‘Prob­lems can be solved, sor­rows re­leased, writer’s block un­blocked.’

Two years ago, pre­sen­ter Kate Hum­ble started writ­ing down her walk­ing thoughts. It turned into a jour­ney un­like any other…

Country Walking Magazine (UK) - - Interview - INT E RVI EW: N I CK HAL L I S S E Y

There is quite a lot of s*** go­ing on out there. The world is quite a dark place at the mo­ment,” says Kate Hum­ble, slightly con­found­ing her whole­some TV im­age for a mo­ment. “I think this book came from a de­sire to find a bit of joy and light.”

The book in ques­tion is Think­ing on My Feet, an ex­tra­or­di­nary col­lec­tion of thoughts and ex­pe­ri­ences that were honed and de­fined by walk­ing. Over the course of a year, Kate recorded her thoughts while walk­ing, then ex­plored the ideas that came from them. She also tapped into the ex­pe­ri­ences and ideas of other walk­ers: writ­ers, philoso­phers, Ro­man se­na­tors, and peo­ple she just hap­pened to meet while out walk­ing.

The re­sult­ing book (“I think of it as a col­lab­o­ra­tion rather than a book,”) is witty, en­light­en­ing and of­ten star­tlingly pro­found.

“It started as one thing and be­came an­other,” she ex­plains. “Orig­i­nally I pitched a year of wildlife ob­ser­va­tions based on my walk­ing di­ary, but no one wanted that; there has been quite a lot of that in pub­lish­ing lately. Then I met a pub­lisher who un­locked the hu­man an­gle: she was in­ter­ested in what I was writ­ing in the di­ary about how each walk made me feel. The ways in which walk­ing was solv­ing prob­lems for me, and help­ing me work through the tricky stuff.

“She used the word ‘well­be­ing’ and my toes curled, but then I re­alised that was what it was re­ally about. Walk­ing as well­be­ing. A men­tal ram­ble.”

The year of the book’s life cov­ers a huge range of ac­tiv­i­ties, from film­ing a doc­u­men­tary in Kenya about the polyg­a­mous Kuria com­mu­nity, to lamb­ing on Kate’s farm in Mon­mouthshire, to a nine-day, self-sup­port­ing hike of the Wye Val­ley Walk, ac­com­pa­nied by her beloved Welsh sheep­dog, Teg.

She doc­u­ments sea­sonal change; pat­terns of land­scapes across the world; the rhythms and emo­tions of walk­ing. She pon­ders fam­ily crises and global dilem­mas. She ex­plores the walk­ing wis­dom of Henry David Thoreau, Sig­mund Freud and Ken­neth Grahame; talks to walk­ing psy­chother­a­pist Clay Cockrell and ul­tra-long-dis­tance walker Ur­sula Martin; and gains new per­spec­tives from the hun­dreds of peo­ple she sim­ply meets and chats to while walk­ing. (Teg, she says, is usu­ally the se­cret to start­ing up a good con­ver­sa­tion.)

Her di­ary filled hun­dreds of notepads (“any­one who knows me al­ways knows what to buy me: a new notepad!”) and rel­ished the task of mar­ry­ing them all up to see how the year – and her think­ing – un­folded.

“What be­came clear was how many peo­ple have thought about the power of walk­ing over thou­sands

of years. The frus­trat­ing thing is that we keep for­get­ting it,” she sighs.

“Even writ­ers in Ro­man times talked about how walk­ing helps us con­trol our lives and our emo­tions, yet it sounds in­cred­i­bly fresh and sur­pris­ing when you find that out. Frankly, some­one could have writ­ten this book cen­turies ago.”

She’s at pains to point out that she doesn’t stomp along in deep thought all the time.

“I do have a busy head, but I’m not al­ways try­ing to make big thoughts hap­pen,” she ex­plains.

“I find that thoughts and ideas tend to come nat­u­rally when I’m walk­ing. It’s more like med­i­ta­tion. Some­times it’s mun­dane, some­times it’s a bit deeper. You just have to head off and see what hap­pens.”

And as the book makes clear, no day is ever a write-off. No mat­ter how bad the weather, how hec­tic her sched­ule, or how in­hos­pitable the for­eign clime, Kate walks or runs ev­ery sin­gle day.

The only thing that ever ham­pers Kate’s walks are her iffy nav­i­ga­tion skills: “I al­ways take a pa­per map be­cause I love them, but I’m a bit bloody hope­less and I find it easy to get slightly lost. Teg al­ways knows when it’s hap­pen­ing. She looks at me with a face that says, ‘Re­ally? This again?’

“I’m just get­ting my head around the OS Maps app, which is bril­liant. But on a long walk like the Wye Val­ley, my aim is not to turn the phone on if I can help it. A pod­cast in a tent is all I want it for.”

What she has learned above all, though, is that walk­ing is not an in­dul­gence but a ne­ces­sity.

“For health, for hap­pi­ness; for sim­ple hu­man con­tact and our con­nec­tion to the land­scape; for learn­ing who we truly are, where we’ve come from, where we might be go­ing: walk­ing is a se­ries of mil­lions of lit­tle steps that to­gether make up a mas­sive, trans­for­ma­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.

“Even the bits where you get lost.”

FARMER, WRITER, WALKER “We moved to this old stone farm­house al­most a decade ago. It is en­tirely pos­si­ble – I know be­cause I have done it – to leave the house on foot and walk for 15 miles al­most with­out ever see­ing a road.”

Kate lives in the Wye Val­ley, and tack­led the 136-mile Wye Val­ley Walk as part of her year of recorded walks.  THE NEIGH­BOUR­HOOD

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