I arrived back in England last week following more than five weeks adventuring in Scotland, and I’m slowly getting back to the indoors groove again. And on the theme of going slow…
In the past week you may have read in the news about a project called Slow Ways. It was started by self-described guerilla geographer and creative explorer Daniel Raven-Ellison, who wants to (re)connect walking footpaths and trails between villages, towns and cities across the entirety of the United Kingdom.
I signed up recently to help test a few slow ways around Somerset and Dorset, and you can sign up too if you’re interested.
I get that there are lots of benefits to using a car. I’ve spent the past six weeks finding ways to get around without one, sometimes wishing I could drive already!
But I also know how enriching the experience of walking is. Even as cars sail right on past you…
Walking is great
- You see and appreciate so much more when you are on foot
If it takes you 3 hours to walk on a footpath to a destination that takes 15 minutes by car on a road, you’re going to see 2 hours 45 minutes more of the world around you, and that’s the beauty of anything slow. You’re going slow enough to really see where you are.
- There’s a walk (and a walking speed) for every mood
Coasts, fields, woods, beaches, town perimeters, parks, hills and mountains. Footpaths just off roads and paths that are roads; trails that are long and straight, twisty and labyrinthine, short and steep. Taken at brisk, measured, glacial, speedy, heart-pounding, lazy, hurtling speeds.
Even just writing those words I’m conjuring up some of the walks of the past year in my mind, all so different from one another. What every good walk has in common though is that it is just what you wanted at that moment; you find a new corner of your neighbourhood, you managed to work through a problem on your mind or you whiled away a blue sky afternoon somewhere unexpected. Or maybe you discover that you only want to walk there once in your life!
- You can stop whenever you want (and usually not cause a pile up)
Of course you can pull over in your car to marvel at a landscape, a view, outside the car windows. Road trips aren’t just about the road. But you’re unlikely to stop as many times as you are free to stop and observe while walking or hiking.
- You are more likely to have a walking trail to yourself than a road
And when you do, it’s marvellous! No slowing down to let a hill runner squelch by, no speeding up to overtake a band of walkers to retake the horizon for yourself. Just wandering and wondering, with all of the panorama to yourself.
- Walking is healthier than most of us think
I get why running is so popular, but it’s not for me. If I want to exercise and I can’t get to a tennis court or a gym, I’ll go for a fast walk.
Walking doesn’t get lots of kudos for its health benefits but numerous studies show that walking (quickly or otherwise) for 30 minutes a day has all sorts of positive effects, including reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes and high cholesterol as well as boosting your immune system. This recent article from Women’s Health lists more benefits besides.
- Rarely is a walk just a walk
Spring is blending into summer as you cross the unmistakable aroma of wild garlic in woodland. Scan upwards in June, on the look out for fronds of elderflower, pale and lemony in colour. August appears and the blackberries are ripening, the apples on trees calling to be scrumped.
A feather just off the path from a collared dove long flown. A deer through a doorway in the trees, certain she’s alone. Dew-baubled leaves and spiderwebs greasy with last night’s mists.
Leave the car behind
- The Culloden Battlefield Trail
By the main road to Culloden Battlefield, there is a 4.5km trail that takes in the woodland around the Culloden battlefield site that’s owned by National Trust for Scotland.
Most visitors to the battlefield will drive there, but you can get a bus part way and then follow the main road uphill until you get to an edge of the woodland trail, part of which meanders over to the battlefield entrance.
It’s a classic Scottish woodland of pines, spruce and fir, draped throughout in heather. Properly peaceful.
On the markers and boards, poetry and information is written in Gaelic and English. Words carry beauty too, after all.
- Hardy’s Wessex
I’m pretty lucky to be smack bang in the middle of Hardy’s Wessex. Thomas Hardy wrote Return of the Native five miles away in Sturminster Newton. The popular seaside town of Weymouth, much visited during school holidays, was Budmouth in many of Hardy’s novels, from Far From the Madding Crowd to Under the Greenwood Tree. And he located the Mayor of Casterbridge in Dorchester, where he lived for most of his life.
Max Gate, built by Hardy and lived in for 42 years is where he wrote one of my favourite books, Tess of the D’urbervilles. It’s around 3 miles from his birthplace, Hardy’s Cottage. Lots of people drive to both National Trust properties in one day, but you can’t really get a bus between the two. So naturally I’ve done what any Hardy heroine would, and walked down roads, over bridges, by fields and through woods to get from one to the other.
On a sunny day especially, the rivers and the fields have an awakening gleam to them. Hardy was a big walker, and would have seen these scenes as he conjured up the fates of his milkmaids, furze (gorse) cutters, curates and wronged lovers.
A view from and to a bridge en route to Hardy’s Cottage. Best viewed on foot or bike.
The closer you get to Hardy’s Cottage, the more the landscape veils itself over you. Giant redwood trees tower, furze surrounds and hollows scoop. Until at last…
Hardy’s Cottage. Still a sweet sight 25 years after my first visit.
- Luskentyre Beach, Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides
To get onto the beach, you walk on the same road as the cars. One by one, they all pass you by. And they’ll all get to the beach faster than you, but they won’t stop to spot the little things.
Tiny blue shells like this (and their inhabitants) were strewn in the grass on the way to Luskentyre Beach.
The dunes are extensive – and they get quite high towards the end, so be prepared to jump down!
Luskentyre Beach is vast and it takes a long time for the tide to go out. The sand is the gorgeous colour it is because it’s made from shells, not rocks. With the beach as your footpath, you can create some new sand, crunching shells underfoot.
Most people who stay on Skye will visit Dunvegan Castle, it’s one of the premier attractions. Though the castle interiors are closed this year, the historic gardens are still open.
Without a car to tie you down, you can extend your visit by heading for the Druim na creige hill for a walk that has great views of the MacLeod Tables, two flat top hills named after the clan who have called Dunvegan home for over 800 years.
And if you end the walk in Dunvegan village then you should enjoy a drink at The Dunvegan (if it’s allowed) before the next bus arrives. Slowly.