We call it “hiking” here in the United States, but in Britain, where everything is understated (Would you like a cup of tea? Answer: “I wouldn’t say no…”), it’s just called “walking,” no matter the terrain. The Brits take their walking seriously. There are, in fact, roughly 140,000 miles of protected, marked, and mapped public footpaths throughout England and Wales. Many are centuries old and existed before roads. One, the Ridgeway, which runs roughly east-west along a chalk ridge across south-central England, has been in constant use for 5,000 years!
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere in these blogs, a decade or so ago I decided to go for a walk in England. It took three and a half months and I covered nearly 1,400 miles—almost entirely on public foot paths that led me, happily, jauntily, through exquisite countryside.
Here’s what I learned about long-distance walking: within a week or so it becomes clear that this is what we humans are meant to do. Given our mostly sedentary lives, it’s easy to forget this is what we are uniquely designed for—moving rhythmically across space and through time, arms and legs swinging not in tandem but in opposition, for balance. We don’t need to watch our feet; our eyes focus far ahead, our mind takes in the world through which we pass and records it. Our feet follow automatically. It can be a remarkably intimate and magical connection with the landscape and every living thing in it. Surprise and delight wait around every bend. The experience is so vivid, so visceral that, for example, to this day I can recount the mostly pastoral world through which I walked for more than three months almost blade of grass by blade of grass. It’s a movie in my head.
Walking seems the most natural thing in the world…but of course it isn’t. It takes a toddler months of crawling and falling to master it. Being perpendicular to the ground, essentially a pillar of bones, is perilous; we are at constant risk of injury. But the benefits are obvious: speed, endurance, and the ability to see to the far horizon. We are the only primates that are no longer knuckle walkers, and this evolutionary twist took us out of Africa and to the ends of the earth. Want to experience freedom and joy daily? Take a hike/walk.
Footnote: My three-year battle with cancer, successful at last, has left me weak and wobbly as a town drunk. But I’m persistent. And determined. I already have another long walk in England planned. Maybe not three months long this time, and maybe not with a fifty-pound backpack. But it will happen…as soon as this miserable pandemic passes!
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.