It has often struck me, as we saunter through the idyllic valley that lies close to Sapperton, a few miles from our home, that walking is a vastly underrated activity. I silently express my gratitude to the broadcasting corporations for keeping away those who would rather watch live darts, snooker of horse racing on television than stretch their legs.
I guess that many people shun walking as a form of recreation because its benefits are rather subtle and do not deliver the fixes of entertainment, excitement or instant gratification that they crave. Many avoid walking in the rain, proclaiming that the conditions are miserable or commenting on how filthy it is outside. I take the opposite view, finding only happiness in rain-walking, which cleanses the soul as well as the dusty streets.
The physical health benefits of walking are well understood, if somewhat underestimated. I suspect the wider therapeutic impact, including positive effects on our state of mind, are overlooked by most. In the right circumstances walking is equivalent to an active form of meditation. Indeed, static meditation often starts with one’s imagined presence in pastoral surroundings or on a quiet beach, listening to the birdsong or waves. Whether walking or sitting in quiet contemplation, the subject can achieve inner calm equally well.
There is plenty to occupy the mind while walking, if quiet reflection is not the goal. The view is constantly changing, but slowly rather than in the manner of a fraught action drama. The intensity of awareness rises and falls depending on the environment and there is the opportunity for creative thought or problem-solving. Sometimes profound ideas materialise, as they might while taking a shower. A companion offers the possibility of stimulating conversation.
The Knot Garden is thankful that walking is one of the world’s most underrated activities. Walking loses some of its appeal when one is buffeted by crowds or has to dodge aggressive commuters, as places such as Victoria Station require.