May is National Walking Month…

Yes a non-walk post! They do happen. May in the UK is Living Street’s National Walking Month (I meant to post on this earlier, I am on their mailing list after all…). I’m hoping the weather will be better than today’s rainstorm, so I will get out and do more walks and detail them here, I’m sure I’ll at least do a few. Or if it rains for the whole of May (don’t laugh, it has happened, this is Britain remember), I’ll at least be writing about my past ones.

But I do wonder where they get some of the people to blather on about walking, here’s the list of what Rebecca Solnit, an expert because she wrote a book, obviously, said walks should be:

  • Walk further and with no fixed route
  • Stop texting and mapping
  • Don’t soundtrack your walks
  • Go alone
  • Find walkable places
  • Walk mindfully

Don’t laugh. Oh OK, laugh. What is this ‘walk mindfully’ shit? New age Gladwellian self-improvement crap, I’d bet.

Being mindful suggests that the rest of the time you’re off in some la-la-land, which is a luxury most people cannot afford, ut walk somewhere away from people – which is possible EVERYWHERE, yes even in ‘crowded’ London you don’t need ‘walkable places’ – you will get away from distractions. Everywhere is walkable, and the most surprising places are actually interesting and not signed ‘Mindful Walking HERE!’ with a nice little brown sign, sealed and delivered to Walking Enlightenment. Really it’s this sort of stuff that makes me angry.

What do you need to walk? Two feet in front of the other. That’s all. No extra gear, no extra mind-training, no extra ‘stuff’. Tim’s list for walking goes thus:

  • Start walking
  • When tired, or it gets too late, stop
  • Rules are for suckers. Or people desperately scraping up copy for a BBC magazine. Or argument linkbait…oh damn…

And the author of the piece  also says you shouldn’t listen to music or podcasts either. Grr, best time to listen to podcasts like my lovely one *cough* is when you can ‘mindfully’ concentrate on them. Depends if you see music as a background ‘distraction’ or something that can enhance the experience, that deserves more than just ignorance. I listen to music on my walks but on shuffle, and quite often the two complement, so I can concentrate on the environment and the music. And yes, it helps me relax.

But sometimes bliss is so quiet you might not listen at all – Venice was a revelation in that fact, and made me realise I use music to block out a lot of traffic noise, and stupid people. As there were no cars, and I couldn’t understand the language it meant for days I never listened to my iPod. But in the UK I walk places with cars, and yes stupid people….but it’s more than just a block, particularly on my walks.

I’m all for Living Streets Walking Month, anyway – but the press and PR need to realise that coating walking with some glamorous, capitalistic or ‘mindful’ self-improvement sheen is self-defeating, it only serves to give people excuses NOT to walk. Best thing about walking is anyone can do it, at any time, in any place, and find things they never expected even where they live. It doesn’t need ‘selling’ in that way. It doesn’t desperately need an ‘angle’ unlike the author of this piece.

What does need ‘selling’ that less people need cars, that public transport needs to be better and is non-existent in parts, that some roads can be extremely pedestrian unfriendly (then again, there are nearly always ways around that, but Right to Roam would help for the really antisocial landowners that stop or block walking on their land or rights of way) but that doesn’t seem ‘sexy’ enough for magazines and the press.

Far easier to focus on the personal sphere and apply ‘mindful’ self-improvement solutions to a social problem that didn’t exist…I would say this is blame the victim, really. With the assault of cars in our cities and also small country roads, can you blame people for not walking as much? Make it nicer to walk, and duh, people will walk, I don’t think people are mindless zombies by choice, or that they are that mindless actually.

As  a side note – I don’t see how the RSPB and National Trust with their massive car parks, and lack of access for pedestrians is helping either – quite often the access to a RSPB reserve or National Trust property reminds me of the entrance to large supermarkets where you are bombarded with cars and crossing busy roads before you even get there. This shows these organisations aren’t really walker or public transport friendly at all.