest, most effective way of doing that, so they told me ‘get out and start walking!’”

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He remembers his first (very) short expedition - “I staggered down my street feeling really apprehensive.”

'Architectural niceties' on first heart health walk on January 10'Architectural niceties' on first heart health walk on January 10
'Architectural niceties' on first heart health walk on January 10

From East Belfast, but living in South Belfast where he mostly drove or cycled, Quintin mused during his second walk: “I’ve never seen these houses, looked at those hedges, admired these trees - I’m going to learn a lot about all this!”

He began taking photos on his phone and soon had a folio of “interesting features - a house with a sculptural moulding or an interesting brick wall.”

Quintin decided he’d “do this for a month - post 30 pictures of ‘architectural features’ every day on Facebook, and see what I come up with.”

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He began near home on January 10 at a handsome arched doorway in a red-brick building with stone pillars and mouldings, and captioned the first picture “architectural niceties on my heart health walks in Belfast.”

30th and final walk on February 930th and final walk on February 9
30th and final walk on February 9

Almost 100 people liked the post. Some left encouraging comments and good wishes. Each day Quintin chose “somewhere different, trying to vary it.”

He discovered a shortcut to the River Lagan and “started walking along the towpath in both directions and up into Belvoir Park on the other side, along to the lock keepers cottage, up to Shaw’s Bridge.”

As his heart health improved, his walks extended, and so did the ‘architectural features’, embracing footpaths, foot (and cycle) bridges, a curious flag and Elmer the Elephant (promoting NI Children’s Hospice).

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Along with inspiring and informative, some comments were comic.

His 15th photo on January 24 was a stone sculpture discoloured with green lichen which Quintin captioned, “Needs a wee wash or scrub.”

“Don't we all...” someone commented!

His 28th photo on February 7 was a church, captioned “architecture of the modern variety, not impressive in my view.”

Many comments followed on a huge range of ‘ecclesiastical’ issues ranging from “looks more like a Fire Station” to “love that transcends” to “I did New Testament Language and Literature in my 4th year at University”!

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His 30 walks included especially memorable moments - “a wrong turning in Belvoir Park and I had to phone my partner to get her to rescue me”; Stormont on February 3 - “I’ve been at every restoration of the Assembly since 1998”, and on January 25/26 he was in Scotland for a colleague’s funeral.

What are Quintin’s favourite photos? “There are three. One is the tree winding around a brick gate post and I wondered ‘which came first, the tree or the gate post?’

"The second was a very odd, bright-red post box, facing a hedge very closely, so you’d have to lean round and squeeze your hand into the hedge to post a letter. And the third was some old Belfast street signs.”

The street signs were from his 30th and (supposedly!) final walk, reaping a host of good wishes and the comment “where are your wandering feet taking you next?”

Quinton’s answer appeared on Monday’s Facebook page - “today’s heart health walk was up Slemish, in tribute to St Patrick’s Day, ably guided by (author and journalist) Kathryn Johnston.”