Running through forests, walking up mountains


National Walking Month is a time when organisations and individuals collectively highlight the many mental, physical, and social benefits of walking and encourage everyone to walk — wherever they are

By Ingrina Shieh

This year, National Walking Month arrived as I was tapering for my first ever trail marathon. As I had spent the past five months training for the run, I had to pause any long, challenging walks to mitigate risk of injury and to reserve time for running. Though I found I loved trail running, I was missing adventurous Slow Ways trailblazing walks in the hills and mountains.

I hadn’t realised how much the love of walking had rooted itself into my being. I felt like a part of me was lying dormant, waiting to wake.

It’s shown me that walking has woven itself into my writing as well – one foot in front of the other, one idea and the next and the next

With the trail marathon inevitably including some walking up summits (Pen-y-Fan, Cribyn, Fan-y-Big) and then life returning to normal thereafter, I knew I would resume walking. Rather than doing a walking challenge, I decided to do a series of daily reflections to unpack the joys and insights walking has afforded me. Shared below, they ranged from reminiscing about walks that went wrong to lessons about ecology and relationships.

The daily reflections took a lot of commitment, and I was worried I might run out of ideas, but even as I finished the series I could already think of more topics. It’s shown me that walking has woven itself into my writing as well, one foot in front of the other, one idea and the next and the next.

The daily walks and insights are free to peruse here on Instagram via the hashtag #ingrinanwm23.

What reflections and insights has walking afforded you?

#nationalwalkingmonth day 2: occasionally I’d remember that time my pandemic cabin fever drove my husband to say, “Want to walk to Brighton?” And I said, “YES,” because it seemed ridiculous but absolutely necessary that I go on a very long walk. We made up a sketchy route using ViewRanger (now Outdoor Active), bought a tent, sleeping bags, mats, and packed very heavy rucksacks. Over three days we walked through rain and bitter cold, navigating rarely trodden paths and sharing the road with racing vehicles. We had to take a taxi for the last two miles on the second day; we were so fatigued.

I’m pretty sure we limped into Brighton. It was the longest I’d travelled on foot with such a large backpack. I learned a lot about my stamina, and I got to discover new pain thresholds. But I also got to know so much more intimately all the places I whizzed by on the train.

It was just the beginning.

Sometimes I think I will attempt this again, using Slow Ways routes to connect each town and village along the way. It’ll be slightly longer, but likely more enjoyable and safer. Maybe I’II travel from Brighton to home to see the changes going the other way.

Walking is cool like that; always a new adventure, even if it hurts and you shed some keratin here and there.

#nationalwalkingmonth day 10: Some of my favourite walks are on bridges that have become temporarily pedestrianised – often due to an event or a protest. It gives you a taste of the freedom that could be if we only had the will and authorities who would make the call.

#nationalwalkingmonth day 15: My mind wandered back to 2020. Between January and February, we woke up daily to a flurry of news about a novel coronavirus shutting down cities and countries and filling up hospitals.

We were told to keep going into the office. My then workplace wouldn’t deviate from government messaging, and the government just told us to keep washing our hands.

So we kept washing our hands and carrying on. We stuck to our long weekend trip to the Peak District, wondering if it could be the last for a while. Walking head down against frosty gusts, bog hopping, and staring out across the moors, we relished the freedom of being outdoors. It felt different: a touch of the apocalyptic. The last of something.

When we did eventually go into lockdown, we’d talk about those few days free from walls and daily one hour walks.

It’s probably no wonder I chase the outdoors much more intensely now. I never want to take it for granted.

#nationalwalkingmonth day 18: Those folks who wake up at 4am to get to the summits to watch the sun rise? Those folks who saunter up late to watch the sun set and then hike down in the dark?

They were onto something.

Since learning to wild camp and therefore having the ability to sleep high in the peaks, have seen many a rising and setting sun. I am one who gets bored of cycles, feeling like I need to see or experience something new. Traditions don’t work for me.

But the display of the daily rotation of the earth still amazes me. In the mountains sunsets are even more magical. The rays spill out, slowly, then all at once as the sun creeps over the peaks. The shadows get longer as the sun sinks and sinks and sinks until dropping. The world waking and sleeping as I am at the top.

This sunset and sunrise at Glaramara is probably one of my favourites. We finished pitching our tent just as the sun started setting, so we sat watching the sun give way to the moon. The next morning, I dashed out to see the moon fade as the sun rose, and it still took my breath away. This is rest, this is magic.

#nationalwalkingmonth day 25: I shut my work laptop down for the last time, scrambled to pack my rucksack, and then took the train to Penrith. From Penrith, a bus took us quickly to Keswick, and from there we walked about 7km to Braithwaite to camp.

Rather than a circular back to Keswick, we opted for a linear/loop route, going to Buttermere, Fleetwith Pike, Coledale Tarn, and then ending in Grasmere. A bus would easily take us back to Keswick for the bus back to Penrith.

It was a multi-modal treat, and ended up being one of my favourite trips to the Lake District. I never thought we could make it so far and see so much without a car, but we were able to trek from one point to another without worrying about parking or going back for it.

There’s something satisfying about linear walks. You focus on going to a different destination than the origin, and it feels like you’ve made a journey across somewhere, to somewhere.

You don’t turn round, you just keep going.

Maybe that is the very thing that keeps me heading back to the mountains. For, while the daily routine is repetitive (get up, eat, walk, eat, walk, set up tent, sleep, repeat), the end point each day is never the same.

It is progress.

If I can do nothing else in life, at least I can do that.

Ingrina Shieh

Ingrina Shieh is a volunteer London National Park City Ranger and passionate active traveller who loves exploring places and connections on foot. Ingrina has walked in many different parts of the UK on established trails in between cities or towns. Her recent solo journey took her on 15 routes over three days from London to its closest national park, South Downs. She particularly loves multi-day hiking and camping and is now working towards a UK Mountain Leader Award.

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