I have walked all my life, not just a stroll round the streets, but proper walking. From when I can first remember I walked. Whether along the beaches of Northumberland, the steep climb up to the Haven at St Abbs or in the Lake District. Here my Dad’s first thoughts were not what walk his child could do but simply which fell we would climb. Oddly enough I was slow learning to walk. My mother claimed I never made it to my feet before the age 2, spending most of the time shuffling around on my backside.
I now walk for a living and enjoy it. There are a number of reasons (many obvious) but ten seemed like an appropriate number.
I believe the landscape of Britain is as good as anything in the world; it may not be as dramatic as the Himalaya, as breathtakingly pretty as Austria or as weirdly different as the desert lands but it is close. Many of our mountains are stunning, particularly when combined with a coastline. The villages and rolling landscape of the Dales are unique, as are the barren moors; throw in a dose of history and our ever changing seasons and weather. then Britain becomes a wonderful option.
What also helps set us apart is the relatively small area of countryside in which these pleasures exist; it is easy to drive from the dramatic to the soothing in a few hours. It takes little more than an hour to drive from one end of the Lake District to another.
It is why I detest wind farms so much, it will not take a lot to wreck this beautiful landscape.
I enjoy walking on my own but I also enjoy walking with others, friends and those I have never met. When I am with people for up to 12 hours in a day (3 Peaks!) with little else to do but walk and talk there is an awful lot that is talked about. After the early superficial stuff when you first start a walk everyone opens up and you can have a vast array of opinions. No wonder Bill Bryson writes about people he meets as much as the walking…there are some real characters out there. I may not always agree with their views on certain things (I once guided a party of friends of Mike Ashley!) but to be honest it matters less when you share a common bond, a love of the outdoors.
And of course after the walk there is another thing in common, a good country pub
On rare occasions I have enjoyed a real wow moment, something that stands out way beyond just a good day. One that springs to mind was whilst I was walking alone on the mountains to the north of Ben Alder in Central Scotland (Beinn Eibhinn for those who know it). The weather had been shocking, 2 or 3 hours of driving rain, when suddenly the clouds just parted (as if ripped apart) and I was presented with a simply stunning panorama of mountains including the entire Grey Corries ridge, the Mamores and with the Ben supreme. It was as glorious as it was unexpected.
You don’t have to be in Scotland; the other day I took a direct descent from Buckden Pike in the Dales. In a field just above the village of Buckden I was confronted with a stunning view down Langstrothdale, made perfect by the late winter sun. I sat there for 20 minutes just enjoying the shadows changing as the sun dropped slowly behind the mountains. I have climbed Buckden a number of times but this view surprised me. Magic.
I have always enjoyed ‘completing’ lists and ticking things off. Whether it was Pannini stickers, pubs, football grounds or mountains, having a list has always driven me on. I have lists of walks, lists of mountains and lists of places to visit that I am gradually trawling my way through. I need a focus to a walk; to me it enhances the pleasure to achieve something when out and about. Ticking off Munros, Wainwrights, the Dales 30 are all intensely satisfying….. but so too is circling all the lakes of the Lake District. A challenge drives you on.
It drives the family mad (although they are used to it) when we end up driving along never ending, winding country roads just to find a trig point a mere 100 yards away.I leap out the car, return 5 minutes later (probably muddy or scratched), all to add another tick in a book. These are the “Marilyns”…find out more.
I make no pretence for enjoying maps. The detail, the scale and the attractiveness of both O/S and Harvey maps put the rest of the world to shame. No one should get lost in Britain; those that do have not gone walking with, or understood how to use, a paper map. This is not an anti technology rant but there is no way looking at a device can give the perspective, lie of the land or information a paper one can.
A new map of a new area is a pleasure. Spreading a map out in front of a fire and planning a walk is a real delight. Relating the map to the land comes with experience but before long anyone should be able to open a map and picture the landscape you are planning to walk in. Whether it is an area you are going to visit or your local area I would urge you to buy a map today.
Having a good walk in the fresh air does, without doubt, make you feel better. I always feel fitter and in better humour after a day (or part day, it does not have to be long) when I have been out walking.In contrast a day sat facing my pc or on the phone makes me grumpy and flat. Even if the weather is bad and the walk itself is not much fun the fresh air and exercise does give a feeling of well being and satisfaction. Add to this the fact that walking is good for you and, even having a pint or 2 at the end of the day, comes without guilt.
It is not just the body that benefits but the mind as well.
Breaking away from a day indoors does create a chance to think. Sat in front of a computer all day makes Jack a dull boy. Getting outdoors and letting your mind wander is extremely beneficial for generating ideas and putting problems in to perspective. I can wake up in the morning having worried, for example, about how the bad weather will affect people I have booked on a pre planned itinerary.An early morning walk though changes negative to positive, the bad weather will push over by lunch so the afternoon will be lovely, these people will love it!
Thinking is at its best when you are on your own, miles away from anywhere on some lonely summit. There are no distractions, no people just hours in the fresh air.
As I mentioned earlier I was brought up with walking, its what I do! If I was brought up playing tennis I would have loved tennis, if it was music I would be obsessed with music but it is not, it is walking. Once ingrained on my psyche it proved impossible to shift (aside from a few rebellious teenage years) and I have sought the fells ever since. When I worked in London I got the overnight sleeper for weekend walking on my own in Scotland, I used to drive friends for weekends to the Lakes arriving late Friday night; even when I moved Manchester was not good enough, I wanted to live in the countryside.
I can now walk from the door and 5 minutes later there is not a soul to be seen, However I still feel there is more to see, more to climb, more to learn about the countryside, a new view in a different season. I can’t shift that feeling and to be honest do not want to.
There is a primeval instinct in us to crave adventure and excitement. In this day and age it is not easy to find. Pushing yourself whilst out walking brings on a real buzz, the adrenaline kicks in and you become a different person. If the walk is challenging the senses are heightened. I have not felt so aware and alert for many years as when myself and Alistair were caught in a blizzard on Braeriach.
It does not have to be extreme, everyone’s buzz is different. I have a friend who gets a thrill from finding wild mushrooms, another who’s joy is simply being able to get to places in a wheelchair she never thought she would be able to visit again or others who have taken a navigation course to give them the confidence to create their own adventure.
Probably the main reason I walk! Anyone with a dog knows that, whatever the weather, a dog needs to be walked twice a day (Mist demands three) and you can’t live with the guilt of not doing this. If you ever need to encourage people to walk more buy them a dog (caveat…they must like dogs and have the time to walk them!). Mist is my companion most of the time and the pleasure she gets and I get watching her antics make pretty much every walk worthwhile. She is always happy and eager which rubs off on me.
These are my guilty pleasures of walking, other people have different ones. As it becomes more expensive to travel abroad I just hope a few more people enjoy the delights of our own countryside.
Enjoy your walking
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