A good walk will solve everything
The General election announcement has been greeted with a groan by some voters who feel they’ve seen enough of the polling booth recently. One aspect, however, deserves to be celebrated: that Theresa May resolved to go to the country while walking in Snowdonia.
In this, she stands in a tradition of political, philosophical and Romantic walkers who feel that this healthful activity liberates the mind: the inspiration of Nature not only recharges the spiritual batteries, but sharpens decision-making. The rhythm of the body creates a comfortable zone for reflection—less febrile than the office, calmer than the gym.
Seneca, Roman senator and philosopher, advocated ‘outdoor walks’ that would nourish and refresh the mind ‘through the open air and deep breathing’. Numerous prime ministers followed his example: Gladstone, Lloyd George and Baldwin—but not Blair or Cameron. It’s good that Mrs May has revived the tradition.
This isn’t a party political matter. On the Left, Jean-jacques Rousseau, prophet of the French Revolution, claimed that it was only through ‘walking among the rocks, or in the woods’, that he could write. On the Right, the protofascist Friedrich Nietzsche claimed that ‘only ideas gained from walking have any worth’. Walking was as essential to a dry stick like Immanuel Kant as it was to the emotional William Wordsworth.
On a walking tour of Scotland, the 22-yearold Keats covered 600 miles in 44 days; he came home brimming with ideas. Admittedly, Romantics such as he and Wordsworth didn’t always walk for the joy of it— they didn’t have any other means of getting around. Perhaps that was also the case with the young Dickens, but the successful author still walked both far and fast, getting up at 2am and walking 30 miles to breakfast. In The Uncommercial Traveller, he thought he should be registered ‘in sporting newspapers under some such title as the elastic Novice, challenging all eleven stone mankind to competition in walking’.
It’s difficult to imagine Tennyson without his hat and cloak, battling the winds on the Isle of Wight, where Tennyson Down now takes his name; Jane Austen’s fragile heroines dreaded damp shoes; Virginia Woolf walked on the South Downs, in southern Spain and through London parks. For Mrs May, it brought about an election (Agromenes, page 41), but, for some of us, a good walk will be an admirable way of forgetting all about it.
‘but Nature not only recharges the batteries, sharpens decision-making