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Best foot forward

19 October 2011

by Leigh Hatts

AUTUMN is the beginning of the walking season. Too many people decide to start walking in the summer, when it can be far too hot, and then they give up. After autumn there is winter, and then spring. The countryside is always changing, and is always worth seeing again.

Walking is the most popular out­door pastime in the UK. It is good for your health, as it can reduce weight and halve the risk of a heart attack.

Walking in the countryside beats walking in towns, and sometimes you should try it alone. This allows you to listen to the silence and look at the views, wild flowers, and an­imals. Alone, in the quiet, you are more likely to see deer, rabbits, and pheasants.

If you are reluctant to walk on your own, then perhaps you could find a friend with whom you can share the silence, or talk. There needs to be a balance between worthwhile deep discussion and appreciating all that is at first hidden in the woods and waterside.

For me, walking embraces much more than putting one foot in front of the other. Indeed, I do not recom­mend walking more than ten miles a day. You need time for the long lunch at the pub. And a look round the church takes at least half an hour, if you read the guide book and look at the tombs. The historian A. J. P. Taylor was a regular walker in the Home Counties.

Walkers often prefer using public transport. Drivers are obliged to restrict themselves to a circular route. It is much more exciting to walk to somewhere, and better not to drive afterwards when tired. Being slightly tired from fresh air is exhilarating.

Do not take a mobile, unless you keep it switched off for use only in an emergency. Part of the day out is arriving home not knowing what has happened elsewhere. The bath and meal are all part of a day not to be rushed.

Is walking expensive? It need not be. Just buy a good pair of shoes, and walk around in them at home or out shopping for a few days, before setting out with a guide book or map.

The Ramblers is both a cam­paigning organisation and a club for those wanting to walk with other enthusiasts. Its website has details of waymarked walks, guide books, and local groups. The very keen can join the Long Distance Walkers Associ­ation.

The National Trails offer oppor­tunities for both short walks and holidays on foot. The Thames Path has railway stations every few miles be­tween London and Oxford. It starts in central London and be­-comes a rural towpath as early as Putney.

The Lea Valley Walk, which runs from Luton to Limehouse, also has good transport links, and allows the walker to slip into the capital down a little-known green corridor.

Is walking spiritual? It can be. Your short walks may unknowingly be training for the big one, the Camino to Santiago de Compostela. Michael Portillo, President Bush’s daughter Jenna, and Shirley Mac­Laine have done it.





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