9th April 2020

Outdoors / Robert Poynton

Why I Walk by Rob Poynton

105 9 mins 7

RRob Poynton designs and facilitates workshops, programmes, retreats and events to reset and regenerate. Author of Do Pause and Do Improvise, Rob aims to encourage you to deepen your thinking and experience by pausing. Pause for productivity.

Here Rob writes of his love for walking. How walking represents freedom. A connection to wilderness. Walking moves the body and alerts the mind. It sets the mind free, creating a perfect state for Some Good Ideas to grow.

When I stop to think about it, the idea of going for a walk doesn’t make a lot of sense.

As a means of getting somewhere it is slow and cumbersome. If what you want is to arrive, there are more effective ways to do so. Indeed, most walks end up where they start off, either going there and back again (where ‘there’ isn’t necessarily anywhere special) or going round in a circle. Quite literally, no progress is made.

It isn’t proper exercise either. Walking won’t get you fit for anything, except more walking. It barely raises your heart rate, and only on a warm day do you even break a sweat.

If you really want to talk to someone, it is easier to do that in front of the fire, over a cup of tea, where you can see their face and take in their expressions as well as their words. Shouting over your shoulder to someone who can only half hear what you say, isn’t ideal for conversation. And if it is all about the view, then it is a perverse kind of pleasure, since you spend much of the time looking at your feet.

If what you seek is entertainment or diversion, walking surely comes very low on any list of obvious candidates. Thus it would be reasonable to conclude, as my children did when they were younger, that a walk is simply a boring, pointless waste of time.

So why then, do I like it so much?

I feel grounded and at peace when I walk. Even though I might end up grubby on the outside, inside, I somehow feel cleaner, both mentally and physically.

Robert Poynton

In fact, ‘like’ doesn’t capture it. Whilst I am not a fanatical, sporty or acquisitive walker – I don’t collect peaks, track miles, or buy elaborate gear – walking is simply something I couldn’t do without. I feel grounded and at peace when I walk. I feel healthier. Even though I might end up grubby on the outside, inside, I somehow feel cleaner, both mentally and physically.

I grew up walking. I walked half a mile to school from a very early age. My sisters and I walked amongst the beeches of ‘Lord’s Walk’ on the banks of theRiver Avon and up Larkhill track, the disused railway line that was littered with apple trees, unknowingly sown by the soldiers in the first World War, who threw apple cores out the windows of the trains as they passed on their way to the trenches. Or so it was said.

We used to be able to walk three miles across the fields to Stonehenge from our house and climb all over the stones as if it were some kind of neolithic playground. So walking gave me a first taste of freedom and wildness.

Perhaps it is in the blood. My grandparents on my mother’s side were keen walkers. They went so often to Mayrhofen in the Austrian Tyrol to walk in the alps, that they were given the freedom of the town. As children, on summer holidays we would walk as much as we sat on the beach. I remember one walk in particular, to Came Woods, just north of Sutton Poyntz, a few miles from my grandparents’ home in Weymouth. We were caught in a rainstorm so sudden and intense, that our backs were soaking wet whilst our fronts remained completely dry. This could have put me off, but instead had quite the opposite effect. I remember feeling fascinated, invigorated, somehow more alive.

By contrast, my father wasn’t a great walker. In fact he wasn’t a walker at all. He was an engineer and loved machines, so he got a car just after the war, long before it was common. He would drive into London and park outside the shop he wanted to go into – even if it was in Regent Street – so he got used to driving everywhere. It never would have occurred to him to go for a walk for fun, even though he often said that his own father, a boiler-maker and bus driver, died sooner than he might have, because he sat all day in the cab of a Green Line Bus and stopped walking anywhere.

Yet for me, walking is vital, in two senses. Necessary yes, but also ‘vital’ in that it contributes to life or ‘aliveness’. It connects us to ourselves. As the body moves, so does the mind. “A walk”, says philosopher Frederic Gros “is a matter of a change of rhythm: it unshackles the body’s limbs along with the mind’s faculties”. Berlin designer Ben Erben once told me that no species on earth can walk or run as far as we do. Perhaps walking takes me further back than childhood? When walking, the artificial separation of body and mind that we have become so used to dissolves and the two work together, melding in atavistic harmony.

A walk is the best response I know to writer’s block. It can set the mind free. I could have dedicated my book Do – Improvise to Cosmo, our dog. Every time I got stuck, he would be there, gagging for a walk, dragging me away from my own feelings of inadequacy, up the hill, where my mind would open up like the path before us and the way forward would become clear.

In 1936, the writer Laurie Lee found himself walking across Spain, just before the civil war. He walked for months, from Vigo to Màlaga and must have passed not far from where I sit now. Along the way someone gave him a bicycle. He soon abandoned it. It was too fast, taking him through the landscape more quickly than he was able to process it. The right pace was walking pace.

I have a different relationship with the mountains I can see out the window because I have walked them. Walking is the only way you can really enter a landscape. It is how we make the land our own.

Walking is enough of an effort, but not too much. Enough to deserve the cup of tea, or the beer at the end – something my Spanish wife finds entertaining: that the English have to feel they have done something to earn even a cup of tea.

I see these patterns ripple on through our family. My eldest son, home from London for a Christmas break, explained his afternoon disappearances by telling us he needed to walk, on his own, up the hill through the pines to the lookout over the village where he once went to school, and where, like his brothers, he used to roll his eyes at the very mention of a walk. The water, the air and the walks. That is what he comes home for these days.

To walk is so available, so simple, so human. And though it may not have a point, perhaps that is the point. It reminds us that the good in life doesn’t only lie in what we achieve, but in the things that we are happy to do for their own sake.

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Robert Poynton

Rob Poynton designs and facilitates workshops, programmes, retreats and events to reset and regenerate. Author of Do Pause and Do Improvise, Rob aims to encourage you to deepen your thinking and experience by pausing.

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