Walking Versus Gawking


Quite a cacophony of birdsong when I set off through the village this afternoon and it soon became apparent why. Although I’m sure that they weren’t solely responsible – the Sparrows in the hedgerow were fairly vocal for example, – every tree, every TV aerial, every chimney-pot, was home to it’s own collection of Starlings and they were in full voice. It’s quite an odd sound. When I lived in Manchester the noise in the city centre late on a winter afternoon was phenomenal – I hated it. But I’ve come to quite like the racket that Starlings make.

A leave still clinging on in the hedgerow.

There were lots of walkers about. Quite a few runners too. Perhaps some of them at least had resolved to take more exercise in the New Year.

Recently the Guardian included a booklet about walking for health. It included some tips about how to walk. I think that there were four principles. The first involved striking the ground with your heel and then rolling through the foot, spreading the forefoot and pushing off with the toes. The second was about bending the elbow to 90 degrees and swinging your arms. The third involved lifting your ears away from your shoulders. And the final one was about imagining walking with a glass of water balanced on each hip.

Well – I’ve given it a go. Like you do. I’m all for paying attention to my own movements as well as to what’s going on around me. I must admit that I quite enjoyed the heel and toe business, and it definitely increased my pace (for a while at least). Swinging my arms like a guardsman made me very self-conscious however and I couldn’t really get started with the glasses of water thing, I couldn’t picture what it was I was supposed to be doing. And as for the ears and shoulders advice, which I suppose is intended to improve posture – concentrating on the position of my head whilst I walked just made me realise how much I scan, both left and right and up and down whilst I’m walking. And trying to concentrate on holding my head up was detrimental to my gawping, staring and otherwise having a good old nose about.   

I enjoy gawking too much to get very fit by walking. Too much stopping to look around and take things in. Too many photographs of ‘leaves and stuff’ to take.

It did occur to me that perhaps I should go out every night for half an hour in the dark and stomp the same circuit every time. Less distractions.

But then when would I write the blog?

Anyway, thinking about the how, the do’s and don’ts of walking reminded me of an essay by Showell Styles anthologised in Roger Smith’s ‘The Winding Trail’. It’s called ‘The Art of Walking – A consideration of bipedal progression’ and is taken from a 1956 book – ‘The Campers’ and Trampers’ Weekend Book’. (One to seek out I think).

Styles is fairly dismissive of a heel-strike gait, which he describes as part of the ‘townsman’s method of walking’. He adds: ‘Exaggerated pushing with the toes is not a good thing; forward progress is achieved by an even distribution of effort, not by thrust and jerk.’ He advocates a flat-footed footfall and in his opinion a good walker would leave a single line of prints on a beach, with the toes pointing straight forward or even a little inward.

Still – he’s after economy of movement not weight-loss exercise. I’m not sure that he’s entirely correct either. Probably the most apparently effortless walker I know (one of the may people I’ve trailed behind on the way up hills over the years) is my friend The Adopted Yorkshireman. In snow it’s impossible to follow in his footsteps because he has a huge stride (which Styles would approve of), but also because he plants his feet with his toes pointing outwards at a quite ridiculous angle (which Styles would definitely not approve of.)

Any top-tips on bipedal progression anyone?

Walking Versus Gawking

4 thoughts on “Walking Versus Gawking

  1. Thank you Mark.
    ‘The Winding Trail’ needed dusting off.
    We appear to be a bit wimpish in these ‘modern’ times, compared with 25 mile walks to get rid of the effects of the wine at breakfast (Pickwick Papers 1837), 40 miles being a day’s walk’ for ‘Trampers’ at that time, and Edward Whymper wrote in 1861 that he would not entertain an Alpine tour with anyone who couldn’t walk 50 miles a day without being fatigued!
    Great stuff!

  2. beatingthebounds says:

    It’s a great book – my copy has to be handled with care, it’s falling apart, partly because it’s been read so many times.
    The section which that Showell Styles article comes from (is it Walking Philosophies?) was always my favourite part. When I first bought the book, Isabelle Eberhart’s ‘Notes on Vagrancy’ particularly appealed to the romantic and rebellious parts of my nature. (I was young and daft).
    It seems that she had a very adventurous (but short) life:

  3. I did take to the suggestion of walking with elbows at the 90. I too felt self conscious but there is no doubt that I am a “walker” when doing it!

    I do try to put my chest out and walk with a straighter posture because I notice it is getting easier and easier to “slump” the older I get.

    I have also tried to make my foot steps make a straighter line but I soon forget and am back to walking like a duck in no time at all. I tell my wife it helps keep me from tipping over!!

    Straight or crooked, up or down, ninety or not. Getting out the door is the most important part!

  4. beatingthebounds says:

    “Straight or crooked, up or down, ninety or not. Getting out the door is the most important part!”

    Couldn’t agree more!

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