In recent months I’ve read a number of writers who are (or perhaps more accurately ‘were’ as four of them are dead!) walkers. Thoreau, John Clare, Nan Shepherd, Anthony Nanson, Robert McFarlane, John Powys. I’m looking for more, especially women writing about walking, so do please make suggestions if you have any.
Go back as little as fifty years and walking for transport was a good deal more normal. Read some of the older writers on walking and it’s obvious that while people walked when they had to, most would do no more than was necessary. These different walking authors have, in different times and places, walked because they had to for reasons of a different kind of necessity; because they felt a need to move in open spaces. Around them, neighbours were bemused by what they did, by this need to stretch legs beneath the sky.
I am inclined to suspect that in settled human history, walking because you must has been the norm, while a calling to walk is something rare. As someone inclined to saunter, I find it hard to imagine why anyone wouldn’t choose to do that, but reading these authors it’s clear that the people around them do not share their passion. They are oddities. For a long time I’d harboured the idea that we were perhaps a few hundred years away from a time when people were joyfully out in the natural world, but my romantic fantasy is not supported by the available evidence. Walking as a hobby for the rich only came in the wake of the romantic poets and the idea of picturesque landscape, but I’d thought the poor walked.
My family in various branches, has produced walkers. Not just my parents and sibling, but my grandmother and great grandmother on my maternal side, while on my mother’s father’s side, the tradition of the Sunday walk was an important one. I don’t know much about my father’s people in that regard.
The rhythm of walking has an effect on the rhythm of thinking and the flow of thoughts. I don’t think it’s any accident that authors are drawn to walking (the list of walker authors I can think of is longer than the above, and has a lot of poets in it) and I know that walking creates an urge to crafting language, at least in me.