I hail from the flatlands of Lincolnshire and heading for the hills has always been the first resort of my family on a sunny Saturday. I spent many happy childhood hours clambering up and down stony Peak and Lake District paths.
These days my Dad finds hill-walking too tiring, and my brother and I have moved away. When I came back from my trip to Brazil in 2008, weak and emaciated, my Mum and I went on a walk, just the two of us for the first time, near Matlock Bath, a village she had been to with her parents and siblings as a child. This walk was magical because, although I unable to walk far without feeling tired, I felt convalescent, rejuvenated by the feeling of companionship and the peaceful woods. We found wild garlic growing in the cool tree-shade and picked some to cook later. We sat in the sun to eat our delicious picnic looking down on a picturesque old ruin and miles of natural loveliness.
Since that day we’ve made it a tradition to go on a Spring ‘garlic walk’ every year, when both of us are feeling a weather-induced lift in our mental health (my Mum suffers from SAD) and the desire to get our legs moving after a relatively sendentary winter. Each time it’s had a therapeutic benefit for me; in 2009 I was recovering from working at sea and in 2010 halfway through a very intensive physics course. In 2011 I was nearing the end of my PGCE and taking a day off from planning lessons was a costly indulgence. I still don’t know how I got through the experience, and I had the easiest ride of anyone on the course, living with supportive parents and able to cadge a lift to my placement schools with my Mum, who worked nearby. Stress-purging dance classes and splurges like the garlic walk undoubtedly played their part in getting me successfully to the end.
Walking with my Mum has value and importance to me as a time to feel blissfully at ease, to indulge in nostalgia, and to play like children; at ‘pooh-sticks’ when we come to a bridge, or making wild bird calls. We never set out to ‘conquer’ the landscape or strain ourselves to reach a target. We have no mission but enjoyment, which is in itself an amazing novelty to busy women who spend much of our time purposefully (and often impatiently) trying to get somewhere.
There’s also sense of liberty in open spaces connected with my instinct for social justice and equality – all this lovely world! Surely we can find a way to share & enjoy it all together! I inevitably come over all warm and fuzzy and optimistic, and come home feeling stirred up and inspired, full of creative energy. It must be the blood flowing more vigorously; something about walking shakes the cobwebs out of my brain.
So, I can’t wait to Walk for Women this summer in memory & celebration of the 50,000 suffragettes who did the same in 1913. Time to reflect, time to talk, time to enjoy sympathetic company: to celebrate what we’ve achieved for women’s liberation, and consider what we still need to do. On top of all that, my eyes will definitely be glad of a few hours’ break from book & screen!