Samuel Johnson once said “To improve the golden moment of opportunity, and catch the good that is within our reach, is the great art of life.” I’ve been feeling a tad tired and grumpy the last day or so, cooped up in a small office with five others looking at a screen and making tiny wrist movements with a mouse, and under other circumstances I might have looked at a half hour walk on a damp winter evening as a drag, but luckily I saw it as a blessing.
Martin and I always walk on our holidays, and when courting, spent many happy days walking on the Gower coast. I took up running just under two years ago, and this has become a wonderful part of my life – I feel so much more connected to my body, and often feel it’s thanking me for taking it out into the fresh air and giving it a chance to breathe and get out of breath, to allow the blood to flow and the heart to beat faster.
My mother, now nearly ninety, used to walk three miles to school and back as a small child, and I’ve met others of her generation who had similar experiences. When our son was small we often drove up to High Beeches, in Epping Forest, on Sundays for a walk through the beautiful tall trees followed by a snack at the biker’s hut. Walking is a great joy – you can do it alone or with friends, and it’s free. There are so many public footpaths in the High Weald – I know I’d rather be walking under trees, looking across fields and listening to birdsong than tramping on a static running-machine. If I manage to get a little walk in before work, it always helps me get my day in proportion, and to right-size me in relation to the world around me. After all, I’m an integral part of the natural world, a human animal.
I once heard the German film director Werner Herzog talking on the radio about his love of walking, and how he had walked across the Alps to propose to his girlfriend. He also, when he heard in 1974 that an old friend was seriously ill and on the verge of death, walked from Munich to Paris to visit her, honouring his hope that she would still be alive when he arrived. He wrote of this journey in Of Walking in Ice, but sadly it’s out of print in the English version. If I ever get round to improving my German, I’ll buy it!