What’s the point of walking?

27 07 2015

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I’ll never forget a friend asking one day: what’s the point of walking, I’d rather read a book? I have to admit when I’m pressed for time, or when it’s really lashing it down, I’d much rather be curled up inside with a good book. My idea of heaven would be a library set in a tree house overlooking a meadow. There I would live in complete bliss with all the inspiration I need right before me. This week I’ve been forced to walk because an elderly dog I’m currently looking after detests going in the car. So in deference to his seniority, I’ve clipped on his lead most evenings, to his tail-swinging delight.

Because I wanted to make the most of our time together and make the walks interesting for us both, I made sure we took a slightly different route each time. One evening I took my camera to record some sights along the way, and was rewarded with good light and some wonderful work on a suitably ethical sculpture trail.

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My favourite was Walking on an Empty Stomach by Malcolm Gurley, an arresting image of a hiker with no middle, which was playful, but also poignant as it made me think of soldiers severed on the battlefields of the First World War. Its incompleteness was ghostly. I also loved the old goat made from recycled textiles and the giant plastic snail made from recycled milk cartons.

Walking is something I rarely do now unless I have a dog. I used to walk for miles along the cliff path when I was working on novels, and the process of walking helped to generate the rhythm I needed to write. I gave up proper walking when I started to train my horses. Most of my walks now involve the company of a horse and while I love these walks, I can’t really lose myself in the landscape or my own imagination because I need to be fully present for my horse.

Walking dogs doesn’t require the same focus or attention as walking horses. Walking dogs takes me to different kinds of places, and it allows me to notice what’s happening close to home. This week my walks have shown me that the town in which I am so fortunate to live is vibrant, social and ethically aware. Some seaside towns are tired and traditional, and don’t bother to welcome visitors with anything new. A sculpture trail is a good place to start people thinking about what we do with the stuff we chuck away. I’m glad that Teignmouth cares enough to engage with the question.

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