The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Lifestyle -

The prospect of run­ning a marathon has never ap­pealed to me. It’s not sim­ply the ex­er­tion, it is the speed at which the coun­try­side flies by. As a life­long naturalist, I would have to keep stop­ping to ex­am­ine a wild flower, lis­ten to a black­bird or ad­mire the view. That’s why walk­ing has al­ways been such a plea­sure – with­out any­thing like a bag of clubs to get in the way. Mark Twain had it down to a tee (sorry) when he de­scribed golf as “a good walk spoiled”. I asked a golf­ing friend the other day how of­ten he had re­turned from a game feel­ing up­lifted and sat­is­fied. He thought for a mo­ment be­fore re­ply­ing: “Once in the past three years.” If ever there was an ar­gu­ment for sell­ing your mashie ni­b­lick that was it. So leave the clubs be­hind and go for a proper walk. The sat­is­fac­tion is so much greater. Not in­fal­li­bly, I ad­mit: you can walk up a Lake­land fell and find the sum­mit shrouded in mist, or de­cide on a walk that turns out to be over-peo­pled, such as Snow­don on a sunny Sun­day. But you do not have to choose what you might call an “epic walk”. For me, there are so­journs closer to home that are won­der­fully en­er­gis­ing – some­thing that the Prince’s Coun­try­side Fund has latched on to in its Walk a Coun­try Mile ini­tia­tive. You will no­tice that it is not en­ti­tled Walk a Coun­try Marathon. No. A mile is a nice length for all but the most in­firm, and if that walk is in good com­pany, so much the bet­ter. That said, when it comes to ob­serv­ing wildlife and ad­mir­ing the view, I do en­joy walk­ing alone. I can stop with­out ir­ri­tat­ing my com­pan­ions, lean on a fence to get my breath back with­out em­bar­rass­ment, and lie down on my stomach to watch in­sects among the grass with­out be­ing thought bonkers. Ilk­ley Moor is the cra­dle of my walk­ing life. On Sun­days in the Fifties, be­fore dad’s plumb­ing firm pro­vided him with a van and “a run up the dales” be­came our weekend treat, we would go out for a walk to shake off the ef­fects of the roast beef and York­shire pud­ding. The moors, the woods and the river­side – Ilk­ley strad­dles the River Wharfe – would pro­vide a va­ri­ety of ter­rain that could (with some ef­fort) be ne­go­ti­ated by two adults, an eightyear-old boy on foot, and a three­year-old girl in a pushchair. I can never re­mem­ber not want­ing to go, but then na­ture has al­ways held a fas­ci­na­tion for me. When I was 10 or 11 I was al­lowed to go out ex­plor­ing on my own. Chil­dren were less con­strained back then, so long as we let our mum know where we were go­ing and were back at the ap­pointed time. She knew noth­ing of the fires we lit or the rafts we made on the river. Just as well. Al­though my walks to­day are less event­ful on the py­rotech­nic and ri­par­ian front, they are ev­ery bit as ex­hil­a­rat­ing. To­day, most take place in my adop­tive coun­ties of Hamp­shire and the Isle of Wight. The is­land walks have a spe­cial place in my heart, for they of­fer fan­tas­tic views of rolling meadows, wood­land, cliffs and coast­line, which of­ten ap­pear all at the same time. If I had to pick one is­land walk, it would be one that crosses a golf course. You can keep Au­gusta and its flam­boy­ant rhodo­den­drons; for me the golf course at Afton Down on the Isle of Wight is more spec­tac­u­lar. It tra­verses part of the chalky spine of the is­land, which broke away from the main­land as re­cently as 7,000 years ago af­ter the last Ice Age, when melt­wa­ter widened the So­lent river into a nar­row stretch of sea. Walk­ing from east to west along Afton Down, you can look to your left and see the vast­ness of the English Chan­nel, while to your right lie the usu­ally calmer wa­ters of the So­lent. There is a strange kind of em­pow­er­ment at be­ing able to view both coasts at once. Per­haps that is why the “caulk­heads” – the name given to Isle of Wight na­tives – re­fer to main­land Bri­tain as “the north is­land”. The wind blows up here. If it is rain­ing, your face will be stung, but the walk is never less than in­vig­o­rat­ing. On a sunny day, the wa­ter on both sides will sparkle – you will see com­pet­i­tive yachts skim­ming across the So­lent, along with oil tankers bound for Faw­ley re­fin­ery; car trans­porters bring­ing Audis and BMWs from Europe; and, early in the evening, one of the Cu­nard Queens or a leviathan “celebrity” cruise ship leav­ing Southamp­ton Wa­ter and tak­ing sev­eral thou­sand hol­i­day­mak­ers to warmer climes. Warmer, but not nec­es­sar­ily bet­ter loved. On the Isle of Wight downs I have mar­velled at clouds of com­mon blue but­ter­flies and, in cer­tain years, at star­tlingly large colonies of clouded yel­lows flut­ter­ing among the vetches and the cam­pi­ons, the field scabi­ous and the mar­guerites. Bees buzz, larks sing and there is a feel­ing of be­ing al­lowed to be a part of the greater scheme of things. There are no grey squir­rels on the Isle of Wight – only reds – and they are tame enough to come close in our gar­dens to avail them­selves of nut-feed­ers. When you come down from the up­per reaches of the walk, you’ll see them bound­ing across the road and scam­per­ing from tree to tree. Oh, and you’ll never hear the roar of dis­tant traf­fic, for there is only one short stretch of dual car­riage­way on the is­land. Out­side the towns and vil­lages – Cowes and New­port, Sandown and Shanklin, Seav­iew and Bem­bridge, Vent­nor and Yar­mouth – many roads are nar­row, equipped with lay-bys so that cars can pass, and sur­rounded by fields and wood­lands, clifftops, creeks and har­bours, many of­fer­ing walks of a dif­fer­ent kind. Oh, and the eat­ing is good, too. All those folk who went to the Isle of Wight as chil­dren when it rained, and who have never found the will to go back, will be sur­prised at the va­ri­ety of its trea­sures. They do not be­gin and end with the sands of Alum Bay or the amuse­ments of Black­gang Chine – there are greater di­ver­sions than many ex­pect. It is closer to most of us than Devon and Corn­wall, and de­serves to be bet­ter known and more deeply cher­ished. It is the world in minia­ture; a world that does not in­volve hour af­ter hour of “are we nearly there yet?” travel. But enough for now. I will write more in fu­ture about this is­land that I have come to love. For now, per­haps, my Afton Down walk might be a taster of things to come. Should you pack your wa­ter­proof? Well, yes, I sup­pose you should. But the sun shines more of­ten than not. Hon­est. Na­tional Coun­try­side Week (July 14-20), the Prince’s Coun­try­side Fund is ask­ing fam­i­lies, com­mu­nity groups, vil­lages, businesses and in­di­vid­u­als to walk to­gether to raise money, which will sup­port the people who main­tain the coun­try­side. How to get in­volved: Get a group to­gether. A coun­try mile can be any dis­tance. To reg­is­ter your sup­port and make a sug­gested £3 do­na­tion, visit princescoun­tryside­fund.org.uk. Once signed up you will re­ceive an email with maps, tips, and de­tails of where your do­na­tion will go. Take a WALKIE: To max­imise aware­ness on so­cial me­dia, the Fund is ask­ing par­tic­i­pants to take a “WALKIE” – its ver­sion of a “selfie”. What else is hap­pen­ing? If you would pre­fer to join an ex­ist­ing walk and see some of the work sup­ported by the char­ity, then join one of the Project Walks across Bri­tain. For de­tails, visit princescoun­tryside­fund.org.uk. The Fund is also host­ing a se­ries of Celebrity Coun­try Mile walks at the CLA Game Fair at Blen­heim Palace, Oxfordshire. If you would like to join a walk with Phil Vick­ery, JB Gill or Alan Titch­marsh, sign up at the Game Fair (game­fair.co.uk). Where the money goes: The Fund gives grants to or­gan­i­sa­tions and ini­tia­tives across Bri­tain to help cre­ate and sus­tain a thriv­ing ru­ral com­mu­nity, from ap­pren­tice schemes to school farms. In just three-and-a-half years, the fund has given £3.8mil­lion to more than 90 projects, touch­ing the lives of 64,000 people.

Feet first: ‘It is not Walk a Coun­try Marathon. No. A mile is a nice length for all but the most in­firm, and if that walk is in good com­pany, so much the bet­ter’

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