I am not sure how long I have really loved walking. But these days I consider walking to be one of my key hobbies, and a central part of how I keep myself well, both mentally and physically.
Today I went out with my local Ramblers group. We started in the fabulously named Barwick-in- Elmet, a village east of Leeds, and walked for six miles in absolutely glorious sunshine.
The route was fairly smooth, passing through light woodland and open fields. It was one of the first warm days of the year and it felt like all of the creatures of the local area were enjoying it – butterflies, red kites, lambs as well as the walkers. At one point I spotted a lamb lying down and waving it’s legs in the air in delight.
It was amazing to walk with bare arms for the first time in months…and to lie down on the grass during our tea break and to look at the blue sky and flimsy clouds.
At points I was walking with my arms outstretched – enjoying the soft breeze as well as the heat.
And I started thinking that I would like to write about walking…
I don’t just like walking in the countryside. When I lived in London I would sometimes ‘walk the bus stops’ or just walk from where I had been in the pub or an art gallery until I became too tired or the roads became too quiet and I felt happier in the noise and light of a bus.
I have particularly happy memories of walking from Soho…down through Leicester Square…through Trafalgar Square…down Whitehall…across the water to Waterloo…
I especially liked walking at dusk or at night. I never felt unsafe in Westminster. There were always tourists and workers. It was always busy.
I would often be fast. This is partly London (according to an Evening Standard article from 2015 Londoners are the 4th fastest walkers in the world and routinely walk at 4mph), but also because it helped me shrug off something that had been bothering me, think something through, or feel physically liberated after a day sitting and being with other people.
Striding through the city, knowing my route, I could be myself. Fast, slow, no consideration for my appearance, for having to consider what other people wanted.
It was like that today – I have a lot on my mind at the moment – and the act of stretching my legs, of doing something physical for two hours, of feeling strong, of paying attention to a constantly shifting environment, of having time to think and yet space to switch off altogether, has helped a lot.
Or as the indie band Spearmint would have it in their song ‘Isn’t It Great To Be Alive’:
“Tonight I don’t want a train or a bus
I need to walk across this town
Feel the rain on my face
Sort these feelings out”.