Long Walks Change Your Life
Walking is medicine that cures anxiety, sparks inspiration, and brings us back to ourselves.
Yesterday, I walked in the rain from my village and down into the valley, then upwards and into the woodlands. This is my childhood village. One woodland stands above and another at the bottom of the valley. On either side of the village, farmlands blanket endless rolling hills. A patchwork of green fields bordered by hedgerows and drystone walls cut across the landscape in every direction. Wildflowers and farm animals abound, and the picture is dotted with the occasional ancient farmhouse or barn.
The late sun spilled light through the trees and onto the footpath, and every so often a grey squirrel would scurry across my path and ascend the nearest tree until out of sight. Whenever you walk into the woods it feels as if you have entered a sanctuary. Trees are mysterious to me, like gods or mystics, infinitely wiser than humans, all-knowing, all-seeing, and we can only admire them from below.
I always choose the woodlands
I could have walked anywhere, but In the woods I walk amongst my ancestors, and I am home.
The paths I most enjoy are woodlands with fallen trees and branches on the ground, and no clear footpath. You have to find your own way through a deadly labyrinth of nettles, thorns, spines, and prickles.
After walking along the narrow woodland path, I came across a lonely stream, which flowed through the heart of the woodlands and down the valley. A father watched over his young daughter, a happy girl, as she played with twigs and sticks and hopped across the stones that sat on the water. Some distance later, the trees stopped before a train track, which stretched across into the distance in a perfect straight line. When I re-entered the woodlands, I was absorbed once again by the trees, the leaves, the sprays of sunlight, the crawling insects, the wet mud, and carried on toward the village.
Eventually, after about an hour and a half of walking, I reached the end of the footpath: a cricket pitch at the top of a hill in a village called Shepley. At this point, I had a view of the entire landscape, including a full scope of my village on the hillside opposite. Beyond the village, I could see yet more farmlands and woodlands, a Victorian village church, and in the far distance, Emley Moor, a broadcasting tower that pierces through the sky and watches over every village southeast of Huddersfield.
Over the years, I must have walked this same route a thousand times, yet I’ve never tired of its charms. If one is attentive enough, every walk is an opportunity to see new sights and hear new sounds. I learn the shapes and curves of different trees and plants, and I notice how they change throughout each season. On my walks I am in a constant, slow-burning rapture.
In nature, you leave yourself behind.
Usually, I walk without a plan. I have nothing to achieve; the beauty is in the walking, in the journey itself. Suddenly, ideas arrive. Stories unfold. Meaning and purpose are restored. Beautiful words, long sentences, poetry and rhyme, answers to dreaded questions. I often regret not carrying a notepad to write my thoughts down.
In nature, you leave yourself behind. You are nobody in the woods. When faced with a particularly difficult problem, I find it’s always healthier to just get out of the house and go for a walk rather than trying to force the answer.
For in the repetition of walking you empty yourself out, free yourself of opinion and expectation, and embody once again humanity’s innate character. In this state of emptiness, your mind begins to clear. Freedom of movement stimulates the mind, bringing forth divine wisdom. A free body is a free mind; being sat in offices and cubicles day and night, makes us forever stupid and loyal customers.
I have days that require I sit inside the office or the library all day and work until the end. And on these days I always feel as if there is a small stove slowly burning in my stomach. If evening comes and I have not walked far at all, then this fire cannot be contained and I get so anxious that I cannot concentrate on even the simplest of tasks. My body’s energy does not find release through physical exertion, and transforms into worries, doubts, fears, because the untapped life force whirls and spins around my mind. The life force I should be expressing through physical exertion turns back on my body and slowly destroys me.
I take long walks because I have a body.
If I do not use my body then I become bad-tempered and apathetic. Those who concentrate solely on their intellect and leave the body behind tend to be rigid, stern characters, and unhealthy. Each of us seems to have a primal drive toward life, which finds its easiest expression in the act of walking and moving forward through the natural world. In my experience, all anxious and depressive feelings seem to dissipate when walking along a woodland path. And if you walk far enough you eventually achieve a state of joy, and you are relieved. You are free in search of the springs of life. A long walk is a rebirth of consciousness; one never returns quite the same, and is always better off for it.