I’ve never done anything but dream. This, and this alone, has been the meaning of my life. My only real concern has been my inner life. FERNANDO PESSOA

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Walking Is Intimate

I've just finished rereading John Hillaby's Journey Through Britain (1968), a book I've written about before on this blog. This was one of the very first books which turned me on to what has become one of the greatest pleasures in my life: propelling one foot in front of the other through landscape. It's a classic account - entertaining, witty, and very well written - of a 1200 mile solo walk from Land's End to John o' Groats, from the extreme south to the extreme north of Britain. Reading this book in my teenage years fired my imagination, and I dreamed of following in his footsteps. Forty years on I still haven't managed to retrace his route. But I have done a fair amount of walking elsewhere. Near the end of the book Hillaby attempts to analyse why walking across his country had been such a special, rewarding and unique way to get the feel it:

What had it all amounted to? Why hadn't I spent more time seeing fewer places more leisurely, using a car here and there? I finished the journey as I had started two months earlier, that is by asking myself a lot of questions. The difference was I could now answer some of those I had thought most about. Part of the journey could certainly have been done more easily by car, but it would have been an entirely different journey. Roads are all more or less alike. Walking is intimate; it releases something unknown in any other form of travel and, arduous as it can be, the spring of the ground underfoot varies as much as the moods of the sky. By walking the whole way I got a sense of gradual transition from one place to another, a feeling of unity. The mosaic of my own country and its people had become a sensible pattern.

8 comments:

George said...

I always find a gift in your postings, SW, and thanks for this one. I'm ordering Hillaby's book immediately, assuming that it's still in print. I think I will take it on my coast-to-coast walk. It should be a great little companion when I return from each day's hike, unable to do little more than read.

The Solitary Walker said...

The book's a little gem. It is OP, but you should be able to find plenty of second-hand copies on Amazon.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

I think walking is, indeed, the most intimate way to learn and explore a land. There's a physicality involved that's simply not present with any other mode of travel. The walker experiences time and distance and geography on a human scale; you become, albeit temporarily, a feature of that landscape in the same, unchanged way we humans have been doing since our creation. The experience is elemental to our race, to the knowledge of who and what we are, informed and shaped by what we bring to the challenge—skill, experience, fear, physical issues, intellect, and any valid understanding of where and what we're walking through.

Walking is a physical, mental, and spiritual endeavor, blessedly devoid of technology—aside from a handy and companionable stick.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I read this years ago - maybe it is time to re read it - there is something to be said about reading about walking rather than doing it when you get to my age!

Tramp said...

His descriptions of the people he met on the way are what I remember from this book.
...Tramp

Anonymous said...

George, My thoughts exactly! and SW, thanks for the info..I loved the line about the feel underfoot changing with each step. Has me thinking all anew about travels and hikes I've taken...Karin

The Solitary Walker said...

Tramp, his anecdotal encounters with shepherds, pipers, pub landlords etc are memorable parts of the book, aren't they? Better, I think, than the summarised, informative, historical bits which can be a little drier and difficult to follow sometimes. Hillaby can be quite curmudgeonly and rascally at times - which, together with his wit and humour, add to the book's piquancy. I like his style - which is often quite anti-romantic, though 'poetry' also seeps in. His mixture of 'blunt' and 'soft' styles of expression is quite appealing, I think.

Thyanks everyone for your comments.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this post. It does explain why for some people walking is like a meditation or spiritual practice.

Gleaner