Jean Jacques Rousseau, a philosopher from the 1700’s, expressed his fondness for walking by maintaining, “We think at walking pace. What is revealed when walking and thinking at the same pace is the pace of everything around me. My mind only works with my legs.”
The great virtue of walking became an activity I was able to profoundly enjoy on a recent summer trip while traversing the land of the Cotswold’s in England. I related to Rousseau’s quote while meandering amidst rolling hills and lush-green pastoral countryside interrupted occasionally by quaint villages with cobblestone ways. There is a simplicity to walking as it is a natural activity for our bodies. Walking allows one to experience the panoramic 360-degree view as a painter’s pallet. It is the ultimate slow activity. It allows one to attune to leisurely progress. Walking provides the opportunity to enhance our sense of connection to the world, while allowing us to think and meditate thereby improving our health. When walking is done with others a rhythmic quality emerges. If it is accomplished at the same pace as other fellow walkers a deepening and experience can occur relative to the land and one another.
Stepping away from everyday life to partake in a walking adventure is one way to develop an affinity for walking. There are many places across the globe where trails have been tended and where the land has been deemed a walker’s paradise. One of these places, undoubtedly, is the Cotswold’s of England which has been named an area of outstanding natural beauty. In 1947 a definitive map was released of the extensive infrastructure of footpaths. The county of Gloucestershire in the South West of England has three and a half thousand miles of walking trail. There are 300 wardens who survey these trails donating their time to the maintenance and surveillance of the land, ensuring trails are inviting, safe and well-tended. Robert Toolbit is just one of these wardens and I had the pleasure to welcome him as my trail chaperone on a day out in the countryside. As we walked passing through gates, walking over wooden stiles (meant as a passage for walkers) yet, also intended to contain sheep and cattle, I quickly learned that Robert was my impression of an earth steward. We passed wildflower meadows set upon a backdrop of ancient walls speckled with lichen and moss and variegated stone. My walking warden relayed that my feet were traversing over a sea bed of limestone that was formed over hundreds of millions of years. The expansiveness of the walking experience allows one to pass through farms, villages and historic sites. There is a reciprocity for walking instilled between the people and the land, gifted as a right-of-way for all walkers. Homeowners and farmers wave to walkers on trails and one of the most pleasurable pastimes is when a trail intersects with a garden and a tea room for a light ritual refreshment. Robert created an award winning walking festival in 2010 to celebrate the experience of walking, and it is embraced by acknowledging a “countryside code” of observances to ensure respect and to protect the countryside. Walking is a pastime in England coveted for physical and mental health as well as preservation of nature.
At the end of a week of walking I felt resolutely rooted in the world. It was a sensorial experience. Each day provided accomplishment, fatigue, reverie, contentment and a true awareness that walking provides life sustenance. We can all learn to become walking wardens of our own communities. May we seek out green space and walk the land. We can then find ways to explore and adventure on personal escapes and trips walking the world! May your best miles be covered on foot through the virtue of walking.