The Joys of the Walk

Walking, without a doubt, has become my salvation. I’ll admit, I’ve always been a particular fan. I’m one of those freaks who not only willingly chose to do Gold DofE (a British award scheme that culminates in an excruciating, often very wet, 4-day hike up and down the best ‘wild country’ the UK has to offer), but actually genuinely enjoyed it too. However, on a day-to-day basis, before all our worlds were violently turned inside out, I found the twenty-minute walk during my commute to school was more than enough. Of course, as with many things over the past year, that changed. Now, I can’t imagine a single day without my government ordained ‘daily walk’, and on the rare days I’ve been unavoidably shut up inside crisising my way through an essay, I’ve felt its loss like the absence of the sun on a particularly grey day.

Perhaps the first benefit of walking that comes to mind is exercise. It is, after all, part of the now familiar ‘outdoor activities’ subsection that allows us to flee the house. Certainly, I’ve felt the physical benefits; my back doesn’t ache and gripe like it used to, my legs are more toned, I feel stronger, as though my levels of physical stamina have slowly but surely improved. All movement, really, gifts us this, as well as being a powerful antidote to the feeling of stagnancy that always seems to settle after a period of sitting a little too still. To shake off a state of static and just move does a lot for the heart, in both its literal and more metaphorically emotional sense.

Now, I can’t imagine a single day without my government ordained ‘daily walk.’

Yet the question, which my Dad (an exercise aficionado) often asks, hovers: why walk? Why not go for a run or something? After all, it’s quicker, it gets your blood pumping faster, it will define your muscles just that much more. My answer was always simple. Running tires me out, I’ve never been one for cardio. I’d intended to start this term, before realising I forgot to pack my running shoes- clearly, some higher power decided I should hold off for a few more months. But now I see things differently, and I see walking in a whole new and radiant light. Walking, for me, holds the panacea for much of (though of course, never all) the ills of modern life. To slow down, to amble through green nature, soaking in the sun and breathing fresh air does more for my wellbeing than I could ever have imagined in a different, more ‘normal’ time.

Of course, to get out into nature is a privilege open only to some. Those of us living in urban cities will know the frustrations of trying to find an open space that actually manages to take you away from the noise of traffic, the mars of litter and refuse, and into a space ungoverned by the concrete grids of the omnipotent City Planner. Yet even in the most industrial of places, nature persists, and thrives. As I walk through the graffitied streets of South East London, where I live, I can’t help but smile as I notice the moss seeping across brickworks, the unruly ivy that climbs the blank face of housing estates, the dandelions and daisies that peep unbidden between the cracks of the pavement. Indeed, one of the many gifts of walking is in fact it’s particular power to make you notice, to see the innocuous and unobserved in all its minute glory. As we rush to lectures, classes, dates, and parties, we tend to keep hermetically wrapped in our own thoughts; a cloud of worries, memories, and phantom futures obscures our eyes.

To walk, slowly and carefully, allows us to really see, and in doing so to become better acquainted with this strange world we all inhabit. I find it helps me to feel connected; it grounds me. As sick as I know you all are of the word ‘mindfulness’ (sorry!), the act of bringing your attention out, and into a state of observation of the physical world, allows the brain a break. Especially at Oxford, where most of our days are spent furiously thinking (or trying to, at least), such a respite, however brief, is vital. For me, it’s my sanity.

To slow down, to amble through green nature, soaking in the sun and breathing fresh air does more for my wellbeing than I could ever have imagined in a different, more ‘normal’ time.

During these times especially, walking connects us in other, less abstract ways. With it being quite literally illegal to socialise face to face in any other way, walking allows you to spend time with a friend and bask in the particular joy of an in-person conversation. The intimacy the paired walk brings, for me, feels new. Almost always I’d be in a group if I was walking somewhere, with a polyphony of voices and laughter filling the air. Now, walks are quieter, and there’s no third or fourth act to swoop in when conversation stills. You have to connect, and you have to really listen, which I love. Restrictions on travel, too, means that many of us find ourselves suddenly limited in choice, unable to take the bus, tube, or train straight to all our closest friends. Being forced to branch out and to walk with the friends who I’d only been with within a group has brought me surprisingly close to those I’d otherwise never have really known- it’s amazing what you can learn when the company of others isn’t there to interrupt.

As Spring finally blossoms into being once again, the outside world grows more and more inviting. The air is warmer. Breathe deeply, and you’ll catch the sweet smell of nectar from the newly blooming flowers. And if, like me, you often find yourself chained to your desk until the evening during busy weeks, the increasingly clear night skies offer up a dazzling host of stars to marvel at.

So, what are you waiting for? Time to get out and walk.

Autthaporn Pradidpong via Unsplash