By Alan Hewett, Chiltern Landcare member
How many of us are guilty of driving our cars a short distance rather than walking? It’s not good for the car, the environment or us. Walking it seems is a lost art. It is low impact, and can be done at any time and at your own pace. Thirty minutes of brisk walking benefits the heart, lungs, muscles, blood pressure and bones. A study by the University of Pittsburgh has shown that for people in midlife, walking ten kilometres a week can protect brain size and reduce the risk of future memory decline.
Before the invention of the motor car and rail transport, excepting those who could afford to travel by horse or carriage, you walked every where. Of course many walked out of necessity and the idea of walking for health or pleasure while enjoying the landscape developed slowly. Two of the greatest exponents of walking were William Wordsworth, the famous poet, and his sister Dorothy. They pioneered walking in the Lake District and both were capable of walking long distances in all seasons. For Wordsworth walking was not just a mode of travelling but central to his life and art.
As walking for pleasure increased in popularity the desire to walk long distances began to spread. In England Alfred Wainwright developed the coast to coast walk, a 309 kilometre walk across England from the Irish Sea to the North Sea. Hikers don’t have to carry heavy packs as they can stay in accommodation in towns overnight.
Recently, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of World War 1, a European peace walk of 550 kilometres, from Vienna to Trieste has been created. It takes twenty three days, averaging about twenty five kilometres per day. It may appear daunting but there are supporting services and cheap accommodation.
These walks are challenging, but you are never far from civilisation. A far more difficult prospect is the Australian Alps Walking Track, a 659 kilometre walk from Walhalla in Victoria to the outskirts of Canberra. Passing through the highest country in Australia and subject to extremes of weather it is not for the faint hearted. No cosy accommodation here, everything must be carried. Fitness and self-sufficiency are vital, but what better way to enjoy and identify with the natural landscape.
The benefits of walking are many, not just physical; consider the words of Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘all truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.’