The idea is a very simple one: commit to walking 1,000 miles in a year. It sounds like such a long way, but it's less than three miles a day. Who among the ambulant of us cannot walk three miles in a day?
And for those with physical restrictions on their ability to walk: I'm sure it can be adapted – a lower target, mileage on wheels, whatever. The only point is to get out of the door and explore.
I'm all for adapting the challenge to be what you want it to be.
A friend of mine picked it up and took it very seriously. She does much better than I do. She's older but fitter and has more free time…but also realises that maybe taking it too seriously isn't the right approach. Following unrelated hip problems, she's now easing back a little. A friend of hers had a few life-issues to deal with and decided that she could use the 1,000 mile challenge to get back into running – and by all reports is now much happier with herself than she has been for years. Love that!
As for me: I start my walking year on my birthday – mainly because it's a natural turning of my year, but also deliberately because it puts me out of synch with anyone else doing the challenge. It makes the challenge purely personal rather than competitive. I get irritated when things which are supposed to be fun are turned into competitive sports. That's not how I walk. I'm not interested in ticking off the hills, or doing more miles than everyone else, or more quickly, or in more isolated and challenging places – even though I do love walking in the hills, the more remote the better, and I do measure my mileage afterwards.
But that's just for my own amusement, motivation, enjoyment and inspiration – the only person I'm interested in beating is my lazier self.
So I start on my birthday. So far as I am concerned it counts as a walk if its combined distance is over a mile in length and if in other circumstances I might have taken a car or a bus or a train. It doesn't matter where or why...if I'm walking two miles to the office or the station, yep that counts. Two and half miles round trip to the supermarket – yep, I'm having that too. Apart from anything else, it makes me think of it as "a walk". It suggests that perhaps if I bothered to look around a 'commute' might become...ok, an adventure is a stretch too far, but an exploration definitely. Hunt out the street art as well as the private and public works visible from the pavement. Be open to being inspired by grafitti, or pleased at a stranger's smile, or a skittering child.
I am utterly low tech about measurement: I use an ancient mecahnical map-measure and pocket calculator to work out distances. So it's not super-accurate? A test run by the aforementioned magazine a few issues back suggested that none of the available measurement tools are accurate – and really, if we care that much - then I suggest we need stronger "interventions" than going for a walk. My maps and map-measure are close enough for jazz.
For all my laissez-faire attitude to the approach, I am aiming to walk 1,000 miles in a year. I've never yet reached target. My best year to date was 787 miles. I take heart because that was last year, a year in which I didn't actually 'do much walking' because I was focussed on completing my degree, changing jobs and stopping my house from falling down. If I walk more this year than I did last, that will be a good thing. If I don't, then every walk that I do feel inspired or motivated to do will still be a very good thing.
It obviously helps when commencing a challenge of this kind to engineer things so that the first couple of weeks give you the best possible kick-start. I did so this year by having one week completely free and a second week with lots of both free time and incidental walking opportunity. It worked. 20 miles ahead of target by month end.
But let's stop worrying about the numbers and talk about the walking. Where have I been this month and what was wonderful about?
At home, I've been wandering around the marsh, along the river and through the City parks.
I had my first autumn beach walk. By autumn I don't mean a time of year. I mean that post-barefoot-season. The first walk on the sands where I didn't actually feel the sand between my toes and wandering into the water felt like a really bad idea, so I didn't do that either. I mean when the beach and sky and the sea all contrive to be a disheartening lumpy grey and the best of it is the sound of the waves on the shingle and the lonesome cry of the gull.
A couple of days later, Autumn Glory ignited…all it took was a day of sunshine…and the murk is banished in a blaze of golden leaves and raindrop diamonds on blades of grass out on the marsh. Willows weep along the river and city parks provided a moment of meditation in a labyrinth walk, reinforced by a Yoga-cat who made me smile.
Ahead of national tree week and tree-dressing day, I found pompoms in the cemetery and ribbons by the river…in memory, in prayer, in hope, who knows. This may be part of the new tradition instituted by ''Common Ground'' in the 1990s, or it may be purely personal. With all the religion-based strife in the world, I am always comforted by something as pagan as honouring a tree, a symbol of our connection to the earth, and through it to everything else. I love the frivolity of tree-dressing, which is why I will be hauling out the dusty decorations in a week or so's time and marking my own family traditions.
A wet morning in Salisbury provided an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Constable away from his Suffolk home, and to trace the history of fallen buildings in salvaged stone – salvaged in the 1300s that is, when Old Sarum was granted as a quarry for the new cathedral. I love Blumenfeld's Angels Harmony but feel it needs a better stage…the busyness of the building line behind is distracting…I wouldn’t confine it in a gallery – it's a true outside piece, but would see it in a more open space, where the movement might be better felt.
And so to London. Sometimes, we do not hear the whispers of our soul. I keep going to London. I keep going with the intention to see this gallery or that museum. I keep ending up in the Royal Parks. So it was again. From Primrose Hill, through The Regent's Park and (always but always) ending up in Hyde. Walking and wandering. Sitting and scribbling. Thinking…and not.
The Hill I discovered firstly in the dark, and then next morning shrouded in November murk, the city skyline hidden, but mown grass and straight walks and street-lamps speak to the municipality of the place. There's more wildness over the road in Regent's – a place I am only now discovering – with its untamed edges, and formal gardens, fountains, and lake, and a tiny patch of orientalism. The rough-hewn sculptures that I really want to have been cut where the trees fell, but dare not seek to know in case it's a tad more contrived than I want them to be. The sky lightens, but still the colours are mostly on the ground, in fallen leaves and robust trees still holding to their party gowns. There are times when I can understand the appeal of this season of mists and mellow…
…but me, really, I'm waiting for winter.
The damp and dreich do not appeal to me. As vibrant as the trees may be in their last hurrah against the dying of the light, it is but a consolation for the dull of the skies and the waters. The early sunsets comfort but fade so quickly.
The brilliant blue of the month-ending and the first few shards of ice speak of the white harshness to come. And that, I am looking forward to.
© Lesley Mason
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