‘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…
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