“Walking is the great adventure, the first meditation, a practice of heartiness and soul primary to humankind. Walking is the exact balance between spirit and humility.”
~ Gary Snyder
I have lived in a rural village for the past twenty-three years, before that a city for three, and before that my childhood on the outskirts of a busy town. When you look back on your past you can see it through the lens of achievements or perhaps the people you’ve known. I like to see these places through the walks that I have taken.
In my childhood my walking consisted mostly of getting from one place to another – from home to school and back with friends, to and from ballet classes with my mother and young brother. We would sometimes visit local places like Avebury stone circle, and Savernake Forest, but mostly it is the streets of daily life that I remember. That time it snowed so much we waded through five foot drifts to get to school, only to find ourselves getting sent home again and taking two hours to walk back slugging handfuls of the icy white powder at each other and flinging ourselves into the laden verges. I remember the long walk to my dance classes in autumn. The steep hill at Lowdon was overhung with huge trees that would litter the ground. My brother and I would jump and crunch and kick our way down collecting great piles and throwing armfuls up into the sky and at each other.
In my first year of college in the city of Chester, one of my fondest memories is walking alone on Sunday mornings. I would borrow my landlord’s collie dog and take it for long walks around the Chester Roman wall. Past the horse-racing course where the bright evergreen grass contrasted with the gleaming white painted stands, down to the river Dee and the little shops where you could browse old secondhand bookshops and buy hand-painted gift cards to send home. Then across the Eastgate clock bridge that passed over the busy shopping centre where Next and Principles and other upmarket chain-stores jostled for space with the olde-worlde Medieval and Victorian facades. Past the remains of a Roman amphitheatre and Benedictine nunnery and behind the cathedral with its elaborate and grotesque carvings. Walking is the time I have felt most free, most able to absorb the history, the sights, smells and sounds of the world around me.
I have never walked as much in a place as the village I now live in. When my children were at the local school I walked the mile and a half to and from school twice a day for sixteen years. At first we had to walk along the verges at the sides of the road, jumping up on the grass when cars passed by and fearing for our lives on the hidden bend at the top of the hill. I wrote letters to the council about the need for a path. At first they said it wasn’t possible but eventually, a couple of years later, a beautiful path was laid.
Walking became a pleasure, at least most of the time. I came to realise what good it was doing both me and my children. No matter what the weather, we walked. Through hail, sleet, snow, gales and sunshine. There were sometimes tears and tantrums from us all. When the weather was particularly fierce I would resent my inability to drive, despair of the complaints of my children and we would return home thoroughly miserable. I would be envious of all the other mothers with their cars. But other days it was cold and wet and we would enjoy racing home to change our sopping clothes and have a mug of hot chocolate to warm us up. As the years passed, my attitude changed. I realised how lucky we were. Those daily walks have built stamina and a love for nature into my children and myself that I don’t think would have happened without all that trudging to and fro.
Those years of walking our way through the seasons, my children sitting in their prams, or my holding their tiny hands as they wobbled on little legs; oohing and aahing over spring lambing time at the farm on the hill; admiring the wildflowers and racing their scooters through the summer; filling faces with blackberries and exclaiming at the squirrels running along the telephone wires in autumn; or in awe over the patterns of sparkling ice on the stone paths and smiling at the robin as he hopped from fence to fence in winter. These moments, repeated year after year after year, are so ingrained in me and my children as to become a part of who we are.
Though my children don’t attend the local school anymore, we still take walks around the village together, and I often go on my own. Walking slowly, stopping to take notice of so many little things around us, the unusual weathervanes, old gates and doors, crumbling walls, the local cats, wildflowers and berries that grow in every spare nook and cranny. Even after all these years there’s always something new to see or a new way of seeing it. Walking slowly has the effect of slowing down the mind to a level where you can actually process what you are thinking, feeling and sensing. Body and mind, for a short while at least, come to settle into a rhythm of working together in tandem. The benefits of which cannot so well be described as felt. This slowing down has the effect of engraving the experience in our bones and shaping our days in a new deeper and richer way.
These photographs were taken on a recent walk around our village, we saw the spring lambs fidgeting around their mothers, met a much-loved grey cat, and took note of wildflowers of which we are trying to learn the names. A resident of the village grows flowers and vegetable seedlings to raise funds for the local school so we bought a few plants for the garden.
If you are interested in learning more about the soul enhancing aspects of walking there is a lovely essay here, and Maria Popova recommends Wunderlust, a history of walking by Rebecca Solnit: a book that has been on my pinterest board for ages, and which I hope to get my hands on soon. x