When I was growing up, there was a phrase guaranteed to put fear into my heart: the walk. It seemed like every other weekend my parents would take my sister and me on long, long trudges. In hindsight, most of these were fine. We’d walk through a pretty forest, with sun piercing the leaves and spotting the ground with patches of light, and then come out into fields of violets where Jane and I would run and tumble, dancing with the butterflies. All right, maybe that’s slight over-idyllisation, but this is in comparison to the Other Type of walk. The Other Type was far, far different. Most notorious was the Traditional Boxing Day Walk, which involved finding a very high, very exposed hill, walking around in sub-zero winds, slipping on ice and generally trying not to die. We’d see little other than our own shoes, other families with children who must also have done something wrong, the droppings of metallic simians, and perhaps, if we were really lucky, some bits of rock that were apparently part of a stone house that must have been dull even in roman times. Walking was Not Fun. Walking was What Adults Did to Children To Make Them Suffer.
Eventually I became old enough to stay at home, letting my parents go off on character-building excursions by themselves. This worked well for a good number of years. However, the story does not end here. I must now reveal the terrible truth to any children reading. Anybody younger than 16 should look away now.
One day, one lovely summer’s day in your late teens, it happens. You’ll be walking down a country road, with the sun on your back, fields around you and birdsong in your ears. There’ll be no traffic, no worries, nothing to attend to. And you’ll find yourself thinking “this is rather nice, I wonder if there are any footpaths through the woods.” The scientific explanation for this phenomenon is unknown. Perhaps it’s the release of amblus wanderase into the bloodstream, perhaps it’s simply the point at which brain cells begin to die faster than they are created. Whatever the reason, once you have had this thought there is no going back. You will find yourself staring out of the window during work hours, wishing you were strolling by the river. You will look at sunsets and wonder if there are nearby hills from which to obtain a better view.
This doesn’t seem so bad? It’s a slippery slope, my friends. First it’s a quick trip down to the park and back, because fresh air is good for you. Then, before you know it, you’re wandering around stately homes trying to find tapestries interesting. There is little hope for you at this point. You may still have time to rush home and destroy the National Trust membership form you’ve had in a drawer for a few months, but it’ll get you in the end. I personally have not yet reached the above stage, but it draws close. This afternoon I decided to explore the local area by manner of walking, and, to my shame, I enjoyed it.
Mum had given me directions for a walk she’d found in a magazine, so I decided to try it out. Apart from one major error in the first paragraph – the wrong street name sent me in the wrong direction within two minutes of starting out, and I had to double back twice – the odd bizarre statement – “you exit near the Bell Inn” confused me until I found the Bell Inn around a corner, in completely the opposite direction from the next instruction – and weird backwards units of measurement – it worked quite well. About half way around the 6.5km round trip I had a great view of the town, and it was very pretty in today’s clear sunlight.
You see? You see what’s happened to me? Slack off while you still want to, kids.