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.