Sunday, July 15, 2012

Britain and Walking

Walking is one of the few activities that transcend age, profession, social demographic and sex. You can be a spry seven year old or a sprightly septuagenarian and enjoy walking. There is nothing more therapeutic than roaming across great expanses of wild wonderful countryside – although more and more people are regularly enjoying urban strolls, millions of people hit the hills every weekend up and down the country.

I’ll never forget striding out across the Peak district with my dad when I was a wee young thing. A keen walker and general outdoor devotee, he took me walking for the first time when I was about 6 years old; by the time I was 12 or 13 I was a fully-fledged hiker – I had my own boots and everything ! ‘Sensible footwear’ is not a term to be used excessively in my opinion, but it is pretty much all you need when it comes to perambulation. Race walking may be an Olympic discipline but luckily for all of us you don’t need to be anywhere near Olympic status to participate effectively. And the benefits? Oh the joy that it brings! Someone once said ‘A pedestrian is a man in danger of his life.  A walker is a man in possession of his soul.’

But nourishing the soul hasn’t always been easy. There is no denying we like a good fight on these fair isles; we fight for buildings to be saved , we’re fighting for air travel to be abandoned and we even fought for our right to ramble. In April 1932 four hundred or so agitated walkers set out on an expedition up Kinder Scout, the highest point in Derbyshire. It was a march with intention rather than a gentle stroll; folk from the cities had grown tired of the restricted access to the countryside. Landowners covetously guarded their property back then and the Duke of Derbyshire was no exception.

The ramblers, fighting passionately for their right to roam, clashed with the gamekeepers instructed to defend the estate. Although victorious, the leader of the pack – a mechanic called Benny Rothman – was subsequently arrested along with a number of other figureheads, and was imprisoned for civil disobedience. This caught public attention and sparked a national debate about our right to rural access. This countryside squabble arguably paved the way for National Parks and can be claimed to be foundation of our rambling freedoms.

The UK is laden with wonderfully wild, peaceful backdrops of extraordinary beauty, abundant with nature and wildlife – great arcs of stunning landscape waiting for you to explore. Take advantage.

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