The hills are a alive with the sound of tourists, littered across the beautiful landscape, in single file, traipsing along a designated path, until they reach their designated goal where they can stand tall and breathe deep the fresh air, look at the view and traipse back down. All the while, the paths get full, the mountain deteriorates, and the sheep look on, bewildered.
That was the naive outlook I had when I was younger. Living on a farm gave me the freedom to roam the fells and so I used to despise walkers and everything they stood for. They were a symbol of rigidity, of no freedom, they were fake. They would stick to the footpaths like following rails on a ride in a theme park. Nature isn’t really nature when you’re going along a designated path.
Yet as I’ve moved away from the country I’ve found that the only way to go and experience nature is to go and join in. Once you start you gradually get assimilated into the walking community. First it's the boots, then a map, maybe a flask, woolly hat, buff, compass, and the pièce de résistance - socks pulled up over your trousers. All you need is a pipe to go ‘Full Wainwright’.
Soon, I too was feeling the terror of straying off the designated path, the paranoia of a farmer just beyond the brow of a hill waiting to shout “G’ owf my land!” and the shame of becoming another dumb tourist. Relief is finding a stile or sign post after stumbling around a field for 15 minutes trying to follow a map.
I have been so fully assimilated that when I found the stiles in Wales in shocking upkeep I felt like taking pictures and writing a strongly worded letter. Also, I can’t actually believe the amount of litter there is on footpaths. I once found McDonald’s wrappers partway up Langdale! We should take bags with us on our walks and clean that crap up.
C.S. Lewis made walking part of his daily routine:
“By two at the latest I would be on the road. Not, except at rare intervals, with a friend. Walking and talking are two very great pleasures, but it is a mistake to combine them. Our own noise blots out the sounds and silences of the outdoor world.”
I’ve tried to take daily walks during my lunch hour. Trafford Park has a footpath near a canal and it’s quite pleasant, I’ve yet to find a dead body. But it’s not the same as being on the fells. There’s something quite magical about walking up a hill when there’s no one else around. Just you and nature.
I’ve come to realise that walking is the ‘meh’ of exercise. I neither love it nor hate it. I was a walking snob but now I do it to get out of the house or as means to get to the top of the hill. Or to be with nature, well, as close as can be. A way to socialise or to be by myself.
As always I’m interested to hear what you think about walking. Have you had any nice experiences whilst walking? Do you like to walk alone or prefer company?
Right, it’s looking suitably miserable outside. Time to go and put my Merino wool socks on and join the rest of the riff raff.