Many great writers have also been great walkers. Imagine Jane Austen striding across the Hampshire countryside around Chawton, her home village, the hem of her white muslin gown getting stained with mud, or Virginia Woolf stomping over the Sussex Downs, hands buried deep in her pockets, muttering sentences and paragraphs for her current work under her hat brim. The Romantic poets were famous for striding around the Lake District, soaking up the epic scenery and composing all the while.
There is something meditative about walking, a rhythm that comes with stomping feet, the steady repetition of step after step over the ground. The act of walking induces a kind of trance, a change in consciousness that opens up our minds. When I am able to walk, I can exorcize even the foulest of moods, and I always come home with an idea, an image, a sentence at the very least.
Walking gets us close to our environment in a way that travelling by other means can’t. You cannot see details from a car the way you can on foot. A cat lazing on a sunny windowsill. The colour of a starling’s wing. A family gathered around the kitchen table, enjoying a late sunday lunch together as you pass. On foot, you can surreptitiously peer in through windows, or linger to observe a view, a cloud or a flower. We can even listen in to conversations we might miss otherwise:
‘Andrew, did you put the blood and bone tub back in the shed last week, because I can’t find it?’
Walking allows us to observe the world whilst being part of it. It brings us into Flow, a place where our thoughts smoothe into a creative stream. We can walk ourselves out of being stuck on a project, and we can walk ourselves into a new one. Plus, it burns calories and keeps you fit and, well, and who doesn’t love that?
Put a notebook or sketchbook and a pencil in the pocket of your jacket. You could even take a camera. Put on a sturdy pair of shoes and go for a walk around your neighbourhood. Take twenty minutes, more if you have it. Try to walk with a steady motion, a regular rhythm. Drum out a beat with your soles. Open your mind to whatever thoughts come up.
Look around you. What little details, or big stories to you witness? You can scribble things down on your way, or you can stop, if you have the time, to take notes, draw a sketch or two, snap a few photographs. You don’t have to photograph people, remember – a wonky chimney stack or a graffitied sign might spark your interest, perhaps even an interesting pattern made by litter in the gutter. Take the time to witness and observe. Combine this with the meditative beat of footsteps. A treasure trove is outside your door. Even if you only walk and see, do that much. When you get home, note down what you have seen for use later, and enjoy feeling refreshed.
Walk twice a week for preference, daily if you can. Get to know your locale. Push yourself by walking in new places. Extend and vary your routes. Walk whether you feel like it or not. Especially when not. Putting one foot in front of another gets your mind to a new place that is always worth exploring.