After 3 days walking with my daughter following the route that RL Stevenson walked in 1878 with his donkey Modestine, I feel in agreement with his philosophy. It’s not the destination that’s important or where we walk, but simply taking life at a different pace. Whether alone or with others, walking slows the body down. It gives time to notice the details of life like intricate spider webs dotted with droplets of dew, metallic blue beetles, building dates and the surfaces under foot.
An off the cuff remark in the summer to my daughter about walking a section of a route together during the October holiday, led me to do some research 5 days before our departure. Honouring a promise I’d made was important, as was the opportunity to spend time with just one of my teenage twin daughters. My body on the other hand wasn’t feeling strong after a recent introduction to sciatica.
The idea of motivating both a teenager and myself to walk, along with route finding and the other practical details pressed upon my mind before our departure. The appearance of a blister from an ill chosen pair of shoes worn without socks a few days before felt like a precursor of my concerns.
With our bags packed, the train boarded, followed by finding the tram and then meeting the person with whom we shared a car to the town of departure, the adventure began. Similarly at this point, despite all the planning arrangements, accommodation booking and choice of possessions, a different pace that was to be the rhythm for the next few days gradually emerged and established itself.
The next day we started to go, to move from one place to the next, forwards, making progress, travelling to the next stage, seeing new sites and meeting new people. This is what we do when we go walking, along with following in the footsteps of others from ancient times, we give ourselves time. Although moving from A to B to C etc involves always being in motion, the opportunity of going at a slower pace is a real gift in our modern day society.
Walking is time for reflection, contemplation and healing of the body, mind and spirit. For RL Stevenson his reasons for undertaking the 12 day/170 mile journey on foot was to ease his anguished loss for the woman he’d recently fallen in love with and to find new writing material for his second book – Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, published the following year in 1879.
3 nights in 3 different locations carrying all we needed on our backs, weaving our way up, down, around, along, we walked an imprecise 40 miles as we got lost several times! Often in silence, walking in sunshine, swapping and taking off clothes became important. Chatting with our heads down to avoid the strong wind, we continued up paths, along the railway, through forests, on tracks and the road, we encountered few people, learning to be with ourselves and each other.
Walking is about taking steps along the journey of life, stepping out of a known way of life into the unknown without the end being in sight. Walking means living life at a different speed, it tempers feelings of impatience with trust – trusting the path ahead and that your body will take you there.