Every day, I walk. 3, 5, 8 miles. These days it is mainly to exercise the dog. Holly is a Springer Spaniel/Border Collie cross. A Sprollie! Being 15 months old and a cross of two energetic breeds, she demands a lot of exercise. So, I walk. In sunshine, rain, snow, wind, hail, sleet, calm, warm, cold, clear, misty, bright, dull. Whatever. Sometimes just me and Holly. Often with my wife too. Occasionally with my teenage son. Sometimes I meet other people with dogs. Sometimes I don’t. When I do meet other people with dogs, some of them like to walk and talk. Some prefer to pause for a chat. It is nice to meet other dog owners. Holly has lots of dog friends with whom she likes to play. I enjoy watching her play with the other dogs and some of the other dog owners have become good friends.
But, I am equally happy when there is nobody else about and Holly and I am left to walk on our own. Then, I can walk at my own pace. Set my own agenda. Plot my own course. Nevertheless, I follow the same routes most days. I have four basic walks that I cover, adding the odd variation when the fancy takes me. I don’t get bored. I love seeing how the same path is different each day. Parched and cratered in the summer, the same path at this time of year, after a day’s rain, is a thick, muddy soup. The light, spring in the step is replaced by a hesitant suck as the sticky earth holds on to the traveller’s foot. Sandals and trainers are replaced by Wellington boots and damp socks. T shirts lie beneath waterproof layers. A cold wind shouts for me to cover my head and I indulge my weakness for hats and caps. I don’t mind walking in the rain. It holds a meditative quality. Your hood is pulled tight around your face. You can’t hear your neighbour speak. Words are lost somewhere between wind and water. Conversation is pointless. Your world shrinks to the tunnel of your hood. The piece of ground before your feet. Attention draws inwards. Ideas arise and are chewed over. Rain walking is productive for writers. There is a correlation between motion and thought. The slow, steady pace of walking (especially in the rain) steadies the mind. As the feet make progress across the land, as random steps combine to form a route, as a destination becomes apparent, so scraps of ideas wandering at the edge of consciousness slowly find a place. In short, walking helps me think.
Walking also connects me to place. Walking the same route each day. Noticing the changes. Some subtle. The change in the quality of light as the days lengthen. The growing confidence in the bird song. The buds’ winter fur replaced by glossy shine. Some more obvious. The sudden curtain call of snowdrops. The splintered wound of shattered limb after the storm. The awareness of place grows with time. Old haunts do not run out of charm. Rather, they gather depth and richness. More careful inspection rewarded by infinite detail. Until I reach the point where I begin to realise what William Blake may have been getting at:
“To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour”
Walking is important to me because it welds thought to place. I find as I walk that, far from becoming lost in thought, my thinking becomes more substantial, more concrete. Rather than ending adrift in a formless world of my own, my attention becomes more acute. There is an interplay between my minds work and the world of forms around me. As my ideas gather pace, so does my gait. Covering ground faster, I step towards a conclusion. This does not happen if I travel by car, nor train, nor bicycle. Not even if I run. There is something about walking. The pace. The feel of the earth beneath my feet. Pace. The kiss of air upon my face. Pace. The lack of hurry. Pace. The human scale. Pace. I walk and it calms me. I walk and it connects me. I walk and find home. I walk and the universe collapses to the length of my stride. I walk and find that this place where I find myself. This soggy, wind beaten isle. This unknown county. This border-land between. This small town. This boggy field. Holds it all.