Magazine article Geographical

Talking the Walk: Malcolm Tait, Editor of the Walker's Companion, Explains Why the Essence of Walking Is Actually All in the Mind, before Introducing His Pick of the Literary Extracts and Snippets of Advice He Unearthed While Compiling the Companion

Magazine article Geographical

Talking the Walk: Malcolm Tait, Editor of the Walker's Companion, Explains Why the Essence of Walking Is Actually All in the Mind, before Introducing His Pick of the Literary Extracts and Snippets of Advice He Unearthed While Compiling the Companion

Article excerpt

We might only have one word for snow, but when it comes to the most popular of pastimes, the British boast a lexicon. We stroll, amble and saunter; we wander, stride and meander. We hoof it, step out and put our best foot forward; we trudge, shuffle and lumber along. When we're really in the mood, we've even been known to perambulate.

Sometimes the pace changes, but the deed itself is pretty straightforward: one foot is temporarily placed in front of the other, the latter overtaking LO its turn, and the simple cycle continues until either extreme exhaustion or the destination is reached. So why so many definitions?

The truth is, walking isn't really about ... well ... walking. The ambler looks pretty much like the wanderer, except for what's in his or her head. "Saw you out for a stroll, yesterday." "No, actually, I was meandering." Your style of walk is, in fact, a state of mind.

Walking is being with yourself without having to be self-conscious about it (if that's not a contradiction in terms). It's lounging in the bath without someone knocking on the door; it's standing alone on the shore of the wide world to think, without being arrested for loitering. Like smokers who use cigarettes as the justification to step outside the office for ten minutes, walkers have an in-built excuse to turn their back on the oppressive, day-to-day world. Shouting the phrase "I'm going for a walk" as you slam the door has far more gravitas than yelling, "I'm going to stand on the street corner for half an hour and kick an old tin can around."

And, of course, it's all done with moving pictures. The farther you walk, the more the world changes around you, fuelling your thoughts and stimulating your imagination, like an unobtrusive friend. Polar explorers and mountaineers have often reported that they felt as if there was an extra member of their party accompanying them as they trudged along, as if their subconscious were compensating for the lack of freshness in their monotonous scenery.

Every path you follow, every corner you turn, leads you to new discoveries, I once rounded the bend of a thorny woodland to come face to kneecap with a giraffe that was doing the same. I was walking in the Okavango Delta, so the surprise, although great, was lessened, but such gasping moments are just as powerful whatever the new vista that opens before you. A sun-spangled loch upon which two brilliant red-throated divers are displaying; an attack from a speckled wood butterfly along a woodland ride; a field of snow in which yours will be the virgin human footprints: these and countless others are the pleasure that walkers have before them.

Whether, like the great and grumpy essayist William Hazlitt, you prefer to walk alone "and vegetate like the country" or, like Gabriel Josipovici's character Jack Toledano, the only time to talk is when walking, is up to you. But there is one walking definition that is rarely used today. Rammelen is a Middle Dutch word meaning to wander around like an animal in a state of sexual excitement. Oddly enough, we use a derivation of that word today. There may be more to the Ramblers' Association than meets the eye.

Yes, walking, in all its forms, is what you make of it. And remember: whatever you do get from your walking, the British have a word for it.

Bear facts

Polar bears can cover enormous distances during the winter when the Arctic sea is frozen. One female polar bear who was fitted with a radio collar astounded scientists when she roamed over an area of 78,000 square kilometres.

In Canada, polar bears hunt seals in the spring, until the breaking ice forces them ashore, where there's nothing to eat. There they wander around in a starving stupor--known locally as a 'walking hibernation'--until the ice reforms.

Walking in all weather

Not until I went out could I tell that it was softly and coldly raining. Everything more than two or three fields away was hidden. …

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