Welcome to May! And National Walking Month.
Walking is one of those things that most of us do without thinking every day of our lives but it can be so much more than just getting from A to B. It has excellent health benefits for starters, helping to lower blood pressure, increase bone density, control weight, and aid flexibility and coordination. It can also affect your mental health, helping you to stay positive, sleep better and keep anxiety and depression under control. Keeping up a brisk pace will keep you fit but even a gentle stroll somewhere beautiful with the sun on your face and a few lungfuls of fresh air will work wonders.
I’ve been looking for walking inspiration and stumbled upon livingstreets.org.uk. Their mission is to tackle the streets around us all, to make them more appealing for pedestrians so that we feel better able to leave our cars at home. Entering into National Walking month with gusto, their site is packed full of ideas about how to incorporate more walking into your daily routine both for this month and beyond.
I’ve combined a few of their May 2011 initiatives with my own thoughts below. Happy walking!
Starting small: how to walk more without drastically changing your routine.
i – Take livingstreets ‘walk to work’ challenge. (Walk to work week is the 9-13th May). If, like me, you’re 30+ miles from your work and unlikely to get up at 3am to make it there on time (…!) then compromise by getting off the bus a stop earlier or parking further away and walking the last bit. For those who need to incorporate the school run in their routine, Walk to school week is the 16-20th May.
ii – Walk to the supermarket instead of driving. If your usual shop is a bit far away for that, try and find a local one. Local shops tend to need all the support they can get.
iii – Break the desk chain and take a walk at lunchtime, round the park, round the block or even round the shops. It may not be to everyone’s tastes but a lot of people at my office in North Oxford regularly take a stroll round the enormous graveyard next door. Tolkien is there to add a bit of interest and the view is pretty good at forcing a change in perspective after a rubbish meeting or on a blah day!
iv – Make a ‘walking resolution’ and commit to making one journey per day/week/fortnight on foot rather than in the car. I regularly use the excellent walkit.com, a multimap for the pedestrian allowing you to find routes tailored for pavement bashers rather than for those with four wheels. They started out in London but a quick check reveals they now cover 30 plus cities around the UK.
v – It’s an oldie but a goodie. Take the stairs. If you’re on the 6th floor, so much the better.
Inspirational green: big, beautiful walks I can personally recommend
i – The Thames Path. If you like walking near water and you prefer to be on the flat(!), you couldn’t ask for better; it’s clearly signed along the entire 184 mile trail. I walked the whole route for charity a couple of years back with a friend and it was amazing to see the landscape change from the stately rush of London to the peaceful trickle of the Cotswolds. For one-offs there are plenty of lovely ‘chunks’ you can do in a day or even a couple of hours.
ii – One for the gourmets. In August, the Magnalonga walk takes place from and around Ludlow in Shropshire. It’s an excellent blend of local views and local produce; an ambulatory three-course meal, if you like. Following a 10-mile trail, you stop off at 4-5 outdoor sites along the route to eat your starter, main, dessert and cheese course, each accompanied by local ales, perry and/or cider. Last year we rounded off with a celebratory shot of sloe gin at the finish line. That and a lie down.
iii – One for the calves… Just about managing to qualify as a walk (and not a climb) if you take the path from Llanberis, is the ascent up Mount Snowdon. It’s an epic slog but totally worth it for the camaraderie with other walkers and the immensity of the views at the summit. We were lucky enough to be there on a sunny day and it really does take your breath away. Feel free to cheat if you like and take the steam train up (as we did ) before walking down. (see top of post for picture…)
iv – For the history buffs, try the circular walk at Silchester (north of Basingstoke, south of Reading) around the still visible walls of the old Roman town. It’s a much gentler trek than Snowdown with the full circuit taking about an hour to 90 minutes. Take the upper route (on the top of the walls) for the views across the rolling countryside or the lower route (at the base of the walls) to catch the information boards and an insight into life in a Roman town. You can even take a detour out at the top left corner to see the remains of the amphitheatre.
v – For city buffs, one of the most atmospheric cities to walk around has got to be Edinburgh. If you usually shy away from guided tours, make an exception here, and do a ghost walk round the streets and then down into the catacombs beneath the city. It was hilarious, grisly, fascinating and terrifying in equal measure (but the latter may have been because I’m a wuss). You can round it off with a hike up Arthur’s Seat at the end for a view back down onto the city.
vi - For a different way of looking at trees, try and find an illuminated walk. Usually open in November and December when the evenings draw in, these amazing trails allow you into woods and arboretums by night for a magical, colourful light show where the best of nature meets the best of technology. I can personally recommend Westonbirt Arboreturm (nr Bath) and Bedgebury Pinetum (in Goudhurst, Kent) for sheer imagination and flair. Usually cold, but otherworldly.
Photo(s): ©Natural Beauty Cabinet