Mr President, Mr Toastmaster, fellow toastmasters and guests. This speech focuses on language, with the aim of painting pictures in your mind of the joys of walking as a social, physical and spiritual experience.

How many of you live in walking cultures, in cities or towns where you can comfortably walk to shop, enjoy a coffee, visit the library or walk the children to a Park? – I do!  In contrast I was brought up in another walking culture, a hill farm in Northumberland; a 2 mile walk to the school bus, a 1 mile walk to the next farm and a 4 mile circuit to see my friends.  Even my accent reflects walking through the rolling hills of Northumberland.

Beautiful but lonely.

We all walk alone ……… and in groups.  We walk to think, we walk to wars and we walk to demonstrate for peace.  We walk for our health and to renew ourselves.  The rebuilding of our bodies occurs without our seeing it, simply by walking, talking and laughing – in other words leisure walking.

In leisure walking, the walk is the goal itself.  I’ve just been out with my grandchildren, a timely reminder that a good walk should have excitement and danger which comes to nothing, be full of air and weather and effort.  The difficult point of many leisure walks is that moment when you have to decide whether to keep going or turn back for home.

A walker’s character can often be discerned from their boots.  There is the obvious clean, scruffy or well worn characterisation but I prefer the more subtle boot manufacturer classification.

  • We have the Keen boot walker, always ahead, leading the way, map in hand and alone!
  • The common enemy, always being talked about in his Asshole, Asolo boots – needless to say they are American and I have a pair.
  • No walk would be complete without the Hi-Tec boot walker, GPS in hand, extolling the virtues of gadgetry to anyone that will listen, and diving off to the side, not for relief but to find a geocache.

Walking Groups aren’t always talking groups, they have their own cultures.  I belong to three walking groups, all very different.

The Ramblers are a gentile, fairly middle-class group of people who walk to talk, usually 7 to 10 miles through the beautiful countryside of Dorset.  Essentially a Walking WI with the associated rituals of first and second lunch, the P-Stop with the ladies lined up together under a disused railway arch and the men scattered randomly in time and distance amongst the trees of varying girth.

The long distance walkers don’t talk much, they are competitive people, walking to challenge their minds and bodies but not their larynx.  Leisure walking for them is upwards of 20 miles preparing for a 100 mile Challenge walk to be completed in less than 48 hours.  Their worst nightmare is the ‘Lean’ often caused by an unbalanced backpack which after 80 miles or so can lead to collapse and a late exit.

The Wessex Mountaineering Club is full of eccentrics who see walking as something to do when injured, when they get too old to climb or when they need to talk about their near death climbing experiences.  The walk has to include some rock scrambling, a few vertical drops to one or both sides and better still, the rain beating into your face.

Whether you are walking alone or in a group, walking is Poetry for the Soul; slow and purposeful, grounded by the physical contact of foot on earth and the effort and relief provided by incline and decline.  To walk is to experience your environment at first hand; this intimate connection between motion and the senses.  Tolkien’s The Road Goes Ever On” describes it well:

The Road goes ever on and on

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with eager feet,

Until it joins some larger way

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say.

Wordsworth, in addition to being a great poet was a greater walker.  Some estimate that before the age of 35 he had ‘wandered lonely as a cloud’ for over 150,000 miles; he was the Wainwright of his day.

Which leaves me with walking and stalking – I call it widow and widower winnowing, walking along separating the grain from the chaff!  The odd smile here, an occasional word there; the power of repetition and frequent encounters; a shared interest, a common friend.  All little steps through life’s journey of acquaintance and the meeting of minds and bodies.

So I hope that I’ve persuaded you that Walking, Talking and Stalking is a rave in the outdoors powered by the sun, dressed by nature and coloured by people enjoying themselves.

Anyone for a Walk?

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