From wrestling with kissing gates and walking into people (and things), to not staying hydrated and getting lost in the dark, here are some things I’ve done and continue to do that make me a less-than-perfect walker
Never keep the pace
I’m ridiculously bad at keeping the pace. I walk very slowly and get easily distracted. I often stop to inspect a red poppy, have a staring contest with a cow or look up at the ever-changing clouds. I walk into every open church, bingo hall, museum, graffiti yard, cemetery, temple, community garden, and antique shop I find along the way. I take naps in parks, on open heathland and deserted beaches. It’s always a miracle when I finally get to my destination (which mostly happens to be nowhere in particular, in my pre-Slow-Ways days at least).
When I’m not walking slowly I’m walking very fast. I march on and on and on. I don’t take any breaks. I don’t look around much or take in my surroundings. I forget to eat and drink. I just walk and walk, until I can no longer walk.
So yeah, I’ve never been very good at keeping the pace.
Wrestle with gates and fall over stiles
Often, when I first started going on very long walks in the countryside, I felt self-conscious about opening gates, and in the right way. The more self-conscious I felt, the harder it became. I’d push when I had to pull and get stuck in kissing gates. Sometimes a lock on a gate would be stiff, or slightly jammed. I’d wrestle with it until it finally swung open.
Although, in the last decade I’ve gotten a lot better at opening gates without looking entirely unhinged, I still sometimes struggle, like I did a few weeks ago when I was walking to Pyecombe in Sussex. I arrived at a gate, my phone pressed to my ear with my shoulder as I carried on speaking to my best friend. With my free hands I tried to open the gate – it wouldn’t budge. I was very aware that there was a dog walker and her dogs on my tail. I told my friend I’d call her back so I could focus on the task at hand. As the dog walker approached, she looked at me funny. “You need to lift it at the same time!” she exclaimed. I did as she said, and thanked her as I slid though, and hurried off just slightly embarrassed. As for stiles, I often half-clamber, half-fall over them in an ungraceful mess.
Trespass. Walk into abandoned buildings. Explore derelict, dangerous structures
I used to be addicted to urban exploration (exploring manmade structures, usually abandoned ruins). I loved wandering into derelict factories, railway tunnels, crypts, old asylums, artillery forts, abandoned houses, you name it. If it was dark, unassuming, and seemingly dangerous, I would explore it. Some of my favourite finds include a derelict print factory in North London, an abandoned house in Fairlop Waters and the remains of an old firework factory somewhere near Dartford.
Walking in remote places often allows for great opportunities to stumble across hidden ruins and abandoned places. They’re often strange and beautiful and very, very creepy. (Disclaimer: urban exploration is dangerous, addictive and possibly illegal. It’s probably best not to go down this road…) Visit Subterranea Britannica if you’re interested in exploring such locations across Great Britain in a safe, communal, and legit way.
Don’t drink water
I never drink water. I’ve never liked the taste. On long hikes, I often forget to drink at all. Or when I do, I drink Coke. Or Ribena. Or tea. With lots of sugar. What can I say, I like sugary drinks…
Walk into people. And things
I have terrible spatial awareness. It runs in our family. I remember going on a holiday many years ago to Rome with my brothers, sisters and two nephews. It was the first time we decided to go on holiday together. I noticed early on that we kept walking into each other. And into other pedestrians – mostly miffed Italians. There was a cacophony of sidewalk apologies, echos of absent ‘oh sorrys!’ It was very funny (and frightening) to acknowledge that we all had something in common and that something happened to be that we weren’t very good at walking in straight lines.
Apart from walking into people, I’ve walked into many other things too. I’ve walked into tree branches, deep puddles, sinking sand and dog poo. Lots of dog poo.
Walk towards animals. And run away from them
I’ve had a lot of rather stressful encounters with animals on walks. Once I was sitting on the grass under a tree and a dog leapt up from nowhere, and swallowed a whole samosa from my hand that I was about to eat. I was in utter dismay. I laughed it off and said something to the owner about the samosa being very spicy and the dog being at risk of possibly getting diarrhoea. He assured me that his dog had a strong stomach. How nice. I was really looking forward to my samosa lunch.
On the Saxon Shore Way in Gravesend, I remember spotting grass snakes by a shooting range, and wild (they seemed wild… in every way) horses. They came running towards me (I did nothing to provoke them, I promise!) so I veered off-path and hurried down to the foreshore of the Thames estuary praying they wouldn’t come up behind me. Often I do nothing to instigate these unfortunate encounters, though sometimes admittedly I do.
I like taking photos of animals. Sometimes I approach cows (in a friendly, non-intrusive way) and sometimes they do not like that. I also approach sheep. During lambing season, the frolicking lambs melted my heart. I kept following them (from the other side of a fence) and they kept running away from me. It was a pretty sad situation.
Get lost. In the dark. Alone
I always seem to do this. And every time I do, I tell myself it will be the last time. It never is. There’s nothing quite like that feeling of mild terror – of being out in the middle of nowhere, in the (not so wild) wilderness, with the sun fast setting.
Wear inappropriate footwear (and outdoor wear)
I really struggle to find appropriate footwear. I’ve gotten through so many boots and trainers over the years. Nike. Adidas. Vans. Converses. New Balance. Reeboks. I’ve tried pretty much every brand and to no avail. They always give out, or make my feet hurt. I over-pronate, my feet go inwards, putting pressure on my ankles and knees, and so finding the right footwear has always been a challenge. Recently I discovered Asics do a brilliant pair of running shoes for people who over-pronate – and so far, so good! I use them to walk everywhere (and run nowhere. I don’t run.) I’m still on the quest to find a good pair of hiking boots (recommendations welcome!).
As for outdoor wear, I’ve kind of given up. When I first started out I was super keen to look like a walker. I bought waterproofs, heat-tech layers, sturdy trousers (can trousers be sturdy?), you name it. Nowadays, I often go walking in whatever I can find – skirts, dresses, dungarees. I can look like I’m either nipping to the shops or going to a ball. I pay no mind to ‘walker’ aesthetics (and the practicalities therein). I quite enjoy looking like an unassuming non-walker out on trails, especially when I wear long dresses and it’s rainy, stormy and I’m knee-deep in mud and feel like I’m inside of a Jane Austen novel. Only no one ever comes to the rescue. Ugh.