In Thinking on My Feet, much-loved TV presenter, Kate Humble celebrates the simple, fundamental act of walking, the remarkable effect it has on our minds and bodies and the pleasure of moving through the world at walking pace. Below is a snippet from the Autumn section of the book.
A Walk to find a solution and, with it, peace
Something’s come up and it is making me anxious and unhappy. It was an incident that happened some time ago. One that was both confusing and upsetting, but I thought had been resolved. But now there are repercussions and my mind is in a maelstrom. I feel both blameless and culpable, wronged, but also in the wrong. And I simply don’t know how to deal with it or how to react.
Protest my innocence, or accept responsibility? I’m not very good at these things. I worry and worry over them, constantly replaying scenarios or conversations in my head, losing all perspective and proportion. So I get up this morning after a night of miserably turning over a hundred ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’, feeling jangled and still with no clear idea what to do. Anxiety is curled up in a knot in my stomach like a small, malevolent animal. I go through the morning routine like an automaton – checking and feeding animals and then calling the dogs and setting out for their walk.
Animals have an unerring ability to know when something is up. The dogs sense I am out of sorts this morning and do their best to amuse and distract. And nature has put on her best show for me too. A low mist lingers in the valley, and smoky wisps curl among the trees in the wood, lit up by shafts of hazy morning sunshine. The leaves that are left on the trees, clinging on until they are sent swirling down by the next gusty autumn day, are a harlequin of copper, red, brown and gold. Jays squawk, ravens chuckle and grouch at each other, like guttural old men who have spent a lifetime smoking rough tobacco. We walk for an hour and by the time we return home the creature curled in my stomach is still there, but its presence doesn’t weigh so heavily, and it no longer absorbs my thoughts. I can think around it instead of feeling hamstrung by it.
Later, I’m at my desk, typing. Notebooks, to-do lists, a mug with cold dregs of tea crowd the surface. Teg has a tried-and-tested ploy to let me know she is ready for another walk. The door creaks as she slinks in and up to my chair. She pushes her slender head under my arm and lifts it, so I can no longer type, and looks at me beseechingly with her kooky eyes. I’m powerless to resist. And this walk – through the woods, down the hill, along the stream to the ponds where the dogs throw themselves in with unabashed enthusiasm – turns out to be more productive than the last few hours sitting at my desk.
Rebecca Solnit writes, with characteristic fervency, about the lack of time and space modern life gives over to simply thinking:
Thinking is currently thought of as doing nothing in a productionoriented culture, and doing nothing is hard to do. It’s best done by disguising it as doing something, and the something closest to doing nothing is walking.
And this form of ‘doing nothing’ – combined with the comforting sensation of unharried movement and fresh air – conjures up, apparently from nowhere, the solution I know will banish the anxiety monster completely.
More walking stories for every season in Kate Humble’s Thinking on My Feet.