I grew up in a walking family. As a child, Sunday afternoons in autumn and winter were spent in woods, up hills, on the downs, on beaches or marshes...we walked, and in most weathers. (Summer weekends were dictated by high tide and often spent sailing.) My parents still love to "get out" at the weekend and for them, a sunny day without a walk would be unbearable. I enjoyed these walks as a child, and resented them as a teenager. How I hated to be told that fresh air was good for me! In my twenties, I spent my weekends working, sleeping, shopping, going to the cinema, going out, seeing friends. Normal things that you do when you don't have children. My early thirties involved babies, toddlers, slings and buggies, a husband who worked most weekends, and no energy for any big walks. A trip to the park was about the furthest we'd go.
But now, I find that I not only like, but I need a good walk at the weekend. Saturday or Sunday, I don't mind, but I feel that same need to "get out", to breathe fresh air, to make my leg muscles and heart work harder, to see some surroundings other than my house. In fact, if I don't get out, I feel quite fed up. Fresh air and exercise - excellent things for combating the winter blues. John is game, and a good walker. The kids are tricky. Bella never wants to go, but then once she's out she can walk for miles. Angus always wants to go and runs back and forth like a puppy for the first mile, then flags and whines all the way back to the car at the end. I insist they go because, since we now have to drive to school every day, I think the exercise is good for them, for all of us. We went for a big walk with my sister and her family today. Her girls (four and six) can walk! My sister said "That's because we've dragged them out every weekend since they were tiny." She carried a bag of bananas and nuts for energy. My pockets were full of biscuits, mini cream eggs and half a bar of fruit and nut. The kids wanted my snacks. A small victory, but one I'll take.
We are walking much more since moving back down south for two reasons. One, everything is fresh and exciting; we are discovering new scenery, new places, walks that will become favourites. Two, my family know where to go. They know which walk is good for a short stroll or a long hike, how to get there, the best route, where to park, if there's a cafe. Now I know I can go to the beach whenever I want I am falling back in love with the beautiful South Downs. The terrain here is softer, more rolling, than the rugged, rock-scattered Yorkshire Dales.
Today we visited Harting Down, a walk I remember from my childhood, with amazing views over the picture-postcard village of South Harting. We walked up to the top of Beacon Hill, an incline so steep it has steps cut into it. My thighs were burning and I was completely, embarrassingly, out of breath at the top. I had to stop and have a moment. The kids were hardly even panting. But it was so worth it for the view.
That's the sea you can just about see glimmering in the distance.
Are you a walker? Do you feel the need to get out in the fresh air at the weekend and march around the nearest hill or beach, swinging your arms, taking deep breaths? Or does a gentler stroll give you the same benefits and energy boost? And, more importantly, do you think it makes you feel better?