“There is nothing like walking to get the feel of a country. A fine landscape is like a piece of music; it must be taken at the right temp. Even a bicycle goes too fast.” – Paul Scott Mowrer
Life moves quickly. Before we know it, the week has flown by, then the weekend, then several weeks, then months. All the inventions of cars and airplanes did is move us faster from one location to the next.
The first time my hubby and I flew from one side of the world to the other, it was a strange experience in some ways, finding ourselves 8,000 miles from home in a matter of hours. It was convenient, but back in the Golden Age of Travel one would have felt, after taking a train, then a ship, then perhaps a local steamer or another train, that one had really voyaged.
I love a good road trip, which is a way to explore the landscape between here and there rather than just hurrying across it 35,000 feet in the air. But even better, if you have the time and health, is to walk it. Or at least some of it. The way to get to really know a place is to wander it on foot.
When hubby and I joined a tour group to Egypt many years ago, we spent the first couple of days in Cairo riding around on a tour bus from place to place. Of course we got off the bus and explored famous sites, but we still felt like we were inside a fish bowl. It wasn’t until the third day, when we had leisure time, that we got the chance to walk the streets of the city, to dodge the crazy traffic, smell the aromas from the cafes and mingle with the people who lived there. Our feet may have been very dusty at the end of the day, from the ever-present sand blowing in from the surrounding desert, but we’d seen more of the real, modern Cairo to help us put all the spectacular ancient monuments into context.
We had a similar experience in Tahiti many years later. Our beach resort outside of the airport town of Fa’a was beautiful, and our overwater bungalow fantastic, but some of our favourite memories were leaving the resort to walk down the hill and over to the local mall to buy wine and pastries for our room. Cars and buses rolling past, families in their homes, a vendor on the side of the road burning the leftover husks of coconuts he was selling, people at the mall buying shoes and Halloween decorations (surprisingly, Halloween is really big there) – these were all aspects of Tahitian life we’d never have known if we’d stayed on the resort grounds.
And that’s the point of walking, whether it’s around a city like London, England, and having lunch in a pub or finding an umbrella shop or a good bookstore, or walking through a botanical garden to experience the scents and colours of the flora, or going on a long hike: you see life much more intimately. You see details that become engraved in your memory because they’re so wonderful and unexpected. You can’t really know a place unless you see it up close and personal.
In the midst of our Canadian winter, when it’s difficult to stay out long because the cold begins to seep through your clothes and turn your nose into an icicle, I’m dreaming of the warmth returning in just a few weeks, and being able to let my feet take me on adventures again. I want to see the early crocus and daffodils poking out of the ground at our local botanical garden. I want to hear birds chirping again, feel mild breezes ruffle my hair. I want to be out in the world again, not just sheltering inside as blizzards blow and ice coats everything.
In England, wise people have been working on a network of walking routes around the entire country to connect every village, town and city. It’s called the Slow Ways initiative, and I think it’s brilliant.
If you’ve never had a chance to explore the British countryside, I recommend you do it as soon as possible. It looks like the pictures you’ve seen, seriously, with winding lanes and sheep and hedgerows and fields of heather. My hubby and I have been to England many times, and the most country walking we’ve done was while we stayed at two farmhouse B&Bs in Yorkshire, when for a short while we got to pretend we lived in such a bucolic landscape. I hope one day we can return and do more extensive walking.
After a good walk, seeing animals scampering through the woods, crab apples ripening on trees, burbling water mysteriously appearing and disappearing, when the fresh air has blown all the cobwebs out of your head, you’ve earned a cup of hot tea and a hearty meal, and maybe even a brownie or a piece of pie for dessert. Life doesn’t get much better than that.
Hubby and I did a half-day hike on a sunny afternoon in the Hooker Valley in New Zealand. We saw rare birds, all kinds of spring flowers, silver-grey streams tinted by mountain minerals. We crossed suspension bridges and even witnessed two small avalanches on Aoraki, the peak that Edmund Hillary practiced on before he made his historic ascent of Mount Everest. When we returned to the National Park Visitor Centre, we had tea and burgers in the Old Mountaineers’ Café, looking out onto the mountains amid a plethora of vintage gear and the spirits of the intrepid climbers who braved the mountains over the decades.
If you’re looking for a walking holiday, you can read much more about it in the BBC article The plan to connect every British town, and on the Slow Ways website.
For inspiration about exploring more of the world on foot, check out the BBC’s travel site called Slowcomotion.
Garden paths, hiking paths, small roads and longer ones – they all take us to new places, or new views and impressions of places we’ve been before. Slow down and enjoy the journeys.