Any walk is a journey, or even a story with a beginning, a middle and an end: although it might not seem like that as you trudge through the wind and rain. Walking is linear. It has a start and end point. I wonder if this is why walking helps many people when life is chaotic or muddled or when we struggle to concentrate or to focus.
For walking can be only about getting from A to B, but it can be far more. You might have noneed to get anywhere, but just want to get outside. Walking opens up space and can seem a liberation. I went out for a walk yesterday while preparing to write this, and felt that the mechanical movement of walking freed up my mind to think – or even not to think but just to be more aware of what I could see,
To some people, walking has become more important during this last year. As lockdown has followed lockdown, walking has been one of the few ways to spend time outside, and it has become a lifeline for many. For others, who live in areas where space to walk is limited, unsafe, crowded or polluted, even their usual walking has been limited by the need to remain local when before they might have travelled further afield to go for a walk.
Any walk can be a stimulus, opening up another setting outside our own immediate one. Simply going through the door and walking along can draw us out of ourselves and creat ea sense of purpose. More and more people find that walking can boost mood or ease depression: if you can only steel yourself to open that door and set off.
If you walk one particular way regularly, you get to witness time gradually move on, little by little through the year. A friend was saying how she likes to walk by the sea every day, seeing sea and sky alike in all their different moods. Walking just one local patch can be as helpful as walking in different places, for I find that I notice little changes I might miss if I walked more different routes. By simply covering the ground you can notice a lot. I used to know someone who liked to walk barefoot on occasion. She felt free that way, connected to the earth. I don’t think I’ll be kicking off my shoes anytime soon, but walking is still an elemental experience: feeling the wind rush over you, hearing the rain fall, looking and seeing.
Walking can even become an art form. This is seen most famously in the work of land artist Richard Long, who turns his walks into art. Sometimes he creates an actual artwork on the route, like an arrangement of stones. But his main focus is the way he records his walks using maps and photography, which he has exhibited all over the world. Maybe they are powerful partly because they build memory of a walk, which could be a transitory, fleeting event soon forgotten. They’re also powerful because they show that walking can spur us to be creative. Writer Robert Macfarlane has reflected how walking can make us think, learn, see and create – and how it can also so exhaust us that we are too weary to do any of these.
Walking can be so simple an act that we might overlook the impacts it can have. But obviously it is not always simple at all. For some people, walking is physically impossible, while for others it is an enormous struggle as illness, disability or age limit mobility. Or you might find little freedom or opportunity to get outdoors. You are not forgotten.