SWINDON and North East Wiltshire Ramblers have issued their new programme of walks for February through to May.
Having lately discovered the joys of walking for fun and fitness, I hope the organisation is inundated with interest.
I’ve only been walking for a few weeks so I don’t claim to be any sort of expert, but like any journalist I’ve some observations to report.
The most important of these is that country walking is great for those of us who are prone to eating and drinking too much.
Sinking a pint of beer while climbing a hill or negotiating Iron Age earthworks is a far more difficult proposition than sinking one in the pub or at home.
For one thing, you have to carry the beer and the pint glass with you, adding to the weight of your rucksack. For another, trying to drink while gasping desperately for air like the out-of-condition person you are leaves you feeling like some poor devil in a secret CIA prison.
Eating a big cake or a family-sized bag of crisps while doing some hill walking is also unsatisfactory. There’s the risk of choking, obviously, and also the risk of being pursued by hungry creatures.
This brings me to another observation: the countryside has things living in it. Some of them, such as cows and sheep, look much bigger in one piece than you’d guess by looking at components of them on a plate or in a bun. This can be quite frightening.
They also make smells.
Some of the things that live in the country are much smaller than cows and sheep but make up for this by having two or three times as many legs plus stingers, razor-sharp mandibles and the ability to fly, land on your face or scuttle up your trouser leg.
The other living things in the countryside are people. Some of them are people who actually live in the countryside. They are generally nice people, very friendly and happy to offer directions if your out-of-date map or guidebook leads you into their garden.
This friendliness can be worrying if you are not familiar with country ways and are more comfortable with the urban tradition of not even making eye contact with passing strangers, let alone saying “Hello.”
When a country person bids us good afternoon they’re just being civil, but that doesn’t stop we townies from conjuring cliche-ed nightmare scenarios involving banjos – or perhaps being tortured to death in a barn by depraved paying guests of an Eastern European crime syndicate.
Other people in the countryside are fellow townies out for a walk, like you. This can lead to mutual embarrassment as you pass, with both mumbling a greeting, neither knowing whether the other is local and both secretly wondering whether they’ll end the day being worked over with a set of bolt cutters.
The countryside itself is also very friendly, thanks to there being no concrete to get between it and the people. Walk through it in damp weather and it’ll be happy to make itself at home not just on your shoes but also on your clothes, your pets, in your hair, in your car and in any shop you visit for a pint of milk and a paper on the way home.
On reaching home, though, you’ll discover another reason why walking is so good for the calorie conscious: you’ll be too knackered to reach the fridge.