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Talking the walk: Malcolm Tait, editor of the Walker's Companion, explains why the essence of walking is actually all in the mind, before introducing his pick of the literary extracts and snippets of advice he unearthed while compiling the companion.

We might only have one word for snow, but when it comes to the most popular of pastimes, the British boast a lexicon. We stroll, amble and saunter; we wander, stride and meander. We hoof it, step out and put our best foot forward; we trudge, shuffle and lumber along. When we're really in the mood, we've even been known to perambulate.

Sometimes the pace changes, but the deed itself is pretty straightforward: one foot is temporarily placed in front of the other, the latter overtaking LO its turn, and the simple cycle continues until either extreme exhaustion or the destination is reached. So why so many definitions?

The truth is, walking isn't really about ... well ... walking. The ambler looks pretty much like the wanderer, except for what's in his or her head. "Saw you out for a stroll, yesterday." "No, actually, I was meandering." Your style of walk is, in fact, a state of mind.

Walking is being with yourself without having to be self-conscious about it (if that's not a contradiction in terms). It's lounging in the bath without someone knocking on the door; it's standing alone on the shore of the wide world to think, without being arrested for loitering. Like smokers who use cigarettes as the justification to step outside the office for ten minutes, walkers have an in-built excuse to turn their back on the oppressive, day-to-day world. Shouting the phrase "I'm going for a walk" as you slam the door has far more gravitas than yelling, "I'm going to stand on the street corner for half an hour and kick an old tin can around."

And, of course, it's all done with moving pictures. The farther you walk, the more the world changes around you, fuelling your thoughts and stimulating your imagination, like an unobtrusive friend. Polar explorers and mountaineers have often reported that they felt as if there was an extra member of their party accompanying them as they trudged along, as if their subconscious were compensating for the lack of freshness in their monotonous scenery.

Every path you follow, every corner you turn, leads you to new discoveries, I once rounded the bend of a thorny woodland to come face to kneecap with a giraffe that was doing the same. I was walking in the Okavango Delta, so the surprise, although great, was lessened, but such gasping moments are just as powerful whatever the new vista that opens before you. A sun-spangled loch upon which two brilliant red-throated divers are displaying; an attack from a speckled wood butterfly along a woodland ride; a field of snow in which yours will be the virgin human footprints: these and countless others are the pleasure that walkers have before them.

Whether, like the great and grumpy essayist William Hazlitt, you prefer to walk alone "and vegetate like the country" or, like Gabriel Josipovici's character Jack Toledano, the only time to talk is when walking, is up to you. But there is one walking definition that is rarely used today. Rammelen is a Middle Dutch word meaning to wander around like an animal in a state of sexual excitement. Oddly enough, we use a derivation of that word today. There may be more to the Ramblers' Association than meets the eye.

Yes, walking, in all its forms, is what you make of it. And remember: whatever you do get from your walking, the British have a word for it.

Bear facts

Polar bears can cover enormous distances during the winter when the Arctic sea is frozen. One female polar bear who was fitted with a radio collar astounded scientists when she roamed over an area of 78,000 square kilometres.

In Canada, polar bears hunt seals in the spring, until the breaking ice forces them ashore, where there's nothing to eat. There they wander around in a starving stupor--known locally as a 'walking hibernation'--until the ice reforms.

Walking in all weather

Not until I went out could I tell that it was softly and coldly raining. Everything more than two or three fields away was hidden.

Cycling is inferior to walking in this weather; because in cycling chiefly ample views are to be seen, and the mist conceals them. You travel too quickly to notice many small things; you see nothing save the troops of elms on the verge of invisibility. But walking I saw every small thing one by one; not only the handsome gateway chestnut just fully dressed, and the pale green larch plantation where another chiff-chaff was singing, and the tall elm tipped by a linnet pausing and musing a few notes, but every primrose and celandine and dandelion on the banks, every silvered green leaf of honeysuckle up in the hedge, every patch of brightest moss, every luminous drop on a thorn tip. The world seemed a small place: as I went between a row of elms and a row of beeches occupied by rooks, I had a feeling that the road, that the world itself, was private, all theirs; and the state of the road under their nests confirmed me. I was going hither and thither to-day in the neighbourhood of my stopping place, instead of continuing my journey.

In Pursuit of Spring, Edward Thomas

Walking in the jungle

Some SAS advice on preparing for a walk in Borneo

* You'll find the high spot of your day is cleaning your teeth. The only bit of you you can keep clean. Don't shave--the slightest nick turns septic at once. And don't take more than one change of clothes, because you must keep your Bergen weight well down. And don't expect your trackers to carry it for you, because they have enough to do transporting their own food. So keep one set of dry kit in a sealed bag in your pack. Get into that each night after you've eaten.

* Powder yourself all over, too, with zinc talc--you'll halve the rashes and the rot and the skin fungus. Then sleep. Then get up at 5.30 and into your wet kit. It's uncomfortable at first, but don't weaken--ever; if you do, there'll be two sets of wet kit in no time, you'll lose sleep and lose strength and then there'll be a disaster. But take as many dry socks as you can. And, in the morning, soak the ones you are going to wear in insect repellent, to keep the leeches out of your boots. Stick it on your arms, your waist and neck and in your hair, too, but not on your forehead because the sweat carries it into your eyes and it stings. Cover yourself at night, too against the mosquitoes. Take them seriously, because malaria is a terrible thing and it's easy to get, pills or no.

* Get some jungle boots, good thick trousers and strong shirts. You won't want to nancy about in shorts once the first leech has had a go at you, believe me. Acclimatise slowly. The tropics takes people in different ways. Fit young men here just collapse in Brunei. You'll think it's the end of the world. You can't breathe. You can't move.

* After two weeks you'll be used to it. And once in the jungle proper you'll never want to leave.

Into the Heart of Borneo, Redmond O'Hanlon

Walking with phantoms

Who is the third who walks always beside you? When I count, there are only you and I together But when I look ahead up the white road There is always another one walking beside you

The Waste Land, TS Eliot

In a footnote to these lines, Eliot wrote that they were "stimulated by the account of one of the Antarctic expeditions (I forget which, but I think one of Shackleton's): it was related that the party of explorers, at the extremity of their strength, had the constant delusion that there was one more member than could actually be counted".

Walking among mountains

I spent the day roaming through the valley. I stood beside the sources of the Arveiron, which take their rise in a glacier, that with slow pace is advancing down from the summit of the hills, to barricade the valley. The abrupt sides of vast mountains were before me; the icy wall of the glacier overhung me; a few shattered pines were scattered around; and the solemn silence of this glorious presence-chamber of imperial Nature was broken only by the brawling waves, or the fall of some vast fragment, the thunder sound of the avalanche, or the cracking reverberating along the mountains of the accumulated ice, which, through the silent working of immutable laws, was ever and anon rent and torn, as if it had been but a plaything in their hands. These sublime and magnificent scenes afforded me the greatest consolation that I was capable of receiving. They elevated me from all littleness of feeling; and although they did not remove my grief, they subdued and tranquillised it. In some degree, also, they diverted my mind from the thoughts over which it had brooded for the last month. I retired to rest at night; my slumbers, as it were, waited on and ministered to by the assemblance of grand shapes which I had contemplated during the day. They congregated round me; the unstained snowy mountain-top, the glittering pinnacle, the pine woods, and ragged bare ravine; the eagle, soaring amidst the clouds--they all gathered round me, and bade me be at peace.

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

The gentlemanly thing to do

Long, long ago, there was a golden age of cricket: bowlers--fine men all--only appealed when they knew the batsman was out; fielders--those wisest of fellows--only claimed a catch when they knew they'd taken the ball cleanly; and batsmen, perhaps the noblest of them all, 'walked'.

Walking was, and still just about is, the supreme act of sportsmanship. If, while batting, you get the edge of your bat to the ball before it zips through to the wicket-keeper, you are out. You've been caught. But sometimes the edge is so fine that the umpire can't detect it, and gives you not out. What do you do? Do you thank the great umpire in the sky and bat on, reasoning that this good fortune will be outbalanced by countless occasions of foul luck in the future? Or does the truth nag at you so much that you tip your cap, say to the umpire: "I tickled it, old man", tuck your bat under your arm and march off to gasps of admiration from your colleagues? If you do the latter, you are a 'walker'. Unsurprisingly, there are few walkers in modern professional cricket.

On the other hand, the great WG Grace once had his stumps splattered all over the place by a particularly nippy delivery, and despite all the evidence to the contrary, decided he wasn't out. He replaced the bails and, when asked why by the bowler, announced that "all these people have come to see me bat, not you bowl".

Golden age? What golden age?

Walking tours

Now, to be properly enjoyed, a walking tour should be gone upon alone. If you go in company, or even in pairs, it is no longer a walking tour in anything but name; it is something else and more in the nature of a picnic. A walking tour should be gone upon alone, because freedom is of the essence; because you should be able to stop and go on, and follow this way or that, as the freak takes you; and because you must have your own pace, and neither trot alongside a champion walker, nor mince in time with a girl.

Walking Tours, Robert Louis Stevenson

Rights of way--the nutshell version

In England and Wales you can walk along the following routes, so long as you stick to the line of the path:

* Public rights of way. The public have a legal right to use these: footpaths (for walking), bridleways (for walking, cycling and horse riding), byways (although these are legally open to all traffic and you may find motorbikes and off-road vehicles on them, they are used primarily by people on foot, horseback and pedal cycle) and restricted byways (open to walkers, cyclists, horse riders and non-motorised vehicles such as horse-drawn carts).

* Permissive paths. The landowner has given permission for the public to use these but may also withdraw that permission at any time.

* Multi-user routes such as cycle paths and 'greenways', and most towpaths. These are often suitable for wheelchairs, if you don't mind bicycles whizzing past.

* Most public roads. But take care.

* Named and signed 'promoted routes' such as National Trails. These are, for the most part, along public rights of way.

Most of these are shown on Ordnance Survey Explorer and Landranger maps.

You are also 'free to roam' across the following:

* Public parks and other open spaces that are managed for free public recreation.

* Most land owned by the National Trust, Foresty Commission and Woodland Trust as shown on OS Explorer maps.

* Land where access is by right or agreement, as shown on OS Explorer maps, including most commons, and land on DEFRA's countryside-walks register.

* Permissive access land, although permission may be withdrawn.

* Land with "de facto' access such as most beaches and some areas of open country.

* Mountain, moor, heath, down and commons shown on official access maps produced by the Countryside Agency and Countryside Council for Wales, as soon as new access rights are introduced.

In Scotland you con walk on nearly all paths, tracks and roads, rights of way, core paths and promoted routes, and across nearly oil land, provided you do so responsibly, except for the curtilage of buildings and land used for railways, airfields, harbours, defence find similar uses.

How to pack a rucksack

* Heavy items should be packed close to your centre of gravity to make carrying your rucksack more comfortable. Pack heavy items close to your back and high in the rucksack, making the weight even across the width to prevent lean.

* Pack lightly, but pack well. Only take essential items.

* Always take too much water. You can never have enough. When it starts to weigh you down, start drinking. On strenuous climbs, start off with about three litres in your pack.

* Don't take canned food. With the wide range of dehydrated food available in the UK, there is no need to take bulky cans on your long-distance walks. Cans are also sharp when opened, and if disposed of in litter-collection areas, even in national parks, they are unlikely to be recycled.

* Pack by meal. For example, if you are taking rice, measure it out beforehand and pack it with the accompanying ingredients in a single freezer bag.

* Use different coloured bags to store individual items for quick and easy identification.

* Roll clothing tightly and stuff it in waterproof bags or nylon 'stuff sacks'. Surround hard and angular items with clothing to stop them jabbing your back.

* Pack your first-aid kit in your rucksack, but keep plasters and minor first aid in your pockets.
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Title Annotation:Walking Special
Author:Tait, Malcolm
Date:Apr 1, 2004
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