As a recurrent sciatica sufferer, I have recently been engaged on a treatment programme that involves not only some pretty prohibitive restrictions (like NO SITTING!), but some very important types of exercise. One of these prescriptions gives me a chance to indulge one of my favourite pastimes – simply walking. Whether city street or country lane, walking is not only of physical benefit, it is also noted by many to induce a welcome meditative mood and an uplifting sense of invigoration.
Co-incidentally, I have found a wonderful book about walking, an inspiration, an encyclopaedia of all the historical and philosophical detail you could wish for and an engaging account of one individual’s walking experiences. The book is WANDERLUST by Rebecca Solnit and is a real treat – each time I read a passage I just want to get out and walk and think and then come home and write, write, write.
Solnit informs us that our ancestors evolved as bipedal hominids over three million years ago: one of the most charming images I’ve seen lately is that of a set of adult and infant fossilised footprints where the child seems to be running around while the adult walks in a straight line – nothing unknown there to modern humans!
It was via bi-pedalism and the consequent freeing of the upper limbs, that a more advanced manipulation of the environment became possible, followed by bigger brains, greater intelligence, wider consciousness and diversity of culture. And so to walking, as it has acquired myriad meanings across human history and cultures.
According to Solnit, many of the great philosophers walked incessantly, especially Rousseau, whose eighteenth century writings helped inspire the French Revolution and who reportedly did much of his thinking on the hoof.
Think too of the marches of the unemployed in the 1930s, civil rights and anti-war walks of the 1960s and 70s, peace walks and Buddhist walkers of the present day.
One of the most enjoyable walks I had recently was with my family at The Giant’s Ring near Belfast. A dullish day, but everyone seemed in chirpy spirits and it had been several years since our last visit to this ancient site. The path cuts right through the earthwork circle, past the standing stones at its centre, along a wooded copse and over several drumlin-like hillocks, before emerging just above the village of Edenderry. I will never forget that walk, Orla clicking merrily with her camera, the older girls chatting with us and each other. The photographs helped preserve the mystical quality of the place too. I cannot help but imagine other humans long gone, families and groups, walking to and from those stones, perhaps chanting a ritual song or lost in a reverie of belief and wonder.
The Giant's Ring Standing Stones. Picture by Orla
A stile on the Giant's Ring path. Picture by Orla.
To quote Solnit one last time,
“Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord.”
Happy Walking 🙂