I used to think that walking was something you only did for exercise and/or fun when you could no longer run. So I didn't walk for pleasure until I couldn't run, then it was a useful rehabilitation aid, to get me through an injury; an interim measure until I was able to resume running.
But, in my late 50s, I suffered a series of injuries in quick succession and was out of running for several months. In my heart of hearts I knew my running days were over. Yes, sure, I'd do the occasional short run when the weather was right, or a few fun runs, I wouldn't give up completely but I wouldn't be a Runner again. It was a blow to my sense of self identity.
And then, while I was going through this identity crisis and the stress of a sudden drop in exercise levels, the Brexit vote happened. Now I was lost. Who was I? Where was I? I was hearing in no uncertain terms that I was no longer one of The People, that my opinions were unpatriotic, to express them was undemocratic. I was shocked so many people on social media wanted me to F off out of the country. If that was the view of The People, I was glad I wasn't one of them.
But I was distressed. I was sad. I was angry. Nothing was what I thought it was. I alternated between a desire to run away, an urge to curl up and hide and an impulse to fight. The pent up energy needed to be released. Arguing on Twitter was winding me up. The News was worse. Words I had never used before started coming from my mouth, stringing three expletives together still wasn't helping and all my sentences started "What pisses me off the most ...." or "And another thing that pisses me off .."
In the past I would have gone for a run. The physical exertion and the feeling of running away and leaving my problems behind always made me feel better. It had got me through some very, very tough times. A note saying "We can go for a run together when I get back from school" which I found on my car seat one morning may very well have saved my life.
But now I couldn't run. All that was left was walking and gardening.
Gardening was like curling up and retreating from the world. Tearing up nettles, sawing through dead branches, raking up weeds, replanting borders, grubbing out old stumps, cleaning out the pond, fixing the well: purposefully focusing on my own small world and making it better. I was staying put. Everyone else could F off. On my patch I was The People.
But it knackered my back and it still wasn't enough. The news was winding me up more and more each day. If this was a picture of the state of Britain it was dire and the values the government was condoning or even supporting weren't mine.
If I couldn't run, I'd have to walk. I don't mean stroll along with the slow Old Dog, but stride out, march, strike a good pace. So every day we walked, my husband and I. Down the lanes, up the hills, across the fields, round the lakes, over the moors. Walking briskly, breathing deeply and talking. The cattle and sheep grazed peacefully, the countryside looked the same as the year before. Despite the social and political turmoil, the uncertainty at work, the collapse in the pound which destroyed our budget for my daughter's already arranged study year abroad, my feeling of dislocation began to dissipate.
The familiarity and constancy of the land and the pattern of the seasons, the flowers, trees, berries was reassuring. The pleasure of watching the birds, the fun of trying to identify them, anticipating the three crows which always seemed to sit in the same spot on the wall of a field as we walked past, listening for the buzzards, counting the magpies and entertaining the curious cattle lifted my spirits.
We talked as we walked. We vented our frustrations, we tried to understand. We agreed. We disagreed. We talked about politics, about Brexit, our feelings and everyday things. We didn't care who heard us as we walked through village streets or passed by the neat cottage gardens. We did have a right to our opinion and discussing it loudly on our walks was exerting our right to express it. Symbolic? A token gesture? Maybe. But we would not be silenced, except to watch the hawk hovering or the bee flitting in and out of the flowers, or the frogs hopping on mass across the lane at dusk on a damp evening, or to watch the sun set.
I did start running again, two, three or sometimes four times a week, but I don't worry too much about taking a break. We still walk everyday, unless the weather is really bad, and we do still walk the dogs as well (and the Old Dog really is getting slower and slower). It is now as much part of my life as running used to be and has become part of my new identity. I walk. You can see some of our walking routes and pictures from along the way here. And if you want to "listen in" to some of our conversations, dip into the collection of Walk and Talk blogs.