“” I met a man who served in Afghanistan, was suffering from PTSD and cured himself by walking.
Talking walking with ... KATE HUMBLE The TV presenter and nature lover reveals the story behind her new book on walking, and how travelling on foot helps her feel more connected with people and places…
Where did the idea for the book come from?
I live in an area of the UK where if you don't walk, you are wasting a landscape that deserves to be seen at that pace. I also have three demanding dogs, so I have to start my day on foot.
I soon realised I was walking with an uncrowded mind: not wearing headphones, not looking at the phone, just allowing myself to be a part of the landscape. The other thing I discovered is that these morning walks do good things for the creative part of the brain and your attention span. Through walking, something that seems enormous and insurmountable suddenly feels manageable. It might take several walks to dissipate an anxiety, but it works.
I mulled this over for a couple of years, then I thought, ‘I want to turn this into a book'. It isn't a self-help book but it is about wellbeing, so I sought out other people who walk for different reasons. I met an artist who walks for inspiration, and a young woman who got ovarian cancer at 30 and said walking gave her back her identity. I met a man who served in Afghanistan who was suffering from PTSD and cured himself by walking, and I met a therapist in New York who walks his patients around Central Park. In a funny way it is a book about travelling.
Do you get a sense of immersion when you walk?
I had a moment when I walked 219km of the Wye Valley with my dog. I'd taken everything in a rucksack and had stayed in a couple of B&BS, as it turns out you can't carry nine days' worth of dog food and a sleeping bag. Then a friend of mine came and did a day with me, but picked the time when I had the most excruciating blisters on my feet. It was only a short walk – yet still 21km. It was absolute agony, but as we walked down to the river I heard this ‘beep' and said, ‘That's a kingfisher'. She told me that she'd never seen a kingfisher before, so we stood still, looked at the branches along the river and watched it. She was so delighted, and in that little moment I overcame the pain of walking with blisters.
What happens when you walk on your travels?
Walking is a nice way to pick up the vibes of a place. I open the book with a story about being in a remote border town in Kenya. Every morning I'd walk around this village – it was not a place where tourists go, so there were no other white people, certainly not scruffy blondes wandering about at 6am. We were there for three weeks and I walked every day. People started recognising me. The woman on the corner selling goat milk would say hello, as would the guy selling mandazi (an East African doughnut), and the boda-boda boys on their motorbikes would offer me lifts.
It made me feel I wasn't just visiting, but like I was investing a bit of myself in the community by hanging out and doing nothing in particular.
Does walking foster unique travel experiences?
One day after filming, I decided I would walk back to the hotel. I set off and, within a few minutes, Samson, one of the local security guys, came and caught me up. He usually worked for the President of Kenya and was not used to walking. Anyway, we walked for two hours. He was in his sandals and I was in my flip-flops, so we were not well equipped! And we talked about different things. Walking is an unconfrontational way to have a conversation. It was about his family, his children and his job and stuff. I also had lots of other lovely insights into life in that rural part of Kenya – you know, going past somebody's hut and they've got their cooking pot and the kids are running around, or they are tying up their goats. It's those moments that make you feel like you are part of their day. You are part of a landscape.
Thinking on My Feet (Aster, 2018; £20) by Kate Humble is available to buy now